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Can you use normal paint in a spray gun?

We are regularly asked this question; it comes in different forms. For example, which paint do I use for this surface. Can my sprayer spray emulsion? What is the best paint to spray? Before we answer the question, we need to clarify what we mean by “normal paint” and exactly what type of “spray gun”. Both spray guns and paint come in many different types, and they can get quite complex. To keep it simple, we are going to focus on the most common paints and sprayers.

Normal paint

We are interested in paint; we need to be because we are sprayers. It is amazing how different people classify what is normal paint. To a car sprayer, this would mean a very thin sprayable coating that, in many cases, is solvent-based. To an industrial sprayer, it may be a two-pack paint that dries very hard and is very durable. Finally, to a decorator, it would mean a decorative paint such as emulsion or undercoat.

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Because we are decorators ourselves, we are going to define “normal” as decorative paint. We also think this is what the majority of people would think of if you said “paint” to them. There are many decorative paints, so we are going to choose just two. 

Emulsion and satin. The emulsion is a water-based coating that is used to decorate ceilings and walls. Satin is usually water-based these days and is used to paint woodwork such as doors and skirtings.

Spray gun

This one is harder to define because when asked to describe a spray gun, most people would describe a compressor and spray gun, like the ones that car sprayers use. These have been around for over a hundred years, so they are the most well-known. Something very close to a conventional spray gun that decorators use is high volume low pressure (HVLP) turbine systems. This is what we are going to assume for the term spray gun.

If you had to spray some emulsion onto a wall, then you could spray emulsion through an HVLP turbine system. You would have to thin the emulsion to a single cream consistency, and it would be slow; however, if you were spraying a feature wall in a colour, then it would work, and you would get a great finish.

However, an HVLP turbine system is much better suited to spraying woodwork. If you were spraying woodwork with normal paint, then in our case, that would be a water-based satin. Dulux makes “satinwood”, and Crown also makes a water-based satin. These paints would spray through the HVLP but again would require thinning. You would need to thin the paint to a single cream consistency, and you may need a number of coats to get good coverage. 

By the way

This answers our question, but there is more to know, so we will explore this topic a little further. Most decorating paints in the UK have been manufactured to be applied by brush and roller. We know it says “spray” on the side of the tin, but that is not what the paint manufacturer is expecting you to do. 

They are expecting you to roll it or brush it. Because of this, they add bulking agents to make the paint thicker and therefore easier to brush and roll. This is fine until you want to spray it. This is the reason that you need to thin the paint and also strain the paint. 

If you bought a paint that has been designed to be sprayed (so not normal), then it would be sprayable straight out of the tin. Once you get into spraying, you soon start to seek out these not-so-normal paints.

For the sake of this blog, we assumed that spray gun meant conventional or HVLP, but there are other sprayers out there. One of these is an airless sprayer. This is a more recent invention, and most people have not heard of them. An airless sprayer will spray any normal paint without thinning, emulsions and satin will spray perfectly, and you will get a great finish.

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