Paint Roller Round-Up

Spend a few more bucks and a couple of minutes to match the paint roller with the job, and you’ll save time and effort and achieve better results.

Before you start any painting or staining project, you need to make some important decisions: color (dark or light, neutral or bright), sheen (flat, matte, satin or gloss), material (paint or stain; latex or oil) and strategy (spray, brush, faux or roll). If you opt to roll, you’ll face another decision: selecting the right roller to distribute the finish evenly and thoroughly.

With myriad sizes, materials and types of rollers available, how do you choose? You could just grab the basic budget pack (usually in a standard 1/2-in. nap) or use whatever you find in the garage. But if you spend a few more bucks and a couple of minutes to match the roller with the job, you’ll ultimately save time and effort and achieve better results.

Cleaning sleeves
Anyone who’s ever painted knows to clean the tools ASAP and to keep them from drying out during a break or between coats. Another step toward better (and easier) cleanup is to use a 6-in-One multi-use tool. Keep one in your tool arsenal and use it to:

  • 1. remove the bulk of the paint before washing
  • 2. work water/solvent through the nap
  • 3. “squeegee” cleaning solution out of the nap.

For any given application, there is a type of roller that performs best. To narrow the field, consider the surface you’re coating and the type of finish you’ll use; then follow these guidelines to make your choice.

Painter’s tip: To prevent lap lines and ridges, occasionally run the ends of the roller against the wall at an angle to remove excess paint. (Mark an “X” and then roll over the area immediately with a coat of paint.)

The best nap (or pile height) for your job depends on the texture of the surface you’re coating. In general, short-nap rollers are best for smooth surfaces — and for leaving a smooth finish. Conversely, the more textured a surface is, the longer the roller nap should be, so it can (a) carry more material to cover all the dimensions of the surface and (b) help to manipulate the paint into crevices and over ridges.

To choose among the many sizes (lengths) of rollers (ranging from 2 in. to 18 in.), consider the scale of your project. A 9-in. roller absorbs a lot of finish before it’s even ready to roll, which would be a wasteful approach to painting a door, for example (photo, below). On the other hand, a 6-in. roller is inefficient if you’re painting an average-size wall.

To avoid bristle marks, use a short-nap 3-in. roller to apply finishes to flat surfaces such as cabinets, doors and furniture; then use a brush to coat inside corners or profiled edges. (This miniroller includes a small tray as its packaging.)

Minirollers come with covered ends for rolling into corners or with capped ends for cutting in close to trim. (The longer nap on this roller allows you to match any texture created by a larger roller used on the rest of the wall.) Because foam rollers (C) have no nap, they produce an ultrasmooth finish.

When choosing an appropriate roller material (acrylic, polyester, wool, foam, sea sponge, microfiber, etc.), think first about the finish you’re applying. To achieve an ultra-smooth finish with enamel, mohair is considered best. For high-volume applications of oil-base stains, the most effective tool is a lamb’s-wool roller. Synthetics, the most common roller material, are also the most versatile in which finishes they can apply (see “Roller Materials” chart, below).

Qualities of a high-quality roller
The rule “you get what you pay for” applies to rollers just as it does with paint and brushes. Jeff Locke, product manager for Behr Pro Products and Services, says to match price points, too. “If you’re applying premium paint, use premium tools. The biggest mistake people make is to buy good paint, but then use cheap tools.” Here are some features that professional painters expect in a better-quality roller sleeve:

  • It doesn’t shed or shred, leaving paint-soaked slubs on the surface.
  • It’s less prone to spatter.
  • It has a higher capacity to carry and deliver a finish to the surface (and therefore saves on labor).
  • It won’t mat — even after multiple uses and cleanings.
  • It is easier to clean (and worth using again).
  • It’s durable (and can be used again — lasting through 50 gallons of paint or more).
  • It has a sturdy, plastic or phenolic core, not a yielding, cardboard one.

These are traits that DIYers should also seek in a roller. Even if you’re not planning to clean and reuse the roller, choose the best quality that you can afford so you won’t end up with a stippled surface, lap marks, blotches or clumping. Then, even if your color decision isn’t exactly what you envisioned, the result still will be a first-place finish.

Pro tips

  • Before first use, wind painter’s tape around the sleeve and pull it off to remove loose fibers. New rollers — even the best-quality ones — carry clippings from the factory.
  • To “prime” or “condition” a dry roller, lightly moisten the fibers with an appropriate solvent (water or mineral spirits, depending on the finish being applied). This makes the fibers less absorbent so they will not “eat” a lot of paint, and they will be easier to clean when you’re done.
  • After you paint and before the final rinse, lather a few drips of dish soap in your hands and massage it into the nap.
  • To prevent crispy edges, stand the roller on end to drain. When dripping has stopped, wring excess water from the bottom end, rinse the sleeve again and flip it so the opposite end is down. Set it to drain, and after an hour or so, flip the sleeve again. This rotation helps to redistribute any paint residue away from the roller’s ends.

  • Get a handle on frames
    Roller frames (also called cages) can make or break your project (and your hand). When you find one you like, hang on to it. The fit and feel in your palm and the roller’s weight, balance and smooth operation all matter at the end of the day. Check out some of the differences.

    Bonus Video: