Spray Painting Techniques for Beginners

Spray painting can definitely save you a lot of time on certain jobs. First and foremost is to take note of these specific safety factors when it comes to spray painting.

You’ll need a top-quality carbon filtered mask, as there will be a fine mist of spray in the air and you do not want to be inhaling this.

Also, a cheap pair of coveralls will do and you can find some of these in the big box stores.

Why Should You Spray Paint?

Spray Painting TechniquesSpeed alone could justify the extra masking that spray painting requires.

However, spraying has another advantage over brush or roller painting.

It covers intricate shapes – louvered shutters, trellises, and fencing, for example – far more evenly than hours of handwork with a brush, roller, or pad.

And spraying does it in minutes.

For big jobs – walls, ceilings, and house exteriors – two kinds of sprayers are available.

One uses compressed air (HVLP spray guns) to atomize paint and project it onto a surface.

The other, an airless sprayer, pump liquid paint through a spray-gun tip at extremely high pressure to create a denser, more directed mist of paint for covering a surface.

Tip: Straining paint through several layers of nylon stocking material or cheesecloth will prevent lumps and debris from clogging the spray tip.

The airless sprayer is simpler to use and works faster than a compressed-air sprayer, but an airless spray gun must be used with great respect.

Paint is forced through the tip of an airless spray gun at pressures up to 3,000 pounds per square inch and at speeds as high as 200 miles per hour.

Caution: Such powerful propulsion can inject paint through your skin and into your body, causing serious injury that requires immediate attention in a hospital emergency room.

Not all doctors know how to handle these injuries. Without prompt and proper treatment, you could face the prospect of losing a limb by amputation – or worse.

Spray Painting Techniques

When using an airless paint sprayer, at all times follow these spray painting safety rules:

  • Never point a spray gun at yourself or at any other person.
  • Keep children and pets well away when you are spraying.
  • Unplug airless equipment before unclogging a spray tip or before any other disassembly or maintenance procedure.
  • Never leave an airless sprayer – plugged in or not – lying about unattended.

Tip: A viscosity test stick helps to gauge whether paint has been thinned enough for a sprayer.

Paint must drain from a notch to a particular point on the stick in a predetermined number of seconds to be viable. Most paints need at least 10 percent dilution for spray painting.

Preparation for Spray Painting

Any surface that you do not want to be coated must be masked before you begin to paint.

Although an airless sprayer can be controlled more readily than an air compression sprayer, they both create a mist of paint that can drift onto any nearby surface.

Outdoors, for example, you need to shield shrubbery and cover your car or put it in the garage. Indoors, you’ll need to mask all window panes with newspapers held with masking tape.

Getting Started

Set up your spray equipment according to the manufacturer’s directions. (If you rent a sprayer, be sure to get instructions with it.)

First, you should flush the unit with a solvent – water for latex paint or mineral spirits for alkyd – and then start pumping paint either through a suction tube and hose in a paint can or from the paint holder attached to the nozzle.

Check that the spray tip you pick is the right one for the type of coating you are using. Thin stains, for example, take the smallest spray tip openings; heavy latex paints, the largest.

If you’ve never used a sprayer before, first load it with water and spray against an outside wall or a piece of scrap plywood.

Without making a mess, you can practice spray painting and use the controls unit you are comfortable with them.

Spraying Techniques

Hold a spray painter 10 to 12 inches from the surface to be painted, and keep it upright. Try a sample spray to check the pattern. The ideal spray pattern is wide, finely atomized, and even throughout.

Keeping the sprayer parallel to the wall is the key to even spray paint application. As you move along, flex your wrist to maintain the same 10-12 inch distance from the surface you are painting.

This will result in an even, consistent spray pattern.

Spray Painting Techniques


Spray Painting

A – Guide the spray parallel to the surface

B – Incorrect Swinging distributes the paint unevenly.


Make 3-foot horizontal sweeps across the surface you are spraying, overlapping each strip of paint by about 1 inch.

Go slightly beyond the edges of the area before starting the return pass. The secret to good spray painting is thin, even coats.

Three variables determine that pattern: 

  1. the viscosity of the paint;
  2. the size of the spray tip;
  3. and the pressure control.

Because it is the easiest variable to adjust, experiment first with turning the pressure control knob.

If changing the pressure doesn’t help, check the tip and the thickness of the paint.

Too small a spray tip for thick paint causes heavy spatters in the middle of the spray and lighter coverage at the edges. Using too large a tip with thin paint produces a coarse spray.

The design will look spattered and the coverage poor.

You can also use a flexible extension tip – one may come with your spray painter kit or one may be available for an extra cost for your particular model.

The extension tip points the spray up or down, depending if you are spraying ceilings or floors while keeping the main sprayer level.


Want more beginner guides? Check out our other guides:

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