Paint Rollers vs. Paint Brushes: What Is Better?

Brushes of various sizes with yellow gloves and roller isolated on white background

How do you know which one of these to use for your painting? A lot of this decision depends on what you’re painting. It’s very important to know which painting tool is right for which project

Paint Rollers vs. Paint Brushes: What Is Better? This depends highly on the project; paintbrushes and paint rollers each excel in different areas. However, if you can only get one, go with a paintbrush because it lasts much longer, and it is more versatile in a painting project than rollers.

Ideally, your painting job will use a mixture of rollers and brushes, since both tools have different strengths. Rollers cover large areas with ease but are way too clunky for detail work. Brushes are great with detail work but take forever to cover a large surface. Let’s look at brushes and rollers side-by-side, to help you decide which to use for your job.

Paint Rollers vs. Paint Brushes: Comparison of Benefits

Paint Roller Paint Brush
Can hold more paint Create textured finishes with ease
Paints faster Paints more precisely
Efficiently covers large areas Last much longer
No brush marks More versatile

Paint rollers are very fast and efficient. Big walls are their specialty. But they don’t really cut it for small, detailed areas of a job. And they tend to wear out quickly. They often need to be replaced more than once during a painting project.

Paintbrushes have tons of different types that can be used to do almost any type of painting job. You can optimize the brush style, the bristle type, and the size of the brush to accommodate almost any task. They can get pricey, but they’ll last a long time if you take good care of them.

A Closer Look at Paint Rollers

The Paint roller is used best for bigger painting projects that require more area to be painted. The paint roller has a giant porous surface that lets you hold a lot more paint than you can on a brush.

With its large surface area and rolling action, the paint roller also allows you to paint much faster than with a brush and gets you through a job very efficiently.

Jobs for Paint Rollers

Most painting projects that cover a large area are done with a  paint roller, especially projects that deal with interior walls and ceilings. Paint roller covers have different finishes available; some have smooth finishes while others will be more fluffy or thick to produce a finish that has a textured look.

Because they have no bristles, paint rollers don’t leave brush marks. When painting cabinetry or furniture, smaller rollers do a great job of smooth coverage without the telltale lines left by paintbrushes.

Paint rollers, unfortunately, don’t have a very long lifespan. Roller covers will need to be replaced after each undertaking, they are used in, and in some cases, they have to be replaced during the project.

Varieties of Paint Rollers

The materials used in the roller can produce a wide array of different outcomes. To have the best paint performance and efficiency, you need the right roller for the job. There are five main paint rollers that you can choose from

  1. Manual rollers

These are the most common paint rollers and are most often used to apply paint to walls, ceilings, and high areas that have a lot of surface area to cover. They have handles that use connectors to wooden or metal extension poles.

The extended handles can get pretty long, which make these rollers perfect for high painting jobs. The handles can be so long that you can paint certain ceilings without even using a ladder. One downside of using these types of rollers is that they will surely develop a dripping problem which can be a mess.

  1. Pad rollers

These rollers are very efficient tools for painting the tricky edges and trim, they feature highly absorbent, flat pads to help you paint in even, and straight strokes. They have small wheels on the edges that enable you to paint as straight as possible.

Other rollers will usually splatter paint due to the circular motions. But pad rollers can lie on flat surfaces which pretty much gets rid of splattered and dripping paint.

Pad rollers can hold paint much better than other rollers because of how flat they are. If you are attempting to paint one surface multiple colors, then this is the roller for you.

  1. Texture Rollers

The main objective of these rollers is to create a textured look on the surface of the paint, such as a stucco or grainy look. These rollers are made of a more porous sponge or have a shaggy nap to pull at the paint as the roller leaves the surface, leaving a purposely marked finish.

Rags or sponges can also be used to create similar textures, but a paint roller does a more efficient – and less messy – job of it.

  1. Specialty Rollers

These rollers are used almost exclusively for textured paints such as stone, suede and light plasters. These roller covers often have special foam patterns etched into the surface to create a pattern or texture in the paint.

The paint manufacturer will usually have a recommendation on which specialty roller to use for their product. These special rollers usually don’t put out as much paint splatter and tend to be quite absorbent because the texture paints have very heavy consistencies.

  1. Mini Paint Rollers

These rollers are simply miniatures that excel in painting areas that are difficult to reach with a paint roller but still need to cover a lot of areas like narrow walls, or kitchen cabinets.

These rollers are also great at applying paint to surfaces that are behind heavy appliances and fixtures like toilets and sinks. If you need cupboards, rolling doors, and shelves painted, then the mini roller is a perfect choice.

Similar to pad rollers, these rollers can apply paint to trim and edging very easily, but, due to their size, they can cause a mess with paint splatter if too much paint is put on the roller.


  • You can use a long piece of painter’s tape like a lint brush to keep loose pieces of roller nap from getting into your paint. Just wrap the tape around your roller before it’s attached to the frame and then unwrap it.
  • When you take a break at the end of the day, wrap your roller in plastic to keep it moist until it’s time to paint again.

A Closer Look at Paintbrushes

Paintbrushes are generally used for painting smaller areas that require more details to cut in and go around things. The brushes are very small, and they have a lot of flexible motion to them so you can paint the smallest corners with incredible precision.

The brushstrokes on paintbrushes also can give your project a textured effect due to the painting style. For this reason, many people use paintbrushes to touch up old homes to give them a more vintage look. Paint rollers didn’t come into play until 1940, so just about all homes before that time were painted with brushes.

The type of bristles you will use depends a lot on the type of paint you will use for the project, for example:

  • Polyester or Nylon bristles are great for water-based paints like latex.
  • Natural bristles are great for varnishes, stains, and oil-based paints.

Paintbrushes can last a very long time if they are taken care of correctly. With the right care, cleaning and storage, you can keep a good paintbrush around for years.

Types of Paintbrushes

The oldest painting tool is the paintbrush, and throughout time many different innovations and specializations have given rise to more paintbrushes. Using the right paintbrush for your particular project is key to making your work easier, faster, and looking better.

Household Brushes

This paintbrush was designed for large-scale painting projects around the home. This includes painting:

  • Furniture
  • Trim
  • Banisters
  • The ceiling

Household brushes are made specifically to hold a lot of paint without breaking apart, unlike art brushes. When you are choosing the best paintbrush for your project, make sure that you look at the best ones that can specifically address your needs.

Most brushes will be labeled with what fibers they are made of, as well as what paints they work best with. Once you’ve chosen a brush to go with your paint and project, you can always run your choice past the paint specialist at the home improvement store or paint shop to be sure.

Art Brush

You will notice that all of these brushes are much smaller and have very different bristles so that they can accommodate any shape. These brushes are ideal for painting with oil, watercolor, and acrylic paints.

If you need to apply a lot of paint to a great amount of surface area, then these are not your brushes. While they do come in many different shapes and sizes, they are not made for large scale painting projects like household brushes are.

Angled Sash

You will immediately notice upon looking at this brush that they have an angled cut to them, which is why they are sometimes called a “cutting brush.” They are also used to “cut in” around your walls, near your ceilings and other obstacles that are in your way.

The slants allow you to have a clean line while you’re painting, and you can get into small spaces if you use the bristles that are sticking out. Grooves also will cause you no more problems with the angled sash because you can get right in there.

The Wall Brush

These brushes look like your standard, typical paintbrush. They are very large and flat with a square end, instead of bristles that are made into an angle. These wall brushes come in many different sizes, for many different projects. The size you choose will depend on what you are painting.

The most popular sizes are 3”, 4”, and 6”. With all these different sizes, they also have different types of bristles. Obviously, the wall brush is extremely optimizable to meet any large, flat surface area project you throw at it.

Finishing Brush

This is the brush you use when you want a completely smooth surface that can take a beating without becoming streaky and looking like a mess. The finishing brush is the perfect brush for these types of jobs.

The bristles on these brushes are very soft and fine. They are often made out of ox hair. Things that you will want to use a finishing brush for are those that need a flawless look. For example, finials on banisters will get a lot of attention every time somebody walks up or down your stairs.

The Round Sash

The look of the round sash is very different than the others. It has a very blunt end that tapers off with soft edges. You should use this paintbrush when you are covering large areas on your wall or large areas on other painting projects.

The round stash allows the user a great amount of control over your paint, as well as how you place it. The ideal situation to use this brush in is when you are going for a faux finish or decorative paint job.

These paintbrushes are a lot smaller than typical paintbrushes, being only 20 to 40 mm. If you are working on window mountings and other small trim, then these paintbrushes are also very useful,

The Flagged Bristle

Many brushes that are cut into a square shape also have bristles that are cut into a square shape. These bristles are good for many reasons, but they can’t hold paint back very successfully.

This brush is great if you need a lot of surface area on your bristles so that you can hold a ton of paint every time you dip your brush to refill. You will see that the bristles look split at the ends and be visibly fuzzy. In addition to all this, the paint will be released very smoothly, and it will look extremely clean and smooth when finished.

The Trim Brush

The main feature of trim brushes is that they have very short handles that allow the user to have absolute control over the brush.

The person painting with the trim brush will not get easily fatigued because fewer muscles are worked, this also means that the work doesn’t slow down as easy and the work gets done much faster than other brushes.

The complete control helps when painting in small spaces, and anywhere that you might need an angle to be painted. Many say that this brush is preferred over an angled brush because it is faster and easier with a trim brush.

The Foam Brush

These brushes aren’t always used in home painting jobs, but they are very handy in certain situations because they can hold a lot of urethane, stain, and paint. Foam brushes are guaranteed to give your painting project a smooth finish if you are careful not to leave air bubbles behind in the products you’re working with.

Foam brushes are very inexpensive products, and you don’t have to feel guilty about throwing them away once you’re done.

The best projects to use foam brushes on are furniture, cabinetry, and trim, they are very rarely used to paint large surface areas such as walls.

Stencil Brushes

There are many variations of stencils, and you will need to make sure you got the right one when you do stencil work on your walls. These brushes are hard to replicate because they serve a very specific purpose, they are round, and they pack lots of bristles very tightly together.

The bristles all have the same exact length which enables the painter to press paint against the wall without worrying if the bristles accidentally lift the side of the stencil and cause a big mess.

Types of Bristles

Bristles are just another layer of specialization that you need to look into to make sure it fits your painting project. The wrong type of bristles can screw up a painting project depending on what materials you are painting on and what paint you are using.

The right bristles can make your results look that much better.

Natural Bristles

The best type of bristle to use when painting with latex or acrylic paint. On the downside, these bristles are much more prone to being broken and damaged than synthetic bristles. On the upside, they can provide an extremely smooth finish that synthetic bristles just can’t accomplish.

Synthetic bristles have been upgraded a lot since their inception, but they still cannot match the smooth finishing powers of natural bristles.

Oil-based paints are best used with natural bristles. Be careful though because some of those paints will have a water-based coating which will cause the brush to absorb water and make the bristles stick. This will warp the shape of the brush, which will inevitably cause big problems when painting with that brush.

Synthetic Bristles

The go-to brush for any paint that is water-based, the filaments in synthetic bristle are very water-resistant, which keeps them in good shape when you use acrylic or latex paint.

The bristles are extremely resistant to water which means they will not absorb it very well and their shape will retain its form much better than natural bristles.

While it may seem like synthetic brushes are expensive, there are many you can find that will not destroy your budget. In fact, many people instantly choose synthetic bristles over natural ones without even knowing the pros and cons of each of them.

Nylon Bristles

Arguably, the most popular form of synthetic material is nylon. The durability in these bristles is outstanding. However, they should not be used on hard surfaces because they don’t have stiffness in their filaments that other bristles have.

Nylon is extremely soft and flexible which will give you the feeling that you don’t have absolute control over where you are painting. Despite all the durability, the nylon filament will start to break if used on a rough surface for extended time periods.

Indoor applications are the best places to use these bristles because they will be smoother surfaces. When they are used outdoors, the hot and humid conditions will cause the filaments to lose their shape and make everything more difficult to paint. Additionally, cleaning nylon is very easy to do.

Engineered Nylon Bristles

Companies have been making synthetic brushes that have altered nylon filaments that are stiffer than the originals. This change allows you to use them in hotter and humid conditions without worry that they will lose their form.

You can also use these filaments on rougher surfaces than the original without them breaking apart as quickly.

Polyester Bristles

If you are dealing with a lot of water and you are worried about how much water the brush will absorb then this is your bristle to use.  The filaments of polyester bristles are highly resistant to water absorption. This allows them to retain their stiffness while being used. Therefore, the user has a great amount of control throughout the project.

One downside of polyester bristles is that they don’t deal very well with rough surfaces. They can be damaged if they are used on a surface with a lot of texture or a lot of roughness.

Polyester brushes are known for leaving a lot of brush marks in the paint which obviously hurts the ideal smooth finish. Polyester brushes can be used with a lot of different types of paint, but the cleaning is very hard because they can be difficult to get clean.

Ideally, these brushes should be used on exterior projects that have semi-rough, semi-smooth, and smooth areas.

Nylon/Polyester Blended Bristles

This brush shoots for the best of both worlds; you can enjoy a brush that is stiff like polyester and perfectly capable of retaining its shape in water but is still durable and soft like nylon.

These brushes are one of the most versatile and can be used with many different types of paint. They can also be used indoors and outdoors with little problems, and on rough and semi-rough surfaces without any worries about the damage or breaking of filaments.

The softness of the nylon enables these brushes to be used on smoother surfaces which also makes them a bit harder to clean because of the polyester. This brush is probably the best brush to start with when starting a paintbrush collection because they are so durable.

Black China Bristles

These are natural brushes, made from hog hair. These brushes can be used with almost any type of paint, which makes them a great choice to have on deck. Most popular they are used with solvent, oil-based, and alcohol paints and stains.

The bristles are fairly coarse than a majority of natural brushes which means they are great to use on semi-rough surfaces because they can take a lot before breaking, getting worn down, or warping.

On the other hand, the coarse nature of these brushes means that they have trouble reaching a smooth finish on your surfaces. Keep these aspects in mind before you purchase and use a Black China Bristle brush.

Ox Hair Bristles

You probably think that these bristles come from the body of an ox, but they are actually taken from the ears of oxen instead. These bristles are extremely soft and all the bristles, individually come to a fine point instead of flagged ends.

Sometimes you can find brushes that have oxen hair and hog hair together which provides more durability and the ability to hold more paint than the individual hairs.

Blended bristles are great for smooth surfaces, and the ox hair helps ensure a smooth finish. Ideally, these blended bristles will be used with varnishes, enamels, lacquers, and polyurethanes, however, they will cost much more than other natural brush types.

White China Bristles

These hairs are also from hogs, but they are much softer than Black China Bristles. You will want to use these bristles on oil-based paintings and are perfect for making a smooth finish.

They have a fair amount of versatility because they can be used outside and inside. The tips are still flagged much like Black China Bristles, but they are incredibly delicate, which will again create a finish like no other.

Paint Brush Sizes

The last variation in paintbrushes you need to consider is size. The right size allows you to tackle another wide array of projects with better efficiency and overall results.

1-Inch Brushes

You might have already guessed that these paintbrushes aren’t the best choice when you want to paint a large area. However, they will give you absolute control over where you’re painting so that you don’t accidentally overpaint the area.

It’s important to have a long handle so that you can keep the brushes profile narrow and you can slip your brush into tight areas from a distance

2-inch Brushes

The most common brush and easiest to find. Make sure the 2” brush you purchase has soft tips. Harder bristles will make your brush last longer, but it will leave imperfections behind when you look at the final result.

3-inch Brushes

This brush can’t cover as much ground as the 4” but it is still good at cutting gin and making good dents in the area that you need to paint.

When purchasing your 3” brush, make sure that you choose one that has uniform bristles that are attached firmly to the brush so that they won’t accidentally come out in your paint.

4-inch Brushes

Many people prefer a paint roller when they need to cover a large area, but a 4” paintbrush can still paint a large area while giving you a good amount of control and with the desired finish.

You are going to want a very sturdy handle because you will move a lot of weight between the paint and your brush and you can tire your hand very easily and ever get sore.

Caring for a Paintbrush

Once you get the perfect brush, you’ll want to keep it around. Here are some quick tips for making sure you get a good, long life out of your brush:

  • Every time you use your brush, use a soap solution and warm water to remove all paint and debris. If using an oil-based paint, use a paint thinner. Always clean your brush before paint is allowed to dry, to make this easier.
  • Wrap your brush in plastic and smooth out the bristles before you store it for the next us

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