There are a lot of different factors which determine the quality of your paint spraying results. As we explain in our various guides, you’ve got to mix your paints properly, thin them to suit your sprayer, and apply them with proper technique.
One of the most crucial factors is the spray tip/cap you use on your paint sprayer while you work. Spray caps and tips (the term changes depending on the type of sprayer you’re using) determine the shape and dynamic of the spray fan that comes from your gun.
If you use too small of a spray tip, you’ll have trouble getting paint thin enough to work with without losing its integrity. With too large a spray tip, you can’t get the kind of finesse you need for small areas and fine finish work. So, choosing your tips and caps carefully is key to making sure your care and effort translate into satisfying results!
In this guide, we’ll explain how to choose your spray tips and caps across the common types of paint sprayers. We’ve also included some handy links to tips and caps that fit paint sprayers we recommend on this site!
Handheld paint sprayers
Most handheld paint sprayers have only one cap/tip option. Instead of swapping components, you’ll adjust the fan size and pressure using a knob or something similar. There are also a few handheld models with a set of two caps, one for fine finishing and one for coverage. Still, it’s a much simpler system to work with than airless or HVLP paint sprayers!
When you work with a spray gun that’s supplied by an air compressor, you don’t need to go through the process of buying and choosing between a bunch of spray tips and caps. Most compressor-type spray guns have adjustable fans, and you can adjust the spray dynamics by tweaking the pattern adjustments and the output pressure. At most, a compressor-type paint gun will have two different spray caps and they’ll be included.
Airless paint sprayer tips
Airless paint sprayer tips tend to be the most varied, so they take the most effort to sort through. They’re also designated by a complicated numbering system which takes time to familiarize yourself with. You’ll see them marked with set of three digits (e.g. 515).
The first digit will come out to half the width of the spray fan the tip produces (in inches, measured with the gun held a foot away from the work surface). It seems counterintuitive at first, but if you were to spell out a foot-wide fan with 12 instead of 6, you’d end up with even more digits. You’ll get used to it!
The second and third digits represent the actual size of the spray orifice on the tip. That’s measured by diameter, in thousandths of an inch. Unlike the width digit, you don’t have to do any mental doubling. The orifice measurement indicates how much paint the tip will put out at a given time (the wider the orifice, the more paint). It gets less relevant as time goes by, though, since orifices widen with use.
When you’re deciding between airless spray tips, you need to think about a few different things:
As a general rule of thumb, the thicker the material you’re spraying, the wider an orifice you should look for on your spray tip. You’ll see tips ranging from ~9-23/1000ths of an inch, so there’s quite a range. To spray latex, look for something with at least a 15/1000ths opening. You can get away with something at the lower end of the range when you’re spraying clear coats. A word to the wise: as long as you thin accordingly, you can use a slightly smaller spray tip than the one recommended on your paint can or in your user manual. It will take longer to finish your project, but you’ll waste less in overspray and help your paint sprayer last longer!
When you start thinking about the size of spray fan you want to work with, the idea is to go with whatever’s most efficient. In general, bigger fans allow you to work more quickly on big projects. They’re ideal for coverage jobs, especially walls. When you start using big fans on things like railings or moulding, though, you’re going to be wasting lots of paint on overspray. So, choose tips with numbers starting with 5 or 6 for walls, while keeping things below 3 for most smaller detail work.
Some manufacturers (of paint sprayers and paints themselves) try to make your life easier by giving estimated flow rates with their spray tips or coatings. Feel free to use them as a rough guide. These ratings are mostly helpful when you go to buy materials, since you can use them to estimate how much paint to buy. Don’t treat them as absolutes, though. You’ll need to factor in water for thinning, overspray waste, and so forth.
For interior walls: 513-515
For exterior walls: 515-617
For trim: 213 or smaller
You can find Graco airless spray tips (and there really isn’t any worthy competition) all listed conveniently together:
Click on the link above to find tips from 211 to 621.
HVLP turbine system spray caps
Like compressor-fed guns, paint spray guns that rely on HVLP turbines can often be adjusted via a knob. Some of the nicest systems also let you adjust the master speed right on the turbine. That gives you an incredible finesse.
Still, you can change the spray caps on your gun in addition to those adjustments. It’s this multi-stage flexibility that makes HVLP sprayers so much better for fine finish work. You can get a degree of finesse that’s simply not possible on airless systems.
Proprietary spray caps are fairly common with HVLP setups, as with airless pumps. The big difference is the way that they’re classified. Instead of the complicated numbering system used with airless paint sprayers, HVLP spray gun caps are marked with simple millimeter measurements (e.g. 1.3mm).
When choosing between specific caps, you’ll need to think about the same factors as you would when choosing an airless spray tip. However, since there are far fewer options for HVLP guns, you’ll find that most are labelled clearly enough for you to choose a cap without digging into specs yourself.
For interior walls:
For large surfaces, thick coats, and so forth:
For fine finishing on large areas:
For all-purpose fine finishing projects:
Standard issue on Fuji guns:
For lacquers and shading:
For mist coats and inks:
If you already have a high-quality paint sprayer, choose a few spray tips from the recommendations above to round out your toolbox! Or, if you’re on the hunt for a paint sprayer and are researching tips up front, good for you! Now that you know more about what you’re dealing with, head over to our homepage to find in-depth reviews of the best paint sprayers on the market.