4.1 Tools and equipment

When you are purchasing your tools and equipment, always ensure that you are doing your research and only deal with reputable suppliers. Reading online reviews and carefully reading product descriptions will help to ensure that what you are buying does exactly what it says on the box! Let’s look at all of the tools and equipment you will need to do your role efficiently and safely.

Spray tanning machines

There are a number of spray tan machines and options available on the current market, and it can sometimes be easy to get caught up in manufacturers hype. The main features of spray tan machines that are marketed include, but are not limited to, power output, reliability, hot or cold air, and dry off functions. In terms of sunless tanning machines, there tend to be three main types – spray guns, airbrush systems and automatic booths:

Spray guns (HVLP & LVLP)

Airbrush systems
Automatic booths

The simple fact is that almost all spray tan machines on the current market were created for another purpose other than professional spray tanning. Most machines currently sold were originally designed to spray paint cars, outdoor house painting or other large scale painting jobs. Other spray tan machines have been specifically designed for smaller-scale jobs such as airbrush makeup, sanitary cleaning, or painting model figurines. Regardless of the model, spray tan manufacturers use these exact same equipment designs and re-brand them for tanning to save money on product creation.

Spray guns designed for spray painting are well built and exceptionally reliable, and because of their durability, these types of machines can be awfully expensive as they are designed for rigorous industrial use. Tanning products can be used in these types of spray guns; however, because they were designed to spray a much thicker product than spray tan solution, there tends to be over-saturation on the client’s skin and a lot of unnecessary oversprays. Oversaturation of the client’s skin can compromise the overall finish of the tan, and it can also waste a lot of product, which can be very costly when you are tanning multiple clients a day. Spray guns designed for paint also tend to be quite loud, which can make it really difficult to chat with your clients and can impact the limited time you have to educate them and upsell aftercare products!

Unfortunately, many spray tan brands use these machines knowing full well that the machines will cause overspray because more spray means that you will need to order more tanning solution, which increases their profitability and decreases yours! You will see terms such as HVLP and LVLP as features of particular spray guns.

Key phrase | HVLP & LVLP: High volume, low pressure (HVLP) tanning machines are the most popular on the market because they are simple to use, relatively light and can be used in salon and when performing mobile spray tans. Like HVLP, low volume, low pressure (LVLP) spray guns also operate at a lower pressure (LP); however, they tend to be a lot nosier than HVLP systems and require more skill and precision.

The main difference between HVLP and LVLP spray guns is the PSI. Pounds per square inch (PSI) is a common unit of pressure, and you will find PSI measurements on any equipment with a pressure gauge! LVLP spray guns will usually operate with around 1 PSI of pressure, whereas HVLP spray guns will operate with higher pressures of anywhere between 4 and 10 PSI. These differences in PSI allow for different applications. HVLP machines tend to be much faster and quieter, whereas LVLP systems will tend to allow more precision and will give a very even coat. HVLP and LVLP relate to both spray gun systems and airbrush systems.

The main difference between spray tan machines and airbrush systems is that spray guns are designed to cover larger areas quickly, meaning you can apply a full application in 15 minutes or less. If you decide to use an airbrush, it can take up anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes for a full tan application because they are designed for smaller areas such as makeup, nails and tattoos.

Did you know: The first Airbrush was invented in 1879 by Abner Peeler using mostly spare parts from a jeweller’s workshop; 4 years later, a company by the name of Liberty Walkup began marketing Peeler’s invention. In 1893 Thayer and Chandler Art Materials presented the first modern airbrush at the World Columbian Exposition in Chicago; this device resembled the body of a pen and functioned similarly to the way the modern airbrushes do today.

Most of the spray tanning equipment you will use will have an air compressor system or turbine systems. An air compressor system uses compressed air, which is generated by the air compressor, which feeds the required volume of air to your spray gun. Turbine systems, on the other hand, draw sufficient air into the unit, which is then transferred through the hose providing the required air atomisation needed.

Of course, you can use whatever system works for you; however, turbine systems are generally a lot lighter and will usually have less overspray and wastage. The spray gun you have in your kit is the Tan Lite 32000 Spray Tanning Machine. This is a lightweight spray tan machine which makes it ideal for both salons and mobile tanners, and it uses Micro-Whirlwind Technology (turbine system) to enable accurate and streak-free tanning.

Here are the features of the Tan Lite 32000 Spray Tanning Machine in your kit:

Tan Lite 32000 Spray Tanning MachineFeatures
  • Ideal for any tanning professional: lightweight for mobile tanners, powerful for high-volume salons.
  • Powerful atomisation & variable speed control for flawless, touch-dry & streak-free results like never before
  • Reduced overspray: save up to 40% of spray tan solution per full body application. Less overspray = more profit.
  • Increased control: precision stainless steel one-touch control with variable flow dial
  • Professional airflow with Micro-Whirlwind Technology
  • Applicator provides a fine, smoother skin finish result with its unique micro-needle that allows the solution to absorb deep into the skin

Machines that were originally created for airbrush makeup application can be used for tanning but are usually very quiet and very slow at application. Although you don’t have much product wastage, you will find that the actual spray tan service can take a lot longer and costs you money in service times, as well as inconvenience for your customers. So, should you stick with the awesome Tan Lite 32000 Spray Tanning Machine or use an airbrush, or have both in your kit? We recommend starting with the Tan Lite 32000, and should you want to advance your skills with contouring and sculpting, then you might consider using an airbrush system. When choosing a spray tan machine, you should look for the following features:

Solution usageHow many spray tans you will get per litre of tan is critical in terms of how much solution your chosen machine will use. This will allow you to know how much overspray and product wastage you should expect, and you might be surprised by the differences between machines. As a rule of thumb, 15-20 spray tans per litre is very economical. Ask your supplier before you purchase their machines the sorts of usage you should expect. If they have the option for you to rent or test out a machine – definitely do it!
MobilityMobility and portability, even in a salon environment, is always so much better, and if you are a mobile spray tanning technician, this will be absolutely essential. Spray tanning is a service that can be done quite easily from many locations, and when setting up a business having a spray tan machine(s) that can allow movement is a huge advantage. If you have a spray tan machine that is too big, bulky or heavy, it will be a massive pain (literally) in the long run.
WarrantyMany suppliers will offer a warranty period, and you will also want to check out the availability of the spare parts. Let’s say you have an option to purchase a machine for $500 and one for $800. Imagine the $500 has minimal spare parts on offer, but the company selling the $800 one does. The $800 machine would be the better option because something break or need replacing; you can do this without having to buy an entirely new machine!
MaintenanceMany industrial designed machines require a lot of maintenance to ensure they are reliable, so you need to factor in the costs of having your equipment regularly maintained.

When it comes to machines that promote ‘dry off’ and hot/cold air functions, this should never be needed when using a good quality spray tan solution and a spray tan machine that does not over-saturate the body with overspray. Spray tan product, when delivered correctly, should be touch dry in minutes. There should also be minimal overspray to ensure an enjoyable experience for the client. If you do want to add in the air blowing experience for clients, we will look more at options later in this module.

It is always ideal to have a backup spray tan machine just in case you need one on a busy day or through equipment malfunction. Could you imagine how horrible it would be if you had a full day of clients and, for some reason, your spray gun stopped working? Not only will there likely be an expense for getting your gun repaired, but you will also lose out on income while it is being fixed. Once you master your skills and start increasing your clientele, having a back up is a must!

If you would like to learn more about spray guns and airbrushing, access the resources linked:

Mobile spray tanning applicator

Many suppliers refer to the ‘gun’ piece of the equipment as the spray applicator. Depending on your preference, you can buy different applicators for your compressor or turbine system. Some suppliers sell these separately, or you may be able to purchase them in a complete kit. See some different applicators below:

In addition to spray applicators, there are also mobile applicators that you can use, which are designed to be used on the go. These are known as mobile spray applicators and are mini-systems that are great for mobile tanning. The advantage of using both the tan lite 32000 unit and a mobile base applicator is that the actual gun heads are interchangeable. This means that if you are setting up a permanent space for spray tanning in your beauty business, you can have the tan lite machine set up in one location, and the mobile connection is an easy way for you to also offer mobile spray tanning services on the go due to its compact nature. All you need to do is disconnect the gun head applicator from the tan lite and reconnect it to the mobile unit, and you are ready to head off to your mobile tanning appointment. For example, mobile spray tanning applicators are shown below:

Tanning tents, booths and extraction units

When it comes to tanning tents and booths, there are so many options available! You can have pop up tents, inflatable tents, semi-permanent booths, open extraction booths and tan pods. If you are planning on doing mobile spray tans, then a tanning tent is an absolute must as they are easy to put up and put down. Tanning booths are more suited to salons or in-home beauty workstations as they are not portable. As a quick comparison, let’s look at the pros and cons of each:

Tanning tentProsCons
  • Portable
  • Lightweight
  • In-expensive
  • Easily replaceable
  • Can look unprofessional in a salon or spa environment
  • Offer very little extraction of fumes and mist created by overspray
Tanning tentProsCons
  • Head to toe extraction of overspray
  • Includes additional LED lighting from the top down
  • The turbine of the spray tan machine is located behind the booth keeping the filter cleaner for longer and typically means the unit is in better condition for a longer period of time
  • Offers a far more professional looking setup for salon and spa setups
  • Not portable
  • Large financial investment initially

When you are starting out, a tanning tent will be perfectly fine. If you are worried about ventilation, tanning tents do have the ability to add a mobile spray tan extraction filter, and these can sit at the bottom or back of the enclosure. Portable extraction devices can also be used in small rooms, bathrooms, shower recesses or many of the places you may end up having to spray tan if your business is to be a mobile service. Although mobile spray tan extraction units do offer extraction of overspray, it is really only an advantage to you as the technician for keeping the enclosure clean. The reason being the process of the overspray falling toward the ground before it would get sucked into the extraction unit means that the client does not have any initial benefit of a ‘clean air’ type of environment.

Tanning booths offer the most comprehensive extraction for a spray tan setup. They are usually very tough, resilient and made with stain-resistant materials. Most tanning booths also act as a tanning station and will usually have inbuilt lighting and extraction fans. As your business grows and you begin to fill up your schedule, a tanning booth can be an excellent investment in terms of practicalities, and it will also look a lot more professional than a pop-up tent!

In terms of extraction units, there are heaps on the market, and much like all things tanning, do not be fooled by the cunning marketing tactics of suppliers. The key factors to look for when selecting a spray tan extraction unit are:

  1. The strength of the extraction fan (which is usually indicated by the power output in Watts (W) or fan speed).
  2. The weight of the unit. There is no point in purchasing an extraction fan for mobile spray tanning if it is heavy and hard to move around.
  3. How easy it is to change and wash/replace filters.
  4. Noise levels which are specified in decibels (Db)

Extraction devices can range anywhere from under $100 to a few thousand dollars. In addition to the factors above, it really comes down to how many clients you are tanning and the setup of your workspace.

If you would like to learn more about tanning tents, booths and extraction devices, access the resources linked:

Air blower/fan

As mentioned earlier, if you use high-quality products, then you will not need any air blowers or fans to dry the solution as it will be dry within minutes! However, some tanning booths and spray tanning systems will have this feature, so if they do, you can always use them if you like. If you want an air blower, they work using compression systems, and they will have a hose attachment that looks similar to a vacuum cleaner – but of course, air blows instead of suction . You may also be able to get an air hose attachment for your spray tanning system, which will work as well. The example on the left is a generic air blowing system, and the blower on the right shows the air hose attachment:

Having an air blower or fan is nice to have and not essential in your kit. It is much better for you to invest in top quality tanning solutions rather than air blowers!

Floor mats

There are no floor mats specifically for spray tanning, but you can easily pick up non-slip mats online or at your local homewares store or hardware store. Non-stick floor mats can be really useful to ensure that your clients do not slip on any overplayed solution and to ensure that solution is not trampled onto your client’s carpet if you are tanning someone in their home! While not essential, they can be useful and are relatively inexpensive.

Access the resources linked for some floor matt ideas:

Buffing mitts and blending brushes do what their names suggest – they buff and blend product! Many of the blending brushes available can actually be sourced from makeup suppliers, although many tanning suppliers will also sell the brushes. There isn’t really a right or wrong with buffing mitts and blending brushes; you will soon learn which tools you prefer using.

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