Spraying Lacquer With HVLP (Complete How-To Guide)

Lacquer paint is typically used as a finish on wood furniture and car bodies. It dries quicker than other finishes, but can you apply it with an HVLP sprayer to get the job done even faster? 

Use this guide to find out everything you need to know about spraying lacquer with HVLP guns on your next project. 

Lacquer is resin emulsified in a solvent. For example, nitrocellulose generated from wood pulp is the resin, and it's mixed with chemical solvents to help it spread over a surface and pigmentation for coloring.  

HVLP stands for “high volume low pressure”, which is how these paint sprayers operate: lots of paint sprayed at low pressure. By contrast, LVLP sprayers emit a low volume at low pressure.  

When it comes to HVLP versus LVLP, the LVLP sprayers are better for high-viscosity materials, while HVLP sprayers work best for less viscous applications like lacquer.  

Compared to other finishers like polyurethane, tung oils, and shellac, lacquer has a thinner consistency, which means it runs through an HVLP sprayer more easily and dries much faster. 

Most DIYers use HVLP sprayers to add a protective layer and sheen to wood furniture. However, it is also used as a sealant and coloring agent on metal, plastic, and synthetic materials.  

Lacquer is generally either pre-catalyzed, meaning the manufacturer adds the catalyst, or post-catalyzed, which means the user adds the catalyst right before use. Either kind will work if you’re using an HVLP spray gun for lacquer, but post-cat will have a few extra steps and doesn’t last as long in the can. 

Spraying pre-cat lacquer with HVLP guns is faster than brushing and leaves a much smoother finish. You need to build coats, applying a little lacquer at a time until you reach the finish you want.  

The ideal tool is a paint sprayer with a 1.8mm air cap and an air compressor that provides a minimum of 9CFM at 90 psi. Once you’ve got the right sprayer, use the guide in the next section to learn how to spray lacquer with HVLP sprayers.  

Spraying Lacquer With HVLP

Spraying Lacquer With HVLP Gun - How To Guide & Expert Tips 

You may need to thin your paint before you get started, particularly if it’s a post-cat mix.  

Thinning your lacquer isn’t complicated at all, but you’ll need a few things before you get started with that.  

  • A respirator mask that covers the whole face to protect you from fumes 
  • Ventilation, including open windows and plenty of fans for circulation 
  • Your paint sprayer, air compressor, and lacquer of choice 
  • Lacquer thinner, if you’re using post-cat lacquer 
  • A paint stirrer 
  • Fine mesh filters, paper or otherwise 
  • 320-Grit sanding sponge 
  • Tack cloth 

Once you have all these things, follow these steps to lacquer your project with a paint sprayer: 

  • 1
    Get set up. Put on your respirator, turn on the fans, and clear the area where you’ll be spraying to prevent the cable from getting caught. 
  • 2
    Remove the paint reservoir and place the filter inside. Mix the paint so that any binders or pigments are evenly distributed. If they aren’t evenly dispersed in the can, they won’t be on your finished project, either.
  • 3
    If you’re using pre-cat, fill the reservoir about 85% of the way. If you’re using post-cat, fill it up 65 - 75% and fill the remainder up to 85% with thinner. Stir the contents of the reservoir, then attach it to your sprayer.
  • 4
    Set whatever you’re lacquering in a paint booth or set it on a flat surface where paint splatter won’t matter. 
  • 5
    Turn on your air compressor and aim the sprayer away from the object. Hold the trigger down until paint is passing through, then start lacquering your object. 
  • 6
    You want to cover a good distance from every angle so that the last spray in the coat overlaps earlier sprays by a significant margin - on the surface of a table, for instance, you might aim for that last spray to overlap by as much as 50%
  • 7
    Let the first coat dry for anywhere from a few minutes to an hour, then sand if needed and apply the remaining coats.

These are just basic HVLP lacquer spraying tips. To take your projects to the next level, try out some of this expert advice: 

  • Wood prep is vital for a smooth finish. If you’re building furniture from scratch, sand gradually from 80-Grit to 120, 180, and finally 220. Then, use a 320 to sand the piece before your initial lacquering and again after the first coat. 
  • New coats of lacquer will partially activate old ones, so you don’t need to sand after the first coat unless there are visible imperfections that need correcting. 
  • Wipe down dried coats with that tack cloth as often as possible. Any small amount of dust could be enough to ruin an otherwise uniform finish.  
  • Use an inline moisture collector to prevent water buildup from making your finish uneven.  
  • If you’re lacquering in high humidity, use 5 - 10% more thinner and put on a few extra coats. 
spraygun

Our Top HVLP Spray Guns For Applying Lacquer 

1. Wagner Spraytech Control Max 

On Sale Today
Wagner Spraytech 0518080 Control Spray Max...
  • HVLP PAINT SPRAYER: The Control Spray Max...
  • USE WITH A WIDE VARIETY OF MATERIALS:...
  • ADJUSTABLE SETTINGS: Customize your paint...
  • GREAT DESIGN: The stationary base is...

Not only does the 20-foot cable make this HVLP paint sprayer perfect for hitting every side of your project, but its easily-adjustable pressure control and flow adjusters make applying lacquer a breeze.  

Painters love this model because it’s light enough to prevent hand fatigue but still holds enough in the reservoir, so you won't have to worry about refills during a project. Plus, it’s versatile enough to use in all your home projects, not just lacquering. 

2. Tool Force A-C2 

Tool Force A-C2 HVLP Touch-Up Spray Gun
  • HVLP touch-up spray gun ideal for covering...
  • Working pressure of 43-to-50 psi; air...
  • HVLP prevents overspray
  • Includes brush, spanner, cup filter, and...

If you’re looking for a paint sprayer that can get into those nooks and crannies, this is the one you need.

Although you might not want to use it to lacquer an entire wood tabletop, it’s great for smaller pieces of furniture, components of larger pieces, and touching up lacquer jobs without having to completely redo them.  

3. VanHaus Electric HVLP Sprayer 

VonHaus Electric HVLP Spray Gun High Power...
  • Achieve a flawless finish in less time and...
  • Simple flow adjustment nozzle – choose a...
  • Pick from three spray patterns to disperse...
  • Large 35 Fl. Oz. paint bottle requires...

This VanHaus is an inexpensive way to get your next lacquering project done. Painters enjoy the large reservoir, fast-action flow adjustment, and easy maintenance. In addition, all the parts of this model come apart fairly easily, so cleaning it is a breeze.  

paint sprayer

Questions About Spraying Lacquer 

What pressure should I set on my HVLP spray gun for lacquer? 

To balance control and get enough lacquer onto your piece, the air pressure needs to be between 20 and 25 PSI. Individual models may vary, so test it out on a spare piece of wood or cardboard before moving on to your main project.


What HVLP tip size is best for lacquer paint? 

The optimal HVLP tip size for lacquer paint is a 1.8mm air cap. It’s large enough for a good amount of lacquer to get through but not so wide that you’ll get tons of overspray. A clean 1.8mm will give you that flawless finish you’re looking for. 


How do I get a smooth lacquer finish with an HVLP sprayer? 

Achieving a perfectly smooth lacquer finish requires thorough wood prep, a dust-free atmosphere, a clean HVLP paint sprayer, proper pressure, and even application. That might sound like a tall order, but it's easier than you might think when you have the right tools and the know-how. 


Conclusion

Spraying lacquer with HVLP guns is the fastest way to get an even finish on your piece. Of course, it will take some prep and some practice, but with the tips and walkthrough in this guide, you’ll be admiring the sheen of your well-lacquered projects in no time.