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Clippers vs Trimmers: Which Should You Use?

It would be silly to pit clippers vs trimmers against each other. When it comes down to it, the two work as a team, not adversaries. You should know how to use both tools.

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What Is A Clipper?

Clippers are mechanical haircutting tools meant to take off lots of hair quickly. What really sets them apart from trimmers is that they have detachable “guards” to control what length of hair they leave on your head.

Guard sizes are named like this:

0 GUARD = 1/16 of an inch
#1 GUARD = 1/8 of an inch
#2 GUARD = 1/4 of an inch
#3 GUARD = 3/8 of an inch
#4 GUARD = 1/2 of an inch
#5 GUARD = 5/8 of an inch
#6 GUARD = 3/4 of an inch
#7 GUARD = 7/8 of an inch
#8 GUARD = 1 inch

Your barber probably uses clippers on your hair if you have a taper fade haircut. He’ll switch out his guard sizes as he works his way from the top of your head to the bottom, fading your hair from longer to shorter.

Lots of people say that the difference between clippers and trimmers is that clippers are for “long hair.” I don’t like to think of it that way because an inch of hair isn’t exactly “long.” It’s more accurate to say that clippers are made to leave a precise amount of hair on your head, depending on what guard size you use.

What Are The Pros And Cons Of Clippers?


• Clippers give you more precise control over the length of your hair while you’re cutting it.

• Clipper maintenance is an easy and valuable skill to learn. You can sharpen the blades of your own clippers at home with sandpaper or a whetstone.

• Clippers have sturdier blades that work on thick hair – even afros.


• You might need to sweep over your head a few times with clippers to make sure you get all the hairs at an even length.

• Bad clippers with dull blades will pull your hair.

Things to look for in a great set of clippers:

• When you buy clippers, they should come with a set of detachable guards. If not, you’re probably getting ripped off.

• Great clippers should be easy to take apart so that you can sharpen the blades. Look for screws near the blades.

• The easiest way to tell that your clippers will be long-lasting: the plastic sheath around your clippers should feel thick and sturdy. A high-quality sheath often means your blades and motor are also high-quality. Aim for a middle-of-the-road price or higher.

What Is A Trimmer?

A trimmer is another mechanical tool for cutting your hair, but unlike clippers, it cuts very close to your skin.

Lots of guys use trimmers to touch up their hairline, neckline, and beards. If you’re going bald, you’ll probably start by cutting off the remaining hair with trimmers, then going over your head with a razor to put the shine on it.

It’s easiest to think of it on this scale: clippers don’t give you a close cut. Trimmers give you a very close cut. A razor blade takes the hair off entirely.

Most barbers use trimmers in conjunction with clippers. For the bulk of the haircut, they’ll shape your hair with the clippers, then finish off the details like your hairline with the trimmers. If you keep your hair short and touch it up frequently, your barber (or you) can probably use trimmers exclusively, without clippers.

What Are The Pros And Cons Of Trimmers?


• Trimmers are perfect for detail work like edge-ups. 

• A trimmer is gentle on your skin. They’re great for shaving your beard if you have a sensitive skin condition. You don’t need to use shaving cream with a trimmer.

• Most trimmers are versatile. You can use them on your hair or beard. There are even trimmers made for your balls.

• Some trimmers come with attachable guards, like clippers.


• Most trimmers don’t come with detachable guards, so you get one length. Take it or leave it.

• Trimmers won’t give you a super close shave. You’ll have to use a razor for that. Trimmers leave a little bit of stubble behind.

• You can’t use a trimmer on wet hair.

Things to look for in a great set of trimmers:

• Look for ground stainless or ground ceramic blades. They’re tougher, sharper, and will last a lot longer than stamped stainless blades.

• The teeth should be small and close together. That’s how a trimmer gets a tighter cut (as opposed to clippers).

• Consider buying a cordless trimmer. You’ll quickly regret buying a trimmer with a cord, once you realize how it limits your range of motion. 

Clippers vs Trimmers: Final Verdict

Most barbers will use both clippers and trimmers if they’re giving you a truly top-notch haircut. They need clippers to do the hair shaping, and trimmers to do the edging and detail work.

If you cut your own hair at home, you should probably consider buying both, but I’d recommend at least starting with clippers. They do the bulk of the dirty work when you’re cutting your hair. On the other hand, trimmers are a better option when you’re maintaining a bald head or a stubble-y beard.

Don’t think of it as a decision between clippers vs trimmers – think about what tool you need around the house to maintain your hair and beard. The answer might be both.

Frank Edwards is a men's grooming & style expert who is "internet famous" for being able to simplify complicated grooming routines into easy, yet effective rituals any man can do. As a professional analyst, he has spent years researching the biggest brands, products, experts, best practices, and breaking news in the space. He takes this analysis, tests it out on himself, and then documents everything in his writing. As a result, his experience-based articles are considered by some to be the gold standard in men's grooming and men's style.