How to Select the Right Paint Gun

If you are the type of guy who likes to do everything himself, eventually you will have to go shopping for a proper paint gun. The paint job may be the last step of the job, but it’s likely the first part everyone sees . So getting the paint right is very important, and the right gun is part of that.

There have been many changes in the past 20 years in the types of guns and paints that are available, and that are legal to use (depending on where you live). Your paint gun, air compressor and paint all have to be compatible with each other, so take a little time to learn about different types of paint, and look up your compressor specifications.

Types of Guns:

consour pro

  • HVLP – The high volume, low pressure gun (HVLP) has pretty much become the industry standard for the 21st century. They were created to spray paints with less over spray, and therefore less environmental pollution. The best feature of these guns is that they use less paint to cover the same surface, so you save money. Less over spray also means you don’t have to mask off your whole garage before painting to avoid everything getting covered with paint. Most paints these days are formulated to work with HVLP guns.


conventional spray gun

  • Conventional – The standard, old school paint spray gun used a low volume of air, at a high pressure to atomize paint. Some paints and coatings with higher viscosity, or higher solid concentration, still go on best with conventional spray guns. If you are spraying something like chassis undercoating, truck bedliner, heavy duty industrial or tractor paints you may need the high pressure air from a conventional gun to get good atomization without excessive thinning.


compliant gun

  • Compliant/Green Guns – There are also guns called simply “complaint spray guns” or sometimes “green guns”, or “reduced pressure (RP) guns”. These guns are a hybrid of the conventional and the new HVLP. They meet the letter of EPA rule 40 CFR Part 63 (6H) because they still use a low pressure at the spray head, and reduce overspray, but they spray more like old school guns so you can paint faster and the transition is easier for people with conventional gun experience.


turbine system

  • Other – There are also new LVLP guns, which means low volume low pressure, and all in one turbine systems that don’t use an air compressor at all.


High Volume, Low Pressure or HVLP

concours pro teardown

If you are just learning to paint with a spray gun, HVLP is the way to go these days. It’s the current standard, so there are plenty of different guns to be had for not a lot of initial expense. Eastwood alone offers nearly a dozen options from our own Economy line, our higher featured Concours line, and top brands like Binks, Iwata and DeVilbiss. Since most modern paints are formulated to spray through HVLP equipment, it is going to be easier to get good results with it.

There is no need to jump into the deep end either. You can buy a lower cost gun and learn how to spray automotive finishes, then relegate that gun to primer only duty and buy a higher price gun for your next paint project.

When buying a HVLP gun, be sure your compressor can flow enough volume to run it. What is the point of saving money on the gun, if you are going to have to upgrade to a bigger compressor to run it? This is also a good time to look at your compressor fittings, hard lines and hoses. Too small of a line, or a bottle neck anywhere can result in less volume reaching your gun. Remember, these are high volume air guns.


Conventional Guns

conventional gun cut awat

These high pressure spray guns have been popular since the turn of the last century, and many people still prefer them. The good news is that they are still available new, and still supported by most major brands. The EPA even granted home users an exemption from the federal low VOC spray rule, though your state, county or city may have other rules. The bad news is that you typically need a much larger compressor to run them.

If you plan on spraying ElastiWrap, bedliner, Plastidip, Lizard Skin, or heavy industrial coatings a conventional gun may be your best option. These types of thick heavy coating take a lot more pressure and energy to atomize out of the spray tip. Often times low pressure guns just can’t deliver a satisfactory spray pattern when applying them.

If you have a compressor, and experience with a conventional gun, you may just want a new version of the gun you are familiar with, but you should also consider the new RP compliant guns as well.


Compliant Guns

In order to satisfy the needs of their customer base, and the federal EPA mandate, most big spray gun makes have designed these new versions of conventional guns. These new reduced pressure (RP) guns have redesigned spray heads to comply with the EPA rule for pressure and overspray to reduce VOC emissions. These guns spray very much like the old style guns, but still reduce the amount of wasted paint oversprayed into the atmosphere, which also saves you money.

Besides the way they spray, RP guns are also typically faster than a HVLP gun to cover the same amount of surface. One of the only downsides for compliant guns is they tend to cost more than the HVLP, because they are aimed more at the professional user. Look for the letters RP or the word Compliant to identify these types of guns.

Turbine Systems

Turbine base

One of the latest developments in automotive paint application is the all in one turbine system. Typically it consists of something like a vacuum cleaner, with the hose connected to the spray gun. These typically are low pressure systems of various volumes. The nice thing about them is you don’t need to buy an air compressor, air dryer, or regulator, and the spray gun is perfectly matched to the air supply.

Turbine systems work just as well as HVLP guns used with a regular compressor with most coatings. If you have no reason to buy an air compressor, these self-contained systems can be very attractive. The lower cost ones, with the turbine, cost less than just the price of many high end spray guns. The higher end systems cost close to the price for a spray gun and compressor, but unlike your compressor they are always ready to go. To spray with the typical shop compressor you typically have to drain any excess  condensed fluid out of the tank, then run a line with dryer and regulator out to where you want to paint. In order to paint with the turbine, you just plug it into the wall and start shooting.

Other Types

There are other types of guns out there: LVLP, MVLP, etc. These are low volume, low pressure, and medium volume, low pressure, and are just further refinements of the HVLP systems by different brands. There is not much difference except for their air requirements.


So now that we have gone over what is out there, how do you choose? First you ought to consider what you are spraying, now and in the future. If all you want is the ability to apply temporary ElastiWrap colors to your car every few months, we have a value priced turbine kit perfect for that. If your plan is just to do the prep and primer and let a professional finish the job, nearly any low priced gun will get you started. But, be sure to know the output abilities of your compressor before you go shopping for a gun, they can vary widely even among similar sized machines.

If you are starting from scratch and want the ability to paint anything and everything, the HVLP or reduced pressure (RP) guns are the way to go. Not only will they save you money in wasted paint, they will save you money when you buy the matching compressor. You will also use less electricity powering the compressor to paint with a low pressure gun as well. The biggest deciding factor in the end though may be this, less over spray is better for you, and everyone who has to breaths air.


Check out the Eastwood Blog and Tech Archive for more How-To’s, Tips and Tricks to help you with all your automotive projects.  If you have a recommendation for future articles or have a project you want explained don’t hesitate to leave a comment.


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