How to Use a Spray Gun to Paint a Car: Simple 6 Steps!


A freshly painted car’s gleaming, flawless finish is the epitome of automotive beauty. If you love cars or enjoy customizing your vehicle, whether you’re experienced or a beginner. Mastering the art of how to use a spray gun to paint a car is a skill that can transform your automotive projects.

However, it’s not as simple as pointing and shooting. To do the process right, you need to plan carefully, have the right skills, and know the materials and tools.

In this detailed guide, we will tell you all the steps you need to take to paint your car like a pro. Our guide will assist you with everything. It covers choosing the correct spray gun and using basecoats and clearcoats correctly.

So, roll up your sleeves, put on your safety gear, and let’s dive into the world of automotive painting with a spray gun. Your car’s new look awaits!

What Kind of Spray Gun Should Use to Paint a Car?

When painting a car, it’s essential to choose the right spray gun to achieve a professional finish. The type of spray gun you should use for automotive painting typically falls into one of two categories: conventional (or high-pressure) spray guns and high-volume, low-pressure (HVLP) spray guns. Both types have their advantages and are suitable for different applications. Here’s a brief overview of each type:

1. Conventional (High-Pressure) Spray Gun:

Conventional spray guns are known for their high-pressure and use a lot of air to atomize the paint, creating a fine mist. They are traditional in design and have been used for many years in the automotive industry. These spray guns can be used for both primers and topcoats. They are generally better suited for experienced painters because they require more skill and control to avoid runs and sags in the paint.

2. HVLP (High-Volume, Low-Pressure) Spray Gun:

HVLP spray guns use less air pressure to atomize the paint, resulting in less overspray and more efficient material transfer. This makes them more environmentally friendly and cost-effective. HVLP guns are easier to use, making them a popular choice for DIY and beginner painters. HVLP spray guns are particularly well-suited for topcoats and clear coats.

NOTE: The choice of spray gun depends on your specific needs, experience level, and budget. It's a good idea to consult with experts or professionals at your local automotive paint supply store for recommendations.

How to Use a Spray Gun to Paint a Car: Customize Your Car’s Look!

How to Use a Spray Gun to Paint a Car
How to Use a Spray Gun to Paint a Car

Painting a car with a spray gun is a complex and precise process that requires careful preparation, attention to detail, and the right equipment. It’s typically best left to professionals, as achieving a smooth and even finish can be challenging. However, if you have the necessary tools, materials, and some experience with automotive painting, you can attempt it. Here’s a general outline of the process:

Tools and Materials:

  1. Safety Gear: Wear safety glasses, a respirator mask, and appropriate protective clothing to protect yourself from fumes and overspray.
  2. Spray Gun: Choose a high-quality automotive spray gun with adjustable settings for pressure and pattern. Make sure it’s clean and in good working condition.
  3. Compressor: You’ll need an air compressor to provide the necessary air pressure to the spray gun.
  4. Paint and Primer: Choose automotive paint and primer specifically designed for car applications. Match the color to your car’s existing paint.
  5. Sanding and Prep Tools: Sandpaper (various grits), body filler, a sander, and masking tape are essential for surface preparation.
  6. Solvents and Cleaners: Use appropriate solvents and cleaners to remove old paint, dirt, and grease from the car’s surface.
  7. Tarp or Booth: Create a controlled environment, like a paint booth or a well-ventilated garage, to minimize dust and overspray.

Steps to Paint a Car with a Spray Gun:

01. Surface Preparation:

Start by washing the car to remove dirt and grime. Remove any existing paint defects (scratches, rust) by sanding or using body filler. Mask off areas that you don’t want to paint, such as windows, trim, and tires. Ensure the surface is smooth and free of contaminants.

02. Priming:

Apply a layer of automotive primer to the entire car to create a smooth base for the paint. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for mixing and application. Typically, you’ll need to apply several coats, allowing drying time between each coat.

03. Paint Application:

Mix the automotive paint according to the manufacturer’s recommendations. Adjust the spray gun settings for the desired pattern and pressure. Apply even coats of paint, overlapping each pass slightly for full coverage. Allow each coat to dry before applying the next one. The number of coats may vary, but it’s typically multiple coats.

04. Clear Coat (Optional):

Many car finishes include a clear coat for protection and shine. Apply this in the same manner as the paint, following the manufacturer’s instructions.

05. Drying and Curing:

Allow the paint to dry and cure according to the paint manufacturer’s guidelines. This can take several days.

06. Finishing Touches:

After the paint has cured, you may need to wet sand and polish the surface to achieve a smooth and glossy finish.

Remember that painting a car requires practice, patience, and attention to detail. If you need clarification on any part of the process, it's best to consult with a professional.

Can You Spray Paint Directly on the Car?

Spraying paint directly onto a car is generally not recommended, as it can lead to uneven coverage, a lack of adhesion, and a less-than-professional finish. For proper results, thorough preparation is essential.

This process involves several key steps, such as cleaning the car’s surface, sanding to create a suitable texture, applying a primer for adhesion, and then finally applying the paint.

Additionally, using a high-quality spray gun is important to ensure the paint is distributed evenly. Attempting to spray paint directly onto the car without these preparatory steps can lead to issues like peeling, flaking, or a subpar appearance.

Therefore, it’s crucial to follow the established procedures for automotive painting, which require careful surface preparation and priming before applying the paint for a durable and attractive finish.

How Do You Mix Automotive Paint for a Spray Gun?

Mixing automotive paint for a spray gun is a crucial step in achieving the right color, consistency, and finish. The mixing process can vary depending on the type of paint system you’re using, whether it’s a single-stage or a basecoat/clearcoat system. Here’s a general guide on how to mix automotive paint for a spray gun:

  1. Read Manufacturer Instructions: Start by reading the technical data sheet and manufacturer’s recommendations for your specific paint.
  2. Safety Gear: Wear gloves and a respirator for protection.
  3. Measure the Paint: Pour the required amount of paint into a mixing cup.
  4. Add Reducer (if needed): If the paint needs thinning, follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for the right type and amount of reducer.
  5. Add Hardener (if required): Some paints, like clear coats, require a hardener. Add the specified amount as per the manufacturer’s instructions.
  6. Stir Thoroughly: Mix the components until you have a smooth, lump-free consistency.
  7. Strain the Paint: Use a paint strainer to remove impurities or clumps.
  8. Test Spray: Before applying to your project, do a test spray to check consistency, color, and pattern.
Following these steps will ensure your automotive paint is ready for a flawless finish. Always adhere to the manufacturer's guidelines for your specific paint product.

Paint Spray Gun Pressure Settings

Here’s a table of the recommended paint spray gun pressure settings for different types of automotive paint applications:

Paint Application

Spray Gun Pressure (PSI)


25-30 PSI

Clear Coat (CC)

28-32 PSI


20-25 PSI

Single-Stage Paint

28-32 PSI

Metallic Paint

28-32 PSI

Pearl Paint

28-32 PSI

Flake Paint (Custom)

28-32 PSI

High-Build Primer

30-35 PSI

NOTE: The type of spray gun, nozzle size, and environmental conditions can influence the ideal pressure setting. Always perform test sprays and adjust the pressure as needed to achieve the desired results and avoid issues like runs, sags, or an uneven finish.

Spray Gun Setup for Basecoats and Clearcoats

Here’s a table of the recommended spray gun setup for both basecoats and clearcoats in automotive painting:



Spray Gun Type

Spray Gun Type

HVLP (High-Volume, Low-Pressure)

Nozzle Size

1.3mm to 1.4mm for both basecoat and clearcoat

Air Pressure

25-30 PSI (pounds per square inch) for basecoat; 28-32 PSI for clearcoat

Fan Pattern Width

Approximately 6-8 inches for both

Basecoat Viscosity

Follow the manufacturer's guidelines for the specific basecoat product

Clear Coat Viscosity

Follow the manufacturer's guidelines for the specific clear coat product; it is typically thinner than basecoat

Distance from Surface

About 6-8 inches for both


50% overlap between passes for both

Number of Coats

Typically 2-3 coats of basecoat, allowing proper flash-off time between each coat; 2-3 coats of clearcoat with flash-off time

Flash-Off Time

5-10 minutes between coats of both, allowing the solvent to evaporate

NOTE: These recommendations provide a solid starting point for achieving a professional finish when applying both basecoats and clearcoats with a spray gun. However, nozzle size and air pressure can vary depending on the brand and type of paint. 

FAQ for How to Use a Spray Gun to Paint a Car:

Q1: How to use a spray gun to paint a car black?

A1: Painting a car black with a spray gun involves several steps. First, prepare the car’s surface by cleaning and sanding it. Next, mix your black automotive paint according to the manufacturer’s recommendations. Load the paint into your spray gun and adjust the spray gun settings, such as air pressure and fan pattern. Apply multiple coats, allowing each coat to dry before applying the next. Finish with clear coat for added protection and a glossy finish.

Q2: How to use a spray gun with an air compressor?

A2: Using a spray gun with an air compressor is a common practice in automotive painting. Start by connecting the spray gun to the air compressor using the appropriate fittings and hoses. Adjust the air pressure to the recommended level for your specific paint application. Ensure that the compressor provides a consistent and clean air supply to the spray gun for an even and smooth paint application.

Q3: How to paint a car with an HVLP spray gun?

A3: Painting a car with an HVLP (High-Volume, Low-Pressure) spray gun is a precise process. Begin with proper surface preparation, including cleaning and sanding. Mix the automotive paint according to the manufacturer’s guidelines and load it into the HVLP spray gun. Set the air pressure to the recommended level and adjust the fan pattern. Apply the paint in even coats, allowing proper drying time between each coat for the best results.

Q4: How to set up a spray gun for primer?

A4: Setting up a spray gun for applying primer is important to ensure a smooth and even coating. Start by selecting the appropriate nozzle size and air pressure for the primer you’re using. Mix the primer according to the manufacturer’s recommendations. Adjust the spray gun’s fan pattern and distance from the surface. Apply the primer in even coats, allowing for proper flash-off time between coats to achieve the desired coverage and texture.

Q5: Do you add water to paint when using a spray gun?

A5: Adding water to paint when using a spray gun depends on the type of paint you’re using and the manufacturer’s instructions. In some cases, water may be added to latex or water-based paints to achieve the desired consistency. However, for automotive paints, water is typically not used. Instead, you should follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for using the appropriate thinner or reducer to achieve the correct paint viscosity for your specific application. Always refer to the product’s technical data sheet for precise instructions.


Using a spray gun to paint a car is both difficult and satisfying. We’ve gone over the most important steps to help you get results that look like they were done by a pro. By learning about the different types of spray guns and how they can be used. Also, how to mix paint and set the right pressure, you now have all the information you need to start painting cars.

Remember, practice makes perfect, and your first attempts may not yield flawless results. Perfection comes with experience, so don’t be discouraged by any initial imperfections. You can improve your skills and make a beautiful, one-of-a-kind finish for each job. Each finish should fit your idea for the car.

In closing, always prioritize safety, meticulous surface preparation, and adherence to manufacturer guidelines. You’ll never feel better than when you see your car change because of your skilled work. When you use a spray gun to paint a car, you can be as creative as you want. You can fix up the finish, try out new colors, or add your own designs.

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