Metal Painting and Coating Operations

Table of Contents  Background  Regulatory Overview  Planning P2 Programs  Overview of P2  Surface Preparation
Alternatives to Solvent-Borne Coatings  Application Techniques  Curing Methods  Equipment Cleaning

Application Techniques

Various application methods are available to coat metal, the most common being spray painting and electrodeposition (EPAb, p. 20). Coatings also can be applied by dipping parts into tanks filled with paint and then allowing the excess paint to drain off, or by direct application methods such as roller coating and flow coating. This chapter provides information on: conventional air-spray guns; high-volume/low-pressure spray guns; airless spray guns; electrostatic spray guns; electrodeposition; roll coating; flow coating; and plural component systems. Which paint application process is chosen depends on the type of substrate to be coated, the type of coating, and the size and shape of the surface (IHWRIC, p. 35).

General Description of Spray Systems

Paints and coatings can be applied to surfaces in a number of ways. Industrial coatings often are applied on a production line using spray application techniques. Curing is done usually by an accelerated curing operation involving heat, surface catalysts or radiation (EPA, p. 155-156).

In general, spray methods use specially designed guns to atomize paint into a fine spray. For industrial applications, the paint is typically contained in a pressure vessel and fed to the spray gun using compressed air. Traditionally, hand-held or automated guns (mounted on a mechanical control arm) have been used to apply liquid paints to metal substrates.

Although spray systems are easy to operate and have low equipment costs, they have a certain amount of overspray and rebound from the sprayed surface and, therefore, are unable to transfer a substantial portion of the paint to the part (Freeman, p. 710). Spray booths with an open front and exhaust at the rear are generally used to remove the overspray as it is generated (EPA, p. 155).

P2 Tips for Coatings Application

  • Eliminate the need to paint by using surface-free-coatings materials
  • Substitute low-VOC paints for solvent-borne paints
  • Increase transfer efficiency
  • Train operators to practice proper spray painting techniques
  • Improve housekeeping, maintenance and operating practices
  • Use a paint heater to adjust viscosity
  • Set application standards

Pollution Problem

During conventional spray painting, some of the paint is deposited on the surface being painted; while much of it, in the form of overspray, is sprayed into the air. As the paint dries, the solvent evaporates into the air in the form of VOCs. Often exhaust from paint booths is run through dry filters to capture the particulates. Though it can be run through a water scrubber that separates the paint from the air, scrubber water is normally recycled, and paint solids are concentrated in the scrubber sump. When the sump fills with paint sludge, it is removed and put in drums for disposal. Paint sludge that fails the TCLP test must be disposed of as a hazardous waste (Higgins, p. 118).

General P2 Options

Emissions of VOCs from coatings application can be significantly reduced by substituting a paint with a lower solvent content (e.g., high-solids, waterborne or powder), and by increasing transfer efficiency. The type of coating and the application method selected can have a significant effect on transfer efficiency (MnTAP, p. 2). For more information on alternatives to solvent-borne coating formulations, see chapter 6.

Whatever type of paint and application method is chosen, the best environmental solution may be to redesign the product to eliminate unnecessary coating. This is a P2 option known as surface-free coating. Many of the resins used in alternative paints are made from regulated chemicals, and surface-free coating can eliminate the use of these substances (EPA, p. 165).

A number of other P2 techniques in coating applications also are available. For coating operations that involve manual spray application, for example, training operators to practice proper spray techniques is a cost-effective method for reducing VOC emissions and other wastes. Wastes generated during the application of paints and coatings (as well as during surface preparation and equipment cleaning) can also be reduced by adopting improved housekeeping, maintenance and operating practices. Additional P2 options include: installing a paint heater to reduce the need for paint thinning with solvents, and setting application standards to avoid unnecessary coating. Each of these options is discussed below.

Transfer Efficiency and Paint Application

Improvements in transfer efficiency can lead to less paint waste and lower emissions of VOCs. Transfer efficiency depends on a large number of parameters. Some of these parameters are under the control of the operator, while others are not. Important parameters that should be considered when optimizing spray gun application include:

  • Spray application technique.
  • Target configuration and size. Higher transfer efficiency rates are easier to obtain on large flat objects than on small complex parts.
  • Spray booth configuration. Stray crossdrafts and downdrafts may reduce transfer efficiency by deflecting the paint away from the target. Temperature control and humidity control in a facility can significantly affect the transfer efficiency of electrostatic systems.
  • Paint characteristics.
  • Paint/air flow rates. Spray guns are designed to operate at maximum optimum flow rates.

    Exceeding these flow rates can reduce transfer efficiency by increasing the amount of blowback (paint bouncing off part) and overshoot. Excessive air pressure can also lead to premature drying of the paint before it reaches the target (paint fog).
  • Spray gun distance from part. When the gun is placed too close to the part, bounceback increases and can result in poor finish quality (i.e., sags and runs). Too much distance results in overshoot and paint fog.
  • Operator error (Jacobs, p. 7-8).

By definition, transfer efficiency is the amount of paint solids deposited on an object, divided by the amount of paint solids sprayed at the object, multiplied by 100%. The definition of transfer efficiency does omit some related factors for optimum material use. Minimizing waste is not necessarily achieved by simply using the application technique that has the highest rated transfer efficiency. "Real" transfer efficiency depends on a number of other factors including:

  • Quality of finish. The quality of the finish generally improves as the size of spray particles is reduced. Unfortunately, as the size of spray particles decreases, transfer efficiency also decreases. Some of the finest particle sizes are achieved with conventional LVHP air spray; however, this is the least efficient means of applying paint. To meet finish requirements, a compromise must be reached between transfer efficiency and quality.
  • Production rate. A desired production rate should be established before determining the transfer efficiency of the coating system, especially if coating is being done on a conveyorized system that includes other operations. This is because the efficiency of spray devices will vary with the rate of application.
  • Desired film thickness. To determine real transfer efficiency, the thickness of the applied film versus the thickness desired should be established. For example, if a 1-mil-thick film is specified, but the spray method can only deliver a quality film of 2 mils or greater, then at least 50% of the paint is wasted. Even if all of the paint used is applied to the workpiece, the real transfer efficiency is only 50%.
  • Uniformity of applied film thickness. A flat, fan-shaped spray pattern can hold film thickness variations to within 10% of the ideal in a well-engineered painting system. However, a round doughnut-shaped pattern is used in some spray systems. This type of pattern delivers a film thickness variation of approximately 1 mil. In other words, if the desired film thickness is 1 mil, the coating can have areas that are 2 mils thick. Even when all the paint is applied, 25% is wasted. Therefore, at best the real transfer efficiency is 75%.
  • Edge buildup. In electrostatic painting, edges of parts can attract paint spray that would normally pass by the workpiece. Paint builds up on the edges, which represents wasted paint even though the paint is transferred to the workpiece. This buildup may have to be sanded down and the edges may have to be touched up manually.
  • Need for manual touchup/Faraday cage effects (in electrostatic spraying). In addition, in electrostatic painting, the electrostatic field force can prevent paint particles from reaching recessed areas. To coat these areas completely, overpainting or manual touchup of the nonrecessed areas often is required. In this situation, real transfer efficiency is less than the quoted transfer efficiency.

In summary, real transfer efficiency depends on the particular coating situation. Replacing a system (manual or automatic) will not reduce VOC emissions by improving transfer efficiency alone, hence another step must be taken to use less paint. This may require changing the flow rates, triggering times, and/or spray tip sizes. For instance, electrostatic can be added to increase transfer efficiency, but if nothing else is changed, VOC emissions will stay the same and paint thickness on the part will increase. A study by the Research Triangle Institute found that real transfer efficiency depends heavily on solids content, wet film thickness, application equipment and operator experience. Therefore, if a firm is considering a change in paint application methods to improve transfer efficiency, careful testing should be done to ensure that paint and solvent waste are truly being minimized. When comparing application techniques for possible use in a particular plant, spray efficiency and the above factors should all be considered (VT DEC).

Strategies to Improve Transfer Efficiency

Following are methods that facilities can use to increase their transfer efficiencies:

  • Stand closer to the workpiece. A typical gun-target distance is 8 to 12 inches. In general, as the distance increases, transfer efficiency diminishes. As the distance decreases, however, the operator needs to reduce the fluid and/or air pressure to avoid applying too much coating to the part.
  • Optimize fan size. The operator must appropriately size the fan for the workpiece on a regular basis. A spray painter uses a fan size of 6 to 8 inches when painting small- or narrow-shaped parts such as metal tubing or angle brackets. Adjusting fan size is not a major problem for operators who work on production lines that coat one type of part or work in long production runs. For those facilities whose parts continuously change size, the most practical strategy is to purchase a cap that the operator can change quickly and easily. Because not all spray guns can be fitted with adjustable caps, facilities may need to contact a variety of vendors to locate this equipment.
  • Reduce atomizing air pressure (where applicable). In HVLP, conventional air atomizing, and electrostatic guns reduce air pressure to the lowest possible levels, which results in marked improvements in transfer efficiency rates. For airless, and in some cases, air-assisted airless guns, using a smaller orifice can achieve the same atomizing results.
  • Reduce fluid pressure. If the fluid pressure and corresponding fluid flow rate are high, the stream of paint emerging from the spray gun travels a relatively long distance before bending and falling to the ground. Such a flow rate has a very short residence time within the spray gun and requires a large amount of energy for atomization. As fluid pressure decreases, the stream emerging from the spray gun shortens and less energy is needed for atomization. Longer residence times lead to more efficient atomization, which in turn leads to higher transfer efficiencies.

    Many spray painters argue that lowering fluid delivery rates slows down production speed and raises the cost of painting. This argument is true only for a very small percentage of facilities that have already optimized their fluid delivery rates. At most facilities, fluid delivery rates are considerably higher than the job requires.
  • Space workpieces closer together. Many facilities that use conveyor systems suspend parts on hooks that are spaced 18 to 24 inches apart. This spacing is appropriate for medium or large parts but reduces transfer efficiency on small parts. Facilities should try to use hooks and racks specifically designed for the parts they are coating. This will result in increased transfer efficiency and an optimized speed for the process line.

    Operators, however, cannot always work well with close spacing. For instance, parts with complex geometries often require the operator to access the part at a variety of angles to ensure the quality of the coating. Also, when using electrostatic spray guns, painters must provide sufficient spacing to allow for some wrap to take place.
  • Reduce air turbulence in spray booth. Paint facilities that use several spray booths that all pull from one air make-up system may experience violently turbulent air velocities that change direction from one second to the next. Correcting this problem can be difficult and often requires air conditioning and air ventilation consultants. While this remedy can be costly, having a uniform, laminar air flow through a spray booth improves transfer efficiency and significantly reduces overspray and booth maintenance.
  • Reduce the air velocity in the spray booth (not below recommended OSHA limits). OSHA requires a minimum air velocity of 100 to 120 feet per minute through spray booths in which operators use manual spray guns (the automated electrostatic gun's minimum air velocity is 60 feet per minute). Many paint facilities inadvertently run their booths at velocities well above the limit because they are unaware of the effect this can have on transfer efficiency. Lower air velocities are especially important in electrostatic operations because too high a velocity can prevent the coating from wrapping the parts.
  • Reduce leading and trailing edges. In cases where a high-quality finish is required, trailing edges are needed to ensure that there are no fat edges. In many cases, however, operators set the spray guns so that they trigger sooner than is necessary, and/or cease too long after the part has passed. When painting small- or medium-sized parts, even a small decrease in leading and trailing edges results in significant improvements in transfer efficiency.
  • Select the most efficient spray gun for the intended application. Selecting a spray gun that meets finish requirements and has the highest transfer efficiency is important in optimizing the efficiency of a coating system.

Before deciding whether an operation can improve transfer efficiency, determine the current transfer efficiency rates. Appendix G provides information on how to estimate current transfer efficiency (EPAq, p. 74-76).

Table 28 provides an overview of the relative costs and benefits of the different spray application methods relative to conventional air spray guns.

Table 28. Cost/Benefit Summary for Spray Application Methods

Method of Application

Capital Cost

Process Complexity

Waste and Emissions

Additional Considerations

HVLP Spray Low Low Medium/High  
Air-Assisted Airless Spray Low Low Medium/High  
Electrostatic Spray Medium Medium Medium Only conductive parts can be painted
Powder Coating Medium Medium Low Extensive parts washing and a curing oven are required

NOTE: Capital cost refers to the cost of the system in comparison to conventional air spray. The higher the process complexity, the higher the associated costs (i.e., training for employees and maintenance)

Set Application Standards

The monitoring of applied film thickness is critical to ensure that a uniform and consistent coating of paint is being applied. Too thin a coat will result in premature failure in the field, while too thick a coat represents excess cost and waste. Other standards that should be established include the levels of crosshatch adhesion, film hardness and solvent resistance. Specification of and adherence to standards can do much to minimize the level of rejects and ease troubleshooting when problems arise (Freeman, p. 487). Different tests have been used over the years for liquid and cured paints. A consistent system should be used for evaluating coating properties. The American Society for Testing Materials (ASTM) standards has developed many useful standards; see appendix E for more information (KSBEAP, p. 25).

Adopt Proper Manual Spray Techniques

Untrained and hurried workers using poorly maintained equipment can contribute to the need to rework products and to clean up and dispose of wasted coatings, thereby increasing costs. A well-trained operator is far more important than the type of gun used. By training operators on proper equipment setup, application techniques and maintenance, companies can reduce the use of materials by 20 to 40% (Callahan). These savings will depend on the parts coated, material sprayed, and operator technique and experience level (MnTAPd, p. 6). The fundamentals of effective spray technique that operators can follow are:

  • Proper gun setup. Use the paint gun manufacturer's suggested air cap and fluid tip combination for the viscosity of the product being sprayed. Check the spray gun to see that it produces a proper spray pattern, and keep the air and fluid pressures at the lowest possible settings.
  • Spray distance and angle. Keep the distance between the gun and the part being sprayed as close as possible to the manufacturer's recommendations at all times (e.g., 6 to 8 inches for conventional spraying, 12 to 15 inches for airless spraying, and 10 to 12 inches for electrostatic spraying). Move the spray gun parallel to the work, keeping the gun at a right angle.
  • Triggering and overlap. Overlap each successive stroke (e.g., 50% for conventional spraying or 25% for airless spraying), using a crosshatch overlap when required. Trigger the spray gun at the beginning and end of each stroke, making sure that the gun is in motion before triggering. In so doing, operators can minimize the lead (i.e., the distance between where the gun is triggered and the point where the gun pattern hits the part) and the lag (i.e., the distance between the point where the pattern leaves the part and the point where the gun is untriggered), thereby reducing overspray (Binks and IWRC, p. 2-8).

Whenever helping companies adjust the spray technique of operators, technical assistance providers should keep in mind that, over a period of time, the firm may have selected a coating and application equipment to conform to an incorrect technique. Equipment settings and materials might need to be changed to conform to an improved technique (De Vilbiss).

Improve Current Operating Practices

Improving operating practices is another cost-effective pollution prevention method for reducing the amount of wastes generated. The following methods require minimal capital outlays, and can be very effective (KSBEAP, p. 21):

  • Segregate waste streams to prevent mixing of hazardous and nonhazardous waste
  • Perform preventative maintenance for quality control of finishes
  • Improve materials handling and storage to avoid spills
  • Practice emergency preparedness to minimize loss during accidents
  • Schedule jobs to maximize color runs
  • Implement strict inventory control by purchasing only the amount of paint required
  • Standardize paints and colors to minimize the number of different types of paint used
  • Return expired materials to suppliers for reblending (KSBEAP, p. 21, EPAc, p. 84-85 and Freeman, p. 487-489)

The following sections provide more detailed information on specific application equipment and on methods to optimize their performance.

Conventional Air Spray (LVHP)

General Description

Conventional air spray technology, which has been the standard for the past 40 years, uses a specially designed gun and air at high pressures (i.e., 40 to 90 psi) to atomize a liquid stream of paint into a fine spray. This technology is known as low-volume/high-pressure (LVHP) but is commonly referred to as conventional air spray. Air is usually supplied to the LVHP gun by an air compressor, and paint is supplied via a pressure feed system (siphon and gravity systems are also used). A typical picture of an air spray gun features clouds of overspray around the part.

Conventional air spray produces a smooth finish, and can be used on many surfaces. It offers the best control of spray pattern and the best degree of atomization. This system produces the finest atomization and, therefore, the finest finishes. It also sprays the widest range of coating materials (CAGE). However, this technology produces a great deal of overspray, resulting in low transfer efficiencies (i.e., 30 to 60%) and uses large amounts of compressed air (7 to 35 cfm at 100 psi). In addition, because the solvent in the paint is highly atomized along with the paint solids, transfer efficiency is low and VOC emissions are high (MnTAP, p. 3).

The essential components of an air atomizing system are gun body, fluid inlet, fluid nozzle, fluid needle assembly, fluid control assembly, air inlet, air nozzle, air valve, fan control and trigger. Other parts of the spray coating system may include a compressed air supply, fluid supply and paint heater. Recirculation booths are often used with these systems. These booths are designed to reduce process exhaust volumes while maintaining minimum ventilation flow rates in order to lower operating costs for both emission control systems and the facility in general (e.g., heating, ventilation and air conditioning). These systems have built-in safety limits that are based on the concentration of hazardous constituents present in the recirculated stream.

Advantages and Disadvantages

The main advantages of conventional air spray systems are the high level of control that the operator has of the gun and the versatility of the systems. Disadvantages of this system include high air emissions, low transfer efficiencies and high compressed air use. However, using proper training and setting the gun at low pressure (20 psi), transfer rates similar to HVLP can be achieved (Eck).


The capital investment for a new conventional air spray system that includes spray gun, two-gallon pressure pot, hoses and fittings can range from $500 to $1,500.


Painters are required to wear respirators to prevent inhalation of overspray, hazardous vapors and toxic fumes. Depending on the noise level in the spray booth, ear protection may also be required.

Alternative Methods

There are a number of alternative spray gun systems, including high-volume/low-pressure (HVLP) air spray, airless spray, and electrostatic spray. There are also variations on each of these techniques. Of the many available methods, electrostatic air-assisted airless spray is considered to have the best transfer efficiency (IWRCb, p. 39). Other available paint application methods include electrodeposition, and dip, roll and flow coating.

High-Volume/Low-Pressure (HVLP) Air Spray

General Description

As the name suggests, this technology uses a high-volume of air at low pressures (i.e., 0.1 to 10 psi) to atomize paint. This technology reduces overspray and improves transfer efficiency. HVLP guns have nozzles with larger diameter openings than LVHP guns for atomizing air. They can be bleeder (i.e., controls only the fluid flow to the gun) or non-bleeder (i.e., controls air flow and fluid flow to the gun by use of a trigger) types, and may require airflows of 10 to 30 cubic feet per minute. Air can be supplied to the sprayer by turbine air blowers or conventional shop compressors (KSBEAP, 13). Typical transfer efficiencies with HVLP systems are 65 to 75%. Figure 5 shows a typical configuration for a HVLP system.

Figure 5. HVLP System (VT DEC)

Advantages and Disadvantages

An HVLP gun is portable and easy to clean, and has a lower risk of blowback to the worker. In many cases, HVLP guns are mandated to comply with state air regulations (KSBEAP, p. 14). However, the atomization of HVLP guns might not be good enough for fine finishes, and production rates might not be as high as with conventional LVHP spray. Generally, fluid delivery rates of up to 10 ounces per minute with low viscosity paints work best with HVLP guns (MnTAP, p. 3). For more information on other advantages and disadvantages of HVLP, see table 29.

Table 29. Advantages and Disadvantages of HVLP Spray Guns (NCP2P, p. 5.)



  • Reduces overspray
  • Increases transfer efficiency
  • Reduces paint waste
  • Lowers booth cleanup costs
  • Reduces filter replacement costs
  • Decreases waterwash reservoir treatment costs
  • Reduces VOC and HAP emissions
  • Is portable and easy to clean
  • Sprays well into recesses and cavities
  • Reduces worker exposure to blowback
  • Has atomization that may not be sufficient for fine finishes
  • May not be able to operate with high production rates

Types of HVLP Systems

Several different configurations of HVLP systems are available. The specific air supply (i.e., turbine or compressor) and fluid delivery system (described below) will affect the efficiency, ease of use, cost and versatility of the particular system (KSBEAP, p. 13).

In a siphon-fed system, air pressure to the sprayer is used to pull paint from a cup located below the gun, producing a fully atomized pattern for even surface coverage. The simple design of siphon-fed guns has made it possible to buy conversion kits for conventional siphon sprayers, making HVLP technology very affordable for small shop owners (KSBEAP, p. 13).

Gravity-fed systems are well adapted to high viscosity paints such as clears, water-based paints, high-solids paints and epoxy primers because of the design of the system. The cup, located on top of the gun, allows paint to completely drain, minimizing paint waste (KSBEAP, p. 13).

The pressure assist cup system uses a cup that is mounted beneath the gun with a separately regulated air line to feed paint to the gun. This design increases transfer efficiency and makes it possible for the operator to spray evenly while the gun is inverted, offering maximum flexibility in application techniques (KSBEAP, p. 13-14).

Although covering every aspect of equipment selection is not possible in this manual, see appendix D for a list of some of the more important points to consider when evaluating HVLP spray equipment.

Cost and Implementation Issues

HVLP paint spray systems can be used in a variety of painting applications. The finer atomization of HVLP systems produce smoother finishes. There are many paint gun models with a variety of tip sizes to accommodate most coatings including solvent-based paints, water-based coatings, fine finish metallic, high-solids polyurethane, contact adhesives, varnish, top coats, lacquer, enamel primer, latex primer, epoxy and vinyl fluids. The efficiency of these systems is greatly reduced if the painting is done in an exposed area.

LVHP systems can be easily converted to HVLP by retrofitting the air gun and installing the appropriate diameter air hoses (5/16 in. I.D.); however, the air supply system must be able to deliver 10 to 30 cubic feet per minute of airflow at 10 psi or lower. If a firm has a large investment in high-pressure air compressors, conversion air systems (CAS) can be used. The CAS reduces high-pressure compressed air in two ways: 1) by using an air-restricted HVLP gun that is specially equipped to restrict air pressure within the gun body, and 2) by using a small air conversion unit that takes in high-pressure compressed air and restricts its flow, delivering low-pressure air to the HVLP gun (CC and Binksd). Costs can vary depending on specific applications, painting/coating type, paint volume, workpiece specifications and technique. Generally, costs for HVLP paint-spray system equipment range from $500 to $1,500 for a gun, hose and paint pot.


Painters are required to wear respirators to prevent inhalation of overspray, hazardous vapors and toxic fumes when using HVLP equipment. Depending on the noise level in the spray booth, ear protection may also be required.


Lily Company

Lily Company Drum Reconditioning in Thomasville, North Carolina has experienced a 38% reduction in lacquer paint usage by switching to HVLP guns. Converting to HVLP has saved the company approximately $3,500 a month in materials and reduced paint booth cleanup. The cost of the HVLP equipment was the same as it would have been to purchase conventional spray gun equipment (VT DEC).


General Description

Low-pressure/low-volume paint spraying, which is similar to air-assisted airless, is a relatively new development. Paint and air separately exit through the spray nozzle into a secondary fluid tip assembly. The exiting paint stream is of low pressure (less than 100 psig), flattened by the spray nozzle, but unatomized. Atomization occurs by impinging low amounts of compressed air (5-35 psig) from two small holes in the fluid tip assembly into the flattened paint stream. Table 30 presents an overview of the advantages and disadvantages of LPLV Systems.

Table 30. Advantages and Disadvantages of LPLV Spray Guns (Jacobs, p. 15)



  • Reduces overspray
  • Increases transfer efficiency
  • Reduces paint waste
  • Lowers booth cleanup costs
  • Reduces filter replacement costs
  • Decreases waterwash reservoir treatment costs
  • Reduces VOC and HAP emissions
  • Sprays well into recesses and cavities
  • Has moderate capital cost
  • Low operating costs
  • Does not have a proven track record

Airless Spray

General Description

Airless spray does not use compressed air. Instead, paint is pumped at increased fluid pressures (500 to 6,500 psi) through a small opening at the tip of the spray gun to achieve atomization. Pressure is generally supplied to the gun by an air-driven reciprocating fluid pump (KSBEAP, p. 16). When the pressurized paint enters the low pressure region in front of the gun, the sudden drop in pressure causes the paint to atomize. Airless systems are most widely used by painting contractors and maintenance painters (Binksc).

Advantages and Disadvantages

Airless spraying has several distinct advantages over air spray methods. This method is more efficient than the air spray because the airless spray is softer and less turbulent, thus less paint is lost in bounce back. The droplets formed are generally larger than conventional spray guns and produce a heavier paint coat in a single pass. This system is also more portable. Production rates are nearly double, and transfer efficiencies are usually greater (65 to 70%). Other advantages include the ability to utilize high-viscosity coatings (without thinning with solvents) and its ability to have good penetration in recessed areas of a workpiece.

The major disadvantage of the airless spray is that the quality of the applied coating is not as good as conventional coatings, unless a thicker coating is required. Airless spray is limited to painting large areas and requires a different nozzle on the spray gun to change spray patterns. In addition, the nozzle tends to clog and can be dangerous to use or clean because of the high pressures involved (IHWRICb). For more information on other advantages and disadvantages of airless spray, see table 31.

Table 31. Advantages and Disadvantages of Airless Spray Systems (NCP2P, p. 5)



  • Has high rates of paint flow
  • Has relatively high transfer efficiency
  • Has versatile gun handling (no air hose)
  • Has ability to apply highly viscous fluids
  • Has relatively poor atomization
  • Has an expensive nozzle
  • Reduces fan pattern control
  • Has coatings limitations
  • Has a tendency for tip plugging
  • Has a skin injection danger
  • Requires increased operator training
  • Requires increased maintenance

Application Considerations

Small fluid nozzle orifices limit the coating materials that can be sprayed with airless systems to those that are finely ground. This rules out fiber-filled and heavily pigmented materials. In addition, airless spraying lacks the feather capability that air guns have. This can result in flooding of the surface and sags or runs if gun movement is too slow. The high pressures used with airless spray deliver a high rate of paint flow through the nozzle, tending to enlarge the orifice, increase flow rates and change spray pattern characteristics. This is especially true at very high pressures and with paints containing high amounts of pigments or abrasive pigments. Strict maintenance is required for this system. Foreign objects in the fluid that are larger than the nozzle tips can block or shut off the system. Equipment maintenance on pumps is high because of the high pressures used (CAGE).


The capital investment required for a new airless spray system consisting of an airless spray gun, carted mount pump, hoses, and fittings, can range from $3,500 to $7,500.


The high velocity of the fluid stream and spray pattern as it exits the gun and hose is a potential hazard. Operators should never allow any part of their body to come into contact with this high-pressure material. Failure to keep several inches away from the coating as it exits the gun will result in serious injury. As with other spray systems, respirators are required, and hearing protection may be required as well.

Types of Airless Systems

Air-assisted airless systems are a variation of airless spraying. These systems use supplemental air jets to guide the paint spray and to boost the level of atomization. Approximately 150 to 800 psi of fluid pressure and 5 to 30 psi of air pressure are used. Air-assisted airless spray systems atomize paint well, although not as well as air spray methods. The use of air-assisted airless systems improves the quality of the finish, presumably because finer paint particles are formed. The transfer efficiency of the airless, air-assisted spray gun is greater in comparison to airless, and with proper operator training, the manufacturer can obtain finishes comparable to conventional guns (Batelle, p. III-5). This system has the same dangers as airless spraying, but it also requires more maintenance and operator training and has a higher capital cost (IHWRICb).

The major difference in gun construction between an air-assisted airless gun and an air-atomized gun is found in the atomizing tip. The air-atomized tip incorporates a fluid nozzle and an air nozzle. The fluid orifice in the center of the tip is surrounded by a concentric atomizing ring of air. The air-assisted tip delivers a flat fan spray of partially atomized paint. Jets of atomizing air, exiting from ports in small projections on each side of the tip impacts at a 90 degree angle into the spray. The air jets break up the large droplets and complete the atomization, assisting the airless spray process.


The capital investment required for a new air-assisted airless spray system, including an air-assisted airless spray gun, 10:1 ratio carted mount pump, hoses and fittings, can range from $2,500 to $5,000.


  • Low equipment maintenance. The reduced fluid pressures in comparison with airless spray cut down on pump and fluid nozzle wear.
  • Good atomization. The atomization quality of an air-assisted airless gun is rated as superior compared to an airless gun but it is not nearly as good as with an air-atomized gun.
  • Low bounceback. The extremely low atomizing air pressure allows air-assisted airless guns to spray into corners and hard-to-reach areas better than with air-atomized spray.
  • Varied fluid delivery. The paint flow rates can vary considerably from about 5 to 50 ounces per minuts.
  • High paint transfer efficiency. With a low-end delivery rate of 5 ounces per minute versus 25 ounces for airless, air-assited transfer efficiency is even hight than airless.

Table 31 (above) presents an overview of the advantages and disadvantages of airless spray systems.

Air and air-assisted electrostatic spray guns resemble nonelectrostatic guns. An electrostatic gun has a wire charging electrode positioned in front to ionize the air. The ionized air passes its charge to the paint particles exiting the gun. Some guns have no external electrode. Instead, an internal electrode located inside the gun barrel is used to charge the paint. In another variation, a metal electrode is situated in the paint tank, and the paint is delivered to the gun already charged.

Cost and Implementation Issues

LVHP systems cannot be converted to airless systems. Therefore, the capital cost for implementing airless spray is usually high. However, this cost might be offset by the number of advantages that airless spray provides.

Electrostatic Spray

General Description

This spray method is based on the principle that negatively charged objects are attracted to positively charged objects. Atomized paint droplets are charged at the tip of the spray gun by a charged eletrode; the electrode runs 30 to 140 kV through the paint at 0 to 225 microamperes (CAGE). Paint can be atomized using conventional air, airless, or rotary systems. The electrical force needed to guide paint particles to the workpiece is 8,000 to 10,000 volts per inch of air between the gun and its workpiece. The part to be painted, which is attached to a grounded conveyor, is electrically neutral, and the charged paint droplets are attracted to that part. If the charge difference is strong enough, the paint particles normally fly past the part and reverse direction, coating the edges and back of the part. This effect is called "wraparound" and increases transfer efficiency (KSBEAP, p. 15). Electrostatic spray is used by most appliance manufacturers (Binksc).

Advantages and Disadvantages

The major advantage of using electrostatic spraying is that it saves in material costs and labor. The labor savings is often associated with a changeover to automated lines, although labor savings for cleanup is significantly reduced in either automated or manual lines. Another benefit of electrostatic is its ability to completely cover an object with a uniform thickness, including areas that are normally inaccessible (Batelle, p. III-10).

The initial capital investment for electrostatic systems is high (EPA, p. 155). In addition, electrostatic systems must be properly grounded at all stages of paint delivery in order to reduce injuries and fire hazards that can result from shorting or sparking (KSBEAP, p. 15-16). Another problem with electrostatic spray is that the paint is attracted to all grounded objects, including the conveyor and conveyor protection systems in assembly line painting, the paint booth ceiling, the spray gun and the spray gun handler. Work has been done on developing an electrically charged paint repelling panel to protect against stray paint. Such repelling panels are not 100% effective, but they can cut down on problems from stray paint (IHWRICb). For more information on other advantages/disadvantages of electrostatic spray, see table 32.

Table 32. Advantages and Disadvantages of Electrostatic Spray Guns (NCP2P, p. 6)



  • Has high transfer efficiency
  • Has good edge cover
  • Has good wraparound
  • Has uniform film thickness
  • Has guns that tend to be bulky and delicate
  • Requires extra cleanliness
  • Creates Faraday cage effect
  • Can be safety/fire hazard
  • Requires all parts to be conductive (however, special conductive precoatings on nonconductive workpieces can be used to permit electrostatic spray)
  • Has high equipment and maintenance cost

Types of Electrostatic Systems

Rotary atomization is a variation of electrostatic spraying that uses centrifugal force generated by discs or bells to atomize paint, which drives it from the nozzle. The atomization of this method is excellent as is the transfer efficiency. This method also can be used with paints of different viscosity. However, the equipment needed for this type of application is very specialized and usually requires a major conversion of a painting line (IHWRICb). Typical costs for a new rotary atomization system consisting of a rotary atomizer, 2-gallon pressure-pot, and hoses and fittings may range from $5,000 to $7,500 .

Implementation Issues

An LVHP air spray system can be converted to an electrostatic system. In most cases, however, airless, air-assisted airless, or rotary atomization is used with electrostatic spray. This is because LVHP air-atomized electrostatic spray has a transfer efficiency of only 60 to 70%. Airless, however, runs from 70 to 95%, and rotary runs from 80 to 90% (IHWRICb).

Part and gun cleanliness are essential for efficient electrostatic operation. Dirt or oversprayed paint can form on a conductive track on the plastic gun tip and short out the system. For top efficiency, the part to be coated should be the closest grounded object to the charging needle on the spray gun. The charged paint particles are attracted to the nearest electrically grounded item; the larger the item, the greater the attraction.

Ungrounded objects in the vicinity of the charged gun electrode can pick up a considerable electrical charge. The charge buildup can arc over or spark if a grounded object is brought near. The intense heat of the arc may be sufficient to ignite the solvent-laden atmosphere typically found in a paint booth.

Paint buildup on hooks or hangers can act as an insulator and block the flow of electric current in the electrostatic circuit. Hangers and hooks should be regularly stripped or otherwise cleaned of paint buildup to maintain good grounding contact between the parts and the conveyor.

Because of high transfer efficiencies, air velocity in spray booths may be reduced from 100 to 60 feet/minute. This results in a 40% reduction in make-up air costs and reduces emissions.


In 1995, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) rewrote the NFPA 33 Standard to require fast-acting flame detectors for all automatic electrostatic liquid painting applications. These are also required for automatic electrostatic powder coating applications. All electrically conductive materials near the spray area such as material supply, containers and spray equipment should be grounded as well.


The capital investment for a new liquid electrostatic spray system consisting of an electrostatic spray gun, 2-gallon pressure pot, and hoses and fittings can range from $4,900 to $7,500. The capital investment required for a new electrostatic powder coating spray system, including powder application equipment, powder booth, cleaning system and bake oven, may range from $75,000 to $1,000,000. (CAGE).


Navistar International Transportation Corporation

Navistar International Transportation Corporation's assembly plant in Springfield, Ohio, is the site of painting and final assembly of Navistar's medium- and heavy-duty trucks and school bus chassis. The plant's comprehensive pollution prevention efforts have resulted in significant reductions in environmental releases.

Many of the pollution prevention activities have taken place in Navistar's painting operations. In the prime coating operation, conventional air-atomized, low-solids paint was replaced with waterborne paint, resulting in a 50% reduction in VOC emissions. Electrostatic robotic application of paint has increased transfer efficiency of equipment in topcoat operations. For almost all colors of topcoat, Navistar was able to change from applying two coats of paint to only one coat of paint without lowering product quality, reducing the amount of paint wasted by 65,000 gallons and the amount of solvent used by 138,000 gallons annually.

Other raw material, process and equipment changes have resulted in annual reductions exceeding 65 tons of VOC emissions, 82 tons of HAPs and 27,600 gallons of hazardous waste.


Navistar reports savings in excess of $3.5 million. (OH EPAb)

Other Methods

This section presents brief descriptions of a variety of other paint application methods, including electrodeposition, various dip processes, and direct application methods such as roller and flow coating.

Electrodeposition/Electrocoating (E-coat). This process applies paint in a method that is similar to electroplating. In the E-coat process, a paint film from a waterborne solution is electrically deposited onto a part. Parts are usually made primarily of steel. An E-coat bath contains resin, pigment (unless it is a clearcoat), solvent (water and a cosolvent) and additives. The most commonly used resins in this process are epoxies and acrylics. These systems have no or low VOC emissions and produce little toxic waste.

The liquid is a very dilute emulsion of waterborne paint. Reactions between the paint particles and certain bath components cause the resin to be ionic. The electric current causes the paint particles to migrate to the metal surface. As more and more particles collect, water is squeezed out and cross linking of the resin particles occurs. The transfer efficiency of electrodeposition is greater than 90%. High production rates are possible, and production can be automated. However, this method is costly and requires a lot of energy. Also, employees need a high level of training to use this system (IHWRICc).

E-coat is extremely efficient, depositing a mostly uniform coating on all surfaces that can be reached by electricity. Waterborne electrocoating systems may be used to apply uniform, pinhole-free coatings. For films that require high appearance standards, E-coat uses acrylic resins. Electrocoatings are resistant to attack by UV light and have good weatherability. Typical applications include truck beds, engine blocks, water coolers, microwave ovens, dryer drums, compressors, furnace parts, housings for the automotive industry, shelving, washers, air conditioners, file cabinets, switch boxes, refrigerators, transmission housings, lighting fixtures, farm machinery, and fasteners.

One drawback to the electrocoating system is that it is limited to one color at a time. Each color requires its own tank.


Emerson Electronics

In 1977, the Emerson Electronic plant in Murphy, North Carolina, was faced with a decision concerning the type of paint line to install for producing a quality finish on die-cast aluminum, bench power tool parts. Emerson compared an electrostatic spray process for coating solvent-based paint to an electrocoating process applying a water-based paint.

Emerson found that the electrocoating system offered the following advantages:

  • Lower VOC emissions, 70 pounds per day versus 3,040 pounds per day
  • Lower hazardous paint waste, 0 pounds per day versus 160 pounds per day
  • Production cost savings of $1,080,000 per year
  • Raw material cost savings of $600,000 per year (VT DEC)

Table 33. Advantages and Disadvantages of E-Coat Systems (NCP2P, p.7)



  • Utilizes over 90 percent of coating material
  • Has very thick, uniform coating on all surfaces that can be reached by electricity
  • Has high production rates
  • Produces corrosion-resistant coating
  • Has low VOC and HAP emissions
  • Can be fully automated
  • Can apply second coat on uncured electrocoat
  • Has substrate limitation
  • Requires separate lines for each color
  • Requires high cost to install
  • Has masking problems
  • Requires sophisticated maintenance
  • Has air-entrapment pockets
  • Has difficulty coating bulky, small parts
  • Requires corrosions-resistant equipment
  • Requires de-ionized water
  • Has difficulty sanding/stripping
  • Has high energy demands
  • Is restricted to large volume finishing
  • Has coating thickness limitation
  • Requires high level of training for employees

Autodeposition. Autodeposition is a process used to deposit organic paint films onto iron-, steel-, zinc- and zinc alloy-plated substrates. Autodeposition is typically an 6-step process, including alkaline cleaning, rinsing with plant water and deionized water, autodeposition (immersion), immersion sealing rinse and curing. The part is immersed into a solution containing paint compounds, usually a vinyl emulsion, hydrofluoric acid and hydrogen peroxide. When the part is submersed, the paint compound precipitates out of the solution and coats the part. The part is then removed from the tank, rinsed and cured (KSBEAP, p. 20).

Autodeposition is an effective method for achieving corrosion resistance and coverage of objects. Autodeposited films also provide extremely uniform thicknesses, typically 13 to 30 micrometers (0.6 to 1.2 mils). These resins also have excellent hardness, formability and adhesion characteristics. Two other advantages of autodeposition are that organic solvents are not needed, and little or no VOCs are emitted. Autodeposited films have high transfer efficiencies (approximately 95%), further reducing environmental impacts. This system also does not have fire hazards. However, autodeposition produces a dull or low gloss finish and has few available colors (IHWRICc). The largest application for autodeposition coatings have been for nonappearance and under-hood parts in cars and trucks due to their excellent anticorrosion properties. It is also used on drawer slides for office furniture, replacing zinc-plating.

Table 34. Advantages and Disadvantages of Autodeposition System (NCP2P, p. 7)



  • Has excellent anticorrosion properties (no phosphate coating required)
  • Wets 100% coverage of surfaces (no Faraday cage areas)
  • Uses waterborne material
  • Requires no external source of electricity
  • Has dull or low gloss appearance
  • Has few colors available

Dip Coating. With this process, parts are dipped (usually by conveyor) into a tank of paint. Dip coating allows for a high production rate and high transfer efficiency and requires relatively little labor. The effectiveness of dip coating depends greatly on the viscosity of the paint, which thickens with exposure to air unless it is carefully managed. The viscosity of the paint in a dip tank must remain practically constant if the deposited film quality is to remain high. To maintain viscosity, solvent must be routinely added as makeup. This results in higher VOC per gallon ratios.

Dip coating is not suitable for objects with hollows or cavities, and generally the finish is of lower quality (IHWRICc). Color change is slow and not feasible for most dip operations. This process is usually used to apply primers and to coat items whose appearance is not vitally important. Top coats are not commonly applied by dipping. Coatings applied by dipping have only a poor to fair appearance unless parts are rotated during drippage. Dipping is well suited for automation with conveyerized paint lines.

Capital investment required for dip coating is minimal. All that is required is a tank for the coating. The parts may be dipped manually, or automatically with a conveyor. Given the large surface area of the dip tank, adequate ventilation must be provided to prevent buildup of fumes and vapors. An efficient fire-extinguishing system must be installed as a safety measure if flammable paints are used (CAGE).

Table 35. Advantages and Disadvantages of Dip Coating Systems (NCP2P, p. 7)



  • Has high production rates
  • Requires low labor
  • Has high transfer efficiency
  • Can closely rack parts
  • Coating thickness does not depend on operator skill
  • Is well suited to automated applications
  • Is extremely dependent on viscosity of the paint
  • Is not suitable for items with hollows or cavities
  • Has slow color change
  • Can be a fire hazard
  • Has poor to fair appearance
  • High VOC emissions relative to the amount of coating applied in low VOC applications

Flow Coating. In a flow coat system, 10 to 80 separate streams of paint coat all surfaces of the parts as they are carried through the flow coater on a conveyor. This system has the advantages of dip coating along with low installation costs and low maintenance requirements. The quality of the finish is also comparable to dip coating (IHWRICc).

Flow coating is usually used for large or oddly shaped parts that are difficult or impossible to dip coat. Coatings applied by flow coating have only a poor to fair appearance unless the parts are rotated during drippage. Flow coating is fast and easy, requires little space, involves relatively low installation cost, requires low maintenance, and has a low labor requirement. Required operator skill is also low. Flow coating achieves a high paint transfer efficiency, often 90% and higher (CAGE).

Principal control of dry-film thickness depends on the paint viscosity. If viscosity is too low, insufficient paint will be applied. If the paint viscosity rises, extra paint will be applied. This can increase paint costs and also plug small holes in the part (CAGE).

Table 36. Advantages and Disadvantages of Flow Coating Systems (NCP2P, p.7)



  • Has high transfer efficiency
  • Has low installation cost
  • Requires little maintenance
  • Has high production rates
  • Requires less labor
  • Has poor to fair appearance
  • Requires principal control of dry-film thickness to control viscosity of paint

Curtain Coating. Instead of the multiple streams of paint found in flow coating, curtain coating uses a waterfall flow of paint to coat parts on a conveyor belt. The paint flows at a controlled rate from a reservoir through a wide variable slot. Curtain coating has a high transfer efficiency and covers parts uniformly, but is suitable only for flat work. The quality of the finish depends on the viscosity of the paint (IHWRICc).

Table 37. Advantages and Disadvantages of Curtain Coating Systems (NCP2P, p. 7)



  • Has high transfer efficiency
  • Enables uniform coating thickness
  • Is suitable only for flat work
  • Is highly dependent on viscosity

Roll Coating. Roll coating is the process of applying a coating to a flat substrate by passing it between rollers. Paint is applied by one or more auxiliary rolls onto an application roll, which rolls across the conveyed flat work. After curing, the coated substrate is then shaped or formed into the final shape without damaging the coating. The paint-covered rollers have large surface areas that contribute to heavy solvent evaporation. This can pose a fire hazard from flammable solvents in solvent-borne formulations.

Roll coating is divided into two types: direct and reverse roll coating. In direct roll coating, the applicator roll rotates in the same direction as the substrate moves. In reverse roll coating, metal feed stock is fed between the rolls as a continuous coil. The applicator roll rotates in the opposite direction of the substrate.

Roll coating is limited to flatwork and is extremely viscosity dependent. Coating properties should be checked often to ensure proper results. These tests should include adhesion, impact resistance, flexibility and hardness. A well-known application of roll coating is coil coating, in which coiled metal strip is uncoiled, pretreated, roller coated with paint, cured and then recoiled (IHWRIC, p. 36).

Roll coaters are typically custom made for each application. Roll coaters can be made-to-order to accommodate widths ranging from 14 to 100 inches.

Table 38. Advantages and Disadvantages of Roll Coating Systems (NCP2P, p. 6)



  • Has high transfer efficiency
  • Has high production rates
  • Cannot paint hard-to-reach areas
  • Is limited to flat work

Plural Component Proportioning System for Epoxy Paints. Plural component proportioning systems are self-contained epoxy paint measuring and mixing systems. These systems accurately mix the epoxy paint components, produce the precise amount of paint required by an application, and consequently minimize waste.

Epoxy paint mixtures are prepared by premixing a base and a catalyst and then combining them in appropriate proportions in a separate container. After mixing and waiting the specified time, application of the paint to the workpiece may proceed. Once mixed, epoxy paints have a limited pot-life that cannot be exceeded without affecting the characteristics of the paint. If the pot life is exceeded, the mixture must be disposed of, and the application equipment must be cleaned. Under conventional methods, these mixtures are prepared by hand, a process that frequently leads to the generation of excess paint. The solvents used to cleanup and dispose of excess paint generates hazardous waste consisting of spent solvents and waste paint.

Plural component proportioning systems are used in conjunction with application devices. A typical proportioning and application system layout includes the following components: proportioning pump module, mix manifold, mixer, application device, materials supply module, and purge or flush module. These systems optimize painting operations by maximizing efficiency and minimizing waste generation.

The plural component proportion system for epoxy paints provides for total control of materials from container(s) to application. The system is accurate and can provide more consistent material quality than hand mixing. These systems can also keep pace with higher production requirements. The systems mix the coating on demand (i.e., as the gun is triggered). This does not result in significant quantities of waste materials because no excess paint is mixed. Material cleanup requires less labor and maintenance, and generates less waste because the mixed material can be purged with solvent from the mix manifold, mixer, hose, and applicator before it cures. The plural component system is a closed system and, as a result, there are fewer spills, less contamination or waste to cleanup, and less exposure of toxic materials to personnel. In addition, the proportioning system makes bulk purchase of material practical.

If an epoxy paint requires significant induction time (i.e., 15 minutes or longer), the plural component system can still be used, provided that the mixed paint is allowed to stand in a separate container prior to application.

Capital costs for plural component proportioning systems can range from $6,000 to $7,500 for basic units that mix two materials, up to $50,000 to $70,000 for systems that mix multiple materials. Application systems are an additional component, and their capital costs can range from $500 to $5,000. Each application needs to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis with respect to material and labor costs and savings.

Table 39. Advantages and Disadvantages of Plural Component Proportioning Systems (NCP2P, p. 7)



  • Provides total control of materials from container to application
  • Generates paint on an as-needed basis, eliminating the generation of excess paint (Under conventional methods, this excess paint is frequently disposed of as hazardous waste
  • Minimizes solvent cleanup
  • Reduces chance of spills
  • Reduces worker exposure
  • Needs to be designed for specific applications

Supercritical Carbon Dioxide (CO2). Supercritical fluid spray application allows substitution of supercritical carbon dioxide for up to two-thirds of conventional solvents concentration in spray-applied coatings, reducing VOC emissions by 30 to 70%. The proportioning and supply system from Union Carbide (UNICARB) mixes supercritical CO2 solvent with coating concentrate and supplies the material to a specially designed spray gun (i.e., internal mixing). The CO2 solvent is compatible with high molecular weight resins and existing painting facilities and procedures; therefore, this compatibility enables the use of solvent-borne formulations with substantial VOC reductions.

Advantages and Disadvantages

In the supercritical CO2 spray process, the solvent-like properties of supercritical CO2 are exploited to replace a portion of the solvent in the conventional solvent-borne coating formulation. The addition of supercritical CO2 acts as a diluent solvent to thin the viscous coating just before application, so that the coating can be atomized and applied with a modified spray gun (EPAl). Supercritical fluid spray application can be used to coat metal and plastics. The applied coating has a higher viscosity that allows thicker coatings without runs or sags. However, care is required in working with high-pressure gas at high operating temperatures (100 to 150F) (TURI, p. 2).

Table 40. Advantages and Disadvantages of Supercritical Carbon Dioxide (NCP2P, p. 3)



  • Has high quality finish
  • Needs fewer coating applications
  • Reduces VOCs and HAPs
  • Reduces operating costs
  • Is easy to retrofit
  • Has high transfer efficiency
  • Reduces worker exposure for solvent vapors
  • Has limited industrial experience
  • Has lower fluid delivery rates than airless or air spray guns
  • Has bulky gun and supply tubing
  • Has royalty costs

Cost and Implementation Issues

This system requires investment in new equipment for paint mixing, handling and spraying. In 1991, five coating formulators were licensed to develop, manufacture and market UNICARB systems, including Akzo (automotive components, furniture), BASF (automotive), Guardsman (furniture), Lilly (furniture, plastics, heavy equipment) and PPG Industries (automotive, heavy equipment) (EPAd, p. 82).

Table 41. Transfer Efficiencies of Various Application Technologies (IHWRIC, p. 37, KSBEAP, p. 23 and CC)


Transfer Efficiency

Operating Cost

Finish Quality

Recess Coverage

Conventional Air Spray 30 to 60% Low High Good
HVLP Spray 50 to 90% Low High Good
LPLV Spray 60 to 80% Low Unknown Good
Airless Spray 65 to 70% Medium/high Low Good
Electrostatic Spray 65 to 95% Medium/high Low Poor
Electrodeposition 90 to 99% NA NA NA

NA=not applicable

Table 42. Overview of Application Technologies (IHWRIC, p. 36-37; IHWRICb,c; and Binksc)


Pollution Prevention Benefits

Reported Application

Operational Benefits


HVLP Spray
  • Reduces overspray, increasing transfer efficiency
  • Reduces VOC and HAP emissions
  • Lowers risk of blowback to the worker
  • Can be used on many surfaces
  • Is protable and easy to clean
  • Allows operator to vary the air pressure, air volume, paint pressure and spray pattern
  • Has production rates that are not as high as conventional air spray
LPLV Spray
  • Has a high transfer efficiency rate
  • Has low operating costs
  • Has moderate capital costs
  • Is not widely used
Airless Spray
  • Has a transfer efficiency of 65 to 70%
  • Cuts overspray by more than half, and is cleaner and more economical
  • Hydraulic atomization used most widely by painting contractors and maintenance painters
  • Heated atomization used by furniture manufacturers and industrial finishers
  • Is twice as fast as air spray and produces a higher film build; is more portable than air spray
  • Is limited to painting large areas, requires a different nozzle to change spray patterns; nozzle tends to clog and can be dangerous to use or clean because of the high pressures involved
Air-Assisted Airless Spray
  • Has higher transfer efficiency and lower chance of blowback
  • Used by furniture and industrial finishers
  • Has material savings that are 50% better than air spray
  • Has higher film build per pass than air spray
  • Has same dangers as airless, but requires more maintenance and operator training, and has a higher initial capital cost
Rotary Atomization
  • Has excellent efficiency
  • Can be used with paints of different viscosity
  • Requires high degree of cleanliness
Electrostatic Spray
  • Has high transfer efficiency
  • Produces little overspray and uses relatively little paint
  • Is good for painting oddly shaped objects
  • Is used by most appliance manufacturers
  • Produces a uniform coat because the paint itself acts as an insulator
  • Has limited coverage with complicated parts because of Faraday cage effects
  • Can paint only conductive parts
  • Presents a possible shock hazard
  • Is limited to only one coat
  • Is more expensive, slower and has higher maintenance costs than air spray
  • Is limited to chargeable paints
  • Surface of the object must be extremely clean
  • Uses water-borne paints
  • Is limited to iron, steel, zinc and zinc-alloy plated materials
  • Is effective for anti-corrosion properties and coverage of the objects
  • Uses no electricity
  • Is limited to dull or low gloss finish; few available colors
  • Has transfer efficiency of more than 90%
  • Is limited to metallic or other electrically conductive objects (e.g., autobody coating)
  • Can accommodate high production rates; production can be automated
  • Requires that objects be metallic or electrically conductive
  • Is costly and requires a lot of energy
  • Requires that employees receive high level training to use this system
Dip, Flow and Curtain Coating
  • Has high transfer efficiency
  • Is well suited for parts that are always the same color and have minimum decorative finish requirements, such as agricultural equipment
  • Has high production rate
  • Requires relatively little labor
  • Depends greatly on the viscosity of the paint, which thickens with exposure to air unless carefully managed
  • Is not suitable for objects with hollows or cavaties
  • Has lower quality finish
Roll Coating
  • Has high transfer efficiency
  • Is limited to sheet materials (e.g., strip metal and boards); used to decorate cans and other metal objects
  • Has high production rates
  • Is limited to flat work

Paint Booths

A paint booth is an enclosure that directs overspray and solvent emissions from painting operations away from the painter and toward an entrainment device. Spray booths are designed to capture particulate matter that is released into the air during coating operations. They are not abatement devices for VOCs. A spray booth's primary function is to protect the painter and other employees from exposure to potentially toxic vapors and particulates. Another function of the booth is to prevent fires within a facility by venting high concentrations of flammable solvent vapors out of the building (EPAq, p.149).

Pollution Problems

Discharges from paint booths consist of particulate matter and organic solvent vapors. Particulates result from solids in the paint that are not transferred to the part. Organic solvent vapors are from the solvent, diluent or thinner that is used with the coating to reduce the viscosity of the paint. Much of the particulate matter is captured by a dry, water-wash or baffle filter (these are discussed below). Solvent vapors are controlled or recovered by the application of control technologies such as condensation, compression, absorption, adsorption or combustion. Solvent vapors can be minimized by using more efficient equipment, and low or no VOC materials. Increasing the transfer efficiency of the painting operation can result in both reduced particulate and solvent emissions (EPAq, p. 149).

Types of Paint Booths

There are two basic types of enclosures that are used in most painting applications: dry booths and wet booths. The key difference between the two is that a dry booth depends on a filter of paper, fiberglass or polystyrene to collect overspray, while the wet booth uses water with chemical additives to collect overspray. The type of booth selected can affect the volume and type of paint waste. A third type of booth is used exclusively in powder coating operations.

Although a spray booth is generally thought of as an enclosed painting area, this is not always the case. For instance, facilities that paint very large pieces may have a booth that only has one side, consisting of an exhaust plenum that draws solvent and particulates away from the operator. It is also not uncommon to see two spray booths opposite one another. This set-up allows for very large workpieces to be transported in between the booths either by a conveyor or a forklift truck that runs between the booths. Often neither booth has a ceiling, and they draw air from the surrounding factory (EPAq, p. 149).

Regardless of the size or design of the booth, they consist of one of three basic designs for directing air flow.

  • Cross-draft. In a cross-draft booth, air moves from behind the operator toward the dry filter or water curtain (parallel to the floor). This type of booth is ideal for systems where the parts are moved through the facility in a rack or conveyor system, and the painter applies the coating from only one direction. However, these types of systems can be used if the paint must be applied in more than one direction. This type of ventilation system is usually the least expensive.
  • Down-draft. Down-draft booths move air from the ceiling of the booth vertically downward toward an exhaust plenum in the floor. This type of booth is preferred when the paint operator must be able to walk around the part, particularly in the case of painting large machines. These booths usually cost more than cross-draft booths because they require building a pit beneath the booth. The operating expenses with a down-draft are also usually higher because these systems draw more air.
  • Semidown-draft. This type of booth moves the air down and then to the side where the exhaust is located. Semidown-draft booths offer a compromise between the cross-draft and down-draft configurations (EPAq, p. 149).

Decisions about equipment should be made based on the type and volume of painting done and the volume of waste generated.

Choosing between a dry filter, water-wash or baffle spray booth encompasses many different issues. The following section provides information on these three systems. Analysts estimate that 80% or more of the spray booths in use today are of the dry filter type (EPAq, p. 151). In recent years, however, many facilities have switched to water-wash booths because of their lower maintenance and hazardous waste costs. However, there are other concerns with these booths. The following section provides more detail on dry filter and water-wash booths.

Dry Filter Booths

There are many types of dry filter systems, however, they all operate on the same principle: particulate-laden air flowing toward the filter medium is forced to change directions rapidly. The particulate, having more inertia than the surrounding air, impacts the filter medium and is removed from the air flow. The scrubbed air is then vented to the atmosphere.

There are four general types of filters currently used: fiberglass cartridges, multilayer honeycombed paper rolls or pads, accordion-pleated paper sheets, and cloth rolls or pads. Each type of filter has different characteristics for particulate capacity, removal efficiency, cost and replacement time. Filter performance is characterized by three basic parameters: particulate capacity, resistance to air flow and particulate removal efficiency. Filter replacement is required when the filter becomes heavily laden with captured particles, resulting in a reduction in removal efficiency and an increase in the pressure differential across the filter face. The primary waste stream generated by dry booths is spent filters. When using lead or zinc chromate paints, the dry filter will eliminate 50 to 90% of the hazardous waste generated by water-curtain paint booths.

Generally, small-volume painting operations find that the lower cost of a dry-filter booth meets their requirements. This equipment requires a low capital investment relative to wet-booths and are simple in design. The filters act to remove paint in airborne particles by capturing them as they are forced through the filter. Ease of replacing a relatively low number of filters produced by small operations makes such an approach attractive. As paint volume increases, though, filter replacements must be made more often. This may increase costs for labor and materials significantly (Mitchell, p.10).

Dry filters effectively remove up to 95 to 99% of particulates. These systems are also versatile. They can be used in booths of all designs (small, large, cross-draft, down-draft and semidown- draft). These booths can also be operated for a variety of coating technologies, including polyurethanes, epoxies and alkyds. However, they cannot be used for nitrocellulose paints and some waterborne coatings (proper filter selection is critical in these cases). They are inexpensive to purchase, and depending on the nature of the paint (i.e., pass or fail TCLP test), they are also inexpensive to operate.

A disadvantage of dry filter booths is that they are generally not appropriate for facilities with high coating use (i.e., greater than 5 gallons per square foot of filter areas per day). They also have problems with VOC emissions, since they do not remove VOCs.

Regarding safety, dry filters are a potential fire hazard, especially if dry overspray is allowed to build up. Typically, the majority of this waste is the filter media, which can be contaminated by a relatively small amount of paint. Reusable filters may decrease waste volume and reduce disposal cost. In some applications, such as powder coatings, overspray can be reused.

Choosing the proper type of dry filter is important for a facility's operations. Dry filter characteristics that should be considered include:

  • Efficiency_its ability to remove particulates before they enter the stack
  • Resistance_this is the pressure differential that ensues when the high velocity of air passes across the filter bank
  • Holding capacity_the amount of overspray that a filter can hold or retain during its service life
  • Incineration profile_can spent filters be burned?
  • Biodegradability_does the product degrade naturally?
  • Landfill option profile_does it meet landfill standards?
  • Flammability_does it meet the National Fire Protection Bulletin number 33 requirement and Underwriter's Laboratories Approved Class 2 list?
  • Suitability for various coatings_some waterborne coatings may complicate filter choice; facilities should check to make sure filter is compatible with all coatings that will be used

Filters made from expanded polystyrene are also available. Facilities can reuse these types of filters after carefully brushing the overspray off the surface with a bristle brush. Hence, the same filters can be used several times until they break or become unusable. Manufacturers have promoted the practice of dissolving the filter in a drum of solvent and paint waste when a facility is ready to scrap the filter. The solvents dissolve the filter into the waste, which must then be treated as a hazardous waste. Some facilities have argued that this is counterproductive due to disposal costs of liquids versus solids. Others argue that this qualifies as treatment of a hazardous waste and therefore is a violation of RCRA regulations1 (EPAq, p. 151).

1For more information, see the May 1995 issue of Metal Finishing.

Table 43. Advantages and Disadvantages of Dry Filter Booths (NFESC, p. 3)



  • Decreases operating costs when compared to water curtain spray booths due to reduced chemical, electrical, sewer and water costs
  • Reduces waste generation of wastewater and sludge
  • Eliminates need for daily skimming and removal of sludge from the booth
  • Increases efficiency of particulate removal
  • Is not compatible with powder paint applications
  • Has filter selection that depends on paint type and application
  • Requires frequent downtimes if improper filter is used

Water-Wash Booths

Water-wash booths capture overspray paint by using positive air pressure to force the particles into a cascading curtain of water. As a result of being captured in the water curtain, uncured particles of paint accumulate in a wash-water pit, located either beneath a grating that the painters stand on or above ground behind the booth itself.

When overspray enters the water, it remains sticky and can plug up holes, nozzles, pipes and pumps. In addition, it can form a deposit on the water curtain, slowly building up a layer that eventually impedes the smooth water flow down the water curtain's face. With time, the water becomes contaminated with bacteria and requires disposal. To prevent this from occurring, the water needs to be treated with chemicals designed to de-tack overspray particles (EPAq, p. 152).

If overall painting volume can justify the investment, a water-wash booth has substantial advantages. This type of booth eliminates disposal of filter media and allows waste to be reduced in weight and volume. This is achieved by separating the paint from the water through settling, drying, or using a centrifuge or cyclone. However, the primary disadvantage of this technology is the resulting generation of large quantities of wastewater and paint sludge. Typically, spent wastewater and sludge requires offsite treatment, and the paint sludge is disposed of as a hazardous waste. Depending on the amount of coating used, this option could use more energy, require more maintenance time, add to chemical use for water treatment, and/or result in additional cost to dispose of "wet," low BTU value, heavy paint sludges than a dry filter booth. These units are also more expensive to install and to operate than dry filter booths.

The water-wash booth design faces substantial challenges and more restrictive landfill regulations than they have in the past. Prior to 1993, some liquid nonhazardous special wastes could be disposed of in a landfill with little or no treatment. EPA's decision to redefine liquid wastes and ban certain materials from landfill disposal pertains to sludge generated from water-wash booths.2 This material still can be disposed of, however, the material must be processed prior to disposal, resulting in a significant increase in waste treatment costs (Mitchell, p.10).

2EPA's definition of "liquid wastes" is: any material that will exude droplets of liquid through a standard conical paint filter within a prescribed period of time.

Baffle Booths

A baffle spray booth is an uncommon alternative to both dry filter and water-wash booths. In a baffle spray booth, the face of the booth has steel baffles that run the height of the booth and are several inches wide. The baffles usually overlap each other, forcing the air that passes through the booth to change direction in order to reach the back of the booth. When the air does reach the entrainment section in the back, the paint particulates that the air is carrying fall into the trough for reuse. These booths are used less frequently because unless the facility is reclaiming paint, this type of booth offers no advantages.

Powder Coating Booths

In most powder coating operations, the coating is reclaimed and reused in the process, optimizing material use. Powder coating booths have smooth sides with steep, hopper-like sloping bottoms that empty into collectors and an exhaust system that removes powder suspended in the air. The powder is drawn into a cylindrical chamber that has a centrifugal blower to force the powder to the outside walls where the powder collects and then falls through an opening in the cone-shaped bottom. The air flows through a filter at the top to remove any fine suspended powder particles. The reclaimed powder can then be blended with fresh material.

Best Management Practices to Minimize Coating Defects from Paint Booths

There are a number of steps that a company can take to minimize the defects that result in rejected work. Most of the defects require painters to perform rework or, in some cases, completely reject a part. Higher reject rates result in increased waste generation and reduced profits. The most common coating defects that relate to paint booths include:

  • Poor wrap when using electrostatic paints. Poor wrap can happen for a variety of reasons. However as they relate to paint booths, assistance providers should ensure that the spray booth has a proper ground. Wrap may also occur as a result of turbulent air flow.
  • Dust and dirt in the finish. This is probably the most common cause for reworks and rejects. Facilities can take several steps to avoid this including: avoid having sanding or other dirty operations take place immediately outside the booth; make sure that air filters at air intakes of the booth are not dirty, or have too large of a mesh size; make sure that the booth is operating under negative pressure; make sure that the air make-up system draws fresh air into the booth and that the intake stack is not too close to the exhaust ducts from sanding or other dirty operations; keep booth walls, floor and ceiling free of loose, dry, overspray or the booth blowers may pry particles loose, allowing them to fall onto freshly painted surfaces; and make sure that proper booth size is selected.
  • Water spots in the finish. When using a water-wash booth, operators must properly clean the nozzles above the water curtain. Omitting this step creates the opportunity for water droplets to settle on the painted finish.
  • Haziness (blushing) that reduces gloss. This problem occurs when humidity is high and moisture condenses on freshly painted surfaces. This is more likely to occur in a water-wash booth than a dry-filter booth. To avoid this, parts should be moved out of the booth shortly after painting is completed.
  • Dry overspray on the finish. The most common reason for this dry overspray is that the solvent is too fast. As the solvent flashes off during application, the overspray loses its wetness. This problem is usually not a result of the booth but a result of high air velocity. Proper monitoring and control of booth air flow should assist in reducing this problem. Dry overspray on the finish also arises when more than one dry filter spray booth is being operated at the same time. If the air flow within the larger spray room is not uniform, overspray from one booth can settle on the freshly painted surfaces in another booth. Maintaining proper air flow between the two booths or providing each booth with its own air make-up system can solve this problem.
  • Nonuniform coating finish with gloss, patches, orange peel and voids. Numerous causes exist for this defect, however, causes solely associated with spray booths are often related to poor lighting. Investment in adequate lighting and regular cleaning of the cover plates can have quick payback in the form of better looking finishes and fewer touchups (EPAq, p. 154).