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Do You Use More Paint with a Sprayer? Way More. Unless You’re Careful.

Here is the logic of my cut-off point: when I leave the rollers in the truck and break out the sprayer.

Yes, paint sprayers use much more paint than rollers, but you can control the waste. The main question is: “Is it worth the time?” Often, yes, very much so.

Do Paint Sprayers Use More Paint?

Yes, but here is how to conserve paint.

How to minimize wasting paint

1. Pick the right sprayer

Handhelds and HVLP save paint, but have to be refilled frequently, but not airless paint sprayers. See the chart I created just below, and see my post on the main types of sprayers with recommendations. How much paint is actually used (the ‘transfer rate’) is generally about 50% for airless and up to 90% for HVLP. But it depends on your skill too.

2. Throw away worn or rusted tips

The ‘tell’ is in the fan pattern: you can see how your coverage goes down if the paint is not expelled in a good pattern.

Worn paint sprayer tips use much more paint
Worn paint sprayer tips use much more paint and don’t cost much really.

3. More ways to save paint:

  • Keep your sprayer pressure as low as you can and still get the film you want (less overspray; makes tips last longer too).
  • Also, the high pressure causes an air vortex that spirals paint back into the air which is wasted.
  • Keep the gun square to the surface, the same distance away as you move ( a spray ‘wand’ makes this easier).
  • Outdoors, don’t paint on windy days: Wait for a calm day: much more paint will end up on your target.
  • Stack furniture or spindles or trim etc. If you place the next piece, say a door, behind the door you are spraying, that will catch the overspray and that much less paint is lost.
  • Spray fences with slats at a sharp angle: Try not to shoot into the space between fence parts. Shoot each section from the side to get the side and let the ‘overspray’ get the part of the other face. Then shoot the opposite side the same way. Finally, just hit the middle as needed. This is a very efficient way to save paint.
more paint with a sprayer than a roller
Transfer rate results in this kind of efficiency

Spraying vs. Rolling: How I choose

  • Is spraying faster than rolling?

Yes, and how. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll fly. We spray paint walls and ceilings every day, and you’ll see why when you get going. If you are new to spraying, read the section below called: Practice spraying paint.

  • How much faster is spraying paint than rolling and brushing?

Figure the time:

  • all the setup time (masking, sprayer setup, etc)
  • brushing the edges that were masked
  • the time in cleaning the sprayer

Together, these have to be less than the roll and brush method.

  • Where is the cutoff point?

For me (a 30+ yr pro) it’s about 2 full rooms.

You can shorten the clean-up: if you rented your paint sprayer and want to pay the rental people to clean it for you, but that’s usually about a hundred clams. Read my look at renting vs. owning a sprayer.

Rolling leaves a thicker film but the spray is as smooth as you can get: no brush strokes or overlap marks.

Plus, for trim, you can easily get the nooks and crannies. But spraying means overspray.

Why is overspray so wasteful? Paint atomizes in the spray and some ends up as dry dust on the floor. More pressure means more waste. Compared to overspray, roller drips are zero.

  • Calculate the EXTRA paint you need

From experience, I’d say you use from 33% more up to 100% more (twice the paint) with an airless paint sprayer in perfect working order. Many factors, especially pressure and tip condition, play a role in the waste. Handheld airless shoot with less pressure, so have less overspray. VERIFY

If a gallon of paint covers 400 sq. ft. when rolled, how much will the same amount cover when sprayed with an airless (proper pressure and tip etc, the best conditions)?

Maybe 300, maybe less. It’s up to how you work it.

Please leave comments or questions below.

Rolling is far slower than spraying if you have a lot
Rolling is far slower than spraying if you have a lot

2 thoughts on “Do You Use More Paint with a Sprayer? Way More. Unless You’re Careful.”

  1. Brad, I am refinishing an old /200 + year old Victorian house and I steamed away all the old wallpaper and glue off the walls. Also, I patched, sanded, and cleaned the Plastered walls. ( No water stains). I have read a few things on the internet but a lot contradict themselves. Is it okay to use a pva primer or a regular primer. (Ex. Kilz or Zinsser).

    • For walls that old, do yourself a favor and spend a little more on a good bonding primer. The Kilz PVA is good. I like Stix from Ben Moore. I hear so many horror stories and once you use something that does not stick… too late!
      Good luck!


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