icon Painting Trim with Roller vs. Brush [Pros and Cons]

Painting Trim with Roller vs. Brush [Pros and Cons]

The color and style of your trim can make or break a home.

As you finish your spring cleaning, you may start to notice your current trim. Several years ago, your trim and your walls looked great. You loved the colors and everything fit your tastes perfectly.

Since then, your style and décor tastes have changed. It’s time to update your home with a fresh coat of paint. 

The next question you’ll need to decide is whether painting trim with roller vs. brush will be the best option. Both options will complete the job and offer several benefits including a unique look.

If you’re about to update your trim with a fresh coat of paint, check out these pros and cons about painting trim with a roller vs a brush.

What You Need to Know About Painting Trim

Your home’s trim consists of the millwork surrounding and accenting your windows, doors, floors, and sometimes, your ceiling. Its presence is subtle and powerful.

Interior trim serves two purposes. The first is function. Interior trim covers the unsightly spaces and gaps between your walls and floor and doors.

View of door and wall trim from the floor.

The second is decorative. Trim comes in an endless number of styles and colors. It works to accent the tone of a room and ties the entire design together.

The best part of painting your trim is it’s an affordable and rewarding home improvement task. Investing in the interior design of your home, such as painting the trim, will boost your home’s value.

Before you begin, there are a few items you’ll need to consider.

Trim Paint Job

The first item is to identify the complexity of the trim paint job. 

Begin by taking a closer look at your trim. Does your trim currently have old paint or varnish on it?

The first question will give you an idea as to whether or not you’ll need to remove the old paint or varnish. For the best painting results, you’ll need to remove any old paint or varnish before adding a fresh coat.

Paint scraper next to a clean paint brush on a white wooden floor

This process involves scraping, sanding, and using a paint thinner to remove old paint or varnish. The trim may need some gentle sanding to prepare it for a fresh coat of paint.

How complex are the details in the trim? The trim design will help you decide whether to use a foam roller or a paintbrush. Paintbrushes can reach into complex areas while foam rollers will create even and smooth coats of paint.

Answering these questions will help you select the right paint and tools for the job.

Types of Paint 

There are two main types of interior trim paint, water-based and oil-based. Each option comes in a nearly endless selection of colors and finishes to fit your every need. Here are a few types of paint best for painting trim. 

Water-Based and Latex Paints

Water-based and latex paints tend to be the easiest paints to use. Benefits include:

  • Easy to clean
  • Environmentally friendly
  • Long-lasting
  • Easy to repair and paint over
  • Better protection to your trim
  • Safe to use indoors

The main drawback to water-based paints is their cost. Quality latex and water-based paints offering a rich color will cost more compared to oil

Oil-Based Paints

Oil-based paints used to be a painter’s first-choice paint. While oil-based paints aren’t as popular, their benefits include:

  • Richer color
  • Smooth finish
  • Thorough paint coats
  • Covers imperfections
  • Can apply to nearly any surface
  • Long-lasting and durable

Despite these benefits, oil-based paints harbor several drawbacks. They’re more difficult to use, take longer to dry, and contain VOCs (volatile organic compounds). You'll need additional safety equipment and proper ventilation.

As you decide on both paint options, you’ll need to find out if the current paint is water-based or oil-based. If the current paint is water-based, you’ll have the flexibility of choosing water-based paint again or switching to oil-based.

If the current paint is oil-based, it’s often best to stick with oil. Just as oil and water don’t mix, these two paint bases will not mix. Water-based paint won’t stick to the trim or walls previously painted over oil-based paint.

If you must switch from oil to water-based paints, your trim will require rigorous sanding and preparation.

The type of paint you select will help you decide if painting trim with roller vs. brush will be the better option.

What You Need to Paint Your Trim

Once you’ve prepared your interior trim, you’re ready to start painting!

Close up of painter's tools - gloves, paint cans, drop cloths, roller brushes

Besides the paint, you will need several tools and protective gear for your interior trim paint job. The tools you’ll need may vary depending on your specific paint job. For most trim painting projects, you’ll need:

  • Drop cloth
  • Gloves
  • Ventilation
  • Eye protection
  • Painter’s tape
  • Paint tray
  • Putty knife
  • Paint stick
  • Paint rollers or paint brushes (yes, you’ll need more than one)
  • Tack cloth
  • Extra rags
  • Water (for cleaning water-based paint tools)
  • Paint thinner (for cleaning oil-based paint tools)

Make your paint job easier by preparing these items before you begin. You can find all of these items at local home centers and home improvement stores.

Painting With a Roller

A paint roller is one of the most popular and easy-to-use painting tools you can find. The typical roller consists of a handle with an attached rolling mechanism at the top. Attached to the rolling mechanism is a removable foam roller.

You use a paint roller by dipping and rolling the attached foam roller into a tray of paint. Cover it with an even layer of paint and roll it onto the trim.

Closeup of paint pan with seafoam green paint and a paint roller.

Paint rollers come in various sizes, shapes, and styles. This variety gives you the flexibility to choose the right sized roller for your project.

Since most trim tends to be narrow, you’ll need a small narrow roller with a width of three to four inches.


Paint rollers offer many advantages over other painting methods. The most notable benefits include:

  • A smooth finish
  • Even paint coats and layers
  • More economical
  • More efficient
  • Holds more paint
  • Best for large areas
  • Variety of textures available for different finishes
  • Variety of roller sizes available
  • Options for both water-based and oil-based paints

Most homeowners and professional painters will use a roller to complete their paint jobs. This allows them to complete the paint job efficiently while achieving the best finish.


Paint rollers are the ideal tool for most paint projects. While they offer many desirable benefits, there are several downsides you’ll need to consider:

  • Not the best for small paint projects like corners, joints, and small surfaces
  • Can’t paint the fine details in trim
  • Harder to control
  • Can cause streaks if you press too hard
  • Splattering and dripping can occur
  • Higher upfront costs for a paint roller

Using a roller can be an efficient way to paint larger trim. If you have narrow, fine detailed, or crown molding trim, a roller may not be the best tool for your project.

Best Paint Rolling Tips

Paint rollers are easy to use but there are few tips you should follow to ensure your paint job goes as smoothly as possible.

Paint drips and splatters are easy to do if you’re not careful. Avoid these by loading the roller with smaller amounts of paint to start.

Hand with a small paint roller painting trim on a white wall with a green wall in the background

Use a paint tray containing about one to two inches of paint. Slowly roll the roller in the paint and along the tray to cover the roller with an even load of paint. When you lift the roller, there shouldn’t be any paint dripping off. 

Use the Right Pressure

You can avoid splatters and streaks by applying the proper amount of pressure. Apply enough pressure to allow the roller to roll. Too much pressure will cause the roller to stick in places and create unwanted streaks. 

Roll in Any Direction

Rollers give you the flexibility to roll in any direction and still maintain an even surface finish. Depending on the width of your trim, you can roll back-and-forth in one direction or roll a “V” pattern. The “V” pattern allows you to cover larger trim areas in a faster amount of time.

Painting With a Brush

Paintbrushes are the traditional paint tool of choice. They come in a variety of styles, materials, and shapes to fit any paint project of any size.

Paintbrushes work great for applying all types of paint along with varnishes and stains. If you decide to use a paintbrush, make sure to pick the right brush for your project.

Close up of a paint brush painting thick white paint.

Natural bristled brushes containing natural animal hair, are best for varnishes, oil, and solvent-based paints. Synthetic bristled brushes are best for water-based and latex paints and water-based stains.

Using a paintbrush will require a little practice and experience to achieve the right surface finish.


There’s a reason the paintbrush is the traditional painting tool every painter has on hand. The benefits include:

  • Greater painting control
  • Excellent adhesion
  • Can achieve an even and uniform finish
  • Best for smaller projects
  • Reaches smaller detailed areas 

If your home consists of narrow detailed trim, a brush will prove to be an invaluable tool. It will make reaching the tiniest of details easy and efficient.


Despite its benefits, the paintbrush has several drawbacks. These include:

  • Slow and tedious process
  • Likelier to leave streaks
  • Harder to create an even paint coat
  • Requires two or more coats

Those who are new to using a paintbrush should practice painting event coats before they start on their trim. Creating and maintaining even coats can be a hard process to master.

Anyone needing greater paint control will benefit from painting with a brush. A brush will reach smaller detailed areas more efficiently than a roller. 

Best Brush Painting Tips

Painting with a brush can be difficult if you want your finished trim to appear free of brush marks and streaks. Start by investing in a quality brush designed for the type of paint you’re using. 

Close up of a hand using a paint brush to paint base trim.

The Right Amount of Pressure

Like with a paint roller, you’ll need to apply the right amount of pressure when applying the paint. Press too hard, and the brush bristles will fan out causing streaks, splatters, and drips. The right amount of pressure will result in a smooth uniform layer of paint. 

The easiest way to avoid these issues is by loading the brush with the right amount of paint. Dripping paint from the brush is the result of too much paint. If you’re leaving unpainted streaks, your brush needs more paint.

Brush Sizes

Have several brushes of various sizes readily available. Smaller brushes will reach the finer details and joints while larger brushes will cover more area faster. 

Avoid using brushes that are wider than the width of your trim. These brushes will be harder to control and will cause paint to streak or splatter in other areas.

The Right Stroke

Your paint stroke and the number of coats will affect the surface finish of your paint. A good brushing technique is to apply several coats in different stroking directions. Always paint over wet paint unless you’re applying a new coat.

Yes, painting with a brush can be a more tedious process. A paintbrush, however, will offer you a greater level of control and finish quality when painting your trim.

Painting Trim with Roller vs. Brush

What if you’re unsure about which tool will work best for your project? Can you use both a roller and a brush?

Using both a roller and a brush allows you to enjoy the benefits of both without struggling with any of the negatives. A roller will cover large areas with speed while a brush will reach tiny details with ease.

Paint Your Trim with Ease

Adding a fresh coat of paint to your tire is the perfect way to liven up your home.

As you collect your tools, don’t stress over whether painting trim with roller vs. brush is better. Your unique paint trim project will help you decide. If you’re unsure, use both the roller and the brush to make your painting project as easy as possible.

Do you need the help of a professional designer? Let me know! I’m happy to help you with your interior design needs.

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