Spray Paint Vs Spray Gun – What’s The Difference?

Spraying paint makes DIY projects more effortless than ever before. A simple spray, and you're left with a clean finish! Spray cans have also become widely used for home projects rather than just graffiti or art projects. When deciding which is right for your job, how do you decide between the two?  

If you’re looking to answer which is ideal for your furniture touch-up or for your back patio furniture, look no further! This guide will look into spray paint vs spray gun and which is more effective in its use.  

Spray paint, or aerosol paint, has existed since the late 1940s as a method of quickly and evenly applying paint [1]. Inside, the paint is mixed with pressurized gas or compressed air.  

The valve button at the top is pressed to release the paint quickly through a small dip tube to release a fine mist. It comes mostly in oil, but also in enamel, gloss, matte, and stain, to name a few. They’re used for smaller-scale projects like sprucing up furniture or fixing scuffs on your patio.  

In every major city you'll see graffiti that's notoriously hard to remove. This is almost always done with spray paint. Their portable method makes it an easy way to use anywhere you need to.

It works well on brick, wood, aluminum, or ceramics. It’s cost-effective, too. Spray cans can retail for as little as $5, making it a much cheaper renovation tactic. 

You may find it harder to find exact matches or colors you like with spray cans, as you’re only limited to the options available at retail. And if you’re using them on a larger surface, be prepared to fork out for more than one can.

If you’re going for higher-quality sprayers, the price can add up. Ultimately, homeowners choose spray cans to spruce up or for small-scale DIY projects. 


  • Quick Use 
  • Easy Application 
  • Cheaper 
  • Portable 
  • Clean Finish 


  • Not suitable for big projects 
  • Limited paint options 
  • Only One Type Of Sprayer 
spray paint

Spray Guns (Overview, Pros & Cons) 

The spray gun is an innovative piece of tech; it works similarly to a spray can, but the compressed air is made through a mechanism attached to the gun. There are different models that can have compressed air fed directly through a tube or pneumatic pistons pushing the paint out. 

An HVLP model (as an example) comes with a fan, a spray nozzle and trigger, and a cup or tank for the paint and is usually chorded.

When you pull the trigger, the paint is pulled from the cup and mixes with the air from the fan to create a fine mist that is applied to walls or fences. Some models come with different nozzles and settings to help your application, and they will cover a bigger surface area.  

You can use lots of different paints; emulsion, matte, gloss, chalk, or milk-based. The paint doesn't require much thinning, and most sprayers will work even with unthinned paint.

They're designed for bigger projects with large surfaces. While the retail price can be expensive, you’ll save money in the long run by only having to buy paint for later use.  

A spray gun is easy to use, but for novices, it can be tricky. Many users find on their first try that paint will have lots of air bubbles, or will spurt rather than spray.

It can also be a hassle to clean up; the paint can dry up and clog the flow or stick to the cup if not done quickly. But with correct use and a bit of practice, the spray gun is an excellent method of painting. 


  • Quick Application 
  • Bigger Coverage 
  • Works With All Paints 
  • Requires Little Thinning 
  • Different Models For Different Jobs 


  • Difficult To Master 
  • Expensive 
  • Requires Electrical Input 
paint sprayer

Spray Paint Vs Spray Gun: Key Differences Explained 


It should come as no surprise that a spray gun will give you a better finish. A spray can gives you an even coat and a clean spray, but a spray gun doesn’t use gasses or chemicals which could affect the coat.

You’re also able to choose the paint you use, which means you can use better quality paints as opposed to the can. You’re also more likely to get splatter from a spray can, which can affect the job.  

Verdict: Spray guns let you choose the quality rather than settle for what’s given 

Surface Coverage 

Depending on your project, a spray can might just be better for your coverage. If you’re freshening up your garden furniture, a spray can would be better and cheaper. For painting a fence you’re going to want a spray gun 

Objectively, a spray gun will have more coverage; you’ll be able to paint a bigger surface and more than one object. But determining which one is better comes down to the type of project you’re working on.  

Verdict: A spray gun has more coverage, and a spray can covers more detailed or smaller areas.  

Ease Of Use

With a spray can, you simply remove the lid, remove any safety mechanisms, and you're good to go! They’re widely used in art, DIY projects or for doing graffiti because they’re so simple. 

A spray gun, while easy to use, can take some time to master. In your first few attempts, you'll find the paint will splatter a lot more because you need to find the right pressure point on the trigger. Most models will come with a tester sheet to practice spraying on before moving on to your main project.  

Verdict: Spray cans take the title with easy application and spray technique.  

man using paint sprayer


Both methods of spraying aren’t the cleanest; they both can drip or produce paint bubbles. Spray cans also frequently overspray, which leads to dripping that needs to be fixed.

You may also find that a spray can tends to leave tiny drops of paint surrounding the area. Cleaning up after a successful job is pretty simple; throw the can away. Check if you could even recycle it.  

With a spray gun, you'll get a cleaner job with fewer splatters or drips, but cleanup is much more complicated, especially when cleaning HVLP guns.

You need to disassemble the gun each time and clean every component thoroughly to avoid clogs. The paint cup will need a good scrub, too, so that old paint won't mix with any different paints you might use.  

Verdict: Spray can’s can be messier, but with easy cleanup. Spray guns provide cleaner finishes but need a thorough cleaning.  

Environmental Impact 

We're told regularly that aerosols are bad for the environment. Spray paint is no different; using them contributes to ground-level ozone, and, if not disposed of correctly, can lead to hazardous waste for landfills.

Ultimately, a spray gun is much more environmentally friendly [2], as it’s reusable after cleaning. The fan doesn’t contain any pressurized gasses either. It does use mains electricity, but the overall effect is much less.  

Verdict: Spray guns are more environmentally friendly than spray cans.  


Spray paint doesn't produce the same quality finish as a spray gun. In fact, if you’re working on a car, users recommend using a polishing compound to get a gloss finish. Generally, using poor-quality paint sprays will leave a botched job. This can be avoided by buying higher-quality paints.

Spending all that money seems pointless; however, a spray gun will naturally give you a cleaner finish with little after work. If you're repairing chipped paint, spray paint might be ideal. For bigger projects, a spray gun might be your best option. 

Verdict: Spray paints don’t deliver the same high-quality finish as a spray gun.  

Spray Paint Vs Spray Gun FAQs

Can you use all different paints in a spray gun? 

It depends on the type of sprayer; latex paint can be used in an airless sprayer with no thinning.

An HVLP model will work better with oil-based paints, but latex would clog the components. Pneumatic sprayers work well with acrylic paints. Ultimately, it depends on the type of sprayer vs type of paint you have.  

Do paint guns use more paint? 

Yes. Paint guns will use more paint because of the vaporization process. When the paint is sprayed, it’s turned into tiny droplets that 99% will attach to the surface. Other droplets will just drift with the wind. This makes for more wasted paint and will require refilling.  

Does spray paint save time? 

Paint spraying is faster than spray guns, as they require less setup and cleanup. They’re also using an aerosol base, which will work faster than a fan or air compression.  

What base is spray paint? 

Commonly, spray paint is oil or water-based. This is because an oil base doesn’t usually need a primer coat, and they’re durable. Spray paint will attach to most surfaces you spray on, even ones that are beyond their prime.  


Deciding on a spray gun vs spray paint for your DIY projects doesn’t have to be complicated, and finding what's right for your project is a necessary process. Now with the knowledge of both, you can choose what's right for your needs and what will give you the best outcome.

Spray guns generally are more durable but cost more and require more maintenance, and a spray can is quick and easy, but you risk an uneven spray. Whatever you choose, spray with confidence and get your projects the love they deserve.  


1. https://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/06/magazine/who-made-spray-paint.html

2. https://www.epa.gov/saferchoice/hvlp-spray-guns-cost-effective-environment-friendly-technology