Buying a walk-behind striper takes a good amount of thought. Not only do you have to consider the types of jobs you presently take on, but you also have to plan ahead to ensure that the machine you buy will support any future plans you may have to expand your striping operations.
One or two guns
One of the first questions a contractor should ask when deciding on a walk-behind striper is whether he needs a one-gun or two-gun set-up. Many contractors use a one-gun machine for simple parking lot work, but if you take on jobs beyond the parking lot, or plan to, you should consider a two-gun unit.
"If they're going to be doing parking lots but want to get the business that surrounds the parking lot, like the access roads, they may want to get two guns," says Jon Knutson, worldwide product marketing manager for Graco Inc. "If they're doing anything on airports, two guns are pretty much a requirement, and if they're going to be doing cross walks and stop bars, two guns are a great asset as opposed to taking multiple, narrow-width passes to complete that application."
Within the parking lot, a two-gun unit is beneficial when painting double-line parking stalls and curbs.
"Curb work is easier with a two-gun machine because you can point one gun straight down on the curb, hitting the top of the curb, and have the other gun point in, hitting the face of the curb," Knutson says.
"Typically for a small striping company, like a one-man band, he's going to buy a two-gun capable machine because he's only got one machine and it has to be able to do everything," says Mark Malloy, sales and marketing manager at Airlessco. "As the company gets larger, then they start having more specialized uses for the machines."
One-gun stripers are a great low-cost investment when getting into the striping business. Sometimes one of these machines is helpful for an advanced contractor, too. Malloy says a contractor should look at whether the machine he's going to buy will be a full-time or part-time machine, as in the case of a machine you would use to spray blue paint for handicap stalls.
"That's a very small part of a parking lot striping job, but nobody wants to go through the trouble of cleaning out their main sprayer to put blue paint in it to spray three minutes of blue paint, so they have a second unit. Oftentimes the second unit is their old machine that's sort of worn out but still functional," he says. "But we have lower volume, much less expensive machines that can do that same job, cost you a lot less money, and you won't have the problem of keeping an old machine running pretty much past its operating life."
Striping machine manufacturers generally offer an array of walk-behind units. Once you get past the one-gun/two-gun decision, you need to consider the performance you want out of your unit when deciding among the two-gun models.
"As a contractor grows and becomes proficient at that task of striping, they can oftentimes work at a faster rate and get more jobs done in the same amount of time," Knutson says. "In order to put down the right amount of paint, they typically are sizing up the tip so that as they're walking faster they still put the correct mil build of paint down on the stripe, so they need a machine that can keep up with the tip sizes that they're going to want to run."
As you move up a manufacturer's line of striper models, you will find increased performance. For example, lower-end units have the capacity to put down generally about two-thirds of a gallon of paint per minute with one-gun capacity, while some higher-end units can perform at more than two gallons of paint per minute and can support multiple guns.
"Most experienced line striping contractors prefer larger hydraulically driven units that can support multiple guns," says Chris Dunn, global product marketing manager for Titan Tool Inc. "These larger units can support larger tip sizes which will allow the user to move faster while applying the proper mil thickness. Larger pumps cycle at a slower rate and run much more efficiently than their smaller counterparts."
Air vs. airless
The vast majority of striping units sold today are airless, but there are still a few companies that sell air-atomized paint stripers. Kelly-Creswell Company Inc. produces both air-atomized and airless sprayers and many of their striper models can be configured for either spray system.
"My opinion is an air-atomized machine is a simpler design and is less expensive to maintain and to procure over a 10- to 12-year life of a machine," says Craig Treon, vice president and general manager at Kelly-Creswell.
Treon notes, however, that air-atomized sprayers work great for most basic parking lot applications, but in certain applications airless would work better.
"I know most parking lot guys usually will use a single striping gun. Some striping jobs require a two-gun application, and in that instance my opinion would be that an airless sprayer would be more suited toward the job because of the additional gun it takes to spray that second line," he says. "If you're a striper who wants to look at doing airport markings, then airless machines are also probably more suited toward that job. Airless machines can be set up to spray wider patterns in a single path."
The type of paint you'll be spraying will also be a consideration in spec'ing an air-atomized unit.
"If you're leaning toward an air-atomized machine, the thing you want to look at is whether you're going to be using the air machine to spray an oil-based or a latex paint. If you're spraying a latex paint, the best set-up is a stainless steel fluid system to prevent corrosion. The other thing you want to look at is to ensure that the supplier includes a non-bleed striping gun as part of their machines," he says. "Non-bleeder guns also do a wonderful job spraying oil-based paints, but a bleeder gun, which was designed for oil-based paints, does not do a good job of spraying latex paints. So if you're one of these guys who is going to bounce back and forth between latex and oil-based paints, the best set-up would be a machine with a stainless steel tank and a non-bleeder gun, and then you're assured of spraying both types of paints well.
"If you exclusively spray oil-based paints through a machine - because some contractors may buy two machines, one machine just for latex paints and another for oil-based paints - a machine specifically set up for oil-based paints is about 25% less the cost of a machine set up to spray latex," Treon adds.
Accessories and features
Most manufacturers offer basic accessories you can purchase for your unit. These include items such as paint hoppers that allow you to carry more than your machine's standard allotment of paint, light kits for striping in low-light conditions, and line pointing systems. Titan offers a laser pointer, which fits most any walk-behind striper unit.
"The laser pointer plots an extended reference line on the ground ahead of the unit," explains Dunn. "In a parking lot situation this allows the operator to plot a line for marking accurate starting points, provides a razor sharp line to follow when painting the line, creates an accurate point of reference for the next set of rows, and produces a more professional job in less time."
Another useful accessory is a glass bead dispenser.
"If you're going to be doing any roadwork at all, like that access road to the parking lot, a bead dispenser is a great accessory," Knutson says. "Going back a few years, airports required that glass beads be applied to their runways and taxiways, so if you're doing airport work, a glass bead accessory is something you should get."
Certain striping machine features can also increase a contractor's productivity, such as the ability to switch the positions of the paint guns on the machine.
"When you're doing diagonal parking spaces, the gun has to be sort of behind the machine because of the angle you're going into the parking space on, and when you get to the one end or the other, you've got to put the gun over on the other side to do the last one. Ours has a real quick release on the gun arm that allows you to move it to the other side in about 15 seconds," Malloy says.
Guns can also be positioned in the front or the back of the striper.
"On our upper three models we have both a front and rear gun mount position, so you can choose whether you want the guns back by you when you're operating or out front so you can reach up to the curb," Knutson says.
For contractors who stripe circles and curves on sports fields, airports, or in other areas, Airlessco offers a swivel front wheel with an adjustable turnbuckle.
"So, for example, if you're striping soccer fields and you've got a 10-yard radius for the center circle, you can set a turn buckle to that length, that size diameter circle, and just put tape around it so that it stays fixed, throw it in your toolbox, and when you go to do one of those jobs you just snap that turnbuckle on and your machine is already preset to do the right sized circle, as opposed to having to draw it on the ground with chalk and a tape measurer or freehand it over the old one," Malloy explains.
Airlessco also offers a quick flush adaptor, which allows you to use water pressure to back flush all the paint out of the hose and the pump back into the bucket.
"When you start to flush the machine, you're flushing a machine that has already had the paint removed out of it," Malloy says. "So it makes the cleanup a lot quicker, and it's just like everything else - time is money. And 10-minute cleanups are more productive than 30-minute cleanups."
Why walk when you can drive?
Pushing around a walk-behind striper all day is a tiring job. Self-propelled, sit-down units for walk-behind stripers have been in the industry for nearly a decade. With travel speeds of up to 10 mph and an average striping speed of about 5 mph, along with the ability to carry extra paint or glass beads without the fatigue associated with pushing that extra weight around with muscle, contractors can easily increase their productivity and ultimately their bottom lines with one of these units.
"Prices are going up on machines, products, and labor, but contractors are having a hard time raising the prices they charge for their services, so the only way to make more money is by getting the job done faster," says David Hay, operations manager at Fine Line Industries, which makes the Lazy Liner. Hay estimates that the addition of a self-propelled, ride-on attachment to a contractor's walk-behind striper can help increase production by 80% to 100%.
Increased productivity and going home at the end of the day without being physically fatigued are only a couple of the benefits contractors report about their sit-down units.
"Another thing we hear from striping contractors is they feel when they're driving they're able to put down straighter lines because effectively they've expanded the length of the wheelbase of the machine," say Jon Knutson of Graco Inc., manufacturer of the LineDriver. "So the wheel base gets longer and your lines are straighter. They also indicate that they can drive at a more consistent speed than they can walk, so that's a benefit for line quality and efficiency."
The addition of a self-propelled, sit-down unit on a striper also allows contractors to take on jobs they may not have wanted before, because the amount of work that went into them with the walk-behind striper was too much for the profit they could make.
"It's an easier transition into the larger jobs, because as you move into the bigger jobs you're getting into roadways or airports where the physical amount of stripes applied is greater, either longer distance or just the sheer lineal feet of line that's applied," Knutson says.
Steep, angled parking ramps, park paths that often wind through rolling hills, or other jobs that are difficult with a walk-behind striper also become more attainable, profitable goals.
"I've talked to people who have expanded into those types of striping applications because they have the LineDriver, whereas before they would let it go to someone else," Knutson adds.
Other manufacturers have taken a different approach to sit-down striping. Titan Tool Inc. recently introduced the PowrLiner 9900 which is a self-propelled, ride-on airless unit. The hydraulically driven transaxle enables the unit to pull the ride-on sulky, eliminating the need for a second gas engine.
In an interesting aside, Hay says he's been able to convert the Lazy Liner to be used on several other types of equipment.
"I have fabricated hook-ups for walk-behind grinders, blowers, tape application machines, thermo plastic hand-liners, bituminous glue machines, and some sweepers just to name some of the more popular odd-ball stuff," Hay says. "The grinders are a particularly nice hook-up. It turns what was once an unprofitable, difficult, and dirty job into a profitable and not-so-bad job."