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Next-Generation Power Paint Systems: How They Measure Up

Paint sprayers are better and easier to use than ever before. New models have fewer parts to clean and now are capable of spraying thicker paint without requiring you to thin it first. What’s better yet, prices stayed flat as models improved.

Wagner SprayTech

Paint sprayers used to frustrate buyers because of the slow spraying speeds, uneven results and time-consuming cleanup. The result: a lot of disenfranchised consumers, says David Newman of paint-sprayer manufacturer Graco. He says 20 percent to 30 percent of households buy paint each year, but only 2 percent to 3 percent buy a paint sprayer.

In response to those drawbacks—and to attract consumers, Newman says—manufacturers introduced technologies to make spraying paint more foolproof and task cleanup easier.

Although manufacturers now suggest more indoor use of paint sprayers than before, specific innovations for indoor projects are scarce. Only one manufacturer, Wagner SprayTech, could point to a redesigned nozzle tip that allows paint or stain to be sprayed at a lower number of pounds per square inch (psi). That lower pressure means that it’s less likely to overspray on projects, the company says, although we didn’t notice any difference in our evaluation. Instead of innovations, manufacturers say they increased the amount of how-to videos, printed advice and social-media interaction that they provide to deliver operating tips for how to use their paint sprayers on projects, such as cabinets or furniture.

According to Home Improvement Research Institute, sales of paint sprayers and power paint rollers increased 25 percent in 2012, which is the most recent year for which data are available. However, prices for paint sprayers remained steady the past 3 years, says Mike Murray, who buys paint products for Ace Hardware. What’s better is that consumers “are getting more for the buck” when they buy a paint sprayer, he says, because today’s models at all price levels have more-powerful motors and parts that slide off easily for cleaning.

CLEANING UP. Earlier paint sprayers were more difficult to clean than the latest versions are. That led to dried paint or stain that was left in the nozzle. The residue could render those models unusable after even one use, experts say. Fortunately, new cleaning capabilities of paint sprayers at all price levels allow you to avoid that one-and-done scenario.

Two manufacturers—HomeRight and Wagner—introduced models that have removable components for easier cleanup. These models, which start at $65, allow you to twist off the components that touch the paint, which, depending on the model, can include a nozzle tip, atomizer valve, paint canister, intake tube, piston and pump housing. You can drop these removable parts in a bucket to soak for easier cleaning. (You still have to wipe them off afterward.) Previously, you had to run water or mineral spirits through the paint sprayer immediately until all of the paint or stain washed out. If not, the paint could dry inside, which would prevent the paint sprayer from working properly.

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Graco has a model that aims at more convenience when it comes to cleaning the paint container. In September 2014, Graco introduced its TrueCoat 360 line. These paint sprayers, which start at $149, have a bag that’s inside the paint canister that holds the paint. Newman says the bags can be washed, rinsed and reused, or—if convenience is your priority—simply thrown away. A package of three replacement bags costs about $6. We found that we could clean a bag for reuse in about 5 minutes, which is similar to the time that it takes to clean a conventional canister.

Newman says the bag approach provides another advantage: Users can spray in any direction, even upside down, and still draw paint into the gun. That’s because the bag that holds the paint contracts as the gun draws the paint from it. This means that you can use the paint more completely than is possible from a typical canister that has a suction tube that won’t reach down into the paint when  you hold the gun at a sharp angle. We found this to be so in our evaluation. The TrueCoat 360 models are the only hand-held models that we found that have this capability. None of the other manufacturers would comment on products that were in development.

RIGHT TOOL. Because paint companies are introducing thicker latex paints, consumers face the challenge of buying the right paint sprayer for their project, Murray says. That’s because the least expensive paint sprayers can’t handle thick paint without requiring you to take the extra step of thinning the paint first.

Graco and Wagner introduced models in the past 2 years that spray today’s thicker latex paint without the paint being thinned first. These models, which start at $130, accomplish this by having a more powerful motor—5 amps instead of the typical 3 amps.

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We found during our hands-on evaluation that a lower priced paint sprayer’s nozzle becomes clogged when you attempt to apply a latex-based paint that hasn’t been thinned. The paint sprays out in blobs or not at all, which produces a blotchy, uneven finish. We found that paint sprayers that cost less than $80 are suited for spraying stain, although paint that has been thinned can be used and delivers even results.

Fortunately, we found that manufacturers list on their website, packaging and in-store displays the finishes that their particular models are designed to spray.

“The best advice I can give to a consumer is to buy a product for the material you want to use,” Murray says. “Here is my project; what [paint sprayer] do I need?” In other words, if you want just to spray stain on a fence, you can spend $65 for a basic model that will do the job. However, if you want a paint sprayer that allows you to stain the fence now and spray latex paint directly out of the can for another project later, you’ll have to spend more green so you won’t feel blue after painting your townhome living room red.

Brett S. Martin, who is a frequent Consumers Digest contributor, has written about home-improvement products for 15 years. He has written for Popular Mechanics and The Family Handyman magazines.