When you first start powder coating, adjusting your powder coating gun settings can be confusing. We’ll cover the most important terms and settings for everyday powder coating situations and addresses some common issues you may encounter. Once you understand how electrostatic powder guns work and know what the basic gun settings do, you can improve your powder coating results quickly and confidently.
Author’s Note: All examples in this article use the Wagner EPG controller for illustrative purposes, but other brand-name professional quality guns have similar controls.
Powder Coating Gun Settings # 1: Kilovoltage (kV)
“kV” is the symbol for kilovolt. One kilovolt = 1000 volts. It is a unit of measure indicating how much electrical charge an electrostatic powder gun can produce.
The kV adjustment changes the amount of voltage charging the powder particles as they pass through the gun. The higher the setting, the stronger the charge. High settings are great for flat panels and the outside of box-like parts. A high kV setting can improve your transfer efficiency (more powder sticks to the part) and also allow you to increase the distance between the gun and the part. This can help you get very uniform coverage on flat surfaces. In some cases, excessively high kV settings can cause tiny pits or dimples in the finish due to “back-ionization.”
Lower kV settings are best for Faraday cage areas and when working with some specialty powders, such as metallics. As a general rule, the more detailed and complex the part, the lower the kV setting. Professional quality powder guns from companies like Gema, Nordson and Wagner typically have a maximum voltage setting of 100 kV. A good starting point is a setting of 50 to 80 kV for applying a single coat (or the first coat) to an uncoated part. When working with Faraday cage areas, turn down the voltage. When applying a second coat, a lower kV setting can give the best results.
What is the Faraday Cage effect? This describes what happens when you are trying to powder coat into a recessed area like the inside of a box. Highly charged powder particles are attracted to the closest grounded metal surface–the sides of the box–so they have a difficult time penetrating into the corner. This often happens with parts that have tight corners, angled features, prominent bends or recessed areas. Window and door trim, frames, boxes, wire racks, I-beam sections, angle iron, conical parts, u-shaped channels, uni-strut, grids, and other unusually shaped parts can be tough to coat without adjusting the gun’s output. By reducing the electrical charge (lowering the kV setting), you can help sprayed powder penetrate Faraday cage areas more effectively.
It is important to have a good ground. This is the physical connection that allows an electrical current to follow a path to earth. A ground is needed for the charged powder particles to effectively be drawn to the metal part. The stronger the ground, the more effectively the electrostatic process works. We recommend the use of a dedicated grounding rod. Get a copper grounding rod of at least 8’ length from an electrical supply company. Drive the grounding rod into a spot as close to your powder spray booth as possible (yes, you will have to penetrate your concrete floor if you have one). Using a good quality grounding strap of 14 gauge or heavier wire (heavier is better) and a well-made clamp, connect the ground rod to the rack or hook that is supporting your part. This will dramatically improve the performance of your coating gun, especially when dealing with complex parts. In some areas, you may need to pour a few ounces of water into the hole around the grounding rod to improve the quality of your ground.
Another way to improve results in Faraday cage areas is to aim the gun near the corner or detail area, but not directly at it. Wrap is the term that describes when sprayed powder is attracted to the back side of the part. Wrap means that the gun delivers powder to areas of the part that aren’t directly in front of the gun’s output. By having a good quality ground, you can get improved wrap on panel-shaped parts and improved penetration into Faraday cage areas.
Remember, voltage and amperage are not the same thing, so it may be important to also adjust the amperage at which the powder is being sprayed.
Powder Coating Gun Settings #2: Microamperage (µA)
“µA” is the symbol for microampere. One microampere = 1/1, 000, 000th of an ampere. It is a measurement of electrical current. It indicates how much charge is moving from the gun’s electrode to the cloud of air and powder exiting the gun, and then onto the surface of the part being coated. This may be the hardest gun feature to understand.
Voltage and current (measured in microamperes) have an inverse relationship when you’re talking about powder coating guns. Voltage is a measurement of electrical “potential to do work, ” while current is a measurement of the actual movement of electricity–“the work being done.” When some of the potential energy is used, it becomes current. As current increased, there is less potential (unused energy) left. A gun’s current feedback system can indicate to the operator what the electrostatic charge is doing. It is, in some ways, more useful than just looking at the kV setting. This is because the microamperage reading tells you how much of the charge is working, instead of just indicating the charge’s maximum potential like the kV setting does. On powder guns like the one shown from Wagner, you can see the effectiveness of the charge and limit how much current is possible. This allows you to understand and control how much energy is being used.
The kV setting is, in part, restricted by the power supply. While spraying a part, the load on the power supply limits the actual output, so the voltage may be lower than the setting. The current load increases as the gun gets closer to the part being sprayed. On a gun with an adjustable current limiter, when the current load reaches the set limit, the kV will quickly decrease. This helps prevent problems from too much voltage (like dimples in the coating from back-ionization), especially when the gun is too close to the part. Also, if the amperage is not limited to a certain range, the transfer efficiency may suffer in Faraday cage areas or the powder may not coat evenly if the gun-to-part distance is inconsistent. Setting the µA range to 20-25 can help with difficult to coat areas.
Powder Coating Gun Settings #3: Air-Flow/Powder Volume Dial
Wagner powder application guns automatically balance the powder output with the airflow via the main dial. The number selected is the actual maximum percentage of powder that can be used. Typically, 70% is the highest you would want to go. When working with intricate parts, this number can be much lower.
Powder Coating Gun Settings #4: The Factory Presets
These are settings pre-determined by the gun manufacturer or the operator. They are intended for the most common scenarios encountered by typical gun users.
Flat Panel Setting: This setting provides maximum kVs and a high volume of powder being sprayed. This is for large flat panels and will provide a lot of powder wrap.
Repaint Setting: This setting is for a previously painted part that needs more powder for cosmetic or performance reasons. The kVs are reduced, as is the powder volume, since there is already powder on the part.
Faraday Cage Setting: This setting lowers the kVs, restricts current µAs, and reduces the powder flow percentage to allow powder to penetrate difficult-to-reach corners and angles.
Custom Settings: These are the settings that you use with a specific powder or part. The fourth preset is reserved for custom settings. (On the Wagner controller, you have up to 50 available custom settings that can be saved.)