How Does Paint Sprayer Work | Ultimate Guide

Paint sprayers are becoming an increasingly common tool for home improvement enthusiasts. Paint sprayers are about twice as efficient as a roller or brush, great for covering large surfaces, and available to rent or buy in most local hardware stores. With a number of spray nozzles, it’s possible to tailor a paint sprayer to most jobs around the home. 

In this article, we will consider two types of paint sprayers: airless sprayers and sprayers that use compressed air. In addition to examining both types of sprayer, we’ll attempt to answer the question: how does a paint sprayer work?

The Evolution of Paint Sprayers

In the not so distant past, there were only a pair of options available for anyone looking to paint the interior or exterior of a home: brushes and rollers. Early paint sprayers developed using compressed air. The sprayer attached to an air compressor, directing air through the gun towards a nozzle.

A paint reservoir held paint, mixing it in small parts with moving air. The result was a mist of paint leaving the nozzle. More recently, manufacturers developed airless sprayers that operate with a pump that sends small amounts of paint through the nozzle tip, essentially creating the same effect as those that used compressed air.

Sprayers that use Compressed Air

Sprayers that use Compressed Air

A compressed air paint sprayer is a fairly simple tool. It pulls paint into a spray gun, then out a nozzle. The spray gun is attached to a source of compressed air. You can use a compressor or even an air tank for short applications.

When you pull the trigger on the air gun, paint mixes with the compressed air. This creates a mist of pain and air. The spray gun directs the mist directed through a nozzle fitting. You can direct the mist towards whatever you’d like to paint.

Nozzles come in a variety of shapes and sizes. These serve to change the density and consistency of the spray. Smaller nozzles are best for spraying small areas, such as the trim around a door or window.

There’s also a special kind of compressed air sprayer, called a High Volume Low Pressure sprayer. This type of sprayer moves significantly more air per unit of paint than other, more common, compressed air sprayers.

Airless Paint Sprayers

Most airless paint sprayers hold paint in an external reservoir. After removing the reservoir, you fill it with the mixed pain or stain of your choice, then reattach it to the fitting on the gun. The density of paint is controlled with a flow knob. A higher flow of paint leads to more dense spray and, ultimately, a thick coat of paint.

To accomplish this, a small motor moves a piston. The movement of the piston creates suction, moving paint from inside the reservoir. Once inside the reservoir, paint moves through the gun into an atomizer, a specially designed valve. Inside the atomizer, paint mixes with air. From here, it passes through the spray nozzle.

You, the user, direct this stream of paint to the surface you’re trying to paint. One of the best reason to buy an airless paint sprayer is cleanup. It’s easy. All you need to do is put water in the reservoir. Turn on the sprayer and direct the spray into a bucket. That’s it! Your sprayer is clean!

How to Tailor a Paint Sprayer to Your Situation

How to Tailor a Paint Sprayer to Your Situation

No matter the type of sprayer right for your situation, the basic process is the same: you pull a trigger and paint comes out of the nozzle. Since there are a number of painting applications, there are a number of different nozzle fittings for each type of spray gun. The size and shape of the fittings determine the direction, density, and consistency of the paint spray.

Of the fittings available, the most popular are the flat, hollow cone, and full cone. A flat nozzle directs a straight line of paint spray from the gun. The cone nozzles spray in a circular pattern; the hollow cone sprays an empty circle, while a full cone sprays a filled circle.

Advantages of Each Type of Paint Sprayer

Advantages of Each Type of Paint Sprayer

Now that you have a working understanding how each type of paint sprayer works, you’ll need to decide which, if any, is right for you. While the overall advantage of a paint sprayer is speed, each type has its advantages and drawbacks.

The advantages of the airless sprayer are that it doesn’t require a fitting for air and that they handle all paints, even the thick onex. Airless paint sprayers are best for painting exteriors or large interior surfaces. The airless sprayer has the advantage of producing a smooth, glossy finish. Theses are the tool of choice for painting pieces of furniture or woodwork.

The biggest drawback is they waste paint. High volume low pressure sprayers, a type of compressed air sprayer, also create an even finish, while wasting less paint than a common compressed air sprayer. Again, these work well on furniture or trim, but tend to be expensive in comparison with other sprayer.

A Word About Safety

As you’ve come to expect from us, we’d like to remind you to take a few minutes to be safe. The three most important steps to take to ensure safety are (1) having an uncluttered work area; (2) minimizing contact with your skin; (3) taking measures to prevent breathing in vapor. Towards these ends, wear long sleeves and pants to cover your skin, wear a head covering, and, of course, eye protection.

In addition, wear a respirator or a mask. Be certain that everything is in working order before beginning to paint, inspecting ladders and scaffolding before climbing. Finally, ensure clear walkways to minimize falls.


Now you have a pretty good idea how the different types of paint sprayers work. With the information from this article in mind, you should be able to decide which type of sprayer, if any, is the right one for you. Do you have any experience with the types of sprayers mentioned above? What did you think of them? Let us know about advantages or disadvantages we may have overlooked in the comments below. Thanks for reading!

Garry Harris

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