How to use airless paint sprayer? – Tips & Guide

Are you looking forward to quickly have a glass-smooth finish on a paint job? Well, an airless paint sprayer might do the trick. From pros to do-it-yourselfers, everyone is using a paint sprayer to deal with their worn-out walls or peeling cabinets.

Who doesn’t want a flawless, easier, and faster paint job?

This article is a detailed how-to, outlining the correct set-up, techniques used by pros, and what not to do while painting using an airless sprayer.

Without further ado, let’s see how you will tackle your next painting DIY project. Also, we hope these tips will help your painting skills move from zero to hero.

What is an Airless Paint Sprayer?
How Does an Airless Paint Sprayer Work?
How to Use an Airless Paint Sprayer
Most Helpful Spraying Techniques
How to Clean an Airless Paint Sprayer
Safety Requirements for an Airless Sprayer
What is Overspray?
Causes of Overspray
Tips to Prevent Overspray while Painting
Do You Have to Thin Paint for an Airless Sprayer?

What is an Airless Paint Sprayer?

An airless sprayer is a piece of painting equipment popularly used by skilled painters and contractors to paint vast areas including drywall, fences, or house exteriors.

They are appropriate for painting a wide array of paint products and materials including oil/water-based paints, lacquers, among others. The airless sprayer works through a high-pressure pump that atomizes the paint enhancing its application.

Pros & Cons of Airless Paint Sprayer

With an airless paint sprayer, the high-pressure pump gives you a smoother appearance than that of a roller. It permits you to not only have a consistent finish but also a high-quality one on both smooth and rough surfaces. It makes it easier to enhance the look and feel of your home without engaging an expert painter.

Besides, airless sprayers dye straight from a pail or can, making it faster for you to carry out a project. In comparison to a roller or brush, you refill your tools less often making it suitable for huge jobs.

However, there is no rose without a thorn. While using airless sprayers, you have to be prepared for the mess that might come with it. Some of the spray droplets drift off to the nearby surfaces hence the necessity to shield and mask off anything you need paint-free – 20-40% of the dye may end up wasted by the time you are finishing.

When it comes to outdoor painting, the risk is tenfold as the overspray can drift to your flowers, shrubs, and even the neighbor’s property. Additionally, the elaborate machine parts need a more thorough clean-up and storage process compared to ordinary brushes and rollers.

All dye has to be flushed out from the pump, hose, and spray gun ensuring they are ready for the next paint job. The filters also need some action and a distinctive storage fluid-applied before putting them in storage.

With that being said, the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. If you have a big paint job, an airless brush will give you the smoother polish in the shortest period possible. And, time is money, right?

How Does an Airless Paint Sprayer Work?

As the name suggests, airless sprayers never utilize air in paint atomization. Instead, the paint is pumped at extremely high pressure (up to 3,000 psi) by the sprayer via a tiny orifice. Beginning at the tip, the paint is disseminated in a fan-shaped/crisp line spray outline of small droplets evenly onto a surface.

The difference between an accomplished and a sloppy appearance is in the tip. From patterning to controlling overspray, airless sprayer tips defines the outcome of your project.

The choice of a tip is dependent on the viscosity of the application. There are tips for thinner fluids like lacquer or varnish, and those for more viscous applications like latex.

An airless sprayer could either have a piston or a diaphragm pump. Let’s look at its different parts to completely understand the functioning.

Piston Pump

It’s the heart of the airless sprayer as it’s the most essential part. It draws the paint from the source and pressurizes it.

As the piston moves up in the cylinder, it creates a vacuum that imbibes the paint into the chamber then it moves down and forces the paint out through the high-pressure hose. It allows you to have a continuous discharge rate even for the very dense liquids.

Diaphragm Pump

In a diaphragm pump, the piston uses hydraulic fluid to move the diaphragm. In return, the diaphragm imbibes the paint and forces it up the high-pressure hose.

Both the piston and hydraulic fluid make the diaphragm move up and down quickly. The only downside is that the diaphragm pump doesn’t pump dense solutions as well as the piston pump.


It is probably the second most vital part of the paint sprayer. It’s the powerhouse for the pump. Most of them use electric motors while the gas engine sprayer comes second. Look into the motor warranty details before considering to purchase one.


The hose is specially designed to accommodate extreme pressure. The pressurized liquid gets to the gun and spray tip via the hose.


The switch valve is responsible for setting the airless sprayer to either Prime or Spray mode.


The tip controls the quantity of fluid that comes out of the sprayer. For this reason, it’s nice to have different types of tip sizes for your painting kit. We advise that you replace the tip if it’s worn out as you’ll have round instead of neat narrow patterns.

How to Use an Airless Paint Sprayer

These are the essentials required to use your airless sprayer. Ensure that you go through your specific make user manual before starting.

Prime the pump

You have to prime the pump to get rid of air bubbles and have your sprayer flowing properly. This is done by turning the sprayer to the prime mode and running paint through it until no more air bubbles. Use a waste pail and the shorter prime tube to run the paint.

Fill the hose and gun

After you have primed your machine, you can now fill your hose with paint and secure the tip. Ensure your sprayer is switched to spray mode and allow the paint to run through the exposed tip until a continuous flow is maintained. Afterward, secure the trigger, relieve the pressure, fit the tip guard, and attach the tip.

To relieve pressure, turn the power off and set the sprayer to prime mode. Ensure you have a waste bucket and aim the gun inside it as you pull the trigger to release pressure. Then, secure the trigger.

Select the best tip for your project

A sprayer tip is fitted into the hole at the anterior of your airless sprayer gun. They have three-digit labels that distinguish the sizes. Double the first number to get the width of the spray fan. For instance, a 515 tip has a 10-inch fan shape.

The subsequent two numbers show the dimensions of the tip hole in thousandths of an inch. In the illustration above, the diameter of the hole is 0.015 which works best for thicker liquids. Thinner solutions like varnish are sprayed with small diameter holes (.009- .013) while denser liquids like latex work with larger holes (.015 or .017).

Adjust Pressure

To set the appropriate pressure range for your job, look at the user guidebook for clear pressure adjustments.

Once you’ve set it, rotate the valve to spray mode. Try it out by spraying on cardboard to see the spray outline before you begin painting.

If the outline has tails, turn the pressure up as that’s an indication of low pressure. On the other hand, too much pressure results in overspray. You don’t want patchy spray patterns or premature tip wear on your job.

Most Helpful Spraying Techniques

Spray painting can be a daunting task for novice and first-timers. If you have an airless sprayer at your hands, these tricks will take your painting game to the next level.

Use a drop cloth at all times

Painting always creates a mess. You need to have peace of mind that you don’t mess up the places you want clean. Newspapers were the old school solution.

However, there is so much work that goes into tapping it together with no guarantee of not falling apart when you smack in the middle of a mess.

A large good-quality drop cloth is your best friend. It protects your floors and surfaces until you are done.

Prepare your space

A masterpiece is a reflection of a great foundation. The basics have to be dead-on. For projects, ensure the surface you plan to dye is free of dust, debris, rust, and rough edges.

The rough patches show on the new paint so the smoothening is vital. A sandpaper or steel wool smoothens rough surfaces well enough. After, use wet and dry clothes to wipe the surface clean.


When it comes to painting, getting the thickness right and properly covering the entire surface is the goal of any project. For quality finishes, plan the sequence of your painting.

If you are painting a door, start with spraying the edges, then top to bottom, and finish by spraying side to side at right angles. Don’t move the gun in arcs but have it parallel to the surface moving perpendicularly.

To get a uniform solid coat, overlap your spray paintwork by 30-50%. If the coat is too thick, move faster or opt for a smaller diameter spray tip hole.

Keep in mind that numerous thin coats look more appealing than one thick coat. Alternately, move faster if the finish isn’t covering the entire surface or get a larger tip with a narrower fan width.


Most airless sprayer problems are initiated by clogged tips and filters, leaking pumps, or jammed ball-check valves. Apt cleaning and maintenance of your device eradicate these problems.

Some problems like irregular coverage and runs are mainly caused by inadequate experience or using an inappropriate tip. Practice makes perfect so keep at it.

How to Clean an Airless Paint Sprayer

Cleaning your airless sprayer is vital to ensuring you don’t encounter any issues. Clean-up the pump, hose, gun, filters, and tips before storing them.

If the tip is clogged, twist it 180 degrees direct the gun towards a waste bucket, and press the trigger to remove the clog. Then return your sprayer to default settings and test to see if you’re in the clear.

Once you have turned off the power and relieving pressure, open the prime valve to detach the filter assembly and the spray gun. Remove the guard and switch tip as well.

Now the run paint thinner or water via the filter, switch tip and guard to clean them up. You can use a lenient brush on them and look for any damages.

Get the siphon hose from the paint and flush fluids through it. For water-based paints, pass water otherwise uses mineral spirits. However, if you flash with water, you’ll need to apply pump armor or mineral spirits to avoid corrosion or freezing.

Safety Requirements for an Airless Sprayer

Knowing the dangers that arise from operating an airless sprayer enables you to take precautions. The user manual usually comes with a clear guideline on the protective gear and materials you should use.

For rental equipment, to be on the safer side request for the precaution list. Here are some of the most significant precautions to observe.

Always confirm that the trigger is locked and use the correct procedure to relieve pressure before you install tips or service the sprayer. Only after depressurizing the unit, can you put your hand in front of the sprayer tip.

The high-pressure spray can get the paint inside your skin resulting in a poison hazard. Seek immediate medical attention if you perforate your skin with the sprayer.

Always wear safety glasses/goggles that have a respirator’s approval. Ensure your working area is well aerated. Wear protective gloves.

What is Overspray?

According to Wikipedia, “Overspray refers to the application of any form of paint, varnish, stain or other non-water-soluble airborne particulate material onto an unintended location.”

In short, it’s wasted paint on the wrong surface creating a mess around you. The silver lining is that you can easily control overspray. But first, let’s look at what causes overspray and avoid it.

Causes of Overspray

Air pressure

High-pressure results in overspray as the material hits the surface hard creating a cloud. When purchasing a sprayer, get the ones with adjustable pressure alternatives.

Spray patterns

The width of the surface you are painting determines the spray outline applied. For large area coverage, use a broad spray pattern while using the narrow pattern for smaller regions. Opt for a sprayer with several pattern options for you to adjust as you see fit.

Spray angle

Have you ever tried to spray on the surface on your right but aimed at the opposite side? Quite a messy, right?

When using a sprayer, keep a right angle to the surface as 99% of the paint lands on the surface.

Regardless of if you are covering a broad or narrow surface, this angle is the best solution against overspray.

Spraying distance

The distance between you and the surface you are spraying can also cause overspray. Being too close results in overspray and uneven finishes. However, if you are too far the spray will get all over the place creating a mess. Stand between 6 &10 inches and check the instructions on the user manual.


The wind is known to blow anything on its path. If you are painting indoors, turn off your fan as it disturbs the paint from settling and sprays it mist all over.

However, if you are working outdoors you have no control over the wind, so paint when the wind is slow. A mild breeze is okay for painting but the strong wind on one direction causes overspray in the same direction.

Tips to Prevent Overspray while Painting

Pick the proper tip

The tip goes hand in hand with the fluid thickness. You have to pick the most appropriate tip for your project. Larger tips are best for covering extensive areas as they release more spray while smaller tips are good for smaller areas.

But keep in mind that the tip pattern and size depends on the project. For instance, a large tip for a cabinet project will cause massive overspray.

Use the appropriate pressure

The fine mist of high-pressure paint released via the spout tip makes painting stress-free and efficient. Go for the low PSI units and adjust accordingly as you progress. Low pressure ensures you avoid overspray and patchy layers.

Note the technique you use

It takes practice to be a pro spray painter. From adopting the right speed to the exact painting angle. You can get an expert to support you with some skills but also follow the instructions from the manual.

Increase the electrostatic charge

Well, increasing the electrostatic charge on the paint particles makes them more attracted to the surface producing a smooth layer. It’s a pro tip mainly used by vehicle manufacturers to spray cars and accessories.

Remember the term opposites attract? That’s exactly what happens here. The low electrostatic charged surface attracts the high electrostatic charged particles.

Do You Have to Thin Paint for an Airless Sprayer?

Prepping your dye is as important as prepping the space and the techniques you use. It’s a painless process that gets your paint ready for work. Thinning is a major factor in the quality of your paint job. A thinning agent like water is often used in this stage.

For latex paint, add a minimum of 10% of water and mix well. It is extremely thick and needs to be thinned down before use.

Oil-based paints are less viscous compared to latex but to get a better quality finish you need to thin it as well. Check out the manufacturer label for clear thinning ratios but 10% of mineral spirits will do.

Water-based acrylic paints are very easy to thin. However, be careful not to add excess water as their bonding capacity is lost. If you are working on a non-absorbent surface, don’t exceed 30% of water. For the absorbent surfaces, you can add up to 50%.

Ready to start your DIY project? Remember, it’s not ‘Abracadabra’ but an airless sprayer might be your next indispensable tool.

Now over to you!

Bob Flexner

I'm Bob Flexner, the DYI enthusiast from New York. I have a diploma in Chemical Engineering, interested in programming. I enjoy hearing from you, share ideas and tips, so I decided to start a blog.

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