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Cellular vs. Roller Shades: 7 Key Differences & How to Choose

Cellular shades and roller shades are two of the most popular window treatments.

So how do you choose between the two? What are the pros and cons of each?

In this comparison of cellular shades vs. roller shades, you’ll learn how each style stands out in terms of construction, versatility, insulation, design options, price, and more.

I break down the seven key differences and share advice from design experts.

Use the links below to navigate this comparison:

Cellular Shade vs. Roller Shade: Comparison Chart

If you’re in a hurry, the chart below provides a quick comparison of cellular vs. roller shades.

Cellular ShadeRoller Shade
ConstructionMulti-layer HoneycombSingle layer
MaterialPolyesterPolyester, PVC, or vinyl
StorageFold upRoll up
InstallationInside or outside mount (ideally inside)Inside or outside mount
Insulation2.0 to 5.0 R-value1.3 to 1.8 R-value
Light ControlLight-filtering and blackoutLight-filtering and blackout
Top-Down Bottom-Up OptionYesNo
CleaningDust or vacuum with brush attachmentDust or vacuum with brush attachment if fabric; wipe clean with a damp cloth if vinyl or PVC
Top Reason to BuyEnergy efficiencySeamless look, inside or outside mount
Top Reason to NOT BuyLess durableNo top-down options

Difference 1: Construction

One of the most significant differences between cellular and roller shades is their construction and operation.

Cellular shades are constructed from compressed sheets of fabric attached to create honeycomb-shaped pockets (or gaps between the sheets). The shades fold out and in like an accordion — when the shades are extended, the gaps between the fabric sheets stretch out to lengthen the blinds.

Single cell cellular shades
Single cell cellular shades

In addition, a thick piece of plastic is attached to the bottom to keep the shade stable and level.

Cellular shade
Cellular shade

Roller shades are made of a single piece of fabric rather than multiple sheets. Instead of folding up and down like cellular shades, roller shades hang flat over the window and roll up when not in use.

Corded roller shade
Roller shade

Traditionally, roller shades are designed with a spring mechanism that allows you to pull the shades down to your desired length. You can then pull slightly to release the spring and roll the shades back up again.

Difference 2: Materials

Generally, cellular shades are made from sheets of flexible polyester fabric called “spun lace.” The quality of polyester can vary between manufacturers, but spun lace is generally not the most durable material. It feels thin and fragile, similar to paper.

Cellular shades durability
Cellular shades durability

Polyester spun lace will hold up well to regular use, but tugging on the fabric too hard can result in tearing. Cellular shades are also vulnerable to punctures if poked with a sharp object. 

Polyester can’t be washed with water. So it can be challenging to remove the stain without damaging the polyester.

Roller shades are usually made from PVC, polyester, or vinyl.

Polyester roller shade
Polyester roller shade

Roller shades made from polyester, while softer and beautiful, have the same downsides associated with cellular shades, including being fragile and difficult to clean.

PVC and vinyl roller shades have a less attractive, plastic-like look. Dental and doctors’ offices often use roller shades because they’re easy to clean, and aesthetics are less important in those settings.

When choosing materials, keep in mind where the shades will go. Polyester fabric is not the best material for bathrooms or other high-humidity areas. It tends to retain moisture and begin to mold if it isn’t dried quickly.

Because of that, vinyl roller shades are a better choice for bathrooms and other high-moisture areas.

Difference 3: Insulation

Different kinds of shades will have different insulation levels. To determine how well shades will insulate your windows, you must first know their R-value.

R-value is the measure of a material’s ability to prevent energy transfer. The higher a material’s R-value, the better it can insulate against heat or cold.

Shades with higher R-values keep your home more comfortable and save you money on heating and cooling.

Cellular shades provide the best insulation, with an average range of R-values of 2.0 to 5.0. The exact value depends on the type of cellular shade.

Single-cell shades have an R-value of around 1.6, and double-cell shades, which have a second row of honeycomb pockets, have an R-value of approximately 3.3. Blackout cellular shades and cellular shades with sidetracks, which are plastic pieces that prevent air from escaping the sides of the shades, have even higher R-values.

The chart below shows the R-value of each type of cellular shade:

Type of Cellular ShadeR-Value
Single Cell Light Filtering1.6
Single Cell Black Out2.5
Double Cell Light Filtering2.8
Double Cell Light Filtering With Tracks3.3
Double Cell Black Out4.0
Double Cell Black Out With Tracks4.7

Roller shades have R-values ranging from 1.3-1.8, meaning they provide as much insulation as cellular shades.

If insulation is a top priority, double-cell blackout cellular shades with sidetracks are the best option.

Difference 4: Privacy and Light Control

Both styles come in varying opacity levels, including light filtering (sheer, semi-sheer, semi-opaque) and opaque (blackout). But cellular shades offer additional flexibility.

Blackout and light filtering roller shades
Blackout (left) and light filtering (right) roller shades

Cellular shades are available in top-down only or top-down and bottom-up models, meaning you can choose between allowing light to flow below or above the shade.

Shades that open from the top
Shades that open from the top

While top-down designs are more popular, top-down and bottom-up models offer more flexibility. They are ideal for first-floor windows because you can maintain full privacy while allowing light to come through the top of the window.

Roller shades are only available top-down.

Difference 5: Design Options

With cellular shades, you have lots of design options. Not only can you choose between single- and double-cell, but you can also choose between top-to-bottom or bottom-to-top options.

Cellular shades can be made with one color on one side and a different color on the other.

You also have size options. Cellular shades are available in various cell sizes, ranging from 3/8″ to 3/4″. Smaller cells are great for small windows but can look too busy for doors and large picture windows.

Cellular shades also have various corded options — the standard cord hangs freely at the side, while the continuous cord is a closed loop. Cordless cellular shades are a safer option in homes with pets or kids.

Roller shades come in several different colors and textures. Unlike cellular shades, which all have a similar soft texture, roller shades can be smooth, shiny, coarse, or woven.

Roller shade textures and colors
Roller shade textures and colors

You can also choose between cordless or continuous loop lifts. Continuous loops use a loop of chain that allows you to raise or lower the shades while the cord stays the same length and is out of the way.

Roller shades in home office
Roller shades in home office

Cordless roller shades easily raise, lower, and lock into place without cord lifts. They’re easy to operate and give the shade a minimalist look.

You can also choose how the hem and pull of your roller shades look. Roller shades have a variety of decorative hem options in eye-catching shapes, and many include wooden or plastic tassels.

You can also choose between standard or reverse roll methods, meaning the shade can hang behind or in front of the rolling mechanism.

Difference 6: Cleaning

Cellular shades are not as easy to clean as roller shades. You can use a feather duster or vacuum dust attachment, but avoid using too much water or wet cleaners. Moisture will soak into the polyester and cause the fabric to sag and lose shape.

Fabric roller shades need to be treated like cellular shades — you can dust and vacuum but avoid excessive moisture. Vinyl roller shades, on the other hand, don’t absorb much moisture, so they are safe to wipe down with a damp cloth.

Overall, vinyl roller shades are the easiest to clean.

Difference 7: Price

Cellular shades are generally more expensive than roller shades, and double-cell shades will always be pricier than single-cell shades.

However, the price will depend on the materials, manufacturer, and additional features (ex., manual vs. motorized systems). You’ll also want to consider extra expenses like installation.

Check out cellular and roller shades on Amazon to better understand how their prices stack up.

What Design Professionals Say

I contacted several design consultants for their expert opinion on cellular vs. roller shades.

The expert at Blinds.com, one of the world’s largest home decor e-commerce sites, said, “The main difference is that cellular shades offer insulation value, while roller shades are for privacy and light control only.”

He also said, “Cellular shades have been the more popular choice in recent years. And people love the option of opening them from the bottom or top.”

The design consultant at SweetGrass Shades, a custom window treatment business in Charleston, South Carolina, said, “The original design behind cellular shades, sometimes called honeycomb shades, was to offer energy efficiency. The fabric blocks heat from escaping in the winter and prevents warm air from entering in the summer. Because of that, they’re very popular in northern states where you get cold winters and hot summers.”

She also said, “Cellular shades can be mounted outside, under certain circumstances, but this is not customary. When you mount cellular shades outside the window, the shade sticks out a couple of inches from the wall. When mounted inside, they fit tightly in the window, and you don’t have gaps on the side.”

When I asked about roller shades, she said, “Roller Shades can be mounted inside or outside easily. The main difference is that a roller shade works with a clutch mechanism at the top of the shade. Roller shades are better for outside mounts because they provide a clean, flat surface when closed and lie flat against your trim/wall.”

The design expert at Budget Blinds of Charleston, South Carolina, provided this comprehensive assessment of each style’s pros and cons.

She said:

Pros of Roller Shades: Clean and sleek lines, hundreds of fabrics available in varying opacities, easy maintenance. They are available in cordless and clutch control for both inside and outside mount applications. Solar roller shades are excellent for heat control. They are less effective for cooler weather/drafts. They can have a cool industrial vibe with an open roll look at the top or be very finished and clean with a fascia or valance for the roll to tuck beneath. 

Cons of Roller Shades: Light gaps on the sides of rollers are inevitable unless they are mounted outside (and slightly exceed) the window opening. The “roll” when the shade is fully open requires space, which results in slight slide gapping. A light block or “channel” can be used but can inhibit tilt features on windows, so that should be considered. A roller shade with a decorative drapery panel on either side of the window can eliminate the light gaps and look lovely. 

Pros of Cellular Shades: Excellent heat and draft control, especially in a double cell (two honeycomb channels). Cellular shades have the tightest fit when used in inside mount applications, so minimal gapping and maximum room darkening can be achieved. They’re available in several fabrics, colors, and opacities and are light to raise and lower. Cellular shades are sleek and layer nicely with soft decorative products like fabric cornices or valances without bulk. They require very little window casing depth and have small brackets requiring less drilling/holes for mounting. 

Cons of Cellular Shades: More care in cleaning is required due to the “texture” created by the pleats. A vacuum on its lowest suction with nylon over the hose works perfectly. Cell shades are not as fashion-forward as other products. But again, they layer well to create something special.

Bottom Line: Should You Choose Cellular or Roller Shades?

Now that you understand the differences between cellular and roller shades, it’s time to decide which style is best for your home.

The four main things to consider are design, insulation, cleaning, and price.

  • Design: Cellular shades use individual sheets of polyester that are compressed together to create honeycomb-shaped pockets that fold like an accordion. Roller shades are made of one continuous piece of fabric or vinyl that hangs flat and rolls up. Roller shades are available in more textures.
  • Insulation: Cellular shades insulate much better than roller shades and have a higher range of R-values.
  • Cleaning: Vinyl roller shades are easy to clean, but fabric roller shades and cellular shades need to be cleaned carefully to prevent mold or mildew.
  • Price: Cellular shades are generally pricier than roller shades, and double-cell shades are more expensive than single shades.

Ultimately, there’s no right or wrong choice. Cellular shades have a pleated look, offer better insulation, and come in top-down and top-down/bottom-up models. Roller shades provide a more seamless look and come in more durable materials, but they don’t provide much insulation and don’t allow you to open them from the top.

If you’re still unsure which style to use, schedule a consultation with a window treatment company like 3 Day Blinds, Budget Blinds, or Costco. They will come to your house, give you free advice, and help you weigh the pros and cons.

Andrew Palermo Founder of Prudent Reviews

Andrew Palermo - About the Author

Andrew is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Prudent Reviews. He began his career in marketing, managing campaigns for dozens of Fortune 500 brands. In 2018, Andrew founded Prudent Reviews and has since reviewed 600+ products. When he’s not testing the latest cookware, kitchen knives, and appliances, he’s spending time with his family, cooking, and doing house projects. Connect with Andrew via emailLinkedIn, or the Prudent Reviews YouTube channel.

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