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Part 2: Airless vs. Conventional Striping Machines

Part 2: Airless vs. Conventional Striping Machines

by Dan Zurcher, American Striping

    

While both the conventional and airless striping machines certainly have a place in the market, I do not think that either of them is the “be all…do all”. They’re just different. In the first part of this series we talked about the conventional striping machine, so now let’s take a look at some of the characteristics of the airless.

No Air Compressor = Light
The airless machine has no paint pot and is lighter. But, that doesn’t mean you can just roll the machine up onto the trailer and drive away like you can with a conventional machine. If you do, paint will splash (you’re spraying from an open 5 gallon bucket of paint) causing a huge mess. The solution is to either clean the machine before you travel – even if you have 2 “yellow” jobs back to back, 5 miles apart – or simply cut a hole in the plastic lid that came with the paint bucket. Snap this lid back onto the paint bucket – around the suction tube – and then drive away. I do this. I love it. I’ll clean it later.
Because airless machine has no air compressor you cannot adjust for the thickness of the paint. But, rarely is the paint too thick or too cold. Without the introduction of air the paint is “stuck to itself” and won’t “break up”. This means it won’t fan out and produces a maximum line thickness of 2 inches. Don’t try lifting the gun higher…it won’t work. It doesn’t matter if you hold the gun 2 feet off the ground, you’re only going to get a 2” wide line. And don’t buy a tip that’ll spray an 8” wide line just to get a 4” wide line. Save your money. The fix? I’ve heard that adding a couple of cups of thinner to oil based paint or a couple of cups of water to water based paint will do the trick. Read the paint can on how much you can “reduce” or “thin” the paint. Don’t get me wrong, I love that the airless is lighter, but, on a “conventional” machine you can adjust the air pressure to the gun, introducing more air to the gun – not the paint pot. This “breaks” up your paint, or “atomizes” it, allowing you to produce a wider line. You can also simply “reduce” this paint, just like on the airless machine. Did you notice that to get an 8” line with an airless you need a different tip? This cost can be somewhere between $20.00 and $40.00. To save some money…spray (2) 4” lines side by side for an 8” line and (6) 4” lines…side by side for a 24” STOP BAR. We all do it. “Conventionals” don’t have different tips. The widest line for a conventional is about 6”. Spray lines side by side for 8” - 24”.

    The lighter weight also means that if you do hit a small dog or a small walnut while striping, the machine is not as forgiving…it will wiggle. Not a big deal…but this wiggle will translate out to the gun and shake. Again, this is not a big deal. I make sure the gun is tucked closely to the machine and as low as possible to alleviate almost all shake. I also keep an eye out for small dogs.

The Spray Tip
Next…the tip. It’s a tiny little slit of an orifice. If a flake of paint tries to get through, it’ll clog and spray sideways. You’ll hear some contractors say “just turn the tip around and pull the trigger!” Where? On my parking lot? SPLAT. Be wise, don’t move the machine. Simply turn the tip around and bump the trigger for a split second. Turn the tip back and pick up where you left off. But that gets old. Just buy an in-line filter. I did. Now I don’t have any clogs and I never strain paint. Done.

Machine Maintenance and Cost
Here’s more. Just so you know, airless machines aren’t as easy to work on as conventionals and the pieces are a little pricy. The hydraulic motor may cost $1000.00 to replace. Mine is 12 years old. I use it almost every day and it is still going. If it breaks I will spend $1000.00 and have it replaced. But, I couldn’t spend $1000.00 on a conventional machine if I tried. Engines are $400.00 and compressors are about the same. Everything else is either a valve, hose or gauge and these are only $5.00 to $40.00. Also, on an airless there is a hydraulic pump, which is different than the motor. It has a piston and “seals” inside. I have had the piston replaced, but generally speaking all you need to do is replace the seals. I have mine replaced almost every Spring. This is probably too often, but I feel good about it. I want to say this too. I have replaced my own seals on the job. I have also taken the bottom half of the pump off to clear a clog on the job. I found a “paint skin” and put it all back together in 30 minutes. BUT, I’m not bad with a wrench and I believe that anyone can do anything. So…don’t be afraid to work on an airless, they’re just not as easy to work on as a conventional.

Stenciling With An Airless
    Stenciling with an airless can be tricky. There’s no way to spray “easy”...pull the trigger and it’s ALL ON. Spray 5 H/C stencils in a row with POW! and the stencil itself is sloppy and will drip. The fix?...spray a few and let it dry. Go spray some lines. Come back and spray some more or wipe it off. With a conventional you can pull the trigger half way and control the volume. It’s a little easier. It’s also easier when you have to “touch up” a curb with your stencil gun. Try “touching up” a curb with POW!

What To Buy?
    Do you wanna know which one you should buy? Buy either one you want. They both cost about the same. If you’re lucky you can buy a striping machine for $4000.00, if not maybe $5500.00. But try this first. Call every good sized paving contractor in your city. Why? Because I stripe for 2 different contractors and both of them have machines in their shop. I could buy a machine from either contractor and pay half price.

Which type of machine do I own? I own both – one of each – AND NEITHER ONE’S FOR SALE!

Read Part 1 of this series where I focus on Conventional striping machines.


Check back with Paveman Pro for my upcoming article. “Striping a curved line with an airless is a blast…a blast!. I love it. And, spraying a curb is very cool. I hate it when the job is over! BUT, the one reason I have a conventional, despite that it’s a little heavier is the cleaning. The airless can be – to me – more time consuming and very costly, especially when compared to the conventional (well…what else would you compare it to?). AND, especially since some states are now requiring Acetone paints and no longer allowing Alkyds. Talk to you soon!

Dan Zurcher is the owner/operator of American Striping Company. He has striped parking lots for 15 years and is the author of “How I Stripe a Parking Lot…15 Years…By Myself”. You can check out Dan’s book at http://www.americanstriping.com