It doesn’t have to be.
Whether you’re a complete power-painting novice or just simply looking to dip your toes into the spraying world, you can take your skills from zero to hero with these helpful painting tips.
Why Spray Painting?
Spray painting is not only much faster than other methods but it also gives a consistent and quality finish — even on rough surfaces — that surpasses traditional handheld brushes or rollers.
If you’re looking to enhance the look and feel of some much-loved space in your home, the good news is you can do it yourself. And, with these awesome tips and painting tricks of the trade, you can turn redecorating your living space into a remarkably easy and fun exercise — where super efficiency beats hard work every single time.
So, if you’ve managed to get your hands on a mighty paint sprayer but don’t know how to use it like a pro, this article is for you. We’re sharing some helpful spray painting tricks to take all your painting escapades to the next level.
Ready to get started? Let’s dive right in.
The Top Ten Spray Painting Tips
1. Have a Designated Painting Space
When you’re spray painting, you’re creating or recreating a thing of beauty.
That item – whether it’s a cabinet, wall, or motor vehicle, is the only surface you want to paint. The last thing you need is a coating mishap — you certainly don’t want speckles of paint on any of your other furniture, electrical equipment, or flooring.
So, top of the pile for painting hacks is a designated working space.
If you can, make sure that you have a specific area of your home, garden, or garage where your spray painting can take place. And, always ensure that you’re completing your work a safe distance away from surfaces you don’t want to spoil.
Ideally, use a spray booth. These useful pieces of equipment prevent paint from covering unwanted areas, but also guarantee a clean workspace that’s free from dust, detritus, and debris — ensuring a perfectly smooth final finish. Available in a variety of sizes, you can purchase a booth for crafting and modeling, furniture, and even automotive retouching.
2. Use a Drop Cloth
Once you have a designated location — and you haven’t the luxury of a spray booth — the ground and the surrounding area will need to be protected from overspray.
Some people waste a lot of time and energy taping newspapers together for what seems like an eternity. Then, after all that work, the newspapers fall apart in the middle of the job.
Avoid this newbie mistake by embracing large drop cloths as your new painting best friend. Available in both reusable canvas and disposable polythene formats — not only will a quality drop cloth shield your flooring and furniture, but it will also help to protect your finish by keeping dust from kicking up onto your fresh coat.
3. Always Think Safety
Spray painting in and of itself is not dangerous. But in any paint job, it’s important to remember that the paint itself may expose you to potentially dangerous chemicals delivered at high pressure.
This is particularly relevant when using airless machines. Knocking out over 3000 PSI, these machines can cause skin injuries if used incorrectly.
For detailed info, take a look at my handy guide to Safely Using a Paint Sprayer. Or, if you’re short on time, here’s a quick rundown of the key points:
- Choose paint materials with safety in mind. Never use mysterious, unlabeled liquids and always follow the usage recommendations outlined by the manufacturer.
- Wear protective clothing. Use coveralls, facemask, gloves, and safety goggles for belt-and-braces protection.
- Consider using a barrier cream on your hands and face for added shielding.
- Take your time — rushing work leads to accidents.
- Always spray in a well-ventilated area.
- Check for sources of ignition as some paints are flammable — utilize a flammable liquid compatible sprayer, such as the Graco 17M367.
- Never point the spray gun at yourself or others.
- Use a tip guard to prevent your fingers from passing in front of the paint jet.
- Maintain your sprayer — replace worn parts.
- Buy your machine from a reputable brand — such as Titan, Graco, or Wagner.
4. Make Life Easy for Yourself
You’re using a paint sprayer as it takes less effort than a brush or roller. Don’t negate that strain-busting benefit by choosing to paint in awkward situations.
Just as one size doesn’t fit all, one uniform approach doesn’t fit all pieces either.
If the item you plan to paint is small to medium in size, don’t set it up on the floor — unless you want to wreck your back or are lucky enough to have the flexibility of a yoga instructor. Instead, place it in a higher location — such as a workbench.
The more comfortable you are and the less you have to stretch, hunch, and contort your body into weird positions — the cleaner and smoother your finish will be.
Admittedly, larger items such as cabinets may be too bulky to fit on a desk. However, trade-pros still elevate these items off the floor utilizing anything from cinder blocks through to automotive jacks.
Furthermore, don’t be afraid of removing an item from its original location if it simplifies the painting procedure. For example, doors can easily be unmounted and placed on a pair of sawhorses. This enables you to address the wood in a horizontal position instead of vertical — which reduces the likelihood of drips.
Finally, don’t overstretch. Not only could you do yourself a mischief, but overreaching also can lead to a poor quality finish. Instead, utilize a step-ladder or spray painting wand.
5. Prepare Your Base Material
As the adage says — fail to prepare, prepare to fail.
Ok, it’s a tired cliché, but it remains solid advice. Inadequate surface preparation can lead to an uneven, rough coat that’s liable to peeling.
Before you commence painting, ensure you:
- Remove any hardware such as doors, knobs, knockers, and hinges.
- If painting wood, check for old nails and screws and remove.
- Sand your target area with sandpaper or an electric sander.
- Check the base material for cracks and holes — fill with wood filler, body filler, or spackle as appropriate.
- Sand again until the filler is flush with the surface.
- Wash the area to remove dirt, dust, and debris — use soapy water if using waterborne paints, or mineral spirits for oil-based mediums.
- Allow to dry thoroughly before commencing spraying.
6. Prepare Your Paint
Don’t assume you can just fill your sprayer with any paint and crack on with your work — that’s an immediate recipe for disaster.
Coating mediums differ in their viscosity and density. Typically, stains, sealers, urethanes, varnishes, and lacquers are the thinnest liquids — while chalks, latexes, and epoxies are the thickest.
While virtually all paint sprayers on the market will knock out the low-density paints — higher viscosity mediums are the realm of the more powerful units. The most grunty format is the airless category, including machines such as the Graco 390, which can deliver virtually every paint type on the planet.
Hence, always check the manufacturer’s instructions to ensure that your unit can cope with your chosen paint format.
In some circumstances, thinning will be necessary to ensure smooth and consistent delivery and prevent blockages. When diluting your paint, you must:
- Use a viscosity cup to achieve the correct thinning volume.
- Dilute with water for waterborne mediums.
- Thin with spirits for oil-based paints.
For more detail, check out my How to Thin Paint 101.
7. Use the Correct Nozzle
The nozzle is the business end of the machine — choose incorrectly, and you will achieve a less than perfect finish and impair the function of your gun.
In general terms, the thicker the paint, the wider the diameter nozzle you require. However, as airless machines have some serious brawn, they can knock out denser paints from a narrower tip than the lower-powered turbines.
I know what you’re thinking — why not just stick on a wide diameter nozzle and then you can shoot out all coverage medium densities?
While this course of action will undoubtedly allow uninterrupted paint flow — you’re liable to drench your target material with an overload of liquid — leading to pooling, dripping, and overly thick coats.
So, choose wisely.
As selecting the perfect tip is a little complicated and depends upon numerous variables — I’ve put together a complete guide here.
8. Operate Your Gun Like a Pro
Spray painting is like throwing a football, ballroom dancing, and making love to your partner — technique is crucial.
Although you may have impressive equipment — if you wield it incorrectly, results will be disappointing.
Here are my top tricks for an even, flaw-free coat:
- Spray from a distance of 8-12 inches from your target material.
- Use long, continuous passes.
- Utilize up-and-down strokes for narrow areas, such as fence slats and railings.
- Perform side-to-side passes for wide surfaces, like walls and tabletops.
- Choose the correct fan pattern for your movement — horizontal for up-and-down, vertical for side-to-side, and circular for addressing fine finish locations.
- Overlap each pass by around 30-50 percent.
- Keep the gun at a parallel, consistent distance from your target — avoid sweeping ‘arcs’, which will lead to an uneven coat.
9. Ease off the Gas
While it’s tempting to crank up your sprayer to eleventy-stupid — just because you can doesn’t mean you should.
Sure, you’re going to complete your project ridiculously quickly — but you’re also going to waste a bucket-load of paint, drench areas that don’t need painting in coverage medium, and find your final coat is thick, drippy, and uneven.
So, cool it.
Set your painting machine onto the lowest pressure setting possible. Perform a few test sprays onto a piece of cardboard to check that the medium is flowing evenly and without splutters. If not, turn up the power a little and test again. You’re aiming for the smallest output strength that suitably propels the paint.
Following this procedure means less covering medium is lost in overspray, your coat is flaw-free, and only your target material receives a blast of paint.
10. Clean Your Equipment
As the preacher John Wesley stated in 1791 — Cleanliness is next to Godliness.
While I’m not qualified to express an opinion on the ecumenical and theological importance of ablutions — I can guarantee that thoroughly washing your paint sprayer post-project is absolutely crucial.
I know, it’s a pain in the butt. Splashing around with soapy water isn’t exactly manly, is incredibly tedious, and eats into valuable drinking time. However, if you want results worthy of a pro — sorry buddy, but you need to do it.
Giving your sprayer a little TLC at the end of your working day ensures that any residual paint is removed. Hence, when you whip it out for your next job, your new coat isn’t ruined by evidence of last week’s project. Furthermore, rinsing your tool prevents corrosion and degradation of the sprayer’s crucial components — saving you downtime, the headache of ordering replacement parts, and protecting your hard-earned dollars.
Here are my top tricks for serious cleaning:
- Break down the machine into its component parts — gun, hose, and base unit, allowing you to access all areas. If you’re confident (and it’s really not that difficult with a gun wrench), remove the nozzle and tip from the shooter.
- Use soapy water for cleaning out the remains of waterborne paint, and thinners for oil-based mediums.
- Utilize thin wire brushes to clean your gun’s internal chambers — I recommend getting hold of a bespoke spray gun cleaning kit.
- Invest in a hose shield to cut back on hose cleaning time.
Closing Words on Paint Sprayer Painting Tricks
So, there you have it. Do you consider yourself to be an expert paint sprayer yet? Maybe not quite, but with these awesome tricks and tips, you’re well and truly on your way.
To achieve perfection in spray painting, you need two essential things — a reliable paint sprayer and the correct techniques. With a little practice, you can transform the most mundane household objects into outstanding, like-new, prize attractions. Improving your home and adding the finishing touches has never been easier.
Why not see what all the fuss is about and give spray painting a try?
Got any questions or need some expert advice on airless paint sprayers and turbine sprayers and all things in between?
If you do, get in touch.
At Tool Nerds, we’re always happy to help.