Airless spraying vs rolling & brushing

I get asked a lot why we don’t spray our primer on window sashes. Just the other day I had a customer asked the question, hoping they had thought of something that might make our jobs easier and the work move faster.

While spraying on paintand primer is much faster the gains in speed come at a cost. In this post I want to look at some of the pros and cons of both so you can make an informed decision when the time to repaint comes.


Spraying Paint

There really is no faster way to apply paint than using an airless sprayer. You can cover an entire wall in minutes instead of hours, but like everything, speed doesn’t always equate to quality. Here are some of the key benefits of using an airless sprayer.


  1. Incredibly fast application
  2. One coat coverage
  3. Smooth finish free of brush/roller marks
  4. Can get into hard to reach areas

So why wouldn’t everyone just spray everything all the time? Well, there is a downside to spraying too.


  1. Long prep and clean up time
  2. Uneven coverage (sometimes too thick)
  3. Uses 2-3 times as much paint as brushing
  4. Poor adhesion
  5. Can’t paint on windy days

Applying paint with an airless sprayer can be very challenging if you don’t have a lot of practice using the sprayer. Like any tool, airless sprayers take a lot of practice before you can apply a smooth even coat of paint. Beginner’s will get over-spray, drips and runs, they’ll often have an uneven coat with some spots of heavy paint build up and some spots that are just too thin.

Paint spraying also uses 2-3 times as much paint as brushing or rolling. Not all of that extra paint goes onto the house either. Most of it ends up wasted in the hose line or as over-spray.

Even with these issues there are some tight spots like around utilities that can’t be done cleanly without spraying and you really can’t beat the speed.

Brushing Paint

It’s the old-fashioned way of doing things so I probably love it, right? To be honest, I have a love/hate relationship with brushing on paint. It’s slow and tedious and often results in brush marks if I’m not careful, but nothing gives me control like applying paint with a good brush. Just like with spraying, let’s look at some of the benefits and negatives of brushing.


  1. Excellent control
  2. Very good adhesion
  3. Even, uniform coverage
  4. Gets paint into nooks and crannies better than spraying

So far it looks like brushing solves the main problems we faced with spraying, so we should always brush, right? Not so fast.


  1. Slow, laborious application
  2. Can require 2 or more coats
  3. Can leaves brush marks
  4. Obstructions make for difficult application

Nothing come close to the control you get with a quality brush. You can cut in tight corners and paint nice straight lines that are impossible to attain with a sprayer. For detail work the only acceptable way is to use a brush. Yes, it is slow, but you will get an even, uniform coat of paint and much better adhesion than with spraying alone.


How to Get the Best of Both Worlds

Now that I’ve got you all twisted up thinking neither one is better than the other I want to offer you a solution that will change the way you paint.

Often with old houses the best answer lies in using yesterday’s techniques combined with today’s technology. Painting is one of those times.

In my studies and day to day practices I have found the best way to apply paint is by applying with an airless sprayer and “back-brushing.”

Back-brushing is the practice of brushing over paint that has been applied with either a roller or sprayer. To do it properly you’ll need a helper.

“But this seems like more work. Why would you do this?”

Using this technique you are able to get the paint onto the surface quickly and brush it in before it dries. Back-brushing forces the paint into all the nooks and crannies, evens out the coat and works the paint into the surface giving you better adhesion for a lasting paint job.

You see, what slows you down when you apply paint with a brush is that you can only load so much paint onto the brush at a time. By spraying and back-brushing you can cover large areas almost as quickly as by spraying alone. You get the benefits of both systems and eliminate most of the negatives.

Can you say win-win?

Keep in mind that you can't load up enough paint on a brush or roller then a airless sprayer can......