Spray Guns: From Airless to Air-Assisted

A residential painter who's used to airless equipment wants to upgrade to air-assisted for final lacquer coats. He gets advice, makes his choice, and reports back. August 30, 2005

I'm mainly a residential painter, so most of my experience is with airless equipment. I usually spray lacquers with my airless and a fine finish tip, but I'd like to expand, try different products and different methods. I'm wondering if I can use an air assisted gun with my airless pump (pressure turned down), and a small compressor for the air.

A local retailer here tells me it's no problem. He carries the Binks aa1500 and the Graco Alpha guns. Has anyone tried this? What about these guns? I've read about Kremlin and CA Technology guns, which seem exceptional. Should I look into one of these instead?

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor U:
Don't think it will work... at least not well, as the gun is engineered for low to medium pressure and your airless is high pressure, even turned down. That's what I found with my trial, but you may have a different setup and such.

From contributor S:
I mainly spray lacquer in my shop and have recently bought a Kremlin Airmix 10.14 pump with the MVX gun. Wow - I have never seen a finer finish with lacquer! It is really unbelievable how fine the atomization is and the uniformity of the spray pattern.

The downsides... They are a bit pricey, but well worth it if you are going to be spraying a lot of lacquer. The learning curve took me a while to get through.

I had some help from others on the forum who own the same system. Get a rep to come give you a demo and you will be amazed. You will use less material, have very little overspray, and the coolness factor is a 10.

From contributor W:
Either gun is good. It will work with an airless pump but you have to be able to adjust the pressure low enough. Some rigs will allow it, some won't. You will need to drag a small compressor with you to supply air to the cap.

From the original questioner:
Thanks. It sounds like it's doable, but not the best way to go. I think I'll save the $700-$800 that I'd spend now on a gun and small compressor and put it toward a complete system at the end of the year.

Contributor S, I'm glad you're getting outstanding results with the Kremlin. It sounds ideal for me. I've been wishing for better control of material flow and fan width (and of course better atomization) without giving up the speed of my airless... so the Kremlin is a dream for me. I've read here not to demo one until you have the cash in hand, so I'll wait a few months more!

From contributor B:
If you do painted cabinets, it is good to have that airless to do primers. Now, that is speedy and builds up quick. Then have your AAA for top coats... nice.

From the original questioner:
Exactly! I'd love an AAA for the finish coats, but will always have a use for my airless. I've also been experimenting with a turbine driven HVLP for dyes and stains, and love the ease of it, but really don't want to try finishing complete cabinet jobs that way.

From contributor W:
Right on! The right tool for each job. Before you buy that Kremlin, you might want to check out the Asturo K1 A3 Mix. It uses the same technology as the Kremlin and has a fully reversible tip. Not only does the tip clear trash, it can be used in the reverse position with a different angle setting. For instance, the front angle is 50 degrees and the back angle is 20 degrees. This is especially handy when spraying mouldings. It has a separate fan adjustment but you can set and forget the fan and just flip the tip to hit the mouldings. The lack of overspray from this gun is incredible, just like the Kremlin. The whole rig on a cart with this gun will run just under $1900 from Finish Systems.

From contributor J:
I converted my Graco airless to a air-assisted airless. No problems at all. I added a Binks AA-1500. What a dream machine for fine finishing. Produces a soft spray. I used fine, fine tips before, too. They worked good, but when I switched, so much better. I can turn the material down and spray and have to stand in a cloud of overspray. It may be me, but it seems to use less material.

From contributor N:
I have the Asturo AAA without the above mentioned gun and if I did it all over, I would have gotten that gun.

From contributor H:
All you need to do is to buy a fluid pressure regulator from Binks or Kremlin that will give you an output range from 300-800 pounds. It should cost you about 550 bucks.

From the original questioner:
I think I'm going to give it a try, otherwise I won't stop thinking about it. I seem to have what musicians call GASS (gear acquisition syndrome). There's only one cure, and it's usually costly. Good equipment always pays for itself, though. I guess if my airless doesn't work, I'll have the gun and compressor and just need a pump later on, or I'll at least have a spare gun.

Now I just have to choose one. Wow. I'm almost sold on the K1 A3. The twin tip is definitely a great idea. I'm going to find out what the tips will cost me and throw that into the equation (cost vs. convenience). I'm sure any one of them will be a nice step up from my airless guns, though. I will be getting the fluid pressure regulator... that would be the smart thing to do since my pump only has a high-low dial.

Contributor J, does your Graco have an electronic pressure regulator or a dial like mine? Are you using an additional gauge with yours?

From contributor J:
My Graco is an air driven pump. Not electric. It is a 23:1 pump so adjust the pressure to fit my needs. And what's nice about it is it sits on top of a five gallon bucket. Plus it has an agitator, so I can keep my finishes stirred to keep the flatteners off the bottom.

From contributor D:

I have converted two field pumps to AAA and have been very pleased. I have a fantastic Graco rep who has hooked me up with demo units and demo guns. An alpha plus gun is rated at 4000 psi and the alpha gun is rated for 1500 psi. I have saved enough money in material costs to pay for my guns. It has worked for me.

From contributor H:
My advice is to get a Kremlin gun. No other gun can compare. There isn't a need for a switch tip because the filters are included with the gun and pump.

From contributor W:
I was a Kremlin man, too... until I tried the Asturo. The reversible tip is nice because it has a narrow angle tip on the backside. No fiddling with the fan control to spray moulding or narrow pieces. Just flip and keep on spraying. It uses technology similar to the airmix, so you get the same kind of performance. Don't be too quick to judge until you have tried one.

From contributor I:
The MVX gun gives you the ability to change from 3"-13" with small turn of knob. Only gun in the field to have that ability. That is the difference in just the gun. The Kremlin pump - that is just another advantage. Rebuild yourself in less than 20 minutes.

From the original questioner:
I did end up getting the MVX. All the guns I looked at seemed outstanding compared to my regular airless guns, though. The deciding factors for me were #1, almost everyone here seems to love their Kremlin equipment. #2, the MVX 200 bar will ensure that I don't damage the gun if the pressure is too high on my airless. #3, they have a sales rep here in San Diego who was very helpful and offered any assistance if need be in the future (very important).

I tried the MVX for the first time yesterday. For the first half of the day I sprayed CAB acrylic with a 311 dual orifice fine finish tip in my airless gun. This setup gives me a great finish and I didn't think the Kremlin would be that much better. After lunch I switched to the Kremlin using the same pump, same five gallon bucket of lacquer, and added a small compressor. I gotta tell you... it is absolutely the best finish I've ever sprayed with lacquer, or possibly anything. It's better than my HVLP. I kept thinking the only thing that could possibly be better is a buffed finish.

My particular pump is not going to work, though. It's fine for drawer fronts, small doors, etc., but if I get into large panels, the pressure fluctuates too much. I was using less than half the pressure that I was with the airless gun, and the pump just doesn't perform well that low. The fluid hose and passages in the MVX are also much smaller than the airless equipment, which (I would think) must make a difference. I can't go back to the fine finish tip now, though. I'm sold, so I will end up getting the airmix pump before my next cabinet job.

I'm sure the Asturo is a great gun, but I would've had to order it online without ever getting to look at it first. I think all the guns are definitely high quality, and the technology is pretty much the same, but it would have been a lot of cash for me to drop without seeing it first.

From contributor W:
I don't have a rep in my area so I called the closest one. He sent the gun for me to try at no charge. The same went for the Kremlin. I don't mind that their is no rep in my area. These rigs and guns are very simple to work on. When my Graco pump needed rebuilding, I just ordered the kit and did it myself. It took all of about 2 hours.

The comments below were added after this Forum discussion was archived as a Knowledge Base article (add your comment).

Comment from contributor P:
It may be true that most AAA set-ups are powered with compressed air. However, there are much less expensive routes, using components you likely already have. The one piece of equipment you must invest in well is the gun.

I already have an airless pump (2 actually and a 3rd coming) and compressors. I invested $800+ in a Graco AAA gun (G-40). With these and gauges for fluid and air I have a very workable operation. I have diaphragm pumps, not piston. My experience with piston pumps was they "pulsed" too much. There is pulsing with diaphragm, very fast but not large. I'm designing a "shock absorber" to compensate.

I'm quite pleased with the gun, which requires very little air. (One small job I thought someone had turned the compressor off, as it never kicked on after the initial pressurizing. It was on, just needed so little air it never came on again.) I can get good results with some types of work even without the air.

With straight airless the sheer volume of material thoughout was a problem, as you had to move so fast to avoid runs, drips or puddles. Turning the pressure down causes "tails" or "fingers" which are heavy lines of material squirted on each side of the fan. (I didn't choose the terminology - it's just what it's called).

With the G-40 gun I can turn the pressure way down and still get a soft fan. Once when the power cord was inadvertently removed I kept spraying until the spray was like that from a can of aerosol paint. So, the design of the spray tip has much to do with the quality of the spray, as well as the air jets.

So you can get into air-assisted airless without investing many thousands on a pile of equipment.