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.
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.
The best nap (or pile height) for your job depends on the texture of the surface you’re coating. In general, shortnap 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. On the other hand, a 6-in. roller is inefficient if you’re painting an average-size wall.
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 ultrasmooth 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.
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 (which 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.