5 Different Types of Paint Sprayers: Which is Right for You?

a man paint spraying

The paint sprayers below have been evaluated based on their ability to perform day-to-day painting tasks. Our objective was to compile a list that profiles each of the mainstream types of sprayers, to ensure that professionals and amateurs alike are able to get something that will perform as well as possible.

Below, we look at how the paint sprayers you’re likely to encounter succeed at what they do, and where they fail.

The 5 Different Types of Paint Sprayers:

1. Airless Paint Sprayers

For skilled amateurs and professionals with a big budget

Graco Magnum X5 Airless Paint Sprayer

Here’s the Graco Magnum X5 airless paint sprayer. This model is the winner of our tests.

Airless paint sprayers use a ton of pressure to atomize the paint, pushing it out through the head of the unit in the form of tiny droplets. These droplets assume an even pattern that finishes smoothly on the work surface.

It’s all about speed when you are dealing with an airless sprayer. The massive amounts of pressure create a rapid stream that allows you to finish massive projects in a relatively short amount of time.

Large volume work is what airless paint sprayers are most often used for. They are able to paint walls (both inside and outside) in a matter of minutes rather than hours.
Usually, they are fairly expensive, and as such are mostly owned by professionals. However, there are more commercially affordable options available to rent or buy.

However, there are a few ways in which they struggle. For one thing, they’re often guilty of overspray, which is exactly what it sounds like. Overspray occurs when you pump out more than you were bargaining for, resulting in gloppy streaks, and other unfortunate errors in your painting.

As a result, these sprayers are not often used on craftsperson work. If you want to make an intricate design on a piece of furniture, or even cabinets, you’ll probably be better served by a different paint sprayer.

The other problem is that they don’t always work well outside. This is really true of just about any sprayer, but all the more so in the case of airless units due to how rapidly the atomized paint is pumped out.

When it’s even lightly breezy, the paint will drift substantially, which leads to serious accuracy problems, as well as the potential for large messes.

–> You can see an overview of our top 5 picks here.

Painting projects it works well for: interior & exterior walls, decks, and fences

Pros
  • Paints large spaces very quickly
  • Usually produces clean patterns
Cons
  • Potential for overspray
  • Doesn’t work extremely well on projects requiring precision

2. HVLP Paint Sprayers

Great for skilled amateurs and professionals on a budget. Also excels at precision work

Wagner Spraytech HVLP paint sprayer

The Wagner Spraytech Control Spray Max. This is our favorite HVLP paint sprayer.

The high volume low pressure (HVLP) paint sprayer is the exact opposite of the airless system. HVLP sprayers also atomize their paint, but rather than using lots of pressure to produce a fine mist of spray, the HVLP system minimizes the pressure to produce higher volumes.

As a result, it is not a speedy system—it wasn’t made to be one. You probably wouldn’t use it to paint a room, but you might use it to apply a paint job to the crown molding, your furniture, or your cabinets. It’s a precision painting tool.

A decent HVLP paint sprayer will produce a beautiful finish on projects that you really want to make look good.

The main issue with these paint sprayers is that they clog a lot. This is actually an issue with any paint sprayer but particularly so in the case of the HVLP. It’s a consequence of the low amounts of pressure that it uses. Paint tends to clog up in the tubes and tips rendering it useless until you have the chance to clean it.

There are some sprayers out there that include features to mitigate this problem. For example, they might feature a special port that allows you to hook up the system to your garden hose for easy cleaning.

Regardless of issues though, if you need a HVLP sprayer, no other option will really be able to get the job done.

Painting projects it works well for: cabinets, furniture, molding & anything that requires nuance

Pros
  • Usually more affordable than airless models
  • Great for up-close and personal work
Cons
  • Suffers more clogs than the average spray system

3. LVLP Paint Sprayers

Good for DIYers

Astro EVOT14 LVLP Spray Gun

The Astro EVOT14. This is the LVLP spray gun we recommend.

The low volume low-pressure paint sprayer (LVLP) is the perfect tool for the layperson. Since these sprayers are generally fairly affordable and made to be easy to use, they combine value with quality to provide good paint jobs at an affordable price.

The name effectively describes how they operate. With low pressure indeed, they require only 10PSI or so to function. As a result, you’re able to use basic air compressors as opposed to the expensive industrial-sized units that more intense spray systems require. This saves a lot of money and lots of storage space for the person who is just trying to outfit a basic DIY tool collection.

These sprayers are able to work in much the same way as an airless gun, painting large surfaces with relative ease.

The problem is that the low amount of pressure these guns use limits the types of materials that they can work with. Thicker paints won’t be compatible. This is a big deal for the professional, but not such a major problem for the average person looking to paint a fence at low cost.

Painting projects it works well for: interior walls, fences & decks

Pros
  • Generally very affordable
  • Able to paint large surfaces quickly
Cons
  • Not powerful enough to work with thicker paints

4. Gravity Feed Spray Guns

DEWALT DWMT70777 Gravity Feed Spray Gun

DEWALT DWMT70777. This is one of the best gravity feed spray guns of 2019.

Great for spraying cars

The gravity feed spray gun (so named for the fact that the paint feed reservoir rests atop the sprayer) is another unit designed for producing a fine finish. Much like the HVLP, it is able to produce a variety of different coats on the work surface.

In actuality, the gravity feed is not a subcategory of paint sprayer, so much as it is a design element that can play out in a variety of different systems.

With the siphoning element situated on the top of the gun, the gravity feed sprayer requires much less pressure than other options. The result is extreme precision, no overspray, and a very small cleanup. This type of sprayer is very commonly used for spraying cars, which it truly excels at.

You won’t use this approach with larger jobs, but it is a good way to add a more refined touch to your work. The gravity sprayer first hit the scene in the context of automotive work. It was especially prized for its ability to lay down clear coats of paint. Now, however, it’s used for a wide range of projects.

Works well for: spraying your car

Pros
  • Extremely precise
  • Easy to clean up
Cons
  • Not very good for high volume work

5. Compressed Air Paint Sprayers

Somewhat outdated – We would choose one of the above instead

Technically, the LVLP is actually a compressed air paint sprayer, but this is a broader category that deserves a little more attention. The compressed air paint sprayer is usually on the simpler side, requiring only a spray gun, and an air compressor.

Due to the simplicity of the setup, they are generally valued by amateurs, though anyone can use one. As evidenced above, they work best with high volume spraying tasks, but you can also use them in cooperation with special accessories to perform precision tasks.

Depending on the system, they may struggle with overspray or clogging, but any issues will depend on the type of gun used, as well as the power of the compressor.

Also note that this type of paint sprayer has pretty much been replaced by the LVLP, thus making it hard to find any of these on the market.

Pros
  • Simple Setup
  • Easier for amateurs to use
Cons
  • Overspray
  • Clogging
  • Somewhat outdated

Conclusion

Professionals usually have more than one different kind of paint sprayer. At the very least, they are likely to own an HVLP and an airless paint sprayer. To be prepared for any job, you can’t really get away with just owning one.

For the layperson, buying several of these units isn’t very practical. For you, it’s a matter of evaluating what needs to be done and buying or renting the sprayer that at least fulfills the majority of your criteria.

All four of the options highlighted above are right for someone. The hope is that you now know exactly which one is right for you.