Choosing the Proper Roller Cover for Painting Projects
There are several methods of applying paint. You can use a brush, a roller, a sprayer or a pad. Rags and sea sponges can be used when creating a decorative or “faux” finish.
When it comes to the typical wall and ceiling painting project, the roller leads the pack as the applicator of choice. This is due to its ease of use and ability to make quick work of most projects. Though a sprayer can put paint onto a surface more quickly, it is often not a practical alternative for interior work in an occupied building. Furthermore, paint applied with a sprayer should subsequently be rolled to work the paint into the surface and create uniform coverage.
Using a roller won’t guarantee professional results. As a matter of fact using the wrong roller cover can leave your walls and ceiling with unwanted stripes, splotches, dimples and enough lint to resemble the proverbial “five O’clock shadow.” You can save yourself lots of work and end up with more professional results by choosing a roller cover that is best suited for the job. The same holds true for the devices that are used in conjunction with the roller cover – the frame, the pan or bucket, and the extension pole.
There are two basic factors that dictate the type of roller cover that should be used – the type of paint and the surface that to which it will be applied. The sum of the two will determine the type of fabric and the length of the fibers or “nap.” Should you use a roller cover with synthetic fibers and a long nap or a one made from natural fibers with a short nap?
Although the packaging that accompanies some roller covers states that they can be used with “all paints,” for the most professional results your best bet is to choose a roller cover by paint type – water base vs. oil base. Water base paint is used for the vast majority of interior and exterior wall, ceiling and siding painting projects because it is more user friendly and can be cleaned up with soap and water. When working with water base paints, choose a roller cover made from synthetic nylon or polyester fibers. When applying oil base paints — our preference in kitchens, bathrooms, the laundry and other damp spaces in the home — use a roller cover constructed of natural material such as wool or mohair.
The other factor to consider when choosing a roller cover is the surface to be painted. Is the surface smooth and dense or rough and porous? It will determine the length of the nap that will offer the best performance.
Roller cover nap length ranges from 1/8 inch for very smooth surfaces to 1 ½ inch for rough or heavily textured surfaces. An easy rule of thumb to remember is – the smoother the surface, the shorter the nap. Conversely, the rougher the surface, the longer the nap.
Rough surfaces such as stucco, brick, concrete, rough siding and heavily textured walls and ceilings call for a roller cover with a long nap – ¾ to 1 ½ inches. Smooth surfaces such as untextured wallboard and plaster, smooth paneling and metal require a short nap – 1/8 to 3/16 inch. For “in between” medium surfaces such as light to medium textured walls and ceilings, sand finish drywall or plaster and acoustical tile, use a medium nap roller cover with a 3/8 to ½ inch nap.
Another, often overlooked factor is price. When it comes to roller covers buy the best. You won’t be sorry. Better quality roller covers have a thicker nap that will hold more paint, produce less air bubbles and leave little or no lint behind. The fibers belong on your roller cover, NOT on your freshly painted surface! Better quality roller covers will also stand up better to cleaning for multiple uses, which, in the long run, can make them a better overall buy.
The roller cover is only part of the secret to success when painting with a roller. Accessories such as the roller frame, a pan or bucket and extension poll will have as much to do with the quality of the finished product and how easy (or tough) it will be to get there.
As with roller covers, don’t cheap out when it comes to buying a roller frame. A roller frame is a tool and you know how we feel about tools? Buy the best and they will last a lifetime. Or, in the case of a roller frame, it will survive many painting projects. Look for a roller frame with a compression-type cage. It will keep the roller cover from slipping and prevent paint from getting into the core of the roller cover. There are other benefits to a better quality roller frame – a more comfortable, ergonomically-designed grip and with a more substantial, stronger threaded hole to receive an extension pole.
The next roller-related painting accessory is the paint roller pan. The pan is used as a reservoir to load the roller cover with paint. The pan also has an elevated ribbed surface that is used to discharge excess paint. Since a good quality pan can be expensive, look for one that is constructed of heavy-gauge metal. One trick that will make the pan last longer and make cleanup easier is to use a plastic pan liner that can be thrown away after you have completed your painting project. This is especially useful when using oil base paint where mineral spirits are required for cleanup.
The roller pan can be great for small jobs, but when it comes to medium to large jobs consider stepping up to a five gallon bucket with a roller grid. It will hold more paint and can make a job go much smoother.
Whether using a roller pan or a bucket with a grid, always load the roller and then discharge excess paint so that it is filled with paint, but not dripping.
Another accessory that can save lots of time in going up and down a ladder and make a job safer and easier is an extension pole. There are two basic styles of extension poles – solid wood and hollow metal tubing. Both screw into the base of the handle of the roller frame. Better quality metal extension poles have a telescoping feature that can be particularly useful in reaching especially high walls and ceilings.
Finally, when it comes to applying the paint, roll in a vertical “W” pattern in a two foot by two foot sections. This will better distribute a heavily loaded roller. Follow up by rolling over the W in a horizontal direction. This technique will provide better coverage and result in a more uniform finish. Also, always keep a wet edge to avoid an uneven finish and don’t be too aggressive with the roller – too much pressure can squeeze paint out onto the surface leaving unwanted stripes. Too much pressure will also flatten the roller cover, which will prevent it from loading and discharging paint effectively and evenly.