In recent years, tool manufacturers have made it easier for painting contractors to get our hands on more sophisticated equipment that make it possible for us to use one tool to complete many typical tasks.
More specifically, the leaders in different paint tool categories have established very acceptable baselines for performance, which most professional painters define as that delicate balance between production and quality.
In my May 2012 column, “Smart Spraying: Clearing the Air on AAA Sprayers,” I wrote about the technology of air-assisted in general, citing models from Titan and Graco specifically.
In the consideration of “air-assisted airless” as a sprayer category, the generally accepted standards for portable production style rigs are defined by both Graco and Titan. It is very much a Ford/Chevy discussion. Some painting contractors prefer blue sprayers, some prefer red. Most agree that both manufacturers are leaders within the category, and any objective decision between the two usually boils down to individual preference of different features.
Having used most of the major brands of air-assisted airless sprayers in professional detail – on the jobsite and in the shop – on real projects within my company, I am very much an advocate for this type of spraying. That is the level of interest and confidence that air-assisted has achieved with me as a pro painting contractor.
In general, just by way of review, air-assisted airless is a much more efficient delivery system for finishes because the technology works at considerably lower pressures than traditional airless pumps by wrapping the fluid dispensed at the tip in a tidy envelope of air that is dispensed out of orifices surrounding the fan.
The heart and soul of this system is the .54 gpm Titan 440i pump, which most of us consider to be legendary. My company has owned several 440 pumps in the past three decades, and what has always been impressive about this pump is its simplicity and reliability.
The Multi-Finish houses a 440 airless pump on a beefy cart with a compressor mounted to the side, and dual hoses for fluid and air, all feeding a lightweight HVLP-rated gun. That is all standard fare for production-style air-assisted airless sprayers that go out into the field for painting, but regardless of engineering variations across different manufacturers, it is always a sophisticated combo.
To date, the biggest advantage of air-assisted airless sprayers is that they give users the ability to break out of the “crank it up and move as fast as you can” cycle. That is, the overspray cycle. The 440 Multi-Finish is powered by a 440 pump that is capable of 3,300 psi fluid delivery.
Because of the sophistication of the technology, it is rarely necessary or desirable to approach that maximum psi. In other words, while you may be used to cranking up to 3,300 when spraying latex primer or paint with an airless, you will find a much more desirable and still highly productive experience when spraying latex primers and paints in the 1,200-1,800 psi range. That is because of the air assist, and the fact that the gun at the end of the hose is capable of radically higher material transfer efficiency than the LX80s and contractor series guns we all cut our teeth on over the years.
The Multi-Finish is as adroit as others in its air-assisted class at showing the user where the “sweet spot” is for different products. Again, as a general rule for interior and exterior latex primers and paints, we found the benchmark range to be approximately 1,200-1,800 psi on fluid, and 28-32 on the air. Obviously, when moving to lower viscosity products and finer finishes, everything goes down until the right settings are found to match the technique of the user.
The gauge styling is classic with this system. Titan keeps it fairly simple by not digitizing the displays. The air compressor has a needle-style gauge on its housing, and the fluid is tracked by an in-line gauge at the pump end of the fluid line.
Some contractors who I have spoken with have reported that they prefer this style of visual display because it eliminates the risk of circuit board issues over time.
Historically, one of the basic design challenges of airless style pumps is that the lower valve ball can – stick and usually at the wrong times. This problem brings production to a grinding halt on the job. Gravity is the culprit. Material tends to settle at the lowest point during use, and the same applies for material residue settling when cleaning the pump.
Titan goes after both of these issues on the Multi-Finish by equipping it with a push feature to unseat the lower valve ball if it becomes stuck. This simple “ball knocker” advancement makes it no longer necessary to bang on the housing with a hammer, bounce the pump up and down on the floor, or sprain a shoulder trying to get your finger on the ball and push. That was a great idea, and it works. Additionally, pump oiling is made simple with a push-button feature, and cleaning is as easy and thorough as ever with the pulsation setting on the pressure dial.
The GM3600 gun is not the prettiest HVLP-rated air-assisted gun that you will see. In the spirit of the overall system, it is simple, functional and reliable. It has slim lines and is lightweight, with ergonomics that facilitate extended use with minimal fatigue. The stock gun is set up for airless or fine finish reversible tips, but is also capable of a simple conversion to flat style tips for the finest of finishes. We ran the gun in its stock configuration for fine finish applications and found it to be perfectly suitable.
Most of my readers know that I test tools in professional settings. There is very little benchtop or lab-based test criteria. That just makes sense, because paint contracting as a livelihood is not hypothetical, it is real world.
We have used the 440 Multi-Finish in many finishing applications both in the shop and in the field. The biggest strength of the tool is its simplicity. That is critically important for those of you looking to go from straight airless to air-assisted. It has to be simple, or it will be frustrating. Simple is a broad term that encompasses all aspects of user-friendliness, reliability and convenience in the delivery of that all-important balance of production and quality.
For ultimate flexibility out of one machine – the ability to shoot everything from production-style Sheetrock to fine-finish and cabinet-grade – this pump/compressor/gun system is another model of why air-assisted airless is worth the upgrade from airless. APC
Scott Burt is the president of Topcoat Finishes, Inc., in Jericho, Vt. He enjoys communicating with contractors and manufacturers at www.topcoatreview.com.