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Spray acrylic paint by a Traditional Painter professional

Listed under Blog, Painting, Ron Taylor, spray painting Posted May 23 2012

Ron Taylor has written this introduction on how to spray acrylic paint. He goes on to focus on HVLP for spraying acrylic paint.  Ron Taylor first started using acrylic trim paints in 2004, and is now an authority in the UK on the application of water-based paints with brush, roller and spray. This video for an airless spray painted kitchen in Warwick shows that Ron knows what he is talking about!

Ron Taylor Spray acrylic paintSpraying acrylic paint is a mindset

You need to go into spraying with your mind and your wallet open. Be aware of what you need and what extras you want, before taking the plunge on the unit. Make sure spraying is what you want to do and budget accordingly. Buying the machine is only the start of the costs. In fact, spraying will not make you any money, or more likely, it will cost you money, without all the extras.

You may need extra needles and tips (fluid sets) for HVLP

needle and tip for HVLP to Spray acrylic paint

and you will need extra tips for airless.

airless tips to spray acrylic paint

None of this gear is cheap, so check before you buy what else is required.

Also if you want to airless spray walls with 12” fans or exterior masonry paint, make sure the machine can handle this. The cheapest models usually won’t.

Extras include masking machines, tapes, films, plastic sheeting, extension poles (for ceilings, etc), lubricants. These won’t come with the initial purchase. And freebies with machines, in fact any freebies within the spray industry are generally rare.

If you are wondering how I know so much about not being prepared, it’s because I took none of the above advice on board. I am one of the many who ended up with a bit of a shock when I came to spray for the first time.

HVLP Sprayers

You will see many articles and advertisement extolling the virtues of spray painting. You will see HVLP (high volume low pressure) spray machines from as low as £95. These products are of absolutely no use to a professional painter, in fact they are probably of no use to anybody at all.

HVLP machines need power to spray paint

The more power the unit has the more expensive it will be. The power comes from a turbine graded in ‘stages’. These stages start at 2 stage (the lowest power) to 5 stage (currently the highest output possible). They work like vacuums in reverse, converting air into power. More power is created by more stages. You can add onboard compressors to the larger stage turbines to increase power further.

Graco Turbo Force for acrylic paint

Best HVLP for spraying acrylic paint

To spray acrylic (or latex as advertised on US sites) you will need a minimum 4 stage turbine. In reality you would be better with a 5 stage. Paint thinning is pretty much always required, even with 5 stage units.

Most of the cheap units are 2 or 3 stage units. With this kind of low power, you will struggle to spray anything that isn’t the consistency of water. In other words acrylic paint will be so thin as to be unusable. The more expensive models of these lower powered units (Graco/Apollo/Capspray) are designed for thin oils and dyes, which have little or no viscosity to them.

Setting up an HVLP spray gun

Setting up an HVLP gun is a hassle and you will require patience. But get it wrong and you could end up re-spraying the lot or, even worse, sanding and re-spraying the lot.  

The paint will usually be in a cup under the gun. The air is forced to both the pressurized pot and the gun separately. When you pull the trigger the paint is pushed to the gun where it meets the air going to the gun. You can regulate these to atomise the paint into small particles to enable it to spray.

A 4-stage turbine will spray thicker paint, but you could never use product straight from the can with any HVLP gun. To spray more viscous material you will also need to increase the air, which will create more overspray.

Overspray is the bounce back of some of the paint from the surface. It is your worst problem, especially in occupied houses. Furthermore, the more air in the mix the more significant the problem. So, thin the paint right and set up the gun correctly.

How to thin acrylic paint for spraying Thin the paint with water and Floetrol to the point where, when you lift the stir stick, the paint dissipates into itself immediately. Or put another way, when you swirl the stick around you can’t see the swirls lying on the paint.

I’m talking Graco here, but nothing smaller than a #4 needle will really be large enough for acrylic paints. Occasionally you will need a #5. 

Too much overspray can, and will, get everywhere. Use drop cloths and avoid covering any carpets and furniture in a very fine talcum powder-like dust in the colour you are spraying. Cover everything methodically with sheets or plastic.

Trial and error 

As the air and material has to be regulated by the user it’s a trial and error process. The settings you make today won’t necessarily be the same settings you need tomorrow, even for the same paint. There are too many variables, from humidity to cold to paint consistency. So get the thinning right, water and paint conditioner is best, and get the settings correct before you start the job.

As I mentioned, these units can be difficult to set up for the beginner. Don’t expect any in depth help from any US manufacturer’s spray manual on actual spraying. It is assumed you know how to do it.

Technique for spraying with HVLP

Don’t learn to spray on a paying job. Get an old door or have a go on something that isn’t going to be scrutinized too much.

Don’t spray light, fast coats, this will give you a rough patchy finish because the paint will dry too fast. In some cases it may dry before it even touches the surface.

Apply a full wet coat moving the gun slowly and methodically across the surface. It’s all about practice, don’t expect to be able to do it straight way.

Cost of good HVLP

To get an HVLP unit to spray paint to any sort of standard, you will need to spend a minimum of £1000. But if you are looking at consistent high class finishes you will need a 5 stage unit with the option of an onboard compressor. This set up will cost you nearer £2200.

I know that some people reading this will say ‘I have a 3 stage turbine and it sprays just fine’. That’s ok if you’re happy with the finish. However, if you used this next to a Graco TurboForce 9.5 plus compressor you would see a marked difference in both performance and finish quality.

HVLP speed and control

HVLP is slow, though not as slow as a brush and roller. But if you’ve had any experience with an airless pump you will be a little disappointed with HVLP,  in terms of performance.

HVLP has more control than airless though, and it’s not as easy to get into difficulty.

To follow: Spraying acrylic paint with airless

This is a guest post from Ron Taylor, a member of the Traditional Painter network working from south of Birmingham to Evesham, specialising in painted kitchens and furniture. (His colleague Scot Hindley spray paints kitchens in Cheshire.) In 2004, Ron took the plunge ahead of the rest of the UK pack, and he is definitely now an authority on brushing acrylic paint, using a roller, spraying acrylic with HVLP and spraying acrylic paint with airless. Ron uses acrylic paints on all his private residential work and can be contacted via his website

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15 comments to “Spray acrylic paint by a Traditional Painter professional”

  1. Alan Iles

    A great article that should be shared between professionals before setting up for spraying.

    I purchased a 4 stage turbine and all associated equipment 18 months ago. I did a lot of homework and bought the best equipment the business could afford and spent very close to Rons minimum setup cost.

    Luckily the job at the time was a renovation and the property was empty so I had minimum masking and sheeting to do. I practised getting a feel and playing around with needles and patterns etc on old sheets of ply and mdf. Then, quite succesfully, sprayed all interior doors and built in wardrobes and a cast iron staircase.

    I have only used the HVLP once more, on another large empty interior job, since then.

    I find the overspray a problem in that the amount of masking and sheeting involved,it just isn’t worth setting it all up.

    On new builds or empty renovations it would be used a great deal, but in a usual domestic environment, hardly ever.

    This is just my opinion, and I hope someone can prove me wrong, that it can be used in all situations, just like a brush and roller.

  2. Traditional Painter

    Thanks for the input, Al, interesting about the practicality issues you have encountered. I think masking up is a mindset. The US painters probably don’t think twice about it, it is just what you do, load the sheeting up side of the job in order to minimise the painting side.

    Personally I tend to sheet everything up on site, almost as standard practice, with the old lining paper and Trimac One Tuff combination, so most of my work environments are almost good enough in terms of protection, to spray without too much “extra” hassle. Taking doors off to spray, doing the trim before the walls, all reduces the extra disruption.

    But yes, I totally see that if you are in a lounge and you want to drop some cotton sheets and be in and out,, brush and roller seems a no-brainer and the spray gun always stays in the box.

  3. Charles Budd

    Another great post by Ron, thank you Andy for posting it. I’ve spent a lot less on a smaller HVLP unit, so it’ll be interesting to see how I get on with that. Luckily my own house needs decorating, so plenty of opportunity to practice. I can see that a different mindset is needed in terms of masking and sheeting. Look forward to the airless post.

  4. Alan Iles

    I’ve seen videos and follow Jack Pauhl in regards to how spraying is carried out in the US. The property’s are so much bigger, the rooms are bigger, and the trim seems bigger compared to what we have here, and so I see why spraying would benefit the professional painter decorators in the states.

    I’ve cut down on masking materials since investing in dust free sanding equipment. Obviously still ensure the clients floors and furniture is well protected, but now I just don’t create the dust to warrant full on masking up. Complete masking and sheeting of an entire room in the UK just to spray 4″ skirting and skinny architrave just doesn’t seem cost effective to me.

    Ron’s right in that spraying will only cost you money. My setup has not paid for itself yet. Need a few more cast iron staircases for that 🙂

  5. Traditional Painter

    Yes, it is horses for courses, best tools for each job.

    Let’s put out a campaign for cast iron staircases in Cornwall.

  6. Scott Kesler

    Great article, spot on. I just finished spraying a large amount of built-in cabintry using a 4 stage capspray HVLP. I had great difficulty spraying alcyd/acrylic semi-gloss product from Ben Moore. Even though I used a #3 tip, and thinned it with a flow additive the finish came out looking a bit orange peely. Im debating about switching to a pressure pot and compressor.Or a 6 stage HVLP. Thanks for your expertise. Scott NYC

  7. scot

    Nice article ron, cant wait for the airless edition

  8. Ron Taylor

    I’ve never had much luck spraying with a #3 needle (I assume you are talking about Graco) either, Scott.

    Better results will be obtained using a #4 or #5, I prefer a #4 for trim. This works fine when the correct amount of water and paint conditioner are added.

    The pressure pot and compressor will definately give you better results due to the extra prower. It will also give you easier access to tight areas as it removes the cup from under the gun.

    We’ve had alkyd/acrylic hybrid paints over for a while and they don’t usually perform well through hvlp. I much prefer 100% acrylic products for spraying.

  9. Bev

    Thanks for this article – it is exactly what I have been looking for. I was looking forawrd to buying a 3 stage with the idea of spraying furniture/spindles/kitchen units but it seems like it is going to be a bit of a nightmare! I have spoken to 2 or 3 retailers and they just don’t seem to fill me with any confidence at all about purchasing one. Their knowledge and advice is not forth coming and questions are mostly answered from a manual rather than expereince – I can do that myself! I can’t afford a 4 stage at this moment in time so maybe I will wait. I have a few projects in mind for a £400 q-tech 3 stage (currently refurbing a whole empty house and have lots of furniture to revamp/sell) but maybe I’ll wait until I can afford a 4 stage do you think? Is it really worth the extra £600? I also wondered whether it really is worth all that masking off time wise as you can (I have been told) apply 2 coats without the drying time inbetween. I went for a hvlp demo who used the paint straight from the tin no thinning. But thinking about it I think it was emulsion we were spraying on a door… hmmmm. That says alot doesn’t it! Are there any decent short and not too expensive training courses around? Dulux offer one but I have been phoning for 6 months for a date for that. Great to see other decorators websites/blogs on here!

  10. RJ Taylor Decoration RJ Taylor Decoration

    Hi Bev

    Getting reliable information isn’t always easy from retailers selling you the kit. They will often say a unit can spray paint when it can’t, well not to any standard. I actually think they sometimes don’t know the product well enough to know how it performs.

    I have seen the DDC/Q-Tech machine and it looks neat and compact. The hose is short and wide though compared to the Graco and Wagner models, I guess to give more power at the gun.

    There are some Canadian units just coming to our market that are getting some good reviews. They are called Fuji and come in 3 and 4 stage. They also come with quieter turbines at extra cost. They are cheaper than the Gracos but don’t come with a selection of fluid sets as standard, but are available as extras.

    I have seen these available on the internet but couldn’t find the link before this post.

  11. Fearghas

    Hi Ron
    Brilliant article, I’ve just finished spraying trim in my house, an 1880 town house with original woodwork, panelling etc.
    Bought a Graco 9.5 and wanted to try it out at home before unleashing on customers.
    Put Bl Satura through a 4 fluid set and waiting for it to dry before conclusion as lighting wasn’t great.
    Once masked up it is much quicker to spray than brush and I really enjoyed it.

  12. Rob

    Thanks for the article. You mention you prefer spraying acrylic only and not hybrid paints. Could you recommend a water based Gloss you have had results with HVLP.

  13. Zoha Khan

    I love spray paint!! I do wish there were a wider range of colors. I’ve learned to do several very light coats to avoid drips.

  14. Rosemary Hansen

    This article was fantastic and explaines why i cant find an HVLP that is any good in the $200.00-300.00 catagory. I use only General Finishes Milk Paint and products. I would appreciate hearing about your experience with spraying acrylics using a compressor gun and can. Which brands you like best. The pros and cons. The size needles, etc. We would like to spray furniture,at present we brush everything because we can brush faster than a bad HVLP.


  15. Avatar photo Andy Crichton

    Glad the message got through that cheap HVLP can be expensive!

    There is a FaceBook group, Spraying Makes Sense, worth a look if you can join.

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