How to Choose a Paint Roller

Choosing the right paint roller for your painting project can make all the difference when it comes to getting professional looking results. With so many types of paint rollers available, it can be confusing trying to figure out which is the best option. This comprehensive guide will walk you through everything you need to know about picking the perfect paint roller, from handle length and nap type to material and quality. Follow these tips and you’ll be well on your way to flawlessly rolling on coat after coat of smooth, even paint.

Determine the Surface You’re Painting

The first step in choosing a paint roller is considering the type of surface you’ll be painting. Rollers work best on relatively smooth, flat surfaces. Here are some of the most common:

  • Walls: Your standard interior wall is an ideal surface for paint rolling. The flat, smooth drywall readily accepts paint and allows for an even coat using a roller. For textured walls, a thicker roller nap is recommended.
  • Ceilings: Painting ceilings requires an extended length roller handle. Choose a shorter nap roller, which will help reduce splattering and dripping.
  • Doors: For paneled doors you’ll want a foam roller, which can get into the grooves more effectively. Roll vertically to avoid lap marks.
  • Cabinets: Painting kitchen or bathroom cabinets calls for a small foam roller. You’ll be able to control paint application and get into corners easily.
  • Furniture: Give dated furniture new life with chalk paint applied with a foam roller. The smooth finish looks great on vintage, weathered pieces.
  • Decks/Exterior: Outdoor surfaces like decks and siding take more abuse, so choose a durable, shed-resistant cover. Look for weatherproof cores as well.

Matching the right roller to your painting surface ensures you’ll get great results. Next, consider the characteristics of the paint itself.

Pick a Roller Based on Paint Type

Not all paint rollers work well with every type of paint. The thickness and ingredients of the paint affect how well it applies with a standard roller. Here are pointers for choosing rollers based on common paint types:

  • Latex wall paint: The most popular choice for interior walls and ceilings is latex, a water-based acrylic paint. It’s easy to apply with a polyester or blended nap roller.
  • Enamel paint: For furniture, cabinets, trim and metalwork, enamel paint is durable and shiny. Use a short nap mohair or foam roller for smooth flow and brush strokes.
  • Oil-based paint: While less common today, oil-based paint can still be used for trim, metals, and other surfaces. Choose a natural fiber roller to apply oil paint smoothly without excess lint.
  • Chalk paint: Specialty chalk paint creates a matte, worn finish popular for refinishing furniture and decorative pieces. Foam rollers work best for controlled application on edges and grooves.
  • Masonry paint: Specially formulated masonry paint adheres to exterior concrete, stucco, brick and more. Use a thick nap roller to apply.

Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for best roller types to use with specialty paints like textured coatings, primers, varnishes and more.

Consider the Nap Length

The nap refers to the fuzzy fibers or texture on the exterior of the roller. It determines how much paint the roller can hold and impacts the appearance of the final coat. Nap lengths generally range from 1/4 inch to over 1 inch. Some guidelines on nap length:

  • Short nap (1/4″-.5″): Best for smooth surfaces and minimal textures. Leave little stippling but can cause lap marks if not applied properly. Good for cabinets, doors, enamel paints.
  • Medium nap (3/8″-3/4″): The most popular for standard interior wall paints. Leave a slight orange peel texture. Medium naps work well on plaster or drywall.
  • Long nap (1/2″-1″): Allow for more paint absorption and are ideal for heavily textured walls, ceilings, and exterior surfaces. Help hide imperfections but leave more stippling.
  • Microfiber: Extremely short, velvety naps make for super smooth finishes. Great for flat surfaces and minimal texture paints.

Always check that the nap is consistent across the entire roller and securely attached to the core. Loose fibers will leave lint and fuzz in the paint. It’s also smart to use naps specifically designed for the paint type you’re using.

Choose the Right Roller Size

Paint roller widths typically range from 4-18″. Wider rollers allow you to cover more surface area more quickly, while narrow rollers are best for smaller surfaces, corners and trim.

  • 4-6″ rollers: Great for furniture, cabinets, trim, crafts. Allow you to easily control your strokes.
  • 7-9″ rollers: The most common size for walls and medium projects. Provide good coverage while still being maneuverable.
  • 10-14″ rollers: Made for larger interior wall spaces. Help paint go faster with fewer strokes. Requires filling more often.
  • 18″ rollers: Extra wide industrial rollers to make quick work of giant surfaces like exterior siding, garages, fences, etc. Heavy and take skill to use.

Make sure to use a roller small enough to fit into corners, edges and angular spaces. It’s helpful to have multiple sizes on hand for large painting projects.

Choose the Right Roller Cover Material

Paint roller covers come in a variety of materials, each with pros and cons. Common options include:

  • Polyester: The most popular covers made from woven synthetic fibers. Affordable, provide smooth finish, and work with all paints.
  • Lambswool: Natural wool covers ideal for oil-based paints but may leave lint. Soften and conform as you paint.
  • Mohair: Made from wool-like goat’s hair for smoothness with oil and latex paints. More durable than lambswool.
  • Foam: Closed cell foam covers won’t absorb paint. Great for smooth surfaces, minimal texture, and detail work.
  • Microfiber: Woven microfiber fabric allows controlled, smooth paint application on walls or woodwork.
  • Fabric: Tightly woven fabrics like polyester-cotton blends provide a textured finish. Best for heavily textured walls.

No matter the material, always make sure the nap is secure and consistent across the entire surface. Check that cover fibers are flexible yet firmly attached.

Choose the Right Core

The interior core of the roller determines how much paint it can hold. Standard options include:

  • Phenolic plastic: Harder plastic cores won’t absorb paint like other materials, meaning more paint makes it onto the wall. Distributes paint evenly. Easy to clean up.
  • Polypropylene: Firm but slightly flexible plastic strikes a nice balance between paint absorption and stiffness. Good value option.
  • High density foam: Foam roller cores hold 20-30% more paint than plastics. Great for larger painting jobs, less ideal for finesse work.
  • Wood: The most absorbent option, wood roller cores require frequent paint tray redipping. Best for heavily textured paints.
  • Reusable: Metal or plastic reusable roller cores allow you to easily remove and replace roller covers. More eco-friendly but can be pricier.

For most standard painting projects, a phenolic or polypropylene core will perform nicely. Make sure the core is free of cracks or defects.

Pick the Right Roller Handle

You’ll be gripping the handle of your paint roller for hours on end, so comfort is key. Here are the primary factors to keep in mind:

  • Length: Standard 9″ handles work for most walls and surfaces. Longer 12-18″ handles take strain off your back during extended painting sessions. Great for ceilings and high walls.
  • Comfort grip: Look for rubberized grips that mold to your hand. These help alleviate hand and wrist fatigue.
  • Balance: Make sure the handle balances the weight of a fully loaded roller. You don’t want heaviness or awkwardness impacting your strokes.
  • Extension pole: For extremely high ceilings or second story exteriors, choose an extension pole handle to add length. These twist or thread onto rollers.
  • Bent handles: If painting under eaves or in corners, a 45 or 90 degree bend in the handle allows better roller maneuverability.

The handle connects to the roller cage, so also ensure a secure fit. Poor connectivity will make your rolling uneven and frustrating.

Assess Roller Quality and Durability

Don’t shy away from investing a few extra dollars in a professional quality roller. Here are signs of a high quality, durable paint roller:

  • Sturdy, lightweight handle that won’t bend or break
  • Consistent, high-density nap across the entire surface
  • Firm connection between handle and cage
  • Straight edges with no loose fabric or framing
  • Good weight balance when loaded with paint
  • Cover fabric that resists shedding and matting down
  • Responsive, springy core that rebounds easily

With proper cleaning and storage, a professional roller can give you years of use on countless painting jobs. Avoid flimsy, cheap rollers that will fall apart after just a few rooms. Checking reviews can help determine which brands offer the best longevity.

Follow a Roller Cleaning and Care Routine

To keep your roller cover fresh and minimize maintenance, be sure to follow these post-painting steps:

  • Use a paint comb to remove excess paint before washing.
  • Rinse in lukewarm water, gently loosening dried paint by rubbing the nap.
  • Add a small amount of mild detergent and scrub gently to remove remaining paint.
  • Rinse several times in clean water, pressing down on the cover to flush out paint residues.
  • Gently press cover against a clean surface to remove excess water.
  • Air dry thoroughly before using again or storing. Never store wet.
  • For long term storage, wrap cover in plastic to prevent drying out.

Proper roller cleaning removes paint so covers don’t become stiff or unusable. With appropriate care, you’ll get years of service from quality roller covers.

Common Questions about Choosing Paint Rollers

Picking the ideal roller for your next paint job doesn’t need to be intimidating. Here we answer some of the most frequently asked questions about choosing paint rollers:

What is the best nap length for painting walls?

For typical smooth or lightly textured interior walls, a 1/2″ or 3/8″ nap length is recommended. This allows for good paint absorption and leaves a slightly stippled finish for minimal touch ups.

Can you use the same roller for different paint colors?

It’s best practice to use a new roller cover for each different color paint, especially when switching between darker and lighter shades. Thorough cleaning may work for similar colors but results can be unpredictable.

Should I use a roller or paintbrush for trim and corners?

For precision painting of trim, corners, and angles, paintbrushes are preferred over rollers. Choose angled sash brushes or square trim brushes for cut-in work and painting narrow surfaces.

What size roller should I use for painting a room?

An 8 or 9 inch roller is standard for painting most interior walls. Larger rollers up to 14 inches wide can be used to cover open spans more quickly. Just be aware bigger rollers require more frequent paint filling.

Can you reuse paint roller covers?

With proper cleaning, high quality roller covers can be reused indefinitely. Less expensive fibrous covers may become matted down or frayed with repeated use. If paint application seems uneven, it’s time to replace the cover.

How do I make my roller finish look smoother?

Always use a roller appropriate for your paint type. Apply in consistent “W” or “V” motions without stopping mid-wall. Finish each section by lightly feathering out paint to blend. Overloading the roller or applying too vigorously can cause unsightly texture.


Whether you’re painting every wall in the house or just freshening up some furniture, having the right roller makes achieving professional-looking results quick and easy. Match your roller’s nap length, size, and material to the specifics of your paint and surface. Opt for good quality cores and covers suited to the job. Follow proper roller cleaning and storage protocols to extend usefulness. Armed with the pointers above, you can now confidently tackle any paint job with grace and great outcomes. Happy rolling!