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Brushing vs. Spraying Paint: Which is Best?

Brushing vs. Spraying Paint: Which is Best?I get asked a lot why we don’t spray our primer on window sashes. Just the other day one of my employees asked the question, hoping they had thought of something that might make our jobs easier and the work move faster.

While spraying on paint and 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.

Benefits

  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.

Negatives

  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. Beginners 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.

Benefits

  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.

Negatives

  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?

Have you tried this before? What do you think works better? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

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59 thoughts on “Brushing vs. Spraying Paint: Which is Best?

  1. What I did not hear enough is about the costs of painting. Regardless of how it is done, with spray or brush and roller, the job must be a good one.
    So, look at this case, if we pay professionals to do it, to their benefit, they may use spray since it will be faster and they may have the necessary experience. Here you add the cost of painter plus the paint itself. On the other hand, if we do not contract any painters and we feel that we can do a good job with brush and rollers, we must set extra time with good care and the only monetary cost will be less cost in paint.
    Remember, we are talking about about a good painting job. Then the decision will be: am I honest enough to think that I can do a good job with brush and roller at a lower cost or just pay contractor for it.

  2. Hey! So question with a table that will get lots of use. I got a primer and paint. The desk was white going onto black. Now I messed it up using rustoleum oil paint. Sanded it primed it and got a high gloss black paint just water. When I went to paint it the primer started to come off with the paint. I sanded it again. Should l just use spray can? I love the idea of a roller! Let me know! Thanks

  3. I plan to have my base white (no color) smooth stucco stark modern house design repainted soon professionally. There is no trim, just window openings. One side of the house is all two story windows, the other three sides just smaller punched windows and doors. If spraying, does two coats make any sense in terms of longevity?. Like spraying a car, I know that the QUALITY of the masking makes all the difference

    Any comments on spraying vs. brushing or rolling on the specific type of house described above?

    Thanks, Scott

    1. This is a year and a half later, so by standard procrastination projection estimates of painters actually getting around to the actual painting of their own houses, then this reply should be about just on time, or woefully premature. Whichever the case, I have applied paint to many structures like what you have described and have at different times used all the techniques mentioned here. And for me it works best to to combine them all together. Spraying and then immediettly back rolling and brushing corners and crevices and the like. But nowadays, with paint setting up so rapidly, you can no longer do that without a helper. As you stated, masking is important, but in my opinion, the most critical step is the prep and cleaning and removal of all surface dust. When you wipe your hand quickly over the surface, there should be no dust or chalky residue at all. If you get any at all on your hand it means you are not done cleaning it yet.

  4. I benn painting residentail exteriors for over 20yrs. I do all my painting on WOOD sided homes by brush. tea, it takes a little more time. But,I know it’s the best way to apply a good coat of paint to the surfaces. Brushing does put more paint on the wood.

  5. Hello, I’m a 68 year old woman that likes to paint; I was brought to your website looking for defence of brush painting to use against my hecklers for not using a sprayer. This will be my fifth house in 33 years of marriage that I have painted both inside and out using brush and roller. Currently we ( hubby doing the high stuff) are painting a 2100 sq ft one level home and hearing alot of noise from others about painting the “old fashioned” way. I decided to use the top of the line Sherwin Williams paint with their claim of lasting 25 years. This stuff goes on like cream and dried smoothly. My point being that I could not get the same results with a sprayer. Really, who wants to spray paint every five years??? Thanks for this feed of comments and information; and to my hecklers…we’ll see who gets the last laugh!

    1. Hi April,

      Wow! That’s so amazing that you’ve done so much interior and exterior painting. Don’t let anyone tease you for what methods work for you in the long run! We’re right there with ya!

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting and we hope you find lots of useful content on The Craftsman Blog.

      -Alyssa at The Craftsman Blog

    2. Keep in mind, it’s not always the paint that makes a “lasting paint job” nor the brush, roller or sprayer.. The climate you live in is the number one key factor. A I live in such an area, that I paint my house very five years… I could (and have) use paint that cost over $100 a gallon or 5 gallons of pant for $99… point being, no one paint or method is magic for everyone 😉

  6. Thanks for every other informative blog. The place
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  7. Hi Scott, thank you for the information. I need your opinion. I have a white cedar fence that I want to stain. I’ve gotten quotes that range from very high to low. What are some of the questions that I can ask to see which painter is better qualified.

  8. Hey Scott,

    I am about to start my first mural project; no experience with spraying – But I am good with brushes.
    My questions are;
    1 – If at all you recommend this for murals? I do know muralists/graffiti artists do it all the time but sprays seem to be challenging …
    2 – Can I do the back-brushing by myself? I am thinking of spray-bottles and not a machine, which means I can have it in my pocket and have my brush an bucket beside to brush it over areas I’m painting right after.
    3 – Do I get to cover up those drips and “too thick/too thin” areas with back brushing? Because if so, I can imagine losing my apprehension of sprays ….

    Thanks for your attention!

  9. Painting under eaves, seems like spraying is the easiest way. Can’t imagine a small roller and brush , think that’s a lot of work. I plan to roll the stucco walls, roll and back brush the siding. This all sound correct.

  10. Am James a painter in Nakuru county Kenya i now understand how to handle a big project.although here in my country to own a sprayer machine it’s costly but ill try to own mine.

  11. A painter just quoted me for exterior paint 1800 sq ft house, roller and brushing $3500, and tho my house is in good condition I am told it needs 2 coats, and should last 10-15 years. Does this sound correct? Until now my hubby and I have been brushing one wall per year and I believe it lasts ~5 years. Just can’t do it anymore. Also have a quote for spraying $2700. Finding it tough to decide… appreciate guidance… thanks!

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