Is It Better to Spray or Roll Exterior Paint?

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Last updated: October 3, 2023

All the details on whether to spray or roll exterior paint are explained here!

Is it better to spray or roll exterior paint?

The efficiency, effectiveness, and convenience of using modern painting techniques mean that using a paintbrush is out of the question when you want to take on a large painting project. That leaves us with two options: spraying or rolling. 

Is it better to spray or roll exterior paint? Today, we will discuss these two painting techniques to determine the best for your next exterior painting project.

In my comparison, I have considered factors such as ease of use, cost, wastage, weather, equipment, convenience, and ability to cover complex surfaces.

At the end of this guide, you’ll easily make a decision on whether to use rollers or paint sprayers in your next house painting job. Keep reading.

Is It Better to Spray or Roll Exterior Paint

This depends on the painting project and the prevailing circumstances. Spray painting is typically faster, and you can cover even the most complex surfaces. You’ll, however, spend more time on the initial preparation. Rolling is also practical in certain situations, for example, if you’re painting a wide soffit with corbels, or a wall with many obstructions.

When It’s Best to Spray Paint

Suppose you’re painting your house’s exterior wall and come across a section with a broad band of complicated trim at the top of the second story. In this scenario, you’d take just one and a half hours to cover 60 square feet of soffit. 

The one hour would be spent on masking off the wall below the trim, and only 30 minutes to spray paint the wall.

Now that’s something that would take two professional painters with brushes to complete in half a day or five hours at least. It’s one scenario where it’s much better to use a spray can or gun than a brush or rollers. 

The example above shows that the trim should be sanded and primed before installation. The smoother the surface, the more convenient it is to use spray paint instead of rolling. So grab the sprayer, whether it’s aluminum siding, metal meter boxes, or smooth metal fencing. 

When It’s Best to Roll Paint

Setting up a spray painting project takes time. Then you have to factor in the weather, like when it’s windy, it may not be conducive to spraying. 

If these factors outweigh the advantage of speed in spray painting, better use the roller or brush. Let’s say you want to paint the exterior wall of a condominium, and the trim doesn’t need to be masked.

It’s much better to use rollers on the trims and sprayers on the sidewalls, clapboard, and shingle walls. Deciding to paint with a roller, brush, or sprayer depends on the complexity of the surface and how much time you want to save. 

On the other hand, if you have a simple trim that can take two professional painters a half hour to complete with brushes and rollers, then you have no reason to use the gun or sprayer. 

Using a brush or roller also makes perfect sense when you don’t need to apply too much paint on a given surface because the volume of the paint is another factor worth considering. 

If you only need less than a gallon of paint, then you don’t need a sprayer. And if you’re working on a wall with many obstructions (windows, doors, and fixtures, name them), going through the trouble of masking everything is just not worth it. 

When It’s Best to Combine Spray and Stroke

Spraying allows you to cover a large surface area quickly and evenly. Its most significant advantage is speed and efficiency.

On the other hand, a brush roller ensures the finish penetrates deeper into the surface, which is great for better coverage and durability. 

Combining both options, a scenario referred to as back-brushing or backrolling provides you with the benefit of both techniques. Below are the scenarios when you should combine spray and stroke:

  • When You Need Better Coverage and Durability On Large Surfaces

Spraying alone would be great if the speed matches the durability, say if it had a lifespan of 20 to 30 years. But as we know, spray painting exterior walls, especially for more significant projects, would only last for a while.

The most you could bank on is 10-15 years, depending on the paint quality. That’s when it becomes necessary to top it up with several coats from a brush or roller. 

Back-brushing involves masking off nearby surfaces, spraying a section of the wall, then adding a few new coats with a brush or roller to make the paint sink into the surface – creating a durable, even finish. 

With this approach, the paint film becomes more uniform as the pressure from the paint can push the paint in a way that a brush or roller alone would not. 

  • When Painting Rough Surfaces With Uneven Texture

Combining spray and stroke for painting is more suitable for rough surfaces with uneven texture, such as shingles, rough-sawn clapboards, and split-face masonry blocks.  

It’s much better to use the best method of back-rolling or back-bruising on the first or second coat of a newly constructed house. 

This way, you’ll ensure the paint penetrates the wood’s pores instead of just sitting on top of the substrate.

Amount of Paint to Use With a Brush

The amount of paint you’ll use with spraying differs from the amount you’ll use with rollers. Spraying will require three times more paint than brushing or rolling, and the coats should be thin. 

On average, a gallon of exterior acrylic-latex paint applied on a clean, primed, nonporous surface can cover about 400 square feet. Paint thickness, a common issue with the brush roll, can lower these estimates.

Amount of Paint to Use With a Paint Sprayer

Spraying generally consumes more paint because the process is quite complicated. First, the sprayer has to atomize the paint into tiny droplets. While most of these droplets land on the surface, a lot more get lost in the air as they drift away. 

In addition, any paint residues on the hose must be blown out. You can save some of it, but a lot still goes to waste. On average, a gallon of paint sprayed can cover between 150 to 200 square feet of wall. 

Tips to Conserve Paint When Spraying

While using a roller or sprayer can result in significant wastage, which you may not be able to control, there are several tips to help you reduce the wastage and conserve more paint. Some of these tips are outlined below:

1. Watch Out for the Wind

Winds as mild as  5mph can blow away a lot of sprayed paint. If you work in windy weather, you will use a lot of paint, much of which will be blown away. 

It can increase your paint consumption by 25 percent, which could be a whole gallon for every four gallons used, depending on how large the project is and how many windy days you worked on. 

If you’re working outdoors, you can’t do anything about the wind, so the best way to avoid such costly wastage is to work on less windy days. 

2. Pump Paint Back

Once you’re done spray painting, You might be tempted to dispose of the remaining paint by spraying it into the air. This can be a fun idea but also costly, no matter how little the remaining paint is. 

We recommend that you pump back the paint in the hose into the container, even if it’s just 25 feet left in the can. It’s more cost-effective and eco-friendly than disposing of it in the air. 

3. Maintain Proper Distance 

The closer you are to the surface, the more paint will land on it, and the farther away you’re from it, the more paint will be blown by the wind. Therefore maintaining the correct distance is recommended, provided you wear protective gear against the fumes. 

Is it better to spray or roll exterior paint?

Pros and Cons of Spraying Paint

Spraying the exterior of your wall has its advantages and disadvantages. The same applies to brushing or rolling. Knowing the benefits or challenges to expect when working with the two options will help you avoid disappointment and frustration.

So here are the pros and cons of using a sprayer to paint the exterior of your house:

Pros

1. Apply Even coating

With a sprayer, you can be sure that the coatings you apply on the wall will be consistent, and if the nozzle is good, you’ll cover a large surface area. Paint sprayers typically come with several nozzles that you can test to determine which one is best. The wider the nozzle, the thinner the coats will be and the more of these you’ll need.

2. Works Great Outdoors or on Rough Concrete Surfaces 

Sprayers are versatile and applicable even on the most porous surfaces like concrete and brick. All you need to be mindful of is the number of coats to apply on these rough surfaces.  How fast will the surface absorb paint? 

The faster the paint gets absorbed into the surface, the more coats you’ll need. We recommend applying water on the dry surface before painting to soak it in and minimize consumption. 

3. Less Time-Consuming

If you don’t factor in the time it takes to prepare the surface for spray painting, you’ll realize how little time it takes to spray paint than to roll. The most significant step is the prep work involved in getting everything ready. From there, spray painting is just a breeze. 

4. Can paint Walls and Ceilings

Sprayers are flexible and versatile, meaning they can work on the most complicated surfaces like ceilings, especially popcorn ceilings. Popcorn ceilings are rougher than traditional ones making them more suitable for spraying than rolling or brushing. 

Furthermore, spraying is ideal for reaching areas (corners, grooves, and cracks) that you can’t  with a roller unless you work with several different types of rollers, which is quite a lot of work. You can also paint walls easily without touching ceiling with paint sprayers.

Cons

There are always two sides to everything. The challenges of using spray paint are as follows:

1. Not Beginner Friendly

Despite being relatively easy, spray painting requires little experience, otherwise you might find it challenging. 

The general rule, however, remains the same whether you’re a first-timer or experienced painters: Always hold the sprayer at least 40 feet away from the wall when painting. The closer you’re to the wall, the more drips you’ll be constantly catching during the paint job.

2. Requires A Lot of Prep Work to Prevent Overspray

For most people, the most significant challenge with spray painting is the initial prep work. First, you must know how to use a sprayer, prepare it, mask specific surface areas, and tape and sand if necessary. It’s a lot of work, no doubt, but necessary. The surface should be able to receive the paint, which should adhere to it well. 

Preparation is also necessary to prevent overspray onto baseboards, windows, and other surfaces you don’t intend to spray. 

3. May Not Be Cost Effective

The average price for a sprayer is between $100 to $300, with professional ones costing more than $300. Unless you are a contractor, you don’t need expensive equipment. You can go for one costing $100 for DIY home projects. 

4. Malfunctioning is Inevitable 

In your desire to save more money, it would seem like a cheap paint sprayer may be more economical. In most cases, it is. Until it breaks down the first or even second time you use it, you realize it was not economical after all. 

Cheap can get expensive unexpectedly, so if you plan to carry out several projects in the future, get a sprayer costing between $100-$200 and buy from a reputable brand where quality and durability are guaranteed. 

Pros of Rolling paint

After reviewing the pros and cons of using a paint sprayer to spray exterior house paint, let us now flip the coin over. What are some of the merits and demerits of using a roller to paint the exterior of your house?

1. Affordability 

Rolling is by far the most affordable option of the two. Your most significant investment will be in the amount of paint you’ll need. The higher the amount, the more the money. The good thing is that rollers use less paint than sprayers. Also, depending on your project, you will need a few rollers and brushes, which are generally affordable. 

2. Easier Than Spraying 

Rolling paint is much easier than spraying, meaning you can do it even if you’re a novice.  You only need paint, a roller, and paint.  You’ll need to do some masking and taping, but these are everyday routines that you can wrap up without a sweat. When it comes to the actual work, you want to avoid overloading the roller, or else you’ll spend more time removing drips than getting anything painted. 

3. Can use a Roller Extension for Hard-to-reach Areas

A roller may not be capable of reaching complex areas like a sprayer. But it gets more practical and straightforward with a roller extension that can reach high ceilings that a paint sprayer cannot. 

Cons of Rolling Paint

Working with a roller also has its limitations, as we can see below. 

1. May Not Apply as Evenly as a Sprayer 

Sometimes rolling offers a different level of consistency than a sprayer. With each dip you make into the paint can, you end up with a different amount of paint.  You may also roll over a single spot several times than another spot. 

That makes consistency a big challenge which may, in turn, affect the outcome.  A professional painter will have no problem maintaining consistently with a roller, but if you’re a beginner, you’ll need to be extra careful. 

2. Not Ideal for Popcorn Ceilings or Textured Areas 

Rollers work best on smooth surfaces than on rough ones. That means if you have popcorn ceilings and rough or porous surfaces, you are better off spraying to get that smooth coat. If painting the grout for bricks is a lot of work, how much more than an entire wall? 

And if you don’t have a sprayer, think of the time and effort you’ll spend brushing each grout, brick by brick. It’s neither fun nor efficient and definitely not worth it. 

Otherwise, if you have experience rolling rough spaces, you would be fine. But if you’re a beginner, once again, it’s better to stick to the spraying method.

3. Unsuitable for Painting Small Grooves or Cracks

When it comes to versatility, sprayers take the lead. And even if you buy dozens of rollers of different sizes, you still won’t get into those tiny grooves as efficiently as you would with a sprayer. Or you could have a few brushes on standby and use them alongside the roller. 

FAQS: Is It Better to Spray or Roll Exterior Paint?

Is it better to paint with a spray gun or a roller?

If you’re looking to cover more ground and save time, go for a sprayer since it provides the advantage of speed and versatility. If you don’t have the time to mask and tape the surrounding areas of your substrate, a roller or brush will do. Using spray paint outdoors is more practical if the weather is not windy,y but you can brush or roll outside even if it’s windy. 

Is spray painting a house as good as brush painting?

Both options are good, but for durability, brushing is more recommended. You can still combine the two in a backrolling process to make the paint penetrate deep into the wall and last longer against the elements. 

When should you not spray paint outside?

When it’s windy or when the humidity is high. The weather should be warm and calm to ensure no paint is blown away and no debris or pollutants are blown on the painted surface. Warm weather also supports faster drying, which improves the quality of your work. Lastly, if you don’t have the time to prepare the environment and surface for spray painting, you should consider brushing instead. 

Final Words

We have come to the end of our guide on spraying vs. rolling paint. We’ve found that rolling paint is more affordable and beginner friendly despite lacking versatility and being unsuitable for some surfaces and general exterior projects.

We have also discovered that spraying is the fastest and most versatile method, although it is unsuitable for beginners and requires a lot of prep time. 

In conclusion, both are necessary under different circumstances. There are times when you may only need to spray, and other times when using a roller may be the most practical approach. 

Depending on your project, you can always refer to this guide to determine when to use a sprayer and when to roll. Having both options at the same time is a great idea when you need to use them simultaneously or to backroll. 

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