Paint sprayer technology has advanced leaps and bounds in recent decades and airless paint sprayers - in particular - have become the tool of choice for many Australian painting tradies and professional painters.
In this blog post we’ll investigate how paint sprayers became the go-to option for professional painters and painting tradies, and we’ll look at some of the alternatives to buying a paint sprayer like using other equipment and renting. Ultimately, investing in a paint sprayer is a great option if you want to produce a smooth finish every time and you want to do so quickly. But let’s get into the ins and outs of paint sprayer purchases…
Why have paint sprayers become more and more popular?
In the 50s, 60s and 70s, paint spray guns were used almost exclusively by commercial and industrial painters, and by painters in the automotive industry. The need for heavy air compressors, sensitive paint spray guns, specialist paint (much of it lead-based) and self-contained spray booths meant that paint sprayers just weren’t a practical option for tradie house painters or DIY enthusiasts.
As new air compressor models became available - including smaller and lighter units - professional painters in other industries started to take notice. By the 80s and 90s, compressed air sprayers (HVLP paint sprayers) had become a more common site around new house builds. Air compressors were also being used by carpenters with compressed air nail guns and impact drivers so using them to spray paint made sense.
In recent years, manufacturers like Graco have improved upon the design of airless paint sprayers and now make a range of professional contractor grade sprayers that are relatively lightweight, portable, and exceptionally high quality. Professional painters can now produce consistently high-quality finishes with airless paint sprayers and now more and more DIY painters are investing in entry-level airless paint sprayers.
Why use a paint sprayer instead of a brush or roller?
Ironically, paint sprayers predate paint rollers by about 20 years. The earliest sprayer units were developed in the late 1800s as a device for delivering medicines. Later, the technology was improved upon as a way of applying lubricants during the construction (or servicing) of motor vehicle engines. It didn’t take long for someone to work out that they were a great way of applying motor vehicle paint, and the paint sprayer quickly replaced paint brushes in the automotive industry.
By comparison, Richard Adams filed the first paint roller patent in 1940, while working for Sherwin-Williams Paint Company. They replaced paint brushes for large-area work across most non-industrial sectors. Paint rollers have been improved consistently since the 40s and modern paint rollers made from synthetic materials or (especially in Australia) lambswool, produce fantastic results. Nonetheless, paint rollers are still significantly slower than a paint spray gun results vary depending on the type of paint used and the surface being painted.
Though there is a significant price difference between the two, replacing rollers for every job may still represent a significant investment and for many professional painters, consistency is a key consideration.
Paint brushes have both rollers and paint sprayers beaten when it comes to history, having been invented around 2.5 million years ago; as early as the Paleolithic era. And while paint brush technology has certainly evolved since then, it remains the most… primitive… option of the three. Brushes just can’t compete with rollers or sprayers for speed, and in most instances don’t produce the same quality of finish. But they have their place as tools for cutting in and for painting hard-to-reach places.
What do professionals use?
It probably won’t surprise you to learn that professional painters use all three - brushes, rollers and paint sprayers. Even with the popularity of paint sprayers, brushes and rollers have their place in a painter’s tool box.
But paint sprayers - especially airless paint sprayers - are quickly becoming the industry standard in Australia, as tradies learn from the experience of their American and European counterparts.
In Europe and the United States, application of what is known as a “Level 5 Finish” has become the benchmark for many, and Customers now expect that quality of finish almost by default. The only way to produce those sorts of results is by using a paint spray gun and so that has become the industry standard.
Australian tradies are following suit and raising their game. Understanding of the “Level 5 Finish” standard is growing in Australia and investment in paint sprayers is growing with it. We’re confident we’ll see more and more painting tradies moving toward airless paint sprayer in the future.
What paint sprayer should I choose for my painting project?
While compressed air paint sprayers are still available, airless sprayers are the future. And airless spray gun provides a smooth and consistent finish, whether you're applying a single layer of paint or multiple layers.
There are a couple of very popular brands when it comes to airless paint sprayer guns, and different manufacturers made different types of paint sprayers for different applications.
- Wagner makes a range of sprayers that include affordable, entry-level paint sprayers and a number of heavier-duty DIY models.
- Graco is the go-to for professionals looking for contractor-grade airless spray painting. They have been around for decades and are among the best-selling brands on the market. They have entry-level models for DIY painters and high-end professional contractor models for commercial painters and painting tradies.
- Rota Cota are a solid mid-range brand with some entry-level options and some more advanced models for professionals.
Picking the right brand and model will come down to your budget and the sort of finish you want to achieve. Professional contractor models provide a professional finish and are what you should be looking at if you're a professional painter who will use their paint sprayer every day.
Should I rent a paint sprayer instead of buying one?
We recently published a blog post about the pros and cons of renting or buying an airless paint sprayer. Many of the ideas discussed there are relevant to the decision to buy a paint sprayer for your home or business. The blog is available here.
Renting a paint sprayer has a range of benefits, including the opportunity to get exactly what you need when you need it. That means that if you have a small paint job around the house or for a Customer, you can rent a small, handheld airless paint sprayer to complete the job. If you’re painting a roof you’ll need a heavy-duty paint sprayer that can accommodate thicker paint and roof membrane and hiring equipment means you can choose exactly what you need.
Renting also means that you don’t have to make a significant up-front investment, and you don’t have to spend money on maintenance. When you’re finished with the paint sprayer you hired you can just return it and get your deposit back.
Though paint sprayers are getting better and better, and that means smaller and smaller, size is still a factor if you need to store it when you aren’t using it. If you’re not going to use it regularly, it’s just another piece of hardware sitting in your garage or storage shed waiting for your next painting project. If you just don’t have the space to store a paint sprayer, renting might be the way to go.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is it better to paint a house by hand or with a sprayer?
A sprayer is a great option if you plan to paint a whole house. Whether you've build a new home or you're renovating, a sprayer is a great option. In most instances, a professional painting tradie will do the same. So if you're going to DIY, consider whether there's a paint sprayer in your price range.
Should I spray or roll my ceiling?
Paint sprayers are an ideal choice for ceilings and are the best way to avoid application of excess paint and drips. Paint sprayers are also ideal for textured surfaces and "popcorn ceilings". You can still cut-in your ceiling perimeter with a brush or roller but spraying the remainder is usually the way to go.
Can I use normal paint in a sprayer?
Generally yes, though it depends on the type of sprayer you have. Most paint sprayers have no problems with regular household paint. Some entry-level models can struggle with thicker paint like oil-based paint. You'll need a more heavy-duty paint sprayer if you plan to paint a roof with specialised roof membrane.
How messy are paint sprayers?
Paint sprayers are only as messy as the user. Most modern paint is water-based and can be cleaned with soapy water. That means even if you make a mistake, it's easy enough to rectify. Over-spray is one of the drawbacks of paint sprayers and it can be worth practicing on a different surface or a piece of cardboard first.
Is it hard to learn to use a paint sprayer?
There is a certain 'art' to painting, regardless of the tools you are using. Paint sprayers generally require the lowest skill level as the complex part is in the setup and the actually painting is a matter of point and shoot. It's easy to learn to use a paint sprayer and there are plenty of instructional videos online, including from most major manufacturers.
How many coats of paint do you use with a sprayer?
It depends entirely on your painting job, the type of paint you use, and the type of surface you are painting. Concrete and porous bricks will absorb paint and you'll likely need multiple coats. But plasterboard or Gyprock walls often only need a primer and then a top coat.
Do you use less paint with a sprayer?
It depends how many coats you are applying and the type of paint you are using. Generally you use less paint because you draw straight from the bucket and you don't need to pour paint into a separate container or roller tray. In simple terms, there's less waste and excess paint used.