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How To: Choose the Right Paint Roller

how to choose the right paint roller

We’ve all got painting projects in our homes that we need advice on. What’s the right paint to use? The best paint brush? Do I have to prime or can I skip it? In 10 years of writing this blog I realized that there is a topic that I have yet to cover on this subject and that is how to choose the right paint roller and roller cover.

Today, with the help of my friends at Purdy who sponsored this post, I intend to right that wrong and give you all the information you need on selecting the right paint roller and roller cover for your project so you can get professional level results.

Know Your Substrate

Picking the right roller cover largely depends on what it is you’re painting and what you hope to accomplish. Do you want a flawlessly smooth surface on cabinets or are you trying to cover rough and gritty stucco? The right roller cover for one of these jobs will be completely the wrong one for the other.

This guide below will help you determine exactly what paint roller cover to use for which surface. But first we’ll need to talk a little bit about paint rollers and roller covers so you can be the smartest painter in the room.

Roller Cover Materials

There is a lot of variety in roller cover materials as well, and different materials are better for different applications. Here’s a few of the options you have to pick and from:

  • Nylon/polyester – The basic materials that work well for most latex paints.
  • Polyamide – Synthetic material that provides premium longevity and excellent ability to hold paint without splattering.
  • Dralon® – This is a woven acrylic fabric coated with Teflon that Purdy uses in their White Dove line of roller covers which provides an extremely lint free product. This is one of my personal favorites for multi-purpose use.
  • Natural covers (mohair or lambswool) – Natural covers are best for oil-based paints or primers. If used with latex paints, the water in the paint may swell the fibers, causing them to become matted.
  • Blended covers (polyester / wool blend) – These combine the extra pickup of wool with polyester for longer life. Can be used with all paints.
  • Foam – These rollers carry very little paint per charge but can be used for ultra smooth surfaces due to their lack of any nap. They leave little to no texture on surfaces.

Paint Roller Anatomy

There are multiple size paint roller cages depending on the job you are doing. You can find typical roller cages from 18″, 14″, and 9″ for most walls, but then you find stubby or mini rollers in 3″ and 4″ lengths for those hard to fit areas.

Purdy also has a unique roller system called the Revolution® Jumbo Mini roller which may sound like a misnomer since I can’t seem to understand how something can be jumbo if it is mini at the same time, but it is an accurate name. They have a larger 3/4″ core for these rollers which for me seems to make the roller roll better than traditional mini rollers which easily get gummed up with paint. These Revolution® rollers are available in both 4 1/2″ and 6 1/2″ sizes.

Knowing the parts and pieces of your paint roller and roller cover will also help you speak the language of the paint store rep to help you describe what it is you’re looking for. Use these graphics to get all those terms down pat.

Also keep in mind that traditional roller cages take effort to remove the roller cover due to the pressure they exert on the cover; whereas Purdy uses a quick-release design that allows less struggle to take off the roller cover. This means less mess (and effort) when trying to remove the roller cover. Always a win in my book.

Know Your Nap

Every paint roller cover has a nap length. Usually these run from about 3/16″ which are very fine to 1 1/2″ in length which look like a muppet on a stick. This measurement is the length of the fibers that are attached to the roller core. The longer the nap the more fiber you have on the roller cover.

Longer naps are better for rougher surfaces because they can get into the nooks and crannies and they carry more paint. Shorter nap paint roller covers are better for smoother surfaces because they leave less texture on the surface resulting in a smoother finish, but they carry far less paint per charge than the heavier naps. Like with anything in painting it’s a bit of a balancing act to find the perfect nap for the job.

Below are the most typical nap lengths you’ll need for almost any application.

3/4″ to 1 1/2″ Nap (Heavily Textured Surfaces)

For the roughest surfaces with deep grooves like mortar joints and troweled stucco you need a very heavy nap and that’s where these big boys come in. The extra long nap will leave a rough texture on a smooth surface but on rough surfaces you need those long fibers to get deep into the crevices and carry a lot of paint with them. Depending on how rough the surface is you can range from 3/4″ to as long as 1 1/2″ depending on the coverage you need.

1/2″ Nap (Light to Medium Textured Surfaces)

paint roller cover

This is the nap I use most often for plaster or textured drywall. It carries enough paint to save me from charging the roller too often and it gets into the small crevices that are common on plaster walls and knockdown drywall finishes.

3/8″ Nap (Lightly Textured to Smooth Surfaces)

For smooth plaster and drywall or light orange peel texture a 3/8″ nap will get you excellent coverage and leave very little roller stipple on your walls. Add a little Floetrol to your paint to prevent brush marks and roller stipple and you can get a very smooth surface with this fine nap.

3/16″ to 1/4″ Nap (Smooth Surfaces & Fine Finish)

For the ultimate in smooth surfaces you’ll need to paint with one of these ultra fine paint roller covers. This fine nap cover is usually reserved for the smaller roller cages like the Revolution and minis and are used mostly for cabinets, doors, woodwork, and other things where you want a spray level finish.

How do you feel now? Are you ready to tackle the overwhelm when you go to the paint store? Information is power and using this guide should give you everything you need to pick the right roller cover for your painting project.

If you have a paint project coming up be sure to search the archives here at The Craftsman Blog and visit Purdy to find the best paints tools for the job. I’ve trusted their brushes and rollers since I started in the business of restoring old buildings and they have never let me down. Good luck and happy painting!

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