Best Automotive Paint Gun: It’s Time for a Fresh Coat

The right automotive paint gun will help transform your project, and won’t drive you crazy in the process.

byAustin Lott| UPDATED Jun 23, 2022 2:35 PM
Best Automotive Paint Gun: It’s Time for a Fresh Coat
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A vehicle is probably one of the most valuable possessions one can own, so giving it a fresh look with eye-catching colors is a great idea. For amazing results, you need the right automotive spray gun. If you are not an expert in painting, choosing the right automotive spray gun can be confusing. To help you make an informed decision, we have reviewed the best automotive paint guns on the market.

Best Overall

3M Performance Spray Gun Starter Kit

Summary
This system has a unique replaceable head system that lets you switch between sizes and refresh your gun in a snap.
Pros
  • 15 heads included in set
  • 360-degree spray angle
  • Lightweight composite gun
Cons
  • It’s definitely not cheap
  • Replaceable can feel wasteful
Best Value

Campbell Hausfield General Purpose HVLP

Summary
This is a great starter paint gun that’s as traditional as it gets for HVLP setups.
Pros
  • Simple to maintain and use
  • Screw-on lid stays in place
Cons
  • Will not produce as smooth a surface as a more expensive gun
Honorable Mention

DeVilbiss StartingLine Spray Gun Kit

Summary
This kit not only includes a pair of guns, a cleaning kit, and a storage case. This kit has enough to allow you to easily spray a traditional base, color, and clear coat system.
Pros
  • Has three tips for everything from primer to clear coat
  • Nice storage case
  • Two guns for the price of one
Cons
  • Some reviewers had quality complaints

Maybe you've found the perfect project car, but the paint is faded and peeling off. That's not the kind of patina you want. Perhaps you're ready to take your current ride to the next level with a new color. No matter your motivation, paint work is one of the more daunting car projects, even to the mechanically gifted. I certainly wasn’t feeling confident the first time I picked up a spray gun, but if there’s hope for me, there’s hope for you!

Start out watching some YouTube videos, get a cheap basic spray gun and some scrap metal. Once you get the hang of the basics, move up to spraying primer and consider a kit or a fancier gun, like one from this list. I've put together a list of a few of the best automotive paint guns as a starting point as you explore the next level of automotive project! Let's dive in.

Our Methodology

As I put together this guide to the best automotive paint gun, I drew on a few years of commercial painting experience, as well as a bunch of research in the automotive space. The Drive already has a guide for best beginner paint guns so this guide will feature a value pick, but I also included a number of more expensive choices. For all but one of my picks here, a good air compressor setup (compressor, oil/water separator, and maybe an air dryer) is essential. If you’re thinking about cranking out a serious automotive paint job, then this guide is for you. 

My personal experience was in the coatings world, with epoxies and urethanes mostly, so I turned to Eastwood and Pittsburgh Spray Equipment, and the Amazon review section to make sure I was getting you the absolute best advice on the Internet. Some topics are harder to untangle, and even in paint guns, you run across people who complain about having to clean the gun frequently (that's part of the deal, man!). I've done the research so you can get to the fun part: slingin' paint on your project.

Best Automotive Paint Gun Reviews & Recommendations

3M makes some of the best spray accessories in the business, and I practically lived in one of their respirators for a couple years. The 3M Performance Spray Gun Starter Kit is exactly what it sounds like: an all-inclusive kit that will get you going with an incredibly versatile spray gun. 3M has packaged all the best parts of different spray guns into one unit. The Performance Spray Gun comes with 3M’s PPS 2.0 system, which is designed to be easy to use, and allows you to spray at any angle, unlike most conventional gravity-feed HVLP spray guns. The “everything is replaceable” mantra is one that’s a little different when you first encounter it, but there’s an advantage to the 3M design that keeps the paint out of the gun itself and in the replaceable heads: namely, that if something goes wrong, replacement is quick, easy, and you’re painting instead of trying to clean tiny passages on your paint gun. I admit this has an industrial angle to it, but for the occasional user it might even be the ideal solution, instead of finding out that your $200 spray gun is leaking, you can pop on a fresh head and get to it. This kit comes with five in each size (1.2, 1.3, and 1.4 mm), and replacements run roughly $6 to $10 per head for packages of five. The heads can be used 5 to 10 times each before they need to be replaced, while the spray cup system uses disposable liners and an outer mixing ratio cup.

Specs

  • Material: Composite

  • Package: Kit

  • Spray Angle: 360-degree

Pros

  • Super lightweight

  • Replaceable nozzle

  • Conventional gravity feed or pressure pot

  • Kit has everything but the compressor

Cons

  • It ain’t cheap

The Cambell Hausfeld HVLP paint gun! This was the first HVLP gun I ever used, and it is dead simple to use and maintain. Sometimes, that’s all you need, and for well under $100, it’s a great choice for a lot of people. These are usually available at Wal-Mart too, and if you take the time to dial it in just right, you can get decent results. I sprayed plenty of smaller fabrication jobs with these, like storage racks and tables. The gun is easy to disassemble for cleaning and it isn’t hard to adjust the spray fan for beginners. Keep in mind that, as it comes out of the box, it has the limitation of being used in only a traditional spray angle. Simply put, you have to make sure to keep it upright so the paint feeds into the gun. If you’re spraying parts hung up, especially flat parts like a fender or a hood, then you’re in luck. If you’re spraying an engine bay, you may struggle to achieve full coverage. Consider your project needs before buying, and don’t forget to get a gun cleaning kit and a pressure regulator to go on the gun too, as this is just the gun.

Specs

  • Material: Metal

  • Package: Gun only

  • Spray Angle: Traditional

Pros

  • Affordable

  • Just the basics

  • Durable metal construction

Cons

  • You get what you pay for

  • Basic, so spray-angle is traditional

The DeVilbiss StartingLine Spray Gun Kit is the more entry-level of their kits, but it packs everything you need to get a DIY paint job done. With the priming gun (bigger nozzle for thicker material) you can do the base coats, and you can use the other gun (smaller nozzle for thinner material) for color and clear coats, which go on much thinner. DeVilbiss makes some great products, and this kit reflects that too. If you have the right compressor, reviewers note that these spray as well as many nicer guns. That’s been my experience as well with any spray gun: the right compressor, and taking the time to get the settings right, makes all the difference in the world. On the other hand, a number of reviewers did mention some trouble with the tips not being easy to remove. If things are good out of the box, take extra time to make sure you clean these well, as leftover paints will likely gum things up, making this issue worse.

Specs

  • Material: Metal

  • Package: Kit

  • Spray Angle: Traditional

Pros

  • Two guns for whole-car coverage

  • Kit includes everything you need

  • Nice storage case

Cons

  • Some quality complaints

The Fuji Spray Semi-Pro 2 is what’s called a turbine paint gun system. These are incredibly portable by design, as they don’t require an air compressor, and all the things that go with it. Most plug into a regular 110-volt outlet, like this model from Fuji Spray, and they’re supposed to produce minimal overspray too. These work in the same way as traditional HVLP guns, so anyone familiar with the basics should be able to get going quickly. The only downside might be cost. The Fuji Spray Semi-Pro 2 isn’t cheap, and systems from Fuji Spray that are designed specifically for automotive climb rapidly above $1,000. This system is capable of spraying automotive paints, and some reviewers have shared impressive results, but being entry level it’s only a two-stage system, while the more powerful 4- or 5-stage systems can spray the higher viscosity primers with less trouble. Though, if you need to get a proper air compressor just for this project, a turbine setup may end up being cheaper than a compressor and all the things that go along with it for painting.

Specs

  • Material: Metal

  • Package: Kit

  • Spray Angle: Traditional

Pros

  • Turbine system eliminates need for compressor

  • Familiarity of HVLP gun

  • Smoother than traditional HVLP

Cons

  • Redundant if you’ve already got a robust compressor setup

  • Price for serious turbines well over $1,000

The Neiko HVLP Mini Paint Gun is exactly what the name suggests: a tiny HVLP paint gun. When working on cars it’s easy to think about the glamorous painting angles as you spray the fender or hood, but what about under the hood? If you’re doing an engine bay, or trying to get your gun into anything resembling a tight space, you may run into trouble with a traditional-sized paint gun. That’s where a second smaller gun comes in, and many kits will include a larger and smaller one for this reason. Several reviewers said there appears to be a thread locker on the spray tip from the factory, and several said the one they received did not. For the price, take it apart when it arrives and return it if you find anything amiss. This paint gun is also available in a wide range of nozzle sizes, so choose carefully based on what your plan is. I linked the 1.0 mm nozzle, which would be ideal for colors and clears, but might not be big enough to spray thicker primers. Also, as with the other gun-only deals in this guide, get a good cleaning kit and a regulator too.

Specs

  • Material: Plastic

  • Package: Gun only

  • Spray Angle: Traditional

Pros

  • Small and lightweight

  • Maneuverable

  • Affordable

Cons

  • Gun-only, no extras

  • Some reviews report quality issues

Eastwood's Concours 2 HVLP Paint Gun Kit is another great all-inclusive setup with a nice carrying case. As messy as my garage is, I may have a bit of an affinity for tools that come with their own storage system. That aside, the Concours 2 HVLP gun is capable of producing the kind of work you'd be proud to take to a car show. That, and a lot of practice and a LOT of sanding in between coats. That's how good automotive paint work happens. One of the big advantages of this gun are the stainless steel internals, which means you are free to use water- or solvent-based paints without concern for corrosion inside of the gun. Some cheaper guns are made of lower grade stainless, which can rust, possibly allowing untimely clogs, or pieces of rust to spray into your paint job. That'd ruin a day. On the flip side, for the price, you're only getting one gun, while other manufacturers often offer two. You're getting a nicer gun than the DeVilbiss set, but you'll have to switch tips between coats and materials.

Specs

  • Material: Metal

  • Package: Kit

  • Spray Angle: Traditional

Pros

  • All inclusive kit

  • High quality gun

  • Rust resistant stainless internals

Cons

  • Traditional spray angle

  • For price, you only get one gun

Our Verdict on Automotive Paint Guns

The best automotive paint gun out there is the 3M Performance Spray Gun Kit. This gun is lightweight and has a unique replaceable heads that make switching materials easy, and recovering from mishaps simple. Though, if you want a workhorse that'll get the job done, the basic Cambell Hausfield HVLP Spray Gun is a great choice. If you take the time to thin your material properly, and get the spray pattern dialed in, this gun will get the job done. 

Consider Secondhand

When we start shopping for tools and products, we never overlook the secondhand market. In fact, it’s usually the first place I look. Whether you’re scrolling through Amazon’s Renewed section, eBay for car parts or tools, or flipping through the pages of Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist, you have hundreds of thousands of used tools, parts, and gear ready to be shipped to your doorstep. Refurbished to like-new status, they’ll be willing to give you many more years of faithful service all while saving you money. 

If those options don’t have what you need, your local salvage yard is great for car parts, while swap meets are a great resource you should tap. Just Google either and head on down.  

Secondhand Tips

To make your secondhand search easier, here are two tips to finding the best deals and making sure your new-to-you stuff wasn’t destroyed by the previous owner. 

  • If you're buying something secondhand make sure you can take the gun apart as intended by the manufacturer. If it's difficult, or impossible, or there's evidence of improper tools being used (think channel locks) move along. 
  • Paint guns generally show neglect well, so check it out thoroughly, especially inside the nozzle. If there's caked-on paint, save yourself the headache and get another one. 

What to Consider When Buying Automotive Paint Gun

When shopping for an automotive paint gun you want to look for a lot of the same things that make a great paint gun. I did skip over two categories while assembling this guide: electric airless, and pressure pot setups. Electric airless, or airless for that matter, are more designed for volume and for spraying on a lot of paint quickly. That’s a combination that’s sure to leave drips. Pressure pots are supposed to be incredibly smooth, but their purpose is to let painters apply large amounts of material without stopping to refill as often. 

That aside, when selecting a type of paint gun for automotive work your main choices are going to be HVLP (definition below) or turbine setups. Though the turbine systems are more expensive, they’re portable and self-contained, and don’t require a separate — read, expensive — air compressor.

Types of Automotive Paint Gun

HVLP

This is the traditional style of paint gun, and most feature a gravity feed hopper that supplies the paint to the air stream. The name means High Volume Low Pressure, meaning the high volume of air required from the compressor at relatively low pressure. You have to have a serious air compressor to run an HVLP gun, and that's mostly because a drop in pressure in the middle of a paint job is just about the worst thing that can happen, short of dragging your airline across your fender. 

One important consideration beyond the air compressor itself is the equipment needed to make sure you have clean, dry air. You'll need a water/oil separator and in more humid climates you may even need an air dryer, so count the whole cost before you commit. 

HVLP/Turbine

A turbine paint gun is basically identical to a regular HVLP gun, but it uses a turbine system to supply the air needed to atomize the paint. There are tons of them out there, some suspiciously cheap, but there are two basic levels: 2-stage "entry-level" systems are suitable for thinner paints, like color and clear coats, and 4- and 5-stage units, with more pressure and power for thicker paints. 

Automotive Paint Gun Key Features 

Easy Disassembly

Cleanliness is perhaps the most important virtue when dealing with paint guns. I've suffered through paint jobs with poorly maintained guns, and I'll tell ya: do it right, or you'll suffer. Being able to disassemble and clean a gun is essential, and when considering a paint gun you want one with a decent tool too. The cheaper ones on Amazon and eBay will have tools, but they often deform or break if made poorly. 

Comfort

You'll want a gun that's no heavier than necessary since you'll be holding it at arm’s length for long stretches at a time. That, and you'll want something with a longer trigger, like many of these. A light trigger pull is nice, as is the ability to get a couple of fingers on it. If you have a choice between two- and four-finger trigger designs, get the bigger one. 

Air Usage

I didn't get into this too much, but HVLP guns do use a high volume of air, far more than is needed for running a nailgun. When spraying a car you could easily spend an hour with the trigger pulled, or more. You want an air compressor setup that's going to be able to keep up with the gun easily, with enough capacity to ensure you don't have drops in pressure at the gun while you are spraying. 

Automotive Paint Gun Pricing 

On average you can expect to spend several hundred, to over $1,000, getting an automotive spray gun. I didn’t throw anything on this list for more than a grand, but adding in the purchase of a proper compressor can easily push the price over the hill. Now, if you’re looking to upgrade your current setup, and you already have a compressor, spending less than $500 will get you a great gun. A basic gun will be well under $100, while $20 to $500 will get you a kit with everything you need to finish your project. At the top end, right around the $500 mark, you can get into decent turbine systems, but those start there and go way, way up.

FAQs 

You’ve got questions. The Drive has answers.

How do you set up an automotive paint gun?

I’m 100 percent not kidding when I say: read the manufacturer instructions. Make sure your material isn’t too thick (viscosity), your air supply is both clean and dry, and adjust the pressure within the range specified by the gun manufacturer and the paint supplier. Once you get good atomization, adjust your pattern and you’re ready to go.

What kind of paint gun should I buy?

It depends on if you have an appropriate air compressor, or not. If you plan to do nothing more with compressed air than paint occasionally and fill car tires, then investing in a serious compressor would be overkill in my opinion. Though, more powerful compressors could open up the world of pneumatic tools and sandblasting. Weigh everything, and consider the cost of the compressor when weighing a turbine system against a traditional HVLP setup.

Can I paint my car with a Wagner electric airless sprayer?

You can apply paint to a car, yes. But, these don’t atomize paint nearly as well as an HVLP gun, so it will take a huge amount of sanding to get this anywhere near an acceptable state for a decent paint job. Do not spray flammable materials through an electric airless sprayer, it could ignite and catch fire, or explode.