Paint sprayers have an obvious advantage: They can spread paint, stains, and clear finishes faster than any brush or roller. But just as important is their ability to apply an even coating to uneven surfaces like window shutters and stair balusters—fertile ground for brush drips. And because sprayers atomize liquid into a fine mist, they can create a mirrorlike finish on cabinets or furniture where even minor brush marks are unacceptable.
Sprayers aren't always the best choice, though. Small jobs seldom justify the tedium of cleaning them (sometimes a simple can of spray paint will do), and a brush is better at giving you control where neatness counts. But when a sprayer makes sense, success depends on choosing the right one for the job and mastering a few techniques. Start by considering what you'll be spraying and what finish you'll use—sprayers vary a lot in the thickness of the finish they can handle, the amount of paint they deliver, and the overspray they produce, among other factors. Generally, there are two categories: sprayers that use air to atomize the finish and airless sprayers. Both have advantages and disadvantages, and there is a wide range of quality and price within each category.
Airless sprayers operate at extremely high pressure. If your finger (or any part of your body) gets too close to the tip, paint can be injected under the skin. If this happens, seek emergency treatment immediately, and be sure to inform the care provider you have an injection wound. The injury may not look all that serious, but most coating materials contain dangerous toxins that must be removed.
Click through the slide show at left to see a range of sprayers, their uses, and the pros and cons of each.