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Choosing A Striping Machine: Airless vs. Conventional

Choosing A Striping Machine: Airless vs. Conventional

by Dan Zurcher, American Striping


There are basically two types of striping machines. One uses air and it’s called a “conventional” machine. The other does not use air and it’s called…you guessed it…an “airless” machine. First, let’s take a look at the conventional.

The major components of this type of machine are a 7 gallon paint pot that can be sealed shut, a small engine and a small air compressor. The air compressor feeds air to 4 places. The first place air is fed is into the sealed paint pot. This air pushes down on the paint and forces it out of the bottom through a hose to the paint gun. The second place air is fed is into the actual gun. This air turns the paint into a spray. If air weren’t introduced here it would come out of the gun like a squirt gun. The third place air is introduced is into a little can that holds one of two types of liquid: paint thinner if you’re spraying oil based paint or water if you’re spraying latex paint. This air forces the paint thinner or water through a hose right down to the tip of the gun. Why? To clean it out. This paint thinner or water completely bi-passes the paint line and goes directly to the tip of the gun. After lines are sprayed for a time the operator can open the small valve for 1 or 2 seconds, then close it. Paint thinner or water will go to the gun and clean it out. Now the operator can start painting again with a clean tip.

The conventional (air) machine also has 2 hoses coming from the back of the machine; one for paint and one for air. This is the fourth place air can be fed. These lines feed a separate gun, kind of like the one you would use to paint a car. This gun is for stencils. If you want to use it, simply open a valve that directs the paint flow to that gun. Open another valve to direct the flow of air.

Another important aspect of the conventional machine to consider is that these machines require 2 separate striping guns to accommodate 2 different types of paint. One gun is used for oil based paint, the other for latex.

So to recap, the flow of air goes something like this. Air goes to 4 places on the conventional machine: the paint pot, striping gun, cleaner can, and stencil gun. As a striping professional for 15 years I must say, I like this machine because of all of the air adjustments. You can adjust air pressure pushing on the paint. You can also adjust the air going to the gun, which helps to make the perfect mix and perfect stripe. It is also easy to travel with a conventional machine. Remember the sealed paint pot? When you’re finished with a job, you simply roll the machine onto your trailer and drive away without worrying about paint spills. There’s also no waste after cleaning and it takes maybe 1/2 quart of thinner or water to clean. Mix that with the next 5 gallons and move on.

Another added benefit of the conventional machine is that they are forgiving. You’re spraying paint through an orifice the size of a pencil lead. If there’s a foreign object in the paint, chances are it’ll come through. They’re also a little heavier. You could “hit a dog” and still paint a straight line! Lastly, they’re easy to work on – especially for the beginner. Why? Because any trouble with these machines will be on the outside and simple to fix. In other words, there are a couple of valves to direct air or paint, a couple of hoses to direct air or paint, and a couple of gauges measuring pressure on air or paint. All of these parts are on the outside and simple to work on. I like these machines!

The other type of striping machine is the “airless” machine. This machine operates on the principle that if you squish the paint hard enough and force it through the tiniest little slit of an orifice…it will come out like a “spray”. It works no differently than if you place your thumb over the end of a garden hose to make the water “spray”. No air has to be introduced here, just a smaller orifice. There are many things I like about these machines as well. First of all they’re lighter because there is no paint pot. You simply use the 5 gallon bucket that the paint comes in and set it right on the machine. There’s also no air compressor either because you don’t need air to “push” the paint. You put a “suction tube” right into the paint bucket and suck the paint up – i.e. “draw” the paint – to the pump. This paint gets pumped so hard it’s forced to go through a 25” hose and into the gun. That’s it; an engine, motor, pump and 1 gun. This is the beauty of the airless type striping machine. Now, while these machines have a place in the market…I don’t think that they’re the “be all…do all”. They’re just different. I’ll explain this in an upcoming article on airless striping machines.

If you want more information now, you can check out my book where I devote 7 more pages to the single topic of airless and conventional striping machines. It’s that important, because in the business of striping it’s your biggest expense.

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