What is the biggest end goal in your painting project? Doing a quality job should be priority one but you can't ignore timeline, costs, inconvenience, safety, etc. It's when you take all these things into consideration that you can truly decide whether to use a spray gun or a roller when painting.

Spray guns would seem to be the fastest, most convenient way to paint your home. That's definitely true... on some jobs. After you've confirmed you're going to use a sprayer for your project, we'll get into the ins and outs of how to use a spray paint gun.

Is the Spray Gun the Right Choice for My Job?

If you've made the decision to use a spray gun instead of a roller, you should know that although the actual painting time will be faster there is an excessive amount of prep work needed. Sprayers put a lot of paint particles into the air and thus every square inch you don't want covered needs to be masked.

There's a lot more stray paint damage that could be done inside the house involving carpet, furniture, trim, windows, etc. so masking the interior is a much more tedious process. Although the exterior still needs to be protected, paint sprayers are going to give you much more efficiency on outside projects. 40' high walls painted with a roller can be excruciating on your body at the end of the day. Spray guns are much more ergonomic compared to rollers and are great for interior ceilings as well.

Depending on how experienced of a painter you are rollers do provide a more consistent, quality coat. This is because it takes a bit to get used to the distance and methods of how to use a spray paint gun. You have to learn sometime though and using a spray gun now – even for intermediate jobs – will have you more prepared on how to use a spray paint gun down the line.

man painting wall with spray gun


Paint Sprayer Gun Access

One of the biggest reasons homeowners aren't that familiar with how to use a spray paint gun is because they simply do not have the access to one. Look at what is needed when using a roller:

  • Roller
  • Roller Cover
  • Paint Tray
  • Tray Liner

That's a very minimal amount of painting tools and accessories needed and all of which can be purchased for under $40. Cheap spray guns can be had for roughly that same price, but expect a lot of jamming and paint waste with those models. Spending $100 to $250 on economy class spray guns is actually the better route because the spray pattern will be better, it will waste less paint, it can be repaired, and there are nozzle options available. Graco spray guns are recognised as the industry standard for performance, quality and durability.

Renting a paint spray gun is an option – if you have a smaller scale project. You can expect to pay a minimum of $40 per day to rent a gun though which isn't viable if you're painting a whole house in a week plus long project.

Masking for Paint Sprayer Gun Use

woman applying masking tape before using spray gun

When homeowners use a roller to paint their home, they often prefer cutting in with a brush instead of masking with tape to avoid the tedious prep time. Masking with tape is about ¼ of the process as masking for an air sprayer is though, especially on the interior.

Some people consider the masking process a job within itself. The process includes:

  • Removing all the small items from a room
  • Moving the remaining furniture, cabinets, etc. into the middle of the room and covering them with plastic drop cloth.
  • Removing light switches and outlet covers and putting painter's tape over the switches.
  • Masking off windows, doors, and trim with painter's tape and plastic
  • Cover the floor board and flooring with plastic sheeting
  • Cover at least 18 -24” of the ceiling perimeter if it is going to be a different colour than the walls

Then you still have to consider the normal surface preparation work of repairing gouges in a wall with drywall Spackle , scraping away flaking paint, and cleaning all the dirt and grime off the wall.

For exterior preparation follow the same general process. Move patio furniture, grills, etc. away from the painting zone. Place drop cloths over any outdoor central AC units or gas meters and tape off / plastic windows, doors, trim, and anything you don't want covered in paint.

Optimal Conditions for Using Spray Paint Gun

An airless spray gun is going to put a lot of paint particles into the air so thus it makes sense that the less wind on the day you paint the better. The best temperatures to use the spray gun fall between the 50° F and 85° F range. Ideally the relative humidity will be below 85% and you'll paint out of direct sunlight and on days when no rain is expected.

What Kind of Paint Does a Spray Gun Use?

You'll want to be choosing paint that is water based when using an air sprayer as you'll need to mix the paint to make sure it flows freely through system. There's a general guideline of mixing ½ a cup of water for every gallon of paint in a bucket. To be exactly certain your paint is mixed correctly use a viscosity cup. A viscosity cup is a small funnel/measuring cup hybrid that lets you clock the time it takes for the paint to run through it. Once it takes the paint 0:30 to 0:40 to run through the viscosity cup you've got a good mix.

Getting Ready to Use the Actual Spray Gun

Many people consider the masking and mixing process to be harder than the actual painting of a room. Starting up the gun involves processes very similar to firing up any combustion lawn equipment. To use the air sprayer you need to first depressurize by holding the gun to a solid piece and pressing the trigger to relieve the tank.

Priming a paint gun requires adjusting the pressure so that paint can efficiently come through the intake valve and eventually out the drain tube. Since guns vary on this process, it's important to always read the specific user manual and follow all safety precautions.

The Spraying Method

Full disclosure – mastering the actual method of using a paint spraying gun does take a little getting used to. Before heading to the canvas of the house, it's best to practice on a piece of cardboard until you can fine tune the pressure and distance. The optimal distance away from the paint surface is recommended at 10” to 12” away from the surface needing to be painted. Even slight changes in how far away you are from the surface will alter how the paint is applied.

The sprayer should also be held in a perpendicular manner to the area that needs to be painted. Pointing the nozzle up or down can cause runs and streaks as well as generally uneven application. Think of painting with an air sprayer just like cutting with a lawn mower – go back and forth but also overlap your previous swipe for maximum coverage.

The nozzle may have to be fine tuned to get the application coverage you want. A narrow pattern paints in excess which causes runs while a wide pattern spatters out and doesn't cover accurately requiring multiple passes.

paint spraying-technique

How to Use a Spray Paint Gun Summary

For big interior walls as well as most exterior jobs, a spray paint gun can be a lifesaver. Using a sprayer isn't for everybody, but once you master the distance, mix, and procedure of going without the can and brush it's hard to go back. After every time you use the sprayer, the process only gets easier.