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Is it better to spray or roll paint?

Now, this is the million-dollar question, isn’t it?

The long-running debate between decorators is rolling is faster than spraying? Does it take too long to clean out the sprayer making it easier to roll? We have had so many conversations with decorators about the advantages of spraying over rolling.

Before we start, it is interesting to look “over the pond” at what the decorators do in America. This is a huge continent, and there will be a lot of variation across the country. I am going to generalise. The yanks spray more than we do in their houses. A lot of decorators will own an airless paint sprayer, and even DIY decorators use them. Airless sprayers are available in all the large DIY stores.

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Do the yanks spray gun everything?

No, decorators will spray around 60% of their work, it does not always make sense to spray, and brushes and rollers will always have a place. To answer whether it is better to spray paint or roll, we have to start by saying that it depends on what you are painting.

If you are painting a small area, let’s say a wooden porch, then it may be better to use a brush or roller; however, if the finish is really important, it would be better to spray. For the sake of this blog, we are going to assume that we are painting a good area, a large area or a full house.

Okay, so what do we mean by better?

Some decorators would define “better” as the method they are most comfortable with; they say things like“ I have always rolled my walls are I am good at it, I have never sprayed, so I think rolling is better.” They might define better as the method that they already have tools for, so they say, “I already have a number of rollers and scuttles, so that is better for me.

However, using these criteria, in 1920, a horse and cart were better than a car, yet here we are in the next century, and everyone now has a car. Why? Well, a car is faster, easier and less hassle than a horse and cart.

What do we think “better” means?

When it comes to painting, we think there are two things that make any process better. They are the speed at which the task is carried out and the finish that you achieve. Rollers took over from brushes as the primary method of paint application on walls because they were faster and therefore better. Let us explore each one to see who wins.


Even on pretty small areas, a sprayer is a much faster way to apply paint than a roller and, therefore, a better method of paint application. Some would argue that this is not the case; they say that they could roll the work faster after masking and setting up the sprayer. We disagree and think that this thinking comes from the fact that decorators don’t like change, and they are convincing themselves that rolling is better.

We have done many real-life studies where we have rolled an area and then masked and sprayed an area, and spraying is almost always faster. It is only really tiny areas where the roller gets the advantage. On massive areas, over 1000m2, then a roller has no chance of competing on speed. Even on areas around 100m2 (an average room), a sprayer is faster.

Set up and masking do not take long once you get some experience, and cleaning out a roller at the end in many cases can take longer than a sprayer. Typically, a sprayer is around four times faster than a roller.

Round one: The sprayer wins! A sprayer is better than a roller when it comes to the speed of application.


You may be thinking that a sprayer is better than a roller when it comes to finishing, and of course, we would agree, or you may be thinking that you get an excellent finish with a roller, and a sprayer could not do any better.

First, it all depends on what you are painting. If you are painting a wall in matt emulsion, then we don’t think the finish is quite as critical. I believe an excellent decorator could roll a wall in matt emulsion to a nice standard that would match a sprayer. If you looked closely, the sprayer would be better, but it would be marginal in that situation.

The difference in the finish is more obvious on ceilings, and a sprayed ceiling would be better than a roller finish. Finally, on the woodwork, especially with water-based paints, the finish you can achieve with a sprayer is superior to the one you can achieve by roller.

Round two: The sprayer wins! A sprayer gives a better finish than a roller.

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