In a high speed hydraulic actuator the usage of seals on the piston surface causes excessive wear on the seals and positional inaccuracies owing to coulomb friction. Hence sealless pistons with sloping surfaces have been tried by some manufacturers of such actuators. Here an attempt is made to analyse systematically the three types of profiles commonly considered for high speed actuators, using Reynolds' differential equation. Analyses are made using an analytical method for one-dimensional flow and using the finite element method for two-dimensional flow. The analyses reveal that single tapered pistons have certain limitations and that double tapered pistons can function successfully under different conditions in hydraulic actuators. It is also shown that friction in these types of pistons is much less than in conventional pistons with seals. © 1990.