Sprayer Comparison: AAA Versus HVLP

Experts discuss the quality, efficiency, and cost issues for air-assisted airless and high-velocity low-pressure technologies. March 18, 2005

There has been quite a bit of discussion lately about AAA sprayers. I use HVLP gravity guns and HVLP spray pot here in my shop. Almost never do any on site finishing. Are there any benefits to AAA in the shop as opposed to on the job site? We spray 95% water borne clears and pigmented finishes.

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From Paul Snyder, forum technical advisor:
Air-assisted airless (AAA) sprays much faster than conventional or HVLP spray equipment, the atomization is exceptional, and overspray is greatly reduced. After using a AAA pump for a while, a regular spray gun is agonizingly slow.

It does take a little getting used to. You'll have to modify your spray technique some to avoid sags and runs and problems related to applying the material too heavily. Precise triggering and hand speed is key to avoiding overlaps and too much material that causes the problems. Once mastered, you'll be looking to get larger tips to move even faster.

If you need to increase production, consider AAA.

From contributor J:
I feel the same about my airless - I'm on it, off it, and taking care of the next steps. They do put out a little better quality in finish. That gets cancelled out for speed, ease of use/cleaning/setup/support equipment and lastly the less cash paid out.

From the original questioner:

First, let me say that I'm not spraying 100 doors/cabs a week. We have a mix of both custom furniture and cabinet finishing. My finishes are all water based: Clears - Fuhr, Target, Crystallac... hell, even Minwax. For tinted - Sherwin Williams ProClassic water based acrylics and Fuhr 9100, Mohawk Polystar. I currently use Walcom Fx Guns with the 3m PPS system setup for the cups (makes cleaning a snap). Tips used: Shellac/stain ... 1.4; Clears ... 1.7; Tints ... 2.2. The tints sprayed with the 2.2 do take a long time and a bit of thinning.

I would like to get away from the limits of the cups, but since we often do several different sprays in a day's time… Clear... tints. Having never used AAA, it looks like there would be more cleanup involved in changing over. Clean the pump, clean the lines, clean the gun. I don't want to sacrifice finish quality for speed at all. So given all of this... would love hearing your continued thoughts.

From contributor W:
Why limit yourself to just one? I have HVLP guns and a AAA setup. I use both types regularly. Each has its own place. I would not spray a whole set with my HVLP and I would not load up the AAA to spray the one piece of trim that the guys forgot in the shop after all the cabs are finished.

You might think that the airless is as good or better than the AAA. It might be a slight bit faster, but when we compare the cost of finish materials at the end of the month, I think you would be shocked at the difference. The pure airless setup will lay down a downright beautiful finish with the right gun and tip, but at a terrible transfer rate. You would save probably 30% easy on material cost if you switch to a AAA from your airless. Been there and done that. Our AAA paid for itself in the first 6 months from material cost savings. The affect on production was negligible because most of the time spent finishing is prep/sanding/handling and not actual spraying time.

From contributor J:
I have made my views known that I thought AAA systems were the better setup. I have two of them! My inventory of spray rigs contains: 3 HVLP, 2 bbr i Binks model 62 for cup guns, 2 detail guns, 2 21/2 qt. setups, 3 pressure pots with HVLP guns, and 4 airlesses. I have bought heated AAA setups, turbines and sadly even electric cup guns that broke my eardrums. I work in my shop, in residences, on the 55th floor and in other shops needing my services. I've run multi-million dollar finish departments down to shops doling out sandpaper squares, custom, production, antique restorations and furniture shops!

There is no way on God's green earth that an AAA is a little slower than my airless. By the time you have reached 2/3rds of a kitchen spraying with an AAA, I would already be done cleaning out the airless. Transfer efficiency? Let's see - I'm reducing atomization, thus putting less overspray into the air. My spray tip size is one where I am not blasting material out into space but on the woodwork. Since I can keep a wet edge without any air turbulence flash drying a section, I save on not buying retarders and thinners because my spray pressure kicks out higher solid passes, reducing a possible extra coat to fill grain. I'm not even mentioning the support equipment used in AAA setups and the small tips that, if clogged, take 5 minutes tops to unclog while coating is flashing off. Also, AAA has two hoses to gun, while airless has a whip end to further reduce fatigue while spraying. And to end this - fewer moving parts mean fewer parts to replace! I believe if you weighed all the plusses and minuses, the gavel comes down in favor of airless. It's all a moot point if you're comfortable with your rig - happy is happy!

From contributor W:
I am very comfortable with my rig and I am not trying to insult your experience or intelligence. I use a Graco AAA gun right now and you are right about the clogs. It is a problem. But we have ordered a new Asturo AAA gun with a reversible tip, so that should take care of that. As far as the transfer efficiency: It does not matter that you have the best fine finish tip made for the airless; you are still stuck with a 50-60% transfer rate. The transfer rate is determined basically by the speed at which the material comes out of the gun. The slower the speed, the better the rate. The slowest speeds are produced by the better AAA guns. Even Graco, which makes both types of rigs, will tell you that. I fully understand that it might take me 15-30 minutes longer to spray than when I used the airless, but with material that costs $30/gallon, I can live with a few extra minutes on a job.

From contributor B:
As an old-time airless guy, I gotta side with contributor J on this one. Everything he has said is on the money.

As far as transfer rate goes, that is mainly dependant on how far from the work you are holding your gun. If you spray 6 to 8 inches off the work, keep your pressure right, well... Overspray, what's overspray? Here's a tip: use a wide fan - 60° is best. That lets you get in close. Sure, blast your pressure and hold the tip 12" from the work, and you will get 30% or more waste. But that's not the right way to use an airless. Oh yeah, triggering the gun on every pass helps, too. There is nothing like an airless for flat surfaces. On the other hand, for objects with more complex shapes like chairs, perhaps an airless would not be my first choice.