There are pros and cons to each type of paint (spray vs brush paint), and it all depends on the material that you are painting and the type of project you are working on.
While theoretically, you can use either option – especially if you prepped and primed the correct way – you’ll get a better result if you choose the right medium beforehand.
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Spray Paint – Pros and Cons
Whether you use paint in a can or a professional sprayer rig, spray paint has the benefit of going on more evenly than paint applied with a brush. You can cover a wider area and cut down the total paint time if you opt for spray paints.
It also helps to eliminate a common problem with brush paint: paint stroke lines. A quick, even coat of spray paint blends seamlessly without the need to brush out the area over and over.
You are also less likely to overcoat an area, eliminating the potential for peeling, pulling, and drips. There’s also less of a change of an uneven texture in the finish because the fine mist of a sprayer ensures each coat is the same thickness.
Because the paint is applied in an aerosol manner, the fumes from spray paint can end up being overwhelming, especially when applied in an area that isn’t well-ventilated.
There’s also the issue of back spray. No matter what you are painting, protecting the surrounding surfaces is extremely important – no more so than when you are spray painting. Backspray can be difficult to see at first, and by the time you notice it on any surface, it may already be dried.
From a financial standpoint, spray paint can end up being more expensive per square footage than brush paint, not only because of the delivery mechanism but because a decent amount of the paint gets lost in the air.
Brush Paint – Pros and Cons
The biggest benefit of brush paint over spray paint is that it costs less to cover the same square area. This is because brushes and rollers grab onto paint better, allowing for a fairly smooth and even distribution.
Brush paint can also be more controlled during its application. You can squeeze the brush into tight corners of rooms or edge the end of an accent wall without worrying about spray back.
You can also control the finished texture better with brush and roller paint. Whereas spray paint will usually only achieve one finish (if no other techniques are used after application), the roller or brush type used to apply liquid paint can widen the range of textures.
As mentioned before, brush and roller paint have the disadvantage of leaving streaks if they are applied or blended correctly.
It can also be more time-consuming to apply compared to spray paint. Brushes and rollers tend to lay paint on thinner, requiring several coats to get an even finish. Plus, they only hold a certain amount of paint, so instead of a continuous application, there’s a lot of start-and-stop involved.
If you are attempting to paint something other than a wall, such as something that has lots of nooks and crannies, it can sometimes be difficult to get a brush or a roller into these areas, thus leading to either more tools being required or paint drips from over-application.
Best Paint for Each Material & Project
There is some contention about whether spray or brush paint is best for specific projects. But there are some materials where the consensus is fairly strong.
Choose Spray Paint For…
Wood Furniture – Table and chair legs will best be covered by using spray paint to get into all the grooves easily. If the piece of furniture is finished or has a clear coat on it, it’s best to lightly sand it before applying the paint, so it grips better without the risk of peeling.
Also, most spray paint is oil-based, so it won’t seep into the wood as much as acrylic or latex paint will.
Metal – If you have an antique garden bench or other ornate decoration that is made of metal (stainless steel, aluminum, etc.), spray paint is your best option. Metal surfaces are particularly slick and smooth, so paint strokes applied with a brush will be more noticeable.
Plastic – Most plastic materials will take spray paint easily if their surface is scuffed up and primed correctly beforehand. Without proper prep, the spray paint may “pool” and pull away from the plastic coating.
Housing Exteriors – Most professional companies (over 75%) will opt for spray paint on your house’s exterior. Not only is this better for timing reasons, but the paints made for exterior materials are designed to be aerosolized & provide better protection than brush-on paints.
Choose Brush Paint For…
Interior Walls – This is especially true if you are doing the painting yourself. While some professional paint companies will use sprayers for time reasons, brush painting by hand will maximize your coverage and overall end result.
Cabinets and Doors – These are usually confined, fixed objects (unless you remove them from where they are mounted). Brush painting will provide more control over where the paint goes and will avoid the back spray from spray paint onto adjoining walls.
Existing Paint – If there is already a layer of paint over your furniture, it’s best to go over it with a brush as opposed to spraying it because the added texture from the brush will help to mask the multiple layers of paint that are on the object.
You Can Actually Do Both!
There is a technique in the painting field called “back-brushing”, which is essentially spray painting an area, and then going over the wet spray paint with a brush.
The biggest benefit of this is time. You are able to get the paint applied to whatever surface you are working with and then work it into difficult-to-reach areas before it dries. This can help to spread around overspray as well, so no particular area is too heavily coated in paint.