Paint Sprayer Basics to Know Before You Buy

Paint sprayer spraying white paint on unfinished wall

The Spruce / Margot Cavin

If you have ever painted a house, you know how much fun it is to wield a paint roller or brush for hours on end. Paint rollers have their strong points: They lay down a thick coat of paint fairly quickly and the roller covers are easy to change out. Paintbrushes are great for small, detailed work and they can be cleaned and reused nearly endlessly.

But rollers are a chore to reload with paint, and brushes are very slow. The natural solution seems to be to use a paint sprayer. Pulling the trigger and laying down a wide mist of paint, while better than rollers and brushes in many ways, does have its drawbacks.

Paint Sprayers Pros and Cons


  • Paint sprayers allow you to cover broad surfaces faster and with less effort than with paint rollers or brushes. A 4-foot by 8-foot section of the wall that would take over five minutes with a roller can be paint-sprayed in about a minute.
  • Paint sprayers allow you to override bumps, gaps, cracks, and other surface imperfections that cause problems for paint rollers or brushes. Detail work is easy with paint sprayers. So, the many corners and trim work on cabinets, for example, are simple to paint with a paint sprayer.
  • With paint sprayers you can, with practice, achieve a more even coat than with rollers and especially with brushes. Even though you still need to be aware of overlapping, it is far less of a factor when you are working with paint sprayers.
  • Because of the mist and the potential for overspray, paint sprayers are a tough sell for do-it-yourselfers doing small-area interior painting. At the same time, paint sprayers are almost made for exterior painting: few problems with overspray, the ability to override the inevitable imperfections found on exterior siding, and the ability to cover wide swaths in one motion.


  • Preparation work for painting with a paint sprayer is far more than with rollers or brushes. Every surface that will not be painted must be covered.
  • Cleaning paint sprayers have to be factored into the entire time cost of the project. Unlike brushes or rollers, there are no half-measures or cheats in cleaning sprayers–it is all or nothing and it must be done immediately before the paint dries in the gun or tubing.
  • Paint sprayers are usually a poor choice for small painting projects. You may spend more time with preparation work and with clean-up than you would with the actual painting. Consequently, paint sprayers are best suited for large painting projects—a rarity for most do-it-yourself painters.

Airless Cup Gun vs. Cart Paint Sprayers

Cup Gun Sprayers

Paint sprayers start cheap and get expensive fast. Professional painters have paint sprayers running into the thousands of dollars. As a do-it-yourselfer, you may choose to start with a simple, less expensive type of paint sprayer often called a cup gun sprayer.

Cup-style sprayers are electrically operated and consist of a gun that rests on top of a reservoir holding a small amount of paint, usually one quart. You do not need a separate air compressor to push the paint out. This sprayer has its own compressor. All you need to do is plug it into any available electrical outlet.

Price is one of the best things about cup-style paint sprayers, with many good-quality models available for less than $100.

The downside of cup spray guns is that the reservoir depletes quickly. This means frequent infusions of more paint–a process which gets tedious after a while. Also, this type of sprayer has limitations regarding how steeply you can aim the paint spray.

Airless Cart-Style Paint Sprayers

Cart style paint sprayers operate airlessly, too. Most models aimed at the do-it-yourself market are electrically operated.

Cart-style paint sprayers offer two distinct advantages. First, they have a larger reservoir since they can draw from one-gallon and five-gallon paint buckets (this also means that you do not need to clean out a reservoir cup at the end of the workday). Second, they have longer hoses that offer a greater range of mobility. Many cart-style sprayers can even support hoses up to 150 linear feet. This gives you the ability to keep the paint sprayer in one spot and move around the house as you paint.

Cart-style paint sprayers are significantly more expensive than cup-style paint sprayers. Since they are large and bulky, they require more storage room than the cup-style sprayers.