This is a short overview over the most common spray cans (at least in Europe) from various brands. I try to show the difference between the cans and the pros and cons. All available data sheets and the brand web sites are linked.
Note: Experience with cans is always subjective and not facts. YMMV. No guarantee for correctness.
For a cap list see here.
Spray paint is not medicine. Even if the paint does not contain heavy metals like lead and other poisonous ones anymore today, it still uses orgainc solvents. Most of them, like Acetone, are declared as Xi (irritant), but all spray paints also contain solvents declared Xn (Harmful). These are Xylenes, Ethylbenzene, 2-Butoxyethanol, and Naphtha. The MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) for the spray paints shows the following values after summing up the Xn ingredients (sorted by the maximum value) – just to give you a rough idea of how much it actually is:
|Brand||Percentage of Xn|
|Montana Gold||14–29 %|
|mtn 94||15–30 %|
|mtn Hardcore 2||15–30 %|
|mtn Alien||15–37.5 %|
|mtn Hardcore||15–37.5 %|
These don't only get into your body by inhalation but also by skin contact. And, to quote Ironlak’s MSDS, Xn may mean:
While temporary (reversible) symptoms like skin/eye irritation and drowsiness are something you can live with, chronic diseases are most likely not something you want. Most important protection measures are mask and gloves. The mask must have at least an organic filter (A1 or better) and a particle filter (P1 or better). I’d go for A2P2. With the mask on, you should not smell the vapours of the spray paint anymore, otherwise the filter is used up.
Note that organic filters contain active carbon which gets used up on constant air contact. If not used, put it into a plastic bag or box and seal it, otherwise it constantly filters air. You do not want this because eventually they are used up.
Masks are particularly important when working inside where air circulation is low and you start working in a haze of spray paint droplets and organic solvents. When working, we breathe around 1000 liters of air per hour. That’s a lot of paint. Therefore: Ensure air circulation. Open the windows and, if available, use ventilators.
In a nutshell:
Most metal colours are identical. Silver always looks the same (which is quite easy since basically only aluminium powder is used. Copper additionally contains red paint, and Gold something in-between. Ironlak Gold has a greenish tint, making it look like white or yellow gold, Hardcore 2 Gold leans towards copper and is tinted more reddishly.
Molotow sells a special kind of metal paint, the action burner line: The can does not contain any peas. It still needs to be shaken however.
Another difference is how well the paint sticks to paper. I testet this by sticking some masking tape over the dry painted paper and removing it. The previously mentioned Action Burner silver is the worst and behaves almost like a thin plastic film that you can rip off in a piece, none of the tape was uncovered. Absolute winners were the Ironlak and Molotow Premium where no paint at all sticked to the tape! The Hardcore (2) cans lie between, about half of the paint got removed, but it still sticks ways better than the Action Burner silver.
Different brands use different solvents – which, in some cases, are incompatible. The image on the right resulted from painting with Molotow over a half-dry layer of mtn 94. You do not want to do that. A strange effect can also be observed when painting with Montana Gold over wet mtn 94; the paint appears to react like an acid and creates little blebs.
To prevent those effects from happening, you can:
The original Spanish brand. (A German company called itself Montana as well after they saw the original Montana brand was successful and failed to acquire it. The spanish brand calls itself mtn colors since.)
mtn colors have two different kinds of paint: High pressure (Hardcore and Hardcore 2) and low pressure (the rest). Only low-pressure cans are suitable for detailed artwork, the high pressure cans are more the on/off types, lacking fine can control, but they have higher output if necessary.
Introduced in 2009.
Can be controlled very well. Produces bigger drops than other cans due to the low can pressure. Some colors tend to cause caps to clog and drip quickly when it is cold (5 °C and below), especially when working slowly, i.e. not with full output. A summer can, but beautiful to work with. Black is not matt.
Smells good, reminds of pepper balls (the sharp ones that taste like cinnamon). (Remains hazardous to health nevertheless.)
The 94 has been updated around 2011. Before the donuts (colour rings) have been spray painted and the surface felt rough. The new ones use colourized plastic (feels smooth) and smell sweeter, like the 2G. The 94 fluor smell different again, much sweeter.
The 94 cap (slightly transparent white, grey dot) does not create a circle pattern like most other caps but a dot pattern. Cool cap and may seduce you to use it all time. For sharper (or harder) edges give the Universal a chance.
Some colours tend to clog the 94 cap and other skinny caps. I noticed this especially with the light Party Yellow where the cap is clogged already before used ;) Others though, like Jase Blue in the image, work for ages with the same cap. Shaking regularly helps.
The Nitro 2G (400 ml) is very similar to the mtn 94 regarding the handling. The difference is that 2G is specially designed for covering silver that is not yet dry, and comes with a very limited colour range.
There are two versions of Nitro 2G: 400 ml and 500 ml. The 400 ml can (shown in the image) is black only. For the 500 ml can some colours are available. Including — Silver.
This can is, due to its size, not made for filling, but for detail work. It has the same width as the 94 cans.
Introduced in 2004.
Transparent colours can be very useful. Trying to add a dark shade around a black eye fails with an opaque dark grey since the black eye would be covered with grey as well. Transparent Black however would only slightly darken the area.
In the image on the right: Transparent Yellow.
Not only lower (like the Alien) but also narrower than normal cans. Lower pressure than the bigger cans, therefore very good for detail work.
Introduced in Spring 2012.
The updated version of the Hardcore. The handling feels identical (same pressure, most likely same valve), but the paint has been changed. Hardcore paint used to drip quickly, even more in moist weather. Hardcore 2 paint finally feels like an up-to-date paint.
Hardcore 2 cans, like the old Hardcores, have a wider stem diameter and a few caps like the Banana Yellow will only fit on those cans (amongst the ones listed here).
Introduced in 1994.
Comes with a Banana MTN Yellow by default. It is the first spray paint created by Montana.
Some caps will only fot on mtn Hardcore. As for example the new Normal cap or the Banana Yellow.
I sometimes found the paint behave very strangely on paper. Especially Medium Blue would not dry for ages and build drops like no other color. Usually the solution to this is to use less paint, but then the surface looks extremely stainy, unevenly covered. A White can seems to have a broken gasket and drops the whole time.
Ideal for cleaning spray caps (when the paint is still liquid). Or anything else that became dirty. Supports all caps, also the Hardcore ones which do not fit on other cans.
Can also dissolve other synthetic material like, for example, your cool pullover (Not if it is cotton or wool, though.) or other things made of plastic.
Molotow is a German company that e.g. developed the Flowmaster valve which is used in several cans today (also in the low pressure mtn cans).
Introduced in 2011.
This is the updated version of the Molotow Premium with a new colour system (plus additional colours) that has been developed together with MadC. It is labeled Reference Street-Art Colors and not Finest Colors anymore.
The paint still contains the same high-quality car pigments, but feels slightly thicker than the previous version.
The can comes with Belton’s soft cap.
Introduced in 2000.
The paint is more liquid than e.g. Ironlak or MTN 94 paint. When going faster it produces stainy patches instead of simply blank areas when working on paper. (But this is not an issue unless you do not want to color the whole area with paint.) The paint really differs a lot from the other paints. It reminds of spray varnish (which they actually sell as well).
Molotow highlights on their webpage that their paint is using especially small color particles. Clogging caps with the black spray paint I tested was very hard.
It’s a little bit harder to get thin lines with this can than with mtn 94.
Paper bends when painted with Molotow Premium. This is not the case for mtn 94 (and Co.), Sabotaz, and German Montana. Only the 94 Fluor do bend it slightly, and the mtn Zinc spray very much (it is not made for paper but for metal though).
Needs to be shaken really well before using. Cap is harder to press than on other cans (a.k.a. your personal fitness trainer). Thin lines can be drawn easier than with other paints. Stinks! You'll really want to were a mask here. Ironlak has a new series called «low odour» which still smells much stronger than others.
The color of the ironlak pink I tested is strong. Pure pink. Sometimes the can clogged (yes, can, not cap), which seemed really weird to me. Using a Fatcap then solved the problem and I could continue using the Vegan.
Ironlak is the only brand listed here which does not use an iron ball, so it cannot be silenced with a magnet. (For the other cans I use magnets from www.supermagnete.ch, preferredly slices which can hold about 2 kg. Weaker magnets are too weak, stronger ones are hard to remove.)
Ironlak cans come with a Vegan Cap which is colored – guess how – pink.
The sabotaz 80 cans are produced by a company called Cosmos Lac.
Really high pressure. Doing thin lines is very difficult because of the amount of paint expelled by pretty any cap on it. Due to the high pressure and the relatively liquid paint, this can forces you to work in multiple layers. On even surfaces the high gas pressure will sometimes blow fresh paint away if a layer is too fat. Useful: If caps clog with low-pressure cans, they can sometimes be saved (blown clean) with a sabotaz can.
I got best results for «thin» lines using Skinny 94 and Skinny Pro Grey. Due to the high pressure the minimum working distance is over 5 cm (for mtn 94 e.g. you can go as close as possible). Ideal for filling and for haze effects and gradients since the paint dots, when examined closely, are very fine, like dust. Dust is a good keyword: The paint is very «dusty». Use a soft cap, and half of the paint will float around in the air and your lung.
Interesting: An empty sabotaz is empty. There won’t be left even a single drop of paint. Which is really not the case for e.g. Molotow and mtn 94 cans which leave two or three millimeters of paint on the ground.
The (non-original) German Montana.
The Gold lies somewhere between the mtn 94 and the Molotow Premium. Pressure is slightly higher, like a Molotow can, the paint is more opaque like the 94.
When spraying a dot or a thicker layer, this paint starts building bubbles which often stay visible on paper. The same happens when spraying over wet paint with different spray paint (e.g. 94 cans).
Feels identical to the Gold regarding handling and paint.
When not used for a few months, these cans need to be shaken really well. The peas are small, so it happens that they stick to the bottom of the can for some time first. The cans can clog too, waiting a few minutes may fix the problem though. (So it is better to shake well ...)