I wrote an extensive article about the best latex paint sprayer for your DIY home projects, and now it is time to discuss the best paint for spray gun (both primer and paint will be covered) to use in your HVLP paint sprayer.
For 100% of my projects using my fave paint sprayer I have used latex primer and paint. It is easy to clean-up both my paint sprayer and my work area using water and dish soap and the occasional garden hose. I also seek out low VOC paint, which tends to be latex based.
I understand oil based paints have their place in a DIYers paint cabinet, but so far latex paint has served me well and it’s my preferred paint to use.
Before we talk about how to thin paints and what the best paints are, I thought it would be worth mentioning the various types of spray paint guns as well as my top recommendation if you’re in the market to buy one for your personal use (or professional use for those of you furniture flippers).
Different Types of Latex Paint Sprayers
A quick note: all of these will likely also be able to handle oil based paints and varnishes, but since today’s post is focused on the best latex paint for spray guns, all the paint mentioned will be latex based.
There’s many different types of paint sprayers out there: HVLP paint sprayers (high volume low pressure), LVLP (low volume low pressure), and airless sprayers.
I go into the different benefits of each kind of paint sprayer in great detail in another blog post, but here’s a top-level version to get you familiarized with the different pros/cons to each type of spray gun.
- HVLP Paint Sprayers: produce a smooth finish, very efficient with paint resulting in less waste, affordable, perfect for indoor and outdoor use, good for most beginner to intermediate home decor and renovation projects, better results and a small learning curve.
- LVLP Paint Sprayers: commonly used for automobiles or boats, produce a very fine mist for a smooth finish, best left for professionals or those who do a lot of woodwork where clear coats and finer finishes are needed.
- Airless Paint Sprayers: this type of sprayer is extremely useful when painting the exterior walls of a house or large surfaces (that are flat), and it also uses a lot of paint per minute (some models use up to half a gallon or a full gallon per minute resulting in needing many gallons of paint).
For the average homeowner who likes to tackle DIY projects, an HVLP sprayer (also called HVLP spray guns or HVLP paint sprayers) will be powerful enough to get a smooth, factory finish on 99% of projects, and they do not require an air compressor.
The Best Paint Sprayer Under $100
If you want a paint spray gun that allows you to get projects done in less time, has different spray patterns, adjustable pressure, and can be easily cleaned with a garden hose, you’ll want to buy the Super Finish Max Fine Finish HVLP Sprayer. (Also known as the HomeRight C800971.)
This type of paint sprayer is very easy for an average homeowner or DIY newbie to use. I’ve used it on furniture, doors, baseboards and wall moldings.
You can read all about this amazing electric paint sprayer and see some samples of projects I’ve accomplished with it, plus learn a lot more about its features and benefits in my post about the best latex paint sprayer for DIY projects.
Tips for Thinning Latex Paint for Your Sprayer
Before we get into the various paints and primers I have personally used and recommend, I want to briefly discuss the actual process of thinning the paint.
For 95% of my painting projects, the best option I’ve found tends to be buying quarts of primer or paint at the hardware store, but you could totally also use gallons of paint (tip: buy the mistinted/oopsie paint for a few dollars at most local big box stores).
I have personally never found a paint that could be used as is straight from the paint can– every single one required me to thin it to some degree. I’ve gotten so much use out of my paint sprayer that I actually just eyeball and go with my gut on how much water to add.
Obviously, it is much easier to add in more paint than it is to try to remove water once you’ve added it in. The latter is impossible. With that said, I always reserve some paint in the can to add in if I accidentally add too much water.
You have your primer or paint and your paint sprayer. Now what?
When thinning any paint, primer or regular, to use in your paint sprayer, you want to make sure you do not shake the paint can to mix it.
I’ve made that very mistake before and what ends up happening is you create bubbles and air in your paint, which can lead to performance issues in your paint sprayer.
The excess air can also cause weird orange peel type textures (a common problem for newbies) in your paint and therefore the item you are painting, so do not shake your can of paint to mix it.
The far better thing to do is use a paint stirring stick (usually these are free when you buy your paint, make sure to grab an extra or two) and gently stir your paint so it is mixed well before you thin it.
Now that your paint is mixed and ready to go, it can now be thinned. But before you add water, please read the section below a few times to make sure you and I are on the same page.
I’ll give general water to paint ratio specifics in each section below, but the key takeaway is to always thin your paint in one of your paint sprayer containers (the vessel that your HVLP paint sprayer suction tube is going to pull the paint from) because it has a lid so you may as well use it.
Again, it is important to always reserve some paint in the original container it came in should you thin it too much and need to add more paint in to change the viscosity.
Even if I think I’m going to use an entire quart of primer or paint for a project, I don’t thin the entire quart right away.
Remember when I said HVLP paint sprayers are efficient? A little paint goes a long way. I thin about a half quart of paint at a time depending on the scope of my project.
This way, if I need to use primer or paint (on projects using paint rollers or paint brushes) that is not thinned, I haven’t thinned all of it. I’m a big fan of having options and being able to pivot if needed.
On the flip side, if you do thin an entire quart, you’ll be ready for a ton of projects or larger areas to paint.
Overall, you do need to mix enough thinned paint so that the bottom of the flexible suction tube of your spray painter has enough paint to grab and you’re not constantly having to thin more paint to refill your container.
Best Primer for Spray Gun: KILZ Primer
Do you need a primer? If you’re thinking this, I’ll ask you this question… Do you want a durable paint job and the best results possible?
I’m going to tell you that yes, if you’re going through the process of using a paint sprayer for your large projects or small projects, you need to use a primer. It’ll give your piece a professional finish.
On my living room fireplace that I recently painted (see it below), I was going from a dark gray color (that was very nearly black) to a crisp white color, and I rolled on two coats of KILZ latex primer. I’ve had ZERO issues with the dark gray color showing through.
Given my great experience using this primer on walls and dark furniture, I had all the confidence in the world that KILZ primer would work well in my HVLP paint sprayer.
The very first time I used this primer in my paint sprayer was to paint my dining chairs. They went from a wood tone to a high gloss white.
The sheen on the chairs was a glossy top coat or varnish, and from experience I knew I needed a good stain blocker to keep those pesky rings from peeking through the white paint.
A bonus about KILZ latex primer, which I used in this DIY tutorial on how to paint a dresser, is that it is easy to find and super affordable. Most major retailers and big box stores have it in stock in both quart and gallon size, or if you are lazy like me you can order it online (which is sometimes a bit cheaper).
Thinning KILZ Latex Primer for a Paint Sprayer
Primer usually is a little more “runny”, less thick than traditional thicker paints so thinning this primer to use in my paint sprayer was a breeze.
I wish I could tell you that thinning paint is an exact, fail-proof science, but it sometimes boils down to trial and error, which is why it’s a good idea to not immediately add in the full amount of water recommended.
Personally, I start with about 75% of the recommended water amount and see how that goes.
For every quart of KILZ primer, thin with water at a ratio of no more than 2 oz. per quart (or no more than 8 oz. per gallon).
I use a cocktail jigger for my measuring, but a small measuring cup or shot glass will work, too.
Once you add in your water, mix well with a stirring stick and then attach the container to your paint sprayer.
A good general rule to follow is to always test out your paint sprayer on some cardboard or newspaper before directly spraying onto the item you are painting.
This will spare you the extra time it will take to wait for the primer or paint to dry and sand it off if the paint consistency, spray pattern, air flow or paint flow is wrong or not to your liking.
Best Paint for Spray Gun: Untinted Latex Paint
We’re moving on to the fun stuff…PAINT. I decided to divide this section into untinted and tinted paints because they’ll be times when you want one or the other. We’ll start with untinted.
You may be thinking, “Monica, isn’t untinted paint just white?”
Not quite! My favorite off the shelf, untinted paint is Rustoleum’s Painters Touch Ultra Cover and it comes in a TON of great colors such as white, black, green, navy, red, brown, etc. It even comes in a gorgeous GOLD metallic color. Furthermore, it comes in a variety of sheens.
If you’re wanting a quick grab and go paint for your sprayer, this is it. The white color is crisp with no undertones. The black color is a true black with no purple or blue hues…SORT OF.
Ok, so here’s the thing about Rustoleum’s Ultra Cover paint in black. No matter what sheen you use, it looks like a dark navy in the paint can and it still looks dark navy when you thin it for your HVLP spray system and when you spray it. You may want to panic.
BUT ONCE IT DRIES, it is a true classic black like the burl wood piece below. You’ll have to trust me on this…
The great thing about this particular line of paint, besides the fact you don’t need to wait at the paint counter to get it tinted, is that it is readily available and usually about $12 a quart.
Here’s some of my projects using this line of untinted paint in my Homeright paint sprayer:
Dining Room Chairs (High gloss, white)
Black Chinoiserie Chair (Satin, black)
Vintage Pagoda Chairs (Semi gloss, white)
In my experience, three coats of this paint gets a really opaque, durable, scrubbable finish on furniture. It also works on metal surfaces and does not take a long time to dry.
Thinning Rustoleum’s Painters Touch Ultra Cover for a Paint Sprayer
This paint specifically says to not thin it and that it is best used with a high quality paint brush, but I have painted so many pieces with this paint that I guarantee it can be thinned for your handheld spray gun.
The caveat being that this specific latex paint is 96% ready for use in your paint sprayer and does not require a ton of water to make it perfect. In other words, it requires a drip of water.
In fact, for this paint I’ll often pour half of a quart into my paint container and I’ll run tap water on the lowest setting into the container for a split second. A tiny splash. Seriously it is a tiny amount of water that makes it the perfect consistency.
If you want specifics, I’ll recommend no more than 1.5 to 2 oz. of water per quart.
Best Paint for Spray Gun: Tinted Latex Paint for HVLP Spray System
There’s a good chance if you have invested in the best paint sprayer the first thing you’ll want to do is get some paint tinted. I hear ya. So many great colors out there! (I’m looking at you, Farrow & Ball!)
Here’s where I’m going to say that by modern standards any quality, reputable latex paint brand will more than likely suffice. So if you have an ACE Hardware and love their paint, go for it. Live by Lowes and want Valspar? By a Home Depot and love BEHR? That’s all great!
However, I’m going to share what I think is the best for larger projects and smaller projects and all around a good choice for the money and quality…
Sherwin-Williams Emerald paint in whatever sheen you choose or want. Their satin finish to me is so beautiful to me and makes any piece of furniture look expensive.
I’ve used this line for different projects and different materials, and it remains an excellent choice.
Also, the amount of paint that is needed to get a good, opaque finish is low. If you do a good job priming, two to three coats of this paint will work wonders.
It is often on sale, so a quart will usually run about $20-$25 depending on the sheen, and it is worth it. If you want to splurge, you can even buy one of Sherwin-Williams’ enamel paints which is what I used on my fireplace and it truly is scrubbable and durable.
More than likely you have a Sherwin-Williams near you, so even if you love a Farrow and Ball or Benjamin Moore color, I’d still head to SW to have it color matched to this particular paint line for your HVLP sprayers. It truly is the best paint for spray guns for your money!
At my local Sherwin-Williams, they do an excellent job of color/paint matching to a swatch. I’ve taken in a Samplize swatch of a Farrow and Ball color (Sulking Room Pink) to use in my French inspired home office and it was spot on.
I’ve also had them match Oval Room Blue by Farrow and Ball, and again, spot on! Some competitor colors they have on file in their system, but I always take my own swatch in to ensure I walk out of there with my paint so I can work on my project.
Thinning Sherwin-Williams Emerald Paint for a Paint Sprayer
Sherwin-Williams to me has thick latex paint that is creamy and perfect for interior walls, and with some thinning is equally creamy and dreamy for my paint sprayer.
Much like the Rustoleum untinted paint I mentioned earlier, this paint does best with a minimal amount of water added in. I recommend no more than 1.5 to 2 oz. of water per quart for an HVLP sprayer.
There’s a lot of reviews online that state they had trouble using this exact paint in an HVLP sprayer, and it seems the main culprit is that they thinned it too much. Always err on the side of adding in the bare minimum of water and go from there.
As you get more experience and projects under your belt, you’ll start to understand the nuances with each brand and type of paint to develop your own preferences for your “best paint for spray gun” list.
Now that you have some guidance on the best latex primer and paints to use in your paint sprayer or spray gun, it is time to get out there and make some DIY magic happen.