Properly Using Alkyd Paint In A Sprayer (How-To DIY Guide)

It has many advantages over water-based and oil based paints, but can you use alkyd type paint in a sprayer or spray gun like other varieties? 

The unique characteristics of alkyd paints require special attention to get the best results and prevent damage to a sprayer.

Read on to learn everything you need to know about spraying alkyd paints. 

This paint uses a synthetic resin as a binder, which is distinctly different from oil based paints that use natural oils like linseed and mineral spirits as a solvent.[1] Alkyd paints typically contain some oil as a thinner, but not nearly as much as paints that use natural oil based.  

The oil based content varies, with short-oil based formulas calling for 30% oil based content, while long-oil based formulas may contain up to 70% oil based.  

Waterborne resins for use in alkyd paints are also in development, appealing to consumers with lower prices and a reduced environmental impact.  

The best way to think about alkyd paints is as a kind of intermediate stage between oil based and water based paint. Even when they’re waterborne, alkyd paints contain catalysts like naphtha to make them dry faster than oil based paint. Water based paint still dries faster than oil based paints.  

alkyd paint cans

Metal surfaces and baked enamel are the most common applications for short-oil based alkyd type paint, while house paint is more likely to be long-oil based when it's alkyd. DIYers and professional painters use alkyds for exteriors when they use pungent thinners such as toluene or acetone.  

When they use mineral spirits or naphtha, painters tend to use alkyds on interior surfaces in more traffic areas where they want a burst of color or a nice sheen, like you typically aim for with trim, cabinets, and doors. 

You can use alkyd type paint in a sprayer or spray gun, although they’re less likely to be ready to spray right out of the can than acrylic paints. The tradeoff is the much nicer sheen and greater depth of color achieved with alkyd. 

Waterborne alkyd type paint is likely to be closest to the ease of acrylic. For now, alkyds with some oil content are still more suitable for exteriors and metal in most cases.  

There’s a slightly higher danger of runs, drips, and wrinkles when alkyd type paint is applied too thickly. So if you’re going to use it in a sprayer or spray gun, you have to make sure it’s leaving the tip in the right consistency to prevent blockage and get an even coat. 

Alkyd type paint is affected by the temperature in the room more than most water paints, so make sure the room is warm enough to prevent coagulation in the sprayer.  

You also have to make sure you have a sprayer or spray gun that can handle alkyd type paint. Otherwise, you run the risk of damaging internal components like seals and ruining the spraying permanently. 

Should Alkyd Paint Always Be Thinned Before Spraying?

Generally speaking, you will probably need to thin this paint. This is especially true for varieties with added hardeners or catalysts such as epoxy modified alkyd spray paint or alkyd enamel spray paint.  

You can always run with the 3-to-1 paint to thinner ratio, but add a little of your thinner at a time and test it as you stir so you don’t add too much.  

If you have waterborne alkyd type paint, water is likely an option for thinning, but make sure you look at the label to double-check before adding water to your paint.  

When water isn’t a viable option for thinning paint, turpentine, xylene, and toluene are some of the most common thinners.[2] Mineral spirits also work sometimes, although they don’t dry as fast as xylene.  

Manufacturers use so many different formulas for their alkyd  style paint products that it’s impossible to say with 100% certainty whether you can use mineral spirits or water to thin them or whether they even need thinning at all.  

To meet consumer demand for paint-ready products right out of the can, companies are increasingly creating paint formulas that don’t need to be thinned or need only a little bit of thinning. The best place to look for the most accurate information is on the label or the website for the paint you’ve chosen.  

Here’s how to thin alkyd enamel paint for spraying: 

  1. 1
    Get plastic paint tubs and a paint funnel, if necessary. You don’t want to thin an entire can of enamel paints at once, especially if it contains catalysts that will cause it to dry out quickly.  
  2. 2
    Place a strainer over your tub and pour the paint through it, making sure to measure how much paint you pour out. 
  3. 3
    Use the recommended thinner and ratio from the manufacturer. If you aren't sure, aim for 1 part thinner for every 3 parts of paint, adding a little at a time and testing until you reach the desired viscosity. Always use a paint stick to stir from the bottom until the mixture is homogeneous.
  4. 4
    Pour the paint into your sprayer reservoir through the filter again. It might seem like overkill, but it’s the best way to prevent lumps and blockage while you’re spraying.
man mixing paint in a can

How To Successfully Spray With Alkyd Paint

Remember how we mentioned alkyd type paint’s propensity to run and wrinkle if it’s too thick? Bear that in mind as you spray - your goal is to get through many lighter coats rather than globbing on one or two thick ones.  

Here’s a list of the basic supplies you need to apply paint with a paint sprayer: 

  • A painter’s mask, especially if using mineral spirits, turpentine, or a similar chemical thinner 
  • Clean paint tubs & filters 
  • Paint stirrers 
  • The paint sprayer of your choice 
  • An appropriate thinner (see above) 
  • Painter’s tape 

Follow these steps to spray paint like a pro.  

  • 1
    First, follow the instructions in the last section to thin your paint if need be. 
  • 2
    Now, once you have your paint in the sprayer, take a look at what you have to paint. Since it’s less likely to be a wall, you’re going to want to tape off the trim, floors, windows, doors, and ceilings. 
  • 3
    Set a fairly wide spray that will apply a thin layer. Coat with the sprayer. 
  • 4
    Let the paint dry completely before applying a second coat or new coat, possibly 36 hours or more between coats. 

You might be able to get away with thicker layers if you’re using waterborne alkyd paint. HVLP sprayers work just as well as airless sprayers, so use whichever kind you’re most comfortable with. 

woman wearing protective suit

Benefits of Using Alkyd Type Paint When Spraying

One of the biggest advantages of alkyd type paint is its vibrant color compared to water-base and its quicker drying time compared to oil based paint. It also stands up to high traffic and moisture and cleans more easily than traditional water-based paint.  

Looking at samples of available alkyd style paint, you’ll probably be struck by how vibrant a collection of sheens and colors are on offer. Alkyd type paint will cover up water-base paint without issue, but water-base paint won’t last on top of alkyd type paint without priming first.  

You can apply alkyds onto existing latex paint, or onto fresh timber without the use of a primer. Do not put alkyd (oil) paints in a sprayer not made for them.

They will destroy the seals. That is a very expensive way to buy a commercial grade latex paint sprayer that only works on latex paint and is now ruined.

Painters like the long-term durability of alkyd type paint, and it adds a splash of variety to any paint project. In addition, products like Rustoleum alkyd paint prevent damage from rust and can be sprayed as well as any other alkyd brand.  

Common Alkyd Type Paint Questions 

How long does alkyd paint take to dry? 

Alkyd paint can take up to 36 hours to dry. However, catalysts like naphtha can reduce that drying time, as can the use of thinner coats.  

What is the best paint sprayer for alkyd paint? 

The Graco Magnum 257025 makes it less likely you'll have to thin your paint and works well with all types of paint bases, so it's really ideal for alkyd paint. 

Can you spray urethane alkyd paint? 

Yes! This type of paint is essentially an oil based paint, and you can absolutely apply oil-based paints with a sprayer as long as you thin it well.  

How do I get a smooth finish with alkyd paint? 

The best way to get a smooth finish with this type of paint is to prepare your surface well and use additives such as penetrol to help the paint lay more evenly as it dries. 


Alkyd type paint can be sprayed just like oil based and water-based can, but they might require a bit more attention.

Read the label from the manufacturer before attempting to thin your paint, and make sure additives like penetrol or naphtha are suitable for the alkyd type paint you’ve chosen for your next project.