A press release from Summit Racing sparked the idea for this article. We ran the release in our Feb. ’11 issue with the headline, A Spray Gun for $32.95? After we asked the Summit guys if it was a typo, we began thinking about why some guns cost $32 (or less at some warehouse stores) while others cost more than $800? And which price point is the best for the enthusiast who may paint a couple of cars a year? We hope to answer those questions here.
We phoned Kenny Maisano, owner of Mascar Autobody & Paint in Costa Mesa, California, to see if he’d help us throw a spray gun party. We’d provide the consumer-level guns, he’d provide a couple of examples from Sata, along with something to spray, and reps from Iwata would bring their latest and greatest. Maybe he reads our email, because when we arrived, he had a ’69 Camaro in his booth prepped and ready for paint. The Camaro Craft hate mail can continue for yet another month. Believe it or not, the Camaro was in for a mundane insurance repair rather than a high-end restoration. The timing just worked out well for us.
Price Range: $500 and up
As the crème de la crème of the spray gun world, these are the big dogs. SATA is a German company that has been making top-quality spray guns for decades. Maisano’s guys use SATA guns for primer and basecoats, so he had a cabinet full of them. In addition, SATA rep Wayne Morrison brought out the newest offering, the SATAjet 4000 B. With a retail price of more than $800, this isn’t a spray gun for the faint of heart, or faint of bank account, for that matter. It has all the latest bells and whistles, not the least of which is its built-in digital pressure regulator. No more guessing at the accuracy of an add-on cheater regulator.
Anest Iwata is a Japanese company that has been around for more than 80 years. The company is well known for its high-quality airbrushes and industrial spray applicators, but lately it has been making inroads in the automotive refinishing market with new, fullsize spray guns. Many pro painters use them for spraying clearcoats, including Maisano’s shop, whose guys like the LPH400 for clearcoats. Iwata West Coast reps John Pentecost and Craig Flagtwet brought out a new LPH400 and their brand-new LS400 Supernova. Priced slightly less than the SATA, the Supernova retails for about $734, but it looks like it should cost more. Styled by Pinninfarina, the Italian design company responsible for some of Ferrari’s most beautiful cars, the Supernova looks like no other spray gun out there. It is more than a pretty face, however, as its functional features are on par with the SATA.
What Your Money Buys
In short: efficiency, consistency, and comfort. These guns are designed for the guy who paints one or more cars a day, five days a week. He has a spray gun in his hand more often than not. It has to be lightweight and ergonomic so as to not strain the hand of the user. It has to be extremely efficient at getting paint from the nozzle to the car with as little overspray as possible, because every molecule of overspray is money wasted, and paint is very expensive, especially if you’re using several gallons per day. Finally, it must deliver the same spray pattern every time the painter pulls the trigger. In a high volume shop, you don’t have time or material to waste fiddling with the gun in between each coat of paint. Nor do you want customer come-backs. The paint has to go on right the first time.
Both the SATA and Iwata reps stressed that the majority of gun cost is tied up in the air cap and fluid tip. “The quality of the machining [in those parts] is much better. They use higher-quality raw materials, too,” Morrison tells us. Mark Hebbeler, Anest Iwata’s in-house PR guy added, “We use friction-fit sealing surfaces rather than O-rings or gaskets, which eventually deteriorate from exposure to solvents.”
Also, compare the fluid tips and air caps in these pictures with the ones in the less expensive guns. The air passages are much more precisely drilled, and there are more of them. This improves the efficiency of the gun. The liquid paint is atomized by compressed air here at the tip, forming what’s known as the fan—the spray pattern generated by the gun. The more completely the paint is atomized, and the more uniform the atomized paint is distributed within the pattern, the more efficient the gun is. It can cover more area more completely with less overspray, allowing the user to paint more cars with less material. All that machining adds up to an expensive spray gun, but in a high-volume shop, these guns can pay for themselves in a matter of months because of time and materials saved.
How They Work
Mascar’s Juvenal Manriquez did all the spraying for this test. He personally likes his SATAjet 3000 but was eager to try the new stuff, spraying a couple of coats of both base and clear with the Supernova and SATAjet 4000. Both offered excellent coverage, but Manriquez said the SATA felt more comfortable, likely because that’s what he’s familiar with.
Price Range: $200 to $350
There are a lot of guns available from a number of manufacturers in this price range, but the Concours gun by Eastwood happens to be the only one with which we have personal experience. Eastwood developed this spray gun a couple of years ago specifically for the home enthusiast. It operates on 29 psi at the inlet but only consumes 4 cubic feet of air per minute, meaning you don’t need a big air compressor to use it. The Concours has stainless internals and a machined brass fluid tip and air cap. The air passages, while not as fine as the SATA or Iwata, are more carefully laid out than the inexpensive guns we’ve used. Eastwood recently lowered the price to less than $200, too.
How It Worked
“It’s OK,” Manriquez says. As you can see in the picture, the Concours gun didn’t atomize the clear as well as the expensive guns did, depositing the paint on the car in bigger droplets than the Iwata and SATA guns. This is not necessarily a bad thing, however, and a decent painter can adjust his technique to accommodate. We’d recommend any gun at this price level to our readers.
Price Range: Less than $150
Summit Racing Equipment’s HVLP gun
Retail price: $32.95
At this price, you could buy 25 of these guns and still spend less than it would cost to buy one SATAjet 4000. Does that mean the SATA is 25 times better? A guy who paints cars for a living will tell you it is. So does that mean this Summit gun is 25 times worse? The answer is a typically murky: “No, it depends on how you use it.” Both the SATA and Iwata reps checked out the Summit gun noting that whoever makes it for Summit likely copied elements of older versions of each of their products. “The front end looks like Iwata,” Flagtwet says. Unscrew the air cap, and you can see some cost cutting in the fluid tip air passages. The steel tip and brass cap use an O-ring seal, and there are fewer air passages in the tip. Being mass-produced, the quality may vary from gun to gun, as well. Everyone in our panel agreed that over time, this gun will wear out producing inconsistent results.
How It Worked
Manriquez wasn’t impressed. This gun didn’t atomize the clear very well. The reps expected that to be the case, too. Pentecost told us, “Consistency of droplet size is not uniform in inexpensive paint guns. There is a lot of engineering in SATA and Iwata, and modern paints need that.” That’s not to say this gun is useless. “Any good painter could use it and get good results, you can change your technique to suit the gun,” Pentecost added. But it will be more work for him in the end—the finish will probably need lots of color-sanding to get satisfactory results.
One Last Thing
Maisano stressed the importance of a good, quality air supply (not the band). Air needs to be clean and dry or you’re asking for trouble. Compressor oil and water in your air lines can ruin a paintjob, forcing you to sand it down and start over. Also, a wall-mounted regulator is much more accurate than the ones you attach to the end of your air line. We’ve personally had those cheater valves go out of adjustment while we were painting. Like everything in life, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Pay attention to your air supply and you’ll be Lost in Love with your finish.
What Should You Buy
Unless you paint cars for a living, there’s no need to shell out the small fortune that the Iwata and SATA guns demand. If you are only going to paint one car per year (or one car in your lifetime), the Summit gun would be a smart buy. Expect to do some color-sanding, but you’ll be money ahead.
For our money, we’d probably buy two Summit guns (one for primer, one for the color coat, which goes on pretty easily) and one midlevel gun for the clearcoat, which is more demanding to spray. You’d have all your bases covered without spending an entire week’s pay.