Paintbrush vs. Roller: Which One to Use?

In any painting project, you will have to choose between a paintbrush or a roller. These two excel in different areas, and the one you should use heavily depends on the task at hand.

Paintbrush vs. roller is a hot debate topic amongst professional and DIY painters. Some people lean more towards brushes, and others prefer rollers.

Paintbrush and paint roller

If you are stuck choosing between these two, our article on paintbrush vs. roller will educate you on when and where you should use each as well as which tool works best for various painting projects.

When Should You Use a Paintbrush?

A paintbrush has been around for way longer than a roller. No wonder it’s the favorite option amongst many painters.

Brushes, which are tools that have a plastic or wooden base attached with bristles, are perfect when working on small areas or if you are handling a project that needs extreme precision. You can use a paintbrush when painting edges, corners, and trims.

Painting Wall with Brush

As you may already know, brushes are available in various sizes. Therefore, the best type of brush will depend on your previous experiences and preferences. It’s always a good idea to have several brushes available for use.

This makes it easier to compare how different sizes of brushes feel when you are using them.

When it comes to paintbrush sizes;

  • The smaller a brush is, the better it is for detailing projects. If you want to perform a touch-up, go for a brush measuring around one or two inches.
  • Medium-sized brushes measuring around three inches are great for painting corners or trims.
  • Bigger brushes measuring four to five inches are ideal for large surfaces such as walls.

Due to their small size, brushes are quite flexible, and if you possess some painting skills, you can easily create a textured finish with a paintbrush.

Other than size, brushes are also categorized by type. We have narrow brushes, which are more suitable for detailing and painting joints. Then there are wide brushes that can be used for bigger areas.

It’s crucial to also factor in the types of brush bristles;

  • We have natural bristle paintbrushes that go well with oil paints.
  • Then there are foam brushes that create a smooth finish. Be very careful when storing these because they are the hardest to clean.
  • Synthetic bristle paintbrushes are the most common. These are suitable for acrylic and latex paint.

What you have to know about paintbrushes is that they are not economical. In most cases, you will use up more paint.

Therefore, if you intend to work on large areas such as walls, you are better off using a roller. The latter will ensure you don’t waste paint.

When Should You Use a Roller?

On the other hand, rollers are better when you wish to cover a bigger area in a shorter duration.

Unlike brushes, rollers can hold more paint. As a result, they can cover a larger area at once. If you want to paint ceilings, walls, or any surface that can be considered large, you should go for a roller.

For those who may have never seen rollers, these are cylindrical tools equipped with a rubber or foam pad.

Father and son painting with roller

These pads are attached to a handle, making applying paint on a surface easier. Similar to brushes, rollers are available in different sizes.

The size of a roller, commonly known as nap length in the painting world, should be determined by the surface you want to paint on.

Here are examples of surfaces and the roller sizes you should consider.

  • When painting an extremely rough surface such as a concrete block, you should use a roller with a nap length of one and a half inches.
  • A rough surface such as stucco should be painted with a one-and-a-quarter-inch roller.
  • For fairly rough objects like wood, a three-quarter-inch roller should be sufficient.
  • A half-inch nap length roller will be better if you are working on drywall or another semi-smooth surface.
  • Finally, go for a quarter-inch roller on smooth surfaces like plaster.

While we are still on rollers, you should know that the surface of a roller also determines the finish it will create.

A roller with a fluffy surface will leave a textured finish, whereas a smooth surface roller creates a smooth finish. Therefore, as you consider size, kindly check the surface of the roller.

There are also different types of rollers;

  • Sponge rollers work best with oil paints.
  • Natural fiber rollers should be used with solvent-based paints.
  • Plastic rollers are designed for water-based paints.
  • There are also foam rollers that can be used with gloss paints.

It’s important that you get the right type of roller depending on the paint you intend to use.

Rollers undeniably have an impressive design, making this tool popular amongst painters.

First, the porous surface of a roller holds more paint and evenly distributes it on a surface much quicker than a paintbrush. That ensures maximum utilization of paint.

Also, with a roller, you are assured of a uniform and even coats on ceilings and walls. These results are, however, more achievable on a smoother surface. It’s something you have to keep in mind.

Even though rollers can’t be used for detailing jobs, you are guaranteed a uniform finish. A pro-tip; never press the roller firmly onto the painting surface. That usually leads to streaking.

What are the Differences Between a Roller and a Paintbrush?

Other than the physical difference in design and shape, several things distinguish a paintbrush from a roller.

You may have picked up on the differences when we were describing when and where you should use each of these tools.

For clarity purposes, here are some things that differ between a roller and a paintbrush. Knowing the differences is crucial as it ensures you use the best tool for your specific painting project.

Rollers are Better for Covering Large Areas Whereas Brushes are Perfect for Smaller Painting Tasks

The most obvious difference between these two is the size of the painting area each should be used. You can easily cover small or angled areas such as frames with a small brush. Rollers are more suitable for larger surfaces.

This difference shows why painters should embrace both rollers and paintbrushes. Using only a roller will leave you with bare spots in the corners or angles. When you use only a paintbrush, the project will take much longer to be completed. Isn’t it better to use both?

Paintbrushes Hold Less Paint

When you give two painters equally-sized surfaces and ask them to use either a paintbrush or roller, the one with the latter would be the first to finish the project. Why? It’s because rollers are bigger and more absorbent.

Therefore, they can hold much more paint than a standard brush. With a paintbrush, you will have to reload severally, consuming a lot of time.

Rollers Don’t Require Skill to Create Even Coats

Most DIY painters prefer to use rollers because of this difference. Due to the roller’s design, it creates a uniform and even coats.

You don’t need any skill or experience, as is the case with a paintbrush. It’s only experienced painters who can create even coats with a paintbrush.

Therefore, if you are a newbie and want the best finish for your project, you should choose a roller.

Painters Have Better Precision with a Brush

A roller may be easier to use and deliver faster results, but it doesn’t offer the precision you can get from a paintbrush.

A paintbrush is smaller and more flexible. Therefore, in the hands of a painter, you can be as careful as possible with the strokes.

The same can’t be said for a roller. If you have a project that needs accuracy, you will make fewer mistakes with a brush.

How Are They Similar?

Both Will Get Paint on a Surface
Paintbrushes and rollers have one main job: to spread paint on a surface. Even if one will take longer, they will both get the job done at the end of the day.

They are Available in Different Types and Sizes

Irrespective of the tool you will settle on, you will have to compare different sizes and types. It’s crucial to ensure the size and type of brush or roller chosen is suitable for that particular painting project.

For instance, you can’t use a fluffy roller and expect a smooth finish. Also, it wouldn’t make sense to paint an entire wall with a two-inch paintbrush.

Both Offer Varying Texture Possibilities

Rollers are available in different nap sizes and can therefore be used to create different texture possibilities.

Painters can use varying techniques to achieve several textures with paintbrushes. With both options, you can achieve a preferred texture.

What’s Special about a Paintbrush?

There are a couple of things that make paintbrushes an excellent painting tool. First, it can be used with any paint. As long as you pick the right size, you can spread oil, water-based, acrylic, or latex paint using a paintbrush.

Secondly, paintbrushes are the best for small and hard-to-reach surfaces due to their ability to facilitate precision during painting.

A paint brush will make the work much easier if you have to paint over a corner or an angle. These days, you can even get an angled brush designed specifically for corners.

Due to the above features, paintbrushes are more popular amongst experienced professional painters. Paint brushes also have some drawbacks.

They take much longer and may require some additional skills to create a uniform finish. These are skills that DIY painters and homeowners may not have.

When using a paintbrush, remember to clean it thoroughly. Debris and dirt in the thistles can ruin your painting experience.

A well-maintained brush can last for years. It’s also advisable to go for a paintbrush with split ends. This ensures a normal flow rate when painting.

What’s Special about a Roller?

Quality rollers usually cost more than paintbrushes, but that shouldn’t discourage you from buying them since they offer many benefits, have a wide range of applications, and are more durable.

Rollers get the job done much faster, thanks to their ability to cover a larger area. They are also available in different types. Please refer to our guide above on which nap length is suitable for the surface you want to paint.

These tools have several advantages over their counterpart. They are more convenient to work with and can create a uniform finish without requiring skill or special knowledge.

The other thing about rollers is that they are less messy because they absorb a lot of paint.

Similar to paintbrushes, there are certain drawbacks you need to be aware of. You can’t use them on joints, corners, and surfaces. Therefore, you will still need a paintbrush.

Can You Use Both a Roller and a Paintbrush?

Even though there are notable differences between a paintbrush and a roller, each has its advantages.

You can benefit from all these advantages by using both. Yes, you read that right. There is a technique used by professional and DIY painters which entails using both a roller and a paintbrush.

This technique entails starting with a paintbrush and using it on the edges, corners, and other hard-to-reach areas. When you are done, you can bring in the roller and use it to paint the larger surface area.

When you learn the art of using both a roller and a paintbrush, you will save more time, paint and at the same time perform a decent job on the edges.

You will have avoided the challenges of using a roller on the corners of the painting surface. You will have also saved a lot of time that would have been consumed in painting a wall or ceiling with a brush.

Final Thoughts

When choosing between a roller and a paintbrush, you should avoid comparing which is better.

Even though they do the same job, these are tools designed for different applications. You should use the roller if you are working on a larger area.

If the surface to be painted has plenty of corners and hard-to-reach areas, you will need a paintbrush.

Since most painting projects contain large areas with corners and joints, painters should use both a paintbrush and a roller.

Whether you choose a roller or a paintbrush, don’t forget to consider the quality of the tool, as this determines the results.