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Paint Sprayer: Right for Your Job?

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If you have done any kind of painting, you're probably sick of wielding a roller or brush. Paintbrushes are good only for small areas, particularly those areas that need thick, intensive coats of paint. Paint rollers also lay down a thick coat, but it's hard on your back and it's hard to get nice, even coats all the way across. That's why many homeowners are attracted to the idea of using a paint sprayer as a substitute for these other labor-intensive methods.

Is a Paint Sprayer Right for Your Job?

That is the first question you need to ask. Many DIY home renovators assume that a paint sprayer can be used for all projects. Let us first cover some of the negatives of using paint sprayers, to dissuade you of any notions you may have that using a paint sprayer is a panacea for all of your problems:
  • The prep work for using paint sprayers (masking tape, tarps, etc.) is brutal. Literally, every single thing that will not be painted must be covered. There is no "wiggle room" like you might have with rollers or brushes.
  • Cleaning paint sprayers has to be factored into the entire "time cost" of the project.
  • Paint sprayers on the cheaper end of the scale can often be practically worthless. Contrast this with other remodeling tools, such as lower-end miter saws or cordless drills, which are not exactly miraculous but do the job sufficiently enough to warrant the purchase. But dirt-cheap paint sprayers are usually more trouble than they are worth.
  • Paint sprayers are a terrible choice for small jobs. You may spend more time with prep work and clean-up than you will with the actual painting.

What Are Some of the Positive Aspects of Paint Sprayers?

The best thing about paint sprayers is that they allow you to cover wide swaths with less effort than you would with paint rollers or brushes. As an added benefit, paint sprayers allow you to override certain surface imperfections such as bumps, gaps, cracks, and other things that often cause problems for paint rollers or brushes.

Another great thing about paint sprayers is they allow for a more even coat. Even though you still need to be aware of overlapping, as you would with paint rollers, it is far less of a factor when you're dealing with paint sprayers.

Because of the mist and potential for over-spray, paint sprayers are a tough sell for interior painting. On the other hand, paint sprayers are almost made for exterior painting: few problems with overspray, ability to override the inevitable imperfections found on exterior siding, and the ability to cover wide swaths in one motion.

What Kind of Paint Sprayer Should You Buy?

Paint sprayers start cheap, and get expensive really fast. Professional painters have paint sprayers running into the thousands of dollars. As a DIY renovator, you may choose to start with a cheaper type of paint sprayer often called a “cup gun.”

Paint Sprayer Cup Guns

You have seen this type of paint sprayer before, usually on the shelves of your local home improvement store. This type of paint sprayer is electrically operated, and consists of a gun that rests on top of a reservoir holding a small amount of paint, usually one quart or so.

The two best things about this type of sprayer are that you do not need a separate air compressor to push the paint out. This type of sprayer has its own compressor. All you need to do is plug it in to any available electrical outlet. The other great thing is the price, usually under $100. Lower-end models are even available in the $30 or $40 range.

The down side of cup spray guns is that they don't hold a lot of paint, necessitating frequent infusions of more paint—a process which gets tedious after a while. This type is sprayer also does not work very well the moment you try to angle it up or down. It's just like any other type of sprayer (for example, a bottle of Windex): level is best. This type of paint sprayer is not optimal for anything more than a wall or two, and often they lay down an uneven coating of paint and have a tendency to “choke” on the paint that they are trying to draw up.
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