Paint Sprayer Or Paint Roller: Which is the Best For You?

A painter’s job is one that requires not only skills but also proper equipment. A person’s skills in handling the job come from experience. While it affects his output of the job, the result can still be enhanced or made better if he is using the right equipment.

That is why when it comes to proper equipment the debate as to whether a paint sprayer is better than a roller has been around for a long time now.

Paint brush and rollers have been around the industry ahead of the sprayer so that they are already tried and tested. Rollers are excellent for covering large, flat areas quickly.

This is why it is the obvious choice when painting a wall or a ceiling. If that is the case, why should you choose a paint sprayer over a paint roller?

undercoat paint

Do I paint or do I roll? That’s a question most painters will ask themselves at least once in their lives. Rollers work best on smooth flat surfaces like ceiling and walls.

So, if you’re only painting one moderately sized room, the roller is the way to go. You’ll have it done in a snap. But for the trim, I’d choose a sprayer with a fine finish 215 or 315 tip.

Using a roller to paint trim like baseboards is very unwieldy and a brush just doesn’t cut it if you want a professional finish. 

Rollers are likely to result in a stippling effect and with brushes, the brush stroke will be visible. If you don’t have an airless system like most contractors, try a small portable HVLP system, which is easy to use and can get into all the nooks and crannies and can handle the finer details of the trim.

If you’re painting multiple rooms or one giant room, then it’s worth breaking out your airless system for the walls and using the roller just for the ceilings. The contractors I’ve consulted always advise using a roller to do ceilings because sprayers tend to leave lag marks. But, if you’re painting the walls, ceiling and the trim with the same paint using the airless for the entire job makes sense.


Which Is Best For Exterior Painting Jobs?

Black and decker roller painting wall blue

If you’ve got a lot of time and need an upper-arm workout, sure, go ahead and use the roller on the exterior of your home. It’s tolerable exercise if your house is small and the walls are smooth.

Rolling uneven surfaces like cladding is perfectly possible but it’ll take longer. If time is an issue, the sprayer is the much better option. 

It’s worth remembering that if the surface you’re spraying is porous like stucco or wood, back-rolling is advised. That’s where you go over your sprayed surface with a roller.

The advantage is that it leaves a more uniform finish overall. Back-rolling is usually a two-person job because the paint needs to be wet when back-rolled.

If you’re painting the trim or soffits the same color as the walls, then you can just spray them. If not, most contractors just use a small 4-inch roller on the trim, which does the job really well. 

Also when choosing between a roller and sprayer, consider what your house is surrounded by, like fencing, established decking or playground equipment. If close enough to the house, they might get covered by overspray, which you definitely don’t want. It might be better to use a roller in these cases.


Paint Sprayer vs Roller - Efficiency of Results

Woman painting interior brick wall

Paint rollers have their place in both DIY and professional markets. This is also true of paint sprayers. Virtually anything a roller can do, a sprayer can do just as well or better. What matters the most is the result and how efficient the project is for you to achieve the final product.

Below I cover some of the factors in both efficiency and getting the results you are after by comparing paint sprayers to rollers in various categories.


Even Finish

The paint roller, just like the paintbrush, does not always produce even finishes. The paint would usually be thicker where you initially landed the roller and gets thinner as you go on. This means that you have to make extra effort to even them out. However, even doing that would not yield a completely smooth finish.

The paint sprayer lets out a fine mist of paint so that it evenly covers the area it encounters. As a result, the finish is a lot smoother and even.


Ease and Comfort

Spray painters also provide ease and comfort for its user. With paint rollers, you would need to strain your arms so much because of the need to exert effort in controlling the roller. The longer time you spend on a project, the more tiring it becomes. Not so with spray painters.

Spray painters are lightweight and very easy to control. You only need one hand to point it and move around as you go through the project. This means that you can easily switch hands to allow the other to rest. This is something you cannot do with most rollers.

Wide Range of Uses

Perhaps the greatest advantage of a paint sprayer vs. roller is that it can do not only the roller’s job but also that of the paintbrush. Paint rollers would be inappropriate for small areas as well as for nooks and corners of walls. For these, you would need to cut in with a paintbrush. On the other hand, spray painters can easily deal with any project, big or small, flat surfaces or not.

Speed

When all things are considered, a paint sprayer is faster. Even with the initial setup, you can be painting and finished quicker with a sprayer than you can a roller. However, a roller has a much easier cleanup process, which can make the project end at the same time, no matter which method you use.

The actual paint job, though it is done much faster with a sprayer. If you are looking for a quick application of paint, a sprayer is the better option. If, however, you don’t want to spend a lot of time doing maintenance and cleaning, the roller is a better option.

Cost

One important factor is the overall cost. Initially, a paint sprayer will cost more than a roller. You need to purchase the machine, tips, paint, and other materials or tools. With a roller, you need the roller, the paint and drop cloths, and perhaps a telescoping handle.

A paint sprayer will also go through more paint than a roller will, so the added cost of the paint should be a factor as well. In the long run, though, a paint sprayer will end up being a wiser investment. With minimal purchases after the initial cost, a paint sprayer will only cost you in supplies that you will normally buy anyway (sanders, drop cloths, etc.) and perhaps some new tips or nozzles.

A roller is generally good for a few uses and then needs to be replaced. While you can keep the handles, you still need to buy new rollers every time. If you are doing a lot of projects, the final costs can even out or even begin to benefit the paint sprayer.

Safety

One good thing about paint rollers is that there is little worry in the way of safety. You still need to use goggles and respirators, of course, but a paint sprayer poses other issues. Static electricity build-up, for example, is a common occurrence. This can lead to sparks that can ignite paint fumes or the fumes and liquids of your cleaning supplies.

Extra precautions are needed for paint sprayers versus their roller counterparts. However, with proper care and use, these are minimized anyway.


What Is A Paint Sprayer Pressure Roller?

Head of black and decker roller

It’s what you get when you cross a paint sprayer and a roller. And it offers the best of both worlds.

You can buy a pressure roller as an attachment for most airless sprayers.

It simply attaches to the end of your spray gun with an extension rod and you would use it similarly to you would an ordinary roller.

The roller itself is specially adapted and has holes in it to distribute paint. The roller cover also has corresponding holes.

The pressure roller has a number of advantages over normal rolling. It is a lot faster, for one. 

Because it is constantly fed with paint, you don’t have to stop painting to dip your roller in the paint. As a result, the finish should be better with no lapping marks and patchy paint distribution. And despite it being a pressurized system, there is very little overspray.

It also cuts out the need for back-rolling, so the amount of work you have to do is dramatically reduced. You’ll even have time to sit back afterwards and enjoy your work.


Best Paint Rollers Reviewed


1. Graco Pressure Roller (Kit)

Graco 244512 Pressure Roller Kit
  • Attaches directly to the spray gun with no...
  • EvenFlow capability prevents dripping and...
  • Lighter design for less fatigue
  • Can use on Airless Spray Guns with a 7/8"...

The Graco comes with a stainless steel 9” roller frame, a 45 deg swivel adapter, a 20” extension and a ½” nap cover. The roller attaches directly onto any sprayless gun with a 7/8” thread, so you don’t necessarily have to use it with a Graco airless system. It works great where you can’t use an ordinary airless spray system, like outdoors in a breeze or indoor spaces that are finished and furnished. There is much less overspray than with a sprayer.

It is slower than an airless but can get the job done in half the time it would take you with a roller. Its Evenflow technology means no dripping and ensures even paint distribution. The trick is to keep the pressure at the lowest setting, and only to depress the trigger when you need more paint. Also, make sure the roller is moving when you press the trigger. If you’re used to the speed of an airless without the roller, the slower pace will probably irritate the heck out of you. But your patience will be rewarded with a smooth, even finish.

I have a few gripes though. Because it is made out of stainless steel it is heavy, so be prepared for fatigue to set in at some stage. Another irritation is the synthetic roller cover, which begins to compress over time and is a real hassle to clean. I wish they’d provide lamb’s wool covers, which last so much longer. All in all, if you’re used to the set-up and clean-up of any sprayer system, the Graco is a pleasure to use.

Pros

  • Usable with any sprayer system
  • Easy for anyone to use
  • Doesn’t drip
  • Includes everything you’ll need
  • Comes with a warranty

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Heavy

2. Wagner Pressure Roller (Telescopic)

SideKick Powered Roller
  • This refurbished product is tested and...

The Wagner Pressure Roller with telescopic handle is ideal for painting brick, ceilings, walls, and much more. You don’t need to go through a lot of setup and prep to use the machine. Once you have your painting area prepped, you just need to put the suction hose in any can or bucket of paint and get to work.

For many owners, the biggest downside to this unit is the short power cord. Unless you have a lot of nearby outlets, it would be wise to also invest in a heavy-duty extension cord. Make sure the extension cord has a grounded plug.

With the Wagner Pressure Roller, you can paint up to ten times as fast as with a traditional roller, and you can spend less time cleaning up. Once your project is finished, move the suction tube to a bucket of water and run it through the system until it runs clear.

The telescoping handle allows you to work at greater heights without a ladder for added safety. Proper eye and breathing protection are required, and you should always paint in a well-ventilated area.

Pros

  • Long hose prevents multiple trips up and down a ladder.
  • Faster than a regular roller with less mess.
  • Clean up works with just a bucket of water.

Cons

  • Cannot adjust paint flowrate through the roller.
  • Power cord might be a little short.

Does A Paint Sprayer Use More Paint Than A Roller?

The short answer is yes. There’s no getting away from it. Sprayers can use up to 33% more paint than rollers. A sprayer vaporizes paint so paint molecules hang about in the air, eventually settling on some other surface than the intended target. Painting things like a lattice is especially wasteful because you cannot accurately target the individual strips of wood with the sprayer.

An airless sprayer is much faster than an HVLP sprayer but uses considerably more paint. An airless can gobble up paint at a rate of two gallons a minute. HVLP sprayers, because of the low psi, are much more comparable to rollers in terms of paint usage. The HVLP still uses more paint – maybe up to 20% more – than a roller, but is nowhere near as wasteful as the airless.

Let us take a closer look at how the roller stands against a paint sprayer.

Sprayers vs Rollers: Cleaning, Maintenance & Storage

When it comes to cleaning, rollers are much easier. If you are going to keep the roller for another use, washing it off in warm water (water-based paints) or a water and mineral spirit solution (oil-based paints), a simple soak and scrub, and air dry and you are done.

Paint sprayers are more complicated. You need to flush the system with your cleaning solution, then disassemble the gun, nozzle, and paint cups and clean them thoroughly. Once dry, they can be reassembled. The process isn’t difficult, just time-consuming.

There is no maintenance for rollers. You either wash them or toss them. With a paint sprayer, you do have maintenance. You need to use throat seal liquid (if required), replace tips, nozzles, and filters, as well as lubricate seals and o-rings. While this isn’t required every day, it is more involved than with a roller.

Storage is about the same, though, find a clean, dry spot to put your equipment and cover it to protect against dust and debris. As long as you have ample space for the sprayer equipment, storage isn’t an issue for either the roller or sprayer.



Frequently Asked Questions

What’s the safer option?

Rollers pose much less of a safety hazard than paint sprayers. There are no mechanical parts, electricity, or static build-up to deal with. Personal safety, though, comes with both types of paint applications. Even rollers can spray paint into your eyes or on nearby surfaces.


Which one will last a long time?

Paint sprayers will last a lot longer than a roller. While you will need to replace tips and nozzles, the entire unit will last for years, while a paint roller will last for a single project before needing to be replaced.


Which one is cheaper?

Initially, paint rollers are a much cheaper option. You can purchase a roller handle and a package of rollers for less than $20. However, this cost is needed every time you plan to paint. With a paint sprayer, you can spend hundreds, but you won’t need to do this every time.


Which one is best to use with oil-based paints?

Rollers don’t have much concern with the type of paint you use them for. However, a paint sprayer may or may not be equipped to spray oil-based paints. You will need the right tip, air caps, or nozzles, though, which are readily available.


Which one will give that extra texture look?

Paint rollers will leave a more textured finish. This is just the nature of the material a roller is made with. However, some well-equipped sprayers will have texture tips that can mimic a roller texture when needed.


Conclusion

The next time you would be doing a painting project, it would be more efficient to use a paint sprayer or pressure roller. Either of these options will cover your paint job quicker and easier!


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