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5 Insider Secrets to Using a Paint Roller

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5 Insider Secrets to Using a Paint Roller

October 29, 2020

My boyfriend works as a professional art handler, which sometimes involves painting museum walls to seamless perfection. When I decided to paint a wardrobe for our apartment last month, he kindly let me flail away with a roller for a few hours (doing it my way) before he politely asked if he could give me a few pointers. Who knew there was so much technique involved?

Here are a few tricks to try next time you’re using a paint roller.

photograph by leslie santarina for gardenista, from curb appeal: a paint mak 9
Above: Photograph by Leslie Santarina for Gardenista, from Curb Appeal: A Paint Makeover for a Stucco House, California Edition.

1. Get double use of your paint tray.

Before you begin, cover your paint tray with a plastic grocery bag or trash bag and tape the bag tightly in place. Then, use the tray as you normally would. This allows for easy clean-up: just let any paint remnants dry, then take the bag off and throw it out. Plus, you’ll get double (or triple) use out of one paint tray.

2. De-fuzz your roller.

Pick off any loose fuzz from your roller cover before you begin, or give it a once-over with some painter’s tape, to avoid loose fuzz getting stuck in your paint. Alternatively, you can give your roller cover a wash in plain water with some liquid soap, and rinse well.

photograph by justine hand from diy: the stenciled kid’s room, boreal forest 10
Above: Photograph by Justine Hand from DIY: The Stenciled Kid’s Room, Boreal Forest Edition.

3. Be sure you have enough paint.

After a few hours of painting my wardrobe, my thumb and wrist were getting sore. Turns out, the problem was too little paint on my roller, which meant I had to push hard to roll the thin amount of paint onto the surface. (Another tell-tale sign that you’re using too little paint: flattened, matted-down nap on your roller cover.)

Painting shouldn’t be that hard. When it comes to getting paint on your roller, you’re going for the perfect happy medium: definitely not too little, and definitely not too much (you do not want it to be dripping). There should be enough paint to cover the roller evenly so that it looks wet—think “ample.”

photograph by justine hand, also from diy: the stenciled kid’s room, boreal  11
Above: Photograph by Justine Hand, also from DIY: The Stenciled Kid’s Room, Boreal Forest Edition.

4. Practice the art of the roller spin.

The secret to getting an even coat on your roller? Spinning it.

Here’s how:

  • First, pour a generous amount of paint into the flat “well” of the paint tray.
  • Then, dip your roller into the paint and roll it just a bit, so that you pick up a good amount of paint.
  • Run the roller over the ridged, slanted part of the paint tray—fast, so that it spins. (Be careful of splatter; this is where it’s important to not over-do it on the paint.) Spin the roller six or seven times to evenly distribute the paint onto the roller.
  • Roll the paint onto your surface in straight swaths.
  • Once you run out of paint on your roller, go over the sections you’ve just painted, again in straight lines, to smooth it and remove excess paint.
  • Repeat.
photography by laure joliet from shift to neutral: la jewelry designer kathl 12
Above: Photography by Laure Joliet from Shift to Neutral: LA Jewelry Designer Kathleen Whitaker’s Radical Transformation.

5. Save your roller cover for later.

I went through roller covers like crazy while I was painting, mistakenly thinking I’d need a new one for each coat. Not so, with this trick: If you’re taking a break between coats, wrap your roller cover in a wet paper towel to keep it from drying out. (You can cover your paint tray with one, too.) Alternatively, cover the roller cover tightly in plastic wrap or a plastic bag.

More insider secrets to a professional paint job:

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