Choosing a Roller, Sprayer, or Brush for Painting Projects

Paint rollers, sprayers, and paintbrushes each have advantages and disadvantages and work best when painting particular areas of your home. Here are the pros and cons of each.

When to Use a Roller, Spray, or Brush for Painting

  • Paint Rollers: Great for painting large, flat areas like walls and ceilings. Since a roller leaves a textured surface, it’s not a good choice where a smooth finish is desired—such as on woodwork, trim, and cabinets. If a roller is used on a smooth surface, the paint should immediately be back-brushed with a paintbrush to give a smoother texture. Shorter nap rollers leave a smoother surface than longer nap rollers.
  • Paint Sprayers: Leaves the smoothest surface, making a sprayer a good choice for finishing cabinets and furniture. While sprayers can be used to paint walls, ceilings, and trim; adjacent areas that won’t be painted must be covered to prevent overspray from the sprayer getting on them. Since paint is usually thinned for spraying, drips and runs can occur if heavy coats are applied.
  • Paintbrushes: Brushes provide a smoother finished surface than rollers, though not as smooth as sprayers, making them a good choice for painting woodwork and trim. Use a high quality brush with an appropriate size for the project at hand. Paintbrushes with angled bristles provide more control for cutting in and painting window sash.

Watch this video to find out more.

Further Information


Danny Lipford: Oftentimes, people are not sure whether to use a brush, a roller, or a spray gun for painting a particular project. Personal preference plays a part, but first consider what kind of finish you want—smooth or textured.

Now, rollers generally create a textured finish, so they’re ideal for walls and ceilings. You can also use them for larger areas of woodwork, but they should always be followed with a brush, something called back-brushing.

Sprayers do create a smooth surface, but they also require you to mask all the adjacent surfaces you don’t want to paint. Often, the additional time that takes negates the time advantage of spraying altogether. That makes them a good choice for a shelf unit that can be painted out in the open, or something like cabinet doors that could be removed from the cabinet prior to coating.

When you want a smooth surface inside, or in close proximity to other surfaces, it’s usually best to use a brush to apply the paint. You’ll have much better control over what you cover and what you don’t.


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