Paint rollers are easy to use, even for beginners, and are cost-effective.
Sprayers use 30% more paint than rollers, so keep that in mind when you budget.
Both painting methods are time consuming and require patience.
Reserve sprayers for outdoor uses or empty, indoor areas.
If you’re planning to tackle a paint job in the near future, you’ve probably faced a choice between two popular application methods: paint rollers vs. sprayers. Both options come with their own benefits and drawbacks, and which one is right for your project depends on several factors—including your budget, DIY capabilities, and the area you’re painting.
Keep reading this comparison guide to understand the similarities and differences between paint sprayers and rollers and decide which method you want to try out.
Paint Rollers Pros & Cons
To decide if a roller is the right choice, you’ll want to evaluate the benefits and disadvantages against the scope of your painting project.
Good for novices: The application process is pretty easy to pick up with paint rollers, and you can easily cover up mistakes.
More cost-effective: Painting with a paint roller only requires a few wallet-friendly materials and utilizes less paint than a sprayer.
Easy cleanup: When you’re finished painting, cleanup is a breeze. Simply rinse your paint roller and paint holder.
Best for interior painting: If you’re choosing between an interior paint sprayer and a roller, a roller requires less preparation and skill. With a roller, you won’t have to cover or mask off surfaces you don’t want to hit with a sprayer.
Time consuming in large areas: If painting several walls or a whole house, utilizing paint rollers can take up a lot of time and energy.
Requires more patience: Mistakes left by paint rollers can be pretty visible. When using a paint roller, it’s important to practice patience.
Not best for all surfaces: A roller isn’t an effective way to paint a textured surface, like popcorn ceilings, brick, or rock. These tools aren’t the best way to get into all the crevices on these surfaces.
Paint Sprayers Pros & Cons
Paint sprayers can be a fantastic choice to cut down on painting time for large projects, but they require some experience—and things can get messy.
Efficient when done correctly: While they take time to set up, paint sprayers finish the job faster; that’s why you usually see pros using a paint sprayer in new builds or remodels that don’t contain finishings or furniture to protect.
Best for texture: Sprayers are extremely good at covering textured surfaces and can make your job go smoother if you’re painting over a textured surface.
Best for exterior painting: It’s usually better to use a roller when painting interior walls because it requires less preparation and skill. But when painting exterior surfaces, sprayers are a superior choice.
Lots of prep work: While the actual painting process is faster, there’s a lot more prep work associated with sprayers than with rollers, including masking areas and filling the tools with paint.
Takes practice: If you’ve never used one before, using a spray painter for the first time can be intimidating and may end up being a costly mishap. If you have space to practice before starting, that would be best. If you prefer not to try your hand at using a paint sprayer, a local wall painter can guide you through the process and get the job done.
More expensive: Sprayers waste a lot of paint and require a lot of gizmos and gadgets. Your first project with a sprayer can be a costly investment.
Paint Rollers vs. Paint Sprayers
Let’s take a closer look at the strengths and weaknesses of each painting method below.
Least Prep Time: Paint Rollers
Painting requires a lot of preparation regardless of what method you use. However, sprayers require more prep work than rollers, as you’ll need to tape off every space where you don’t want paint. In a furnished home, this can be an extremely time-consuming process. This isn't as big of a concern for a complete remodel or a new build.
Most Cost-Effective: Paint Rollers
Painting is expensive, but one method is significantly more cost-effective than the other. Paint sprayers use 30% more paint than rollers, plus some sprayers require an abundance of materials and supplies. If you’re trying to stay within a certain budget, calculate how much paint you’ll need. You’ll go through less paint if you use the best paint rollers.
When talking about efficiency in the painting process, sprayers are much more efficient. But, if you factor in all the preparation and cleanup time required from sprayers, the time is probably evenly split between the two. So, it depends on which part of the process you’re willing to spend extra time on: the painting itself or the before and after.
Ease of Use: Paint Rollers
Both methods involve a bit of skill, but using a paint roller can come more naturally than using a sprayer. For beginners, trying to get an even coat of paint with a sprayer can be difficult, and attempting this method for the first time—after considering the heightened price associated with a sprayer—may cost you a lot more time and money in the long run.
Best Finish: Sprayers
When used correctly, spraying paint leaves a better finish than paint rollers. Sprayers aerate the paint, leaving a smoother appearance without brush strokes or lap marks (differences in color and sheen). However, sprayers can drip or coat a wall inconsistently, just like a paintbrush.
Best for Crevices: Sprayers
Take a look at your nearest crevice, and now look at your paint roller. It’s easy to see why sprayers are the best option here: Paint rollers just won’t fit in tight spaces. Paint sprayers, on the other hand, emit a mist that easily covers any nearby crevice or odd shape. Rollers work well in corners with lots of space to maneuver, but crevices are too tight to wield such a large tool. Go for a sprayer when facing multiple crevices.
Best for Cleanliness: Rollers
Cleanliness is related closely to precision, and rollers easily win out in this category. When using most sprayers, you’ll need to use drop cloths, newspapers, or other coverings to protect your furniture and floors from the powerful streams of paint mist.
Rollers, on the other hand, apply paint exactly where you place them. You still risk dripping paint, but that is easier to clean up than a fine mist of baby blue on everything in the spray zone.
Best for Indoor Projects: Tie
Sprayers and rollers are well matched when it comes to painting indoors as both have equal advantages and disadvantages. Your decision will most likely depend on the scope of the project.
Rollers are more precise but much slower. Sprayers are faster but run the risk of paint mist floating onto furniture and surfaces. Sprayers also tend to create more paint fumes, so it is recommended to mask up even when conducting small projects. You should still wear a mask with a roller if you are painting indoors for long periods of time—fumes are fumes—but you can get by without one if you are doing a quick touch-up.
Best for Outdoor Projects: Sprayers
When working outside, many of the potential problems with sprayers dissipate like a fine paint mist. For one, you get the benefit of speed without the risk of accidentally painting, well, everything in the room. A sprayer can handle painting an old fence in minutes, while a roller would take an hour or so to complete the same task. You also reduce the risk of inhaling paint fumes when you paint outdoors. If your sprayer requires a physical connection to a power outlet, you may hit a snag, but it’s nothing a few extension cords can’t fix.
Best for Empty Houses: Sprayers
A sprayer works quickly, but it’s not always accurate, so what better place to try it out than an empty house where mistakes are easily painted over? Rollers are not as messy, but if you are staring down dozens of bare walls in an empty home, speed is your highest priority, as the repetitive nature of slowly filling in every wall in the house tests the patience of DIYers and pros alike. In other words, put down some protective cloths on the floor and over nearby fixtures and go to town with a paint sprayer.
Taylor Sansano contributed to this piece.