Should You Spray On Paint or Roll It?

Materials and tools to paint with a paint roller

The Spruce / Margot Cavin

When you are painting your home's interior or exterior, should you spray on the paint or roll it out with a paint roller?

It's a choice that a few do-it-yourselfers face and it can be quite a dilemma. After all, paint spraying is fast, and no one can doubt that. But what about all of that preparation work?

Paint rolling is slower than spraying, but you're able to lay down a thicker coat. Plus, you'll have less prep work.

Interiors: Roll Out; Exteriors: Spray or Roll

The short answer is that many do-it-yourselfers find it easiest to roll out paint for house interiors, rather than spraying on the paint. That's because the house is occupied. The extensive masking and taping required for an occupied house full of stuff just aren't worth it for most homeowners.

When it comes to house exteriors, though, it can go either way. The lack of a paint sprayer may dissuade some do-it-yourselfers. But the job is usually big enough that it's worth renting a paint sprayer or purchasing an inexpensive sprayer.


Watch Now: Spraying Paint vs Rolling Paint

When You Should Use a Paint Roller

You Haven't Used a Sprayer Before

As a do-it-yourselfer, it's difficult to go wrong with rolling on the paint. Painting professionals agree rolling paint produces a thick paint layer and excellent color consistency. Paint spraying may seem easy at first, but it can be tricky to learn to do well. If you have never used a paint sprayer before, now may not be the best time to learn.

You Don't Like Masking

While you do need to mask out some areas when paint-rolling, it does not compare to the huge amount of masking you will need to do when spraying.

Consider that with paint spraying, every square inch that you don't want to be painted must be masked in film or with a drop cloth. Whatever you neglect to mask when spraying will get painted, like it or not. Rolling vastly reduces the amount of masking you will need to do.

You Are Only Painting Walls

Are you painting only the walls and not the ceiling? This factor may tip things in the direction of paint-rolling for you. When you roll on paint, it is relatively easy to exclude the ceiling. There is no need to use masking film on the ceiling when rolling walls.

You Prefer Simplicity

Roller, roller cover, paint tray, and tray liner: these are your four main painting supplies when rolling. Also, with the roller method, it is easy to jump into your painting project for a while, then put it on pause so you can attend to the rest of your life.

With paint spraying, it is an all-or-nothing project that consumes your entire day.

You Need to Stay Within a Budget

Paint spraying wastes an incredible amount of paint when the atomized paint drifts away. When you use a paint roller, nearly every drop ends up on the surface. The only part of the paint that goes away is the water content that evaporates.

Also factor in the cost of tools. All roller items are inexpensive compared to the purchase and maintenance of a paint sprayer. A good roller setup costs less than $50, while even an entry-level paint sprayer will cost several times that amount.

You Need to Cover a Dirty Surface

While it is always best to thoroughly clean the surface before painting, sometimes this doesn't happen. If so, paint rolling is here to help.

Paint rolling allows you more leeway when the surface isn't perfectly clean. Rolled paint goes on thick on the initial coat.


Professional painters have a clever technique that combines the best of spraying and rolling: back-rolling. Paint is sprayed on the wall then is quickly rolled down, fusing the droplets together.

When to Spray On Paint

While rolling has its points, paint sprayers do exist for a good reason: they are fast. You may wish to use a paint sprayer if some of these conditions are met.

When the Interior Is Empty

When the room is in the early phases of building or remodeling, it is a blank canvas. This canvas lends itself well to paint spraying.

You can spray with abandon, masking off only a few key areas such as plumbing stub-outs, electrical boxes, and windows. When a room is at this point of remodeling, it will always be faster to spray than roll the paint.

When Painting an Exterior With a Clear Perimeter

Exteriors with mature landscaping, extensive decking, sunrooms, playsets, garages, and anything else close to the house that will not be painted significantly drags down your preparation time.

A clear perimeter means that you need to mask items on the house and less around the house, though it's usually expected that you'll need to lay out a cloth dropcloth directly below the wall.

When You Have Details and Texture of the Same Color

Paint sprayers make short work of complicated textures, such as those found on crown molding, popcorn or cottage cheese ceilings, built-up baseboards, deep exterior textures, cornices, dentils, or masonry.

Paint sprayers have the ability to work into the narrowest crevices, laying down a thin coat. By contrast, brushing or rolling detailed surfaces can result in pooled-up paint and drips.

Keep in mind that all of the detail work needs to be the same color to warrant using the paint sprayer. Otherwise, using a brush is the best way to paint detail work of more than one color.

When the Project Is Masked and Taped

If you don't mind masking and taping surfaces—and some people may like the precision of it—then spraying on paint is for you. That's because you will need to do extensive taping and masking if you don't have a wide-open, empty canvas.

If you're working with a partner, this is the perfect way to split up the labor: one person tapes and masks, then the second person sprays the paint.