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What exactly are the differences when it comes to airless paint sprayer vs air paint sprayers?

Type it into any search engine and you will get a myriad of explanations. In this comparison, I simplify the differences, so you can quickly determine the best unit for you.

Both sprayers work on the principle of spraying coatings faster than traditional brush and rollers — saving you time and energy in the long run.

The term air sprayer is a collective name for high-volume, low pressure (HVLP), low-volume, low-pressure (LVLP), and pneumatic sprayers. Air sprayers are great at achieving uniform results. They come in varying sizes but most are handheld units. Others have external turbines or require the use of a separate compressor or turbine.

Conversely, airless sprayers remove the need for a separate compressor or turbine. Essentially they work by driving out the paint at an extremely high pressure which results in an even spray pattern.

Let’s jump right in and figure out the pros and cons of each — and which is best for you.

Airless Paint Sprayer vs Air Paint Sprayer

Airless Paint Sprayers


Applications


Airless sprayers are ideal when it comes to painting large and midsize interior and exterior tasks. There are also specific models available for pro contractors and dedicated DIYers alike. Airless sprayers provide a uniform application that works well on popcorn effect walls and ceilings and other uneven surfaces.

When you compare airless sprayers vs air sprayers, like the Graco TrueCoat Pro II,  you’ll find that an airless unit usually sprays thick latex paints and primers better. An airless sprayer can also handle these mediums without thinning. Some units are also great at handling block fillers, one of the thickest coatings you can find.

Transfer Efficiency


An airless sprayer usually provides a transfer efficiency of around 40 to 50 percent.

Despite sounding a little on the low side, an airless sprayer still gives a quality result, but it may not have quite enough finesse for smaller jobs.

Price Point


Unfortunately, airless sprayers are not the cheapest machines on the market — most start at around $200 and the sky’s the limit depending on what features you require.

If you take efficiency into account, airless sprayers step up to the line as the quality on larger jobs is unparalleled. They also get the job done faster when you balance the cost of an airless paint sprayer vs compressor-driven air units.

Operating Pressure


Airless sprayers operate at a colossal pressure, usually around 3000 pounds per square inch (psi). The high pressure forces the paint through a small orifice on the nozzle, which gives great results but can be problematic for inexperienced users. Sometimes, this pressure can even bend thin metals and put holes in thin sidings.

Finish


Airless sprayers operate at a substantially higher pressure than air-assisted units, so the chance of air mixing with the coating during spraying is minimal.

Some practice is advisable when using an airless sprayer, but after a few uses, you’ll achieve an even, reliable paint spray.

Portability


Airless sprayers, such as the Titan 440, are available in different configurations — with a stand, and low-lying and high-standing versions.

When comparing an airless vs air paint sprayer, the airless unit also reduces the requirement for a separate compressor. So even though they tend to be larger units, they are still somewhat portable.

Who Should Use Titan Products?


Because airless spray guns are designed for large and midsized projects, they are a great choice for dedicated home improvers and paint pros. These machines work well for users that require a high gallon per month rate and desire a fine finish — especially when using thick paints.

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Airless Paint Sprayer Pros


  • Quick paint spray.
  • No external compressor required.
  • Facilitates the use of thicker coatings.
  • Available in a variety of configurations.
  • Great for experienced DIYers and paint pros.
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Airless Paint Sprayer Cons


  • Can be pricey.
  • Not ideal for newbies.

Air-Powered Paint Sprayers


Applications


Air sprayers, including the Wagner Control Spray 250, usually work best with oil-based paints, however, you can also use lacquer and acrylic coatings. You will need to thin these in most cases as this type of sprayer won’t handle the higher pressure.

If you have midsize residential projects in mind, then an air sprayer will work but they are not as suited to larger projects. 

When you’re planning to spray automobiles and choosing between an air vs airless paint sprayer, then HVLP air sprayers like the purpose-built DeVilbiss Finishline 4 FLG 670 are optimal. 

Transfer Efficiency


Air sprayers usually boast an extremely high transfer efficiency of up to 90 percent. When choosing between air or airless paint sprayers, note that an air sprayer is significantly less wasteful when it comes to paint — saving you money in the long run.

Price Point


When purchasing an air paint sprayer, you’ll find that they’re a lot cheaper than airless units. One of the most reasonably priced is the Sprayit SP-31000, you can check the current cost and read our full review here.

But don’t be deceived, even though the sprayer itself is less expensive, in some cases, you’ll still need to invest in a separate compressor.

Operating Pressure


As an air paint sprayer is attached to a compressor, the pressure capability is limited by the size of the external unit, or smaller turbine if it’s a handheld unit. Many air spray guns have a very low operating pressure — even as low as 10 psi.

One good thing about the lower operating pressure is that it makes for a safer spraying experience when you balance the differences between air sprayers vs airless models.

Finish


Air sprayer finishes may not be as even as what an airless gun can offer. By design, the paint is pushed through the nozzle by a stream of air — allowing in some cases for air to mix with the paint, possibly causing blemishes and bubbles in the finish.

However, the low-pressure spray is easier to control, allowing you to put the paint exactly where you want it.

Portability


Many air-powered sprayers require an external compressor, but not all. On the strength of this, some HVLP units are turbine-powered allowing them to be compacted into a neat handheld unit — like the Homeright Finish Max — which makes for optimum portability. 

Other sprayers have a separate floor standing turbine, for example, the Wagner FLEXiO 890, meaning that you base the turbine where you need to be and then still have a far reach with the actual gun itself. 

Not all air paint sprayers are handheld and there are some more substantial units out there as well.

Who Should Use an Air Paint Sprayer?


When choosing between an air paint sprayer vs airless paint sprayer, an air-powered spray gun offers more portability, which is great if you have small projects to complete or you’re not as strong as you once were. 

Air units are also great for DIYers with occasional projects, and contractors carrying out finishing touches. An air paint sprayer is also really the only choice for automotive spraying.

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Air Paint Sprayer Pro


  • Generally more portable than airless units.
  • Great for automobiles.
  • Good control due to low operating pressure.
  • A good starter spray gun.
  • Relatively inexpensive.
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Air Paint Sprayer Cons


  • Usually requires a separate turbine or compressor.
  • Slower than airless sprayers.
  • Not suitable for very large jobs.

Conclusion


In an ideal world, we could buy one of each paint sprayer — just in case. As that’s not the case for most of us, there’s definitely a need to understand the differences so you can purchase the best unit for your needs. 

As you can see, both air and airless sprayers have a variety of different uses and can utilize different coatings, cover different sizes, and have different price points. 

Planning on large jobs and want high-quality results? Then an airless sprayer may be best. They’re also excellent at handling thicker coatings.

If you have smaller household jobs that require detailed finished, then an air sprayer may better float your boat. And of course for automobiles, an HVLP is premium. 

I hope that I have removed some of the mystery in the airless paint sprayer vs air paint sprayer comparison. Now all you need to do is decide which to pick!

FAQs

Q: Which Is Better an Air or Airless Paint Sprayer?

There is no definitive “best” when it comes to airless paint sprayers vs air compressor sprayers — each type is better suited to different tasks and applications.

Airless sprayers are great for large-scale jobs and do not require a separate compressor or turbine. They also handle thicker coatings with ease.

Air paint sprayers also have many plus points. They’re portable, great for detailed work and smaller jobs, and are affordable.

Q: Do Airless Sprayers Use More Paint?

Airless sprayers are a popular choice for contractors and hard-core DIYers alike. The chance of overspray with an airless sprayer when compared to an air equivalent is higher, but the finish delivered and the time saved more than compensate for this.

Q: Do You Have to Thin Paint for Use in an Airless Sprayer?

One of the great things about airless sprayers is that they can spray thick paints without thinning — even drywall and block filler. That said, it’s always a good idea to double-check with the individual manufacturer’s guidelines.

Q: Can I Leave Paint in My Sprayer Overnight?

It’s not recommended to leave paint in your sprayer overnight as this can shorten the life of your unit. If you absolutely have to, make sure the sprayer is not pressurized and place the inlet tube and gun in a container of water.

Q: Is It Better to Roll or Spray Paint?

Painting with a roller is a great option when you want to avoid getting paint on the surrounding areas, but it’s not the fastest option. If you are trying to achieve an even finish quickly, then spray painting is the way to go.

Q: Is It Worth Getting a Paint Sprayer?

Paint sprayers are lots of fun and super-efficient, but does that mean you should invest in one? If you rarely paint, then it might not be worth it for you. But if you intend to revamp interior and exterior walls, fence, decking, and the like regularly, a paint sprayer will save you time and money in the long run.