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If you're planning to paint large areas, you might want to consider using a sprayer. In the power arena, three types of sprayers are appropriate for do-it-yourselfers: the tank sprayer, the airless sprayer, and the newer, HVLP (high-volume, low-pressure) sprayer.


Learning to operate them takes just a few minutes. Conventional sprayers, which are powered by compressed air, require considerably more skill and training. They also create excessive overspray. For these reasons, conventional sprayers are best left to the pros.

Airless sprayers

Handheld airless sprayers are noisy little devils, but they're popular with do-it-yourselfers because of their versatility and moderate price, which ranges from about $50 to $175. The higher-priced units have more power, more features and controls, and more tip options. With a high-powered unit, you can paint everything from a radiator to the entire exterior of your house.

With most models, you draw the paint from a paint cup attached at the base of the sprayer for small projects. On larger projects, you can draw paint from a backpack tank or directly from the can.

Pump airless sprayers are priced from about $250 for do-it-yourself models to as high as $900 for professional models. These sprayers draw paint from 1- or 5-gallon containers to a spray gun through a long hose. Although you can paint a house exterior with a handheld model, a high-productivity pump sprayer is a better choice. These units pump paint much faster, and the gun is much lighter to hold because no cup full of paint is attached to it.

Tank sprayers

Tank sprayers are available in manual pump and battery-powered models. You can use this multipurpose sprayer to apply oil-based stain to wood decks, fences, and even wood siding. Although you usually need to brush in spray-applied stain, the sprayer does the hard part — getting the otherwise drippy finish onto the surface.

HVLP sprayers

An HVLP sprayer doesn't atomize paint. Instead, it uses a high volume of air at very low pressure to propel paint onto the surface. As a result, you have virtually no overspray and no risk of explosion. You can produce a very narrow spray pattern, and you don't need to cover and mask everything in the room or get dressed up like an astronaut. Minimum personal protection — splash goggles, protective clothing, and gloves — is usually all that's required, but use a respirator when using solvent paints or when ventilation is questionable.

HVLP sprayers, priced from $200 to $400 and up, are great for small projects and trim painting, indoors or out. They're best used with low- to medium-viscosity finishes, such as lacquers, varnishes/enamels, oils, and stains. On models that claim to handle heavier-bodied finishes, such as acrylic latex, you usually must thin the paint. This requirement, combined with the low pressure and relatively small paint cup, makes the HVLP sprayer unsuitable for large projects, such as exterior house painting — unless it's a doghouse.

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