A smooth glossy finish

Using a spray gun to get that smooth, glossy finish on a vehicle is really satisfying. You want an even, gleaming, polished look for your surface, with no ‘tiger stripes’ (paint passes that stack unevenly creating a striped look) or ‘orange peel’ (a surface with a mottled texture, usually caused by the incorrect level of paint atomisation coming through your paint spray gun). You also want to avoid dense paint that gathers at panel or style line edges.

How to use spray gun

These are just a few of the basics you need to keep in mind when learning how to use a spray gun. To achieve them, you need practice, practice and more practice. Using a paint spray gun correctly takes a lot of skill and muscle memory and the best way to learn is by doing.

Gun setup and testing

Naturally, your key piece of gear is your gun. You can purchase spray guns direct from most reputable suppliers and a popular model is the gravity feed spray gun, also sometimes called a high volume low pressure (HVLP) gun. As the name suggests, these use the pressure of gravity to achieve an even spray. Depending on the kind of paint you’re using, your pressure will need to be adjusted and fine-tuned before you start.

Before you get started spraying your vehicle, set up and test your gun. You can use a large piece of waste cardboard or timber or an old car panel. If you spray and the finish is dry, increase your fluid. If it’s dripping and creating an orange peel effect, decrease your fluid. 

Spray evenly onto your test surface. An oval pattern like a footie ball is what you’re aiming for; a crescent or dumbbell shape means blockages and an uneven flow. Adjust the spray until you get that football shape.

An important part of your spray technique is fan pattern, the fanning out of the spray as it leaves the nozzle of your spray gun. You’re aiming for a fairly wide fan pattern, but you want to avoid letting it get too wide otherwise you get dry overspray. It’s worth remembering that your base colour can probably handle a wider fan width, while your clear coat, which is thicker, will probably need a narrower fan width. You’ll also need to adjust your fluid depending on the surface you’re working on by screwing the nozzle clockwise to decrease it and anti-clockwise to increase it.

Get spraying!

Experts in spray guns say spraying technique is all about steady, repetitive movements. Keeping the gun at the same distance from the surface of the car is vital, as well as being able to shift the angle of the nozzle smoothly without jerking so it remains parallel to the surface whichever part of the car you’re working on. This is a matter of adjusting your wrist to follow the contours of the car and takes time to master. Keep your knees bent and use your body to glide the gun over the surface of the car.

A key technique for effective paint coverage is overlapping. When you do a pass, the next pass should overlap the previous one by around 50 per cent. A tip here is to ensure that your wrist is in the right position, keeping the angle of the spray perpendicular to the surface of the car. If the spray hits the contours of the car at an uneven angle, you’ll get a ‘tiger stripe’ effect because one edge of each pass will be thicker than the other.

How to use spray gun

When using your paint spray gun you also need to pay attention to the ends of each pass to avoid build up. So you need to avoid stopping and starting and instead ease off the trigger at the end of each pass to avoid paint gathering at your edges. Also, avoid stopping and starting at the edges of doors and wheel openings. 

Think about how you’re going to handle your air hose. Firstly you don’t want it to hinder your movements as this will result in uneven passes. Secondly, the length of your air hose will have a bearing on the air pressure; too long and the pressure will drop, affecting your spray consistency. A good way to handle your air hose is to clip it to your shoulder and hold it behind your back, feeding it out and pulling it back as you move.

Sequencing your paint job

Sequencing is key when using a gravity feed spray gun. This is a big topic, but basically, it’s about applying the paint to the car in the most effective order. How you sequence your job can be a matter of individual choice but it’s worth experimenting with sequencing to get the best continuous coat.

Safety tip

Car paint is highly toxic so ensure you wear a high quality mask and eye protection when handling your spray paint gun.


Please note the information provided in this website is General Information only, please read all product data sheets and safety data sheets before commencing any work. If pain persists show a professional.