How to use a Paint Roller

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Paint Rollers

Since their invention there has been an enthusiastic acceptance of a paint applicator which makes the job easier and quicker for both the professional and do-it-yourself painter—the paint roller. It has been estimated that this tool is now being used to apply over 75% of all interior wall and ceiling paint, as well as an impressive number of outdoor tasks. Rollers are recognized as a highly efficient method for painting flat surfaces, such as siding, doors, fences, even concrete and cement.

Selecting a Roller

It is important to choose the proper type of roller for the particular job to be done. Modern paint rollers are available in various sizes and with handles of different lengths. Many are built so that extensions can be screwed into their handles. This makes it possible to paint ceilings and stair wells as high as 12 feet while standing on the floor. It is also possible to paint the floor without stooping. You can enamel a baseboard much faster with a roller than a brush and thus you will spend less time in an uncomfortable position. Be sure to protect the wall and floor when you paint the baseboard.

Roller covers are available in a variety of widths suitable for use on areas of different size. For walls and ceilings, the best size roller for the amateur is the 7- or 9-inch model. For finishing woodwork, door and trim, the best choice is the 3-inch model. There are smaller sizes available to cut in corners, and for use on window frames and moldings.

There are even doughnut-shaped rollers that will coat both sides of a corner at the same time. To help you paint a wall without getting the paint on the ceiling, there are special edging rollers. Flat painting "pads" (some with guide wheels) are available for use on fencing, siding, shakes and other hard-to-get-at surfaces. There is even an ingenious roller that actually reminds you when it is time to reload for maximum hiding power.

The fabric on the roller cover should conform with the type of paint to be applied. Lambswool rollers are excellent with the oil-based paints, but they should not be used with water-thinned latex paints. Water softens and swells rayon and lambswool. These roller fabrics lose their resilience and the fibers mat together when used in latex paints. Oil or alkyd paints and varnishes are usually thinned with mineral spirits or turpentine. Roller fabrics of all types are not effected by these thinners. Toluol and xylol are sometimes used, however, and these thinners may swell polyurethane foam covers. Lacquers and two-component epoxy enamels are generally thinned with solvent mixtures which contain ketones. Ketone solvents will degrade dynel, acetate and polyurethane foam roller covers. Mohair rollers can be used with any type of interior flat paint but are recommended especially for applying enamel and whenever a smooth finish is desired. Rollers made from synthetic fibers can be used with all types of flat paint, inside and out.

When buying a roller, be sure that the roll can easily be removed and changed. If both oil and water paints are to be applied, get a roll for each. Make sure that neither water nor oil will soften the tube (frequently treated cardboard) that supports the pile. It may be better to get a roll with the material stretched over a plastic tube.

Walls can be made uniquely attractive by using a special roller to stipple a contrasting color over another color. Stippling rollers come in a wide assortment of design-producing sleeves. With these rollers, however, a different rolling technique must be used. The roll should be started at the left-hand side of the wall at the ceiling line, and the roller drawn evenly in a straight line to the floor. The second stroke should not overlap, but simply fit against the edge of the first.

Another factor to consider when choosing a roller is the length of the nap or pile. This can range from 1/16 to 1-1/2 inches. A handy rule to remember is the smoother the surface, the shorter the nap; the rougher the surface, the longer the nap. Use short-napped rollers for most walls, ceilings, woodwork and smooth concrete. The longer naps are for rough masonry, brick, stucco, wire fences, and other irregular surfaces. Your paint dealer can help you with this choice.

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Using a Roller

Before applying the paint with a roller, first cut in the edges of the wall and hard to reach areas with a brush or with an edging roller, taking care not to get paint on the ceiling or the adjacent wall.

Some roller models have a roll that may be filled with paint, which soaks through a perforated backing into the pile cover.  However, most rollers used by amateurs are manually loaded from a tilted tray, which usually has a corrugated bottom. Before pouring paint into the roller tray, it should be thoroughly mixed in the can to assure even pigment distribution. The tray should be propped so that about two-thirds of the bottom is covered with paint. Next, dip the roller into the tray. Dip it into the edge of the paint, rolling the tool back and forth over the slanting corrugated section of the tray to distribute the paint evenly over the entire surface of the roller, and to remove excess paint. If the roller drips when lifted from the tray it is overloaded. The excess should be wiped off on the dry side of the tilted tray before you begin your stroke.

Apply even pressure when rolling paint on a surface. Even if the general direction of the painting may be downward, make your first stroke upward to avoid dripping. Work up and down first, doing about three strips. Then work the roller horizontally to assure even coverage. As you progress, always start in a dry area and roll toward one just painted, blending in the laps.

When painting a ceiling with alkyd paints, work across the width of the room, so that you can apply a second strip before the first gets tacky. However, if you are using a latex paint, you may apply it in a random fashion with no chance of leaving lap marks. Roll the stroke away from you and slow down as you reach the wall. Ease into the junction of the wall and ceiling so as to get as little paint as possible on the wall. It's a good idea to attach a tightly fitting cardboard disk around the handle of the roller to guard against any paint that may drip or run down the side of the roller.

Rollers should be thoroughly cleaned after each use. You should use the same cleaning liquids as those recommended for brushes for the various types of coatings. Pour the liquid into a shallow pan and roll the tool back and forth in it.Then roll out the paint and thinner on a newspaper. The roller cover can also be cleaned by putting it into a large-mouthed jar filled with thinner (or water if you are using a water-thinned paint), and then shake. The paint tray should also be cleaned after each use. If you line it with newspaper held in place with masking tape, before use, your cleaning will be much easier. Tin or aluminum foil serves better with water-base paints, since newspapers may disintegrate when wet with water.

After the roller has been washed, wipe with a clean dry cloth and wrap in aluminum foil. This will keep it soft until the next time it is used.

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Comments 5 comments

Casey White profile image

Casey White 5 years ago from United States

I am not a "gifted" painter, so thank you so much for this article. I have never painted a room that didn't look worse AFTER it was painted, so I know I was doing something wrong...gee, you think? Great hub!


DIY Dan profile image

DIY Dan 5 years ago Author

Casey, a roller can disguise a multitude of sins (or inabilities).


Simone Smith profile image

Simone Smith 5 years ago from San Francisco

DIY Dan, this is the most thorough guide to paint rollers I have ever read, and I've read quite a few, believe it or not! Great Hub.


DIY Dan profile image

DIY Dan 5 years ago Author

Thank you Miss Simone. There's only one thing missing. I'm trying to find the video of it at youtube and it will cap this off nicely.


DIY Dan profile image

DIY Dan 5 years ago Author

Found and added! The 'How NOT to use a Paint Roller' video above. :D

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