This is a question that seems to be a bit misunderstood in the paint industry. Most painters come from an airless spraying background, which is geared for production and not so much for the delicacy of finer finishes and transfer efficiency.
Airless, in my opinion, is great for spraying large, wide open surfaces, and that is about it. Airless machines, even with fine finish tips, are not so effective in lower pressure ranges.
They are great for production, but plagued by overspray.
Can you do it all with airless?
When airless spraying, painters go fast, because they have to. In my years of airless spraying experience, I've observed that its hard to make an airless/primer/paint combo happy in any less than than the 3-4000 psi range.
You have to be moving and spreading alot of paint. Not so helpful on cabinets, mantels, trim packs or doors, but many painters will blow their way through it, sanding out curtains here and there as they go.
Not to mention the large quantities of airborne mist that settle into other wet surfaces as they dry. Based on this, many contractors innacurately conclude that air assisted is slower than airless.
What is the difference between airless and air assisted spraying?
There is a huge difference. I have written in the past about this topic, most recently a full analysis of air assisted spraying technology in American Painting Contractor magazine. At the practical level, I think some contractors resist aaa because of the cost of the equipment. You can get a good airless for under $1000. A good aaa rig may cost over $2000. Some contractors claim that aaa is slower than airless, not realizing that if you turn off the compressor on an aaa and turn up the fluid pressure, you are essentially running a 4ooo psi airless machine. The air assist simply gives you the ability run products efficiently in lower pressure ranges, which is desirable for fine finishes. And having a 5 gallon supply capacity gives aaa a production advantage over hvlp on larger scale tasks, but with similar transfer efficiency and finish quality.
We use these aaa systems:
We rarely use airless sprayers anymore, mostly just for production spraying of drywall primer, which are abrasive miles that we prefer not to put on the pistons of our aaa rigs. We use air assisted for cabinet spraying, production prefinishing of interior and exterior trim packages in our shop, and onsite architectural trim detail finishing. The control, precision and efficiency of an air assisted airless system cannot be matched by an airless with a fine finish tip.
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