Similar in name but different in output and application, how do you choose between an HVLP vs LVLP spray gun? It can be tricky for even experienced users to identify the differences between them as, outwardly, they look identical.
Both of these sprayer types are an excellent choice for keen DIYers and pro contractors. They’re also usually designed with ergonomics in mind, preventing physical discomfort or fatigue when completing longer jobs.
So, how are they distinct?
An HVLP sprayer is a high-volume, low-pressure machine that delivers a high air volume at low pressure.
Conversely, an LVLP unit utilizes low air volumes combined with low-pressure. It will require less power and throughput to operate than an HVLP, meaning that it can work with almost any compressor type — even the smallest of home consumer models.
If you don’t want to be lumbered with the wrong tool for the job, join me as I nitpick the critical differences between the two.
HVLP Spray Guns
Unlike LVLP units that exist purely as compressor-powered tools, HVLP guns can either be turbine or pneumatically driven.
HVLP turbines are the most popular power-painting tools in the DIY fraternity. Their ease of operation, affordable price points, and ability to paint straight-out-of-the-box make them popular worldwide. These units are available in handheld versions, where the turbine powerhouse is integrated into the gun. Or as floor-standing machines, where the power unit is cased in an external housing. HVLP turbines are ideal for medium-scale work such as coating fencing, weatherproofing decking, and upscaling furniture.
Looking identical to LVLP shooters, pneumatic HVLP guns require an external compressor to both atomize and propel your coating medium.
With adjustable painting density, pressure, and air volume control, they offer greater versatility than their turbine counterparts. For that reason, they’re the tool of choice of the contractor or tradesperson.
However, since they require the use of an additional tool — a compressor — they’re harder on the pocket than HVLP turbines. You also need a little experience to operate pneumatic units, and they demand significant setup times. If this is your area of interest, check out my article on how to use an air gun with a compressor.
A crucial consideration you should look for when making any paint gun purchase. Typically expressed as a percentage, the transfer efficiency (TE) of a spray gun indicates how effectively the unit delivers paint onto your surface. Naturally, the more covering medium that actually makes its way onto your project reduces wastage and is better for the environment. An HVLP gun (turbine or pneumatic) offers between 60 to 65 percent TE — meaning that 65 percent of the paint hits the target, whereas 35 percent is lost in air atomization. Some states and governorates will not accept a machine as a true HVLP example unless it achieves 65 percent TE or higher. For HVLP turbine-aficionados, the handheld Wagner FLEXiO 570 boasts 60 percent TE, and for users who are focused on pneumatic spraying, the Eastwood Concours delivers a remarkable 68 percent TE.
Whether pneumatic or turbine, HVLP sprayers are excellent when it comes to small to midsize jobs — outdoor walls, decking, garden sheds, and fiddly cabinet spraying. There are a few contractor-grade turbine HVLP units around that can handle larger commercial projects, for example, the Apollo Power 5 VS — although this comes with a price tag that matches its beefy nature. If you’re going to make a habit of completing larger jobs, you may find that a prosumer airless sprayer, such as the Wagner Control Pro, is more suitable. These airless machines deliver faster coverage than both HVLP and LVLP units, although with only around 50 percent transfer efficiency.
For HVLP turbines, the good news is, there’s no compressor. So, if these units are your area of interest, you have nothing to worry about.
However, if you’re looking at pneumatic HVLP guns, the correct compressor is crucial. Too little grunt and your paint delivery will be nothing more than a disappointing dribble.
Compressors are usually measured on two outputs: air pressure in pounds per square inch (psi) and airflow in cubic feet per minute (cfm). The pressure demand for an HVLP pneumatic shooter is around 15 to 35 psi, well within the capabilities of most home compressors.
However, the key is the cfm. As HVLP sprayers require significant airflow, the compressor will typically need to knock out at least 8 to 15 cfm, meaning it needs a fairly substantial pneumatic power unit. That said, and to make things even more complicated, a higher psi output can sometimes compensate for a lower cfm figure.
For more detail on this somewhat technical issue, check out my compressor article.
In all cases, check with the manufacturer for the specific requirements of your chosen gun.
Typically an area of misunderstanding for spraying newbies.
Again, for HVLP turbine fanatics, life is simple. Depending on the machine, turbine sprayers operate at around 8 to 10 psi. The confusion exists with pneumatic HVLP guns in mixing the output pressure with the functioning pressure of the compressor.
As mentioned above, the compressor for an HVLP painter needs to crank out between 15 to 35 psi. But the operating pressure of the gun is around 10 psi. This is because the shooter unit itself, through a combination of baffles, chambers, and sometimes an in-line regulator, regulates the power output to a more manageable figure.
Hence, if selecting your HVLP gun based on its strength of delivery, look for the operating pressure figure, not the compressor PSI requirement. This is sometimes referred to as pressure at the air cap (or nozzle or tip).
Turbine HVLP sprayers, like the Wagner Paint Ready, have the ability to spray a plethora of mediums — acrylic, enamel, primer, stain, and even latex. Similarly, the majority of pneumatic HVLP guns are multi-coating compatible and can propel viscous fluids, although some may require thinning. One of the most crucial considerations is the tip. The larger the diameter, the greater the ability to deal with dense paints. For example, to propel latex, you will need at least a 1.6 mm tip. Many HVLP guns, such as the 3M Accuspray, arrive with a plethora of nozzle ends, allowing you to propel a vast range of paint thicknesses.
Yet again, HVLP turbine fanatics have the upper-hand. HVLPs are the most affordable paint sprayers on the market, combine that with the fact they don’t require a compressor, and you get a model that’s ideal for casual DIYers and power painting virgins. Pneumatic HVLP guns — while more expensive than standard shooters due to the technology and regulators required to step-down the pressure — aren’t hard on the pocket. The cost arises in the purchase of the compressor. If you already own one of these powerhouses, there’s no issue. However, it’s a substantial investment if you’re purchasing one for the sole use of paint spraying.
Who Should Use an HVLP Spray Gun Vs an LVLP Spray Gun?
HVLP turbines, especially the handheld versions like the HomeRight Finish Max, are ideal for casual DIYers, newbie power painters, and hobbyist home improvers. Light on the wallet, and demanding little-to-no experience, you simply fill with paint, plug-in, and spray.
Pneumatic HVLP guns, while requiring a little more experience and preparation, are most suited to ardent DIYers and pros attacking small-to-medium scale projects. Their ability to handle both thin and dense mediums makes them highly versatile, while their lack of overspray and wastage makes them an economical choice.
That said, both home-improvers and trade person’s looking to tackle the mother-of-all spraying jobs, would benefit from checking out the more rapid covering airless machines.
HVLP Spray Gun Pros
- Ideal for inexperienced users.
- HVLP turbines are highly affordable and straightforward in operation.
- Efficient when it comes to paint with minimum wastage.
- High-quality finishes.
- The most popular spraying category.
- Capable of both small finishing and larger covering work.
- Environmentally friendly.
HVLP Spray Gun Cons
- Some mediums may require thinning before use.
- Not as fast as airless machines.
- Pneumatic guns require a compressor.
- Lack the finer finish of LVLP units.
LVLP Spray Guns
Unlike HVLP guns, which are available in both turbine and pneumatic examples, LVLP shooters exist only as compressor-driven units.
Hence, if you don’t already own an air unit that drives your impact wrench, power driver, or nail gun, you’ll need to make an additional purchase in order to use your LVLP sprayer.
Although, due to the low pressure and cfm requirements of LVLP guns, they’re compatible with the smallest of home-style pneumatic power machines. If this niche appeals, check out my guide to compressors.
For a spray gun or machine to be called HVLP, it needs a TE of at least 60 percent. But there’s no such requirement for LVLP units, as technically speaking, they are HVLPs themselves — just with slightly lower air demands. Hence, an LVLP sprayer will also have a minimum TE of 60 percent — although the vast majority are much higher than their HVLP-named counterparts. A typical low-volume low-pressure sprayer will have a transfer efficiency in the 70 to 78 percent range. Some remarkable examples, such as the Astro EVOT14, have over 80 percent TE. LVLPs create less wastage, save more money, and are more suited to the environmentally-conscious user versus their HVLP counterparts.
Typically, LVLP sprayers have a smaller fan pattern than HVLP turbines and guns — usually around 8 to 10 inches compared to 12 inches plus. For most decorators, this isn’t a sticking point, but it will mean that it takes longer to complete midsize projects.
LVLP spray guns, like the SprayIt SP-31000, are a great all-in-one solution for many individuals as they will cover small to midsize projects efficiently — even if you’re an inexperienced user.
Where LVLP units excel is in fine-finishing work, where the low-overspray, relatively thin coverage, and exacting delivery can provide accurate and flaw-free coats. This is the reason many automotive-spraying pros and furniture restorers opt for an LVLP unit.
Like HVLP examples, LVLP guns require a compressor capable of delivering 15 to 35 psi.
However, unlike their high-volume cousins, the cfm demand for the LVLP is considerably smaller, hence their low-volume moniker.
A standard LVLP gun will happily run off 5 to 8 cfm — achievable with the smallest of consumer compressor units. This means that the associated costs of purchasing a pneumatic powerhouse purely for your paint gun are considerably smaller than that of HVLP formats.
That said, many LVLP units have an even smaller airflow rate — such as the SprayIt 33310 that runs off just 3.5 cfm.
The operating pressure of an LVLP gun is usually the same as that of the HVLP varieties — around 10 psi. Remember, it’s the smaller cfm requirement that differentiates the machines — as they have a lower airflow demand.
Nearly all LVLP sprayers will work with acrylic, clear coat, chalk paint, enamel, lacquer, latex, and oil-based mediums. These sprayers can also be used with waterborne coatings, meaning that guns like the Astro EVOT14 EuroPro Forged are extremely versatile. That said, the thickest of paints will require thinning. For a complete guide to compatible mediums and their correct use with low-volume low-pressure sprayers — take a look at my paint guide for LVLP article.
There are many different models, so as you would expect, there is a relatively vast price range. However, they remain a little more expensive than a hardcore night out on the town. While admittedly they require a compressor, their low-volume and low-pressure requirements mean they’re usually compatible with affordable home-style pneumatic power units — making them a more price-friendly option than the high-volume demands of the HVLP machines.
Who Should Use an LVLP Spray Gun Vs an HVLP Gun?
Paint pros are effusive about LVLP paint sprayers. Many find that as they only need a small compressor, these units are relatively portable. The high transfer efficiency and speed also score a point in a job where time is money. But, it’s not just the pros that laud these sprayers. Do-it-yourselfers will also find LVLPs a great choice. Although these units have not been around as long as HVLPs, they are still simple to use, with most spraying newbies getting to grips in the first couple of uses.
LVLP Spray Gun Pros
- Operate at a low cfm.
- Can be used with a smaller compressor than HVLP guns.
- Unbeatable transfer efficiency.
- Ideal for fine finishing.
- The ultimate machine for thin urethanes, enamels, and stains.
- Automotives a specialty.
LVLP Spray Gun Cons
- Smaller fan pattern than HVLPs.
- Not great for thicker paints.
- Unavailable as a compressor-free turbine — unlike HVLPs.
HVLP vs LVLP Spray Guns FAQs
Q: Are LVLP Spray Guns Any Good?LVLP sprayers are a good choice if you are looking for a compact unit that delivers a fast finish with little overspray. LVLP units will work with a variety of mediums such as stains, sealers, enamels, and even waterborne coatings. They may not be your sprayer of choice if you are looking to complete large scale tasks or use thicker paints.
Q: Can You Paint a Car With an LVLP Gun?
Yes, you can! LVLP sprayers are useful for a whole range of projects including painting automobiles. This being said, you may not end up with the perfect finish if you are a less experienced sprayer — you will require a fair amount of knowledge as you will be working with high-quality materials.
For more info, check out my article on how to spray a car.
Q: Are HVLP Guns Better?The high-efficiency transfer rate makes HVLP guns ideal if you have small to midsize tasks lined up and are targeting a high-quality finish. If you compare LVLP vs HVLP spray guns, HVLP will require a somewhat larger compressor, whereas the LVLP will be more portable than some HVLPs.
Q: Are HVLP Sprayers Better Than Airless?The finely atomized particles delivered by an HVLP unit will provide a higher quality finish on small to midsize projects than an airless equivalent. But if you plan to complete large commercial jobs, then an airless unit is a better choice.
Q: Are Gravity Feed Spray Guns Better?
Spray guns are not simply a matter of one size fits all. Some users prefer gravity fed spray guns as you are able to utilize all the paint in the container. Gravity-fed units also tend to be lighter than their suction-fed equivalents.
Q: What’s the Best Spray Gun for Painting Cars?
If you are planning to respray your automobile, you can’t wrong with a pneumatic sprayer. There are even purpose-built automobile sprayers on the market, such as the FinishLine 4. These units have been optimized to help you achieve a sleek finish.