How to Paint With a Roller

The Spruce Best Home Interior Finish Paint in Antique Teal

The Spruce / Jordan Provost

When you need to paint large ceiling or wall expanses, using a paint roller is usually the best route to a quick and even finish. The tools are inexpensive, and set-up and cleaning are easier than with other methods, especially with spray painting. Painting with a roller is a time-tested method that has worked and will continue to work as the preferred method of painting large spaces. But roller-painting is not as simple as dipping a roller cover in a paint tray and spreading the paint. Paint professionals and many do-it-yourselfers have methods that ensure that the job will go as quickly and inexpensively as possible, with smooth, flawless results.

One secret to getting the job done speedily is to use a bucket and screen instead of a paint tray and liner. On large jobs, professional painters typically will load several gallons of paint in a five-gallon bucket, pressing out excess paint on the attached bucket screen. This accelerates the process because it avoids repeated visits to the paint tray, both to refill the tray and to reload the roller with more paint. It is also neater since rolling-out occurs directly above the paint supply and results in less paint waste and mess.

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The Best Techniques for Using a Paint Roller

What You Will Need

Equipment/Tools

  • Roller frame, 9-inch
  • Roller cover, 9-inch
  • Five-gallon bucket, clean and preferably with a lid
  • Five-gallon steel or plastic bucket screen
  • Drop cloth
  • Plastic sheeting
  • Painter's tape
  • Extension pole
  • Metal spiral power mixer
  • Wood paint stirring stick
  • Paint can pour spout
  • Latex or nitrile gloves

Materials

  • Interior latex paint

Project Metrics

  • Working Time: 4 hours (for a 150 square foot room)
  • Total Time: 1 day
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Material Cost: $30 to $80

Instructions

Prepare the Painting Area

Lay the drop cloth by the area you intend to paint. Remove small items such as chairs, area rugs, and side tables from the room. Cover all other items with sheet plastic and secure the plastic with painter's tape.

Prepare the Edges

When painting with a roller, it is not possible to bring the paint directly against an edge and achieve a razor-sharp line. Instead, you will need to edge the paint ahead of rolling. One method is to use a paint edger: a small tool meant just for painting along an edge. Another method is to run painter's tape along the surface that will not be painted. Paint goes on the adjacent surface only, with the tape saving the other surface from paint. Finally, if you have a steady hand, you may wish to cut-in the paint with a brush. Use only a tapered brush for this.

Thoroughly Mix the Paint

Paint is composed of pigments and solids, which can separate if the paint has been sitting for only a few days. Either use the paint within a few days of purchasing it from the store or mix it by yourself with a power mixer attached to a drill. Fresh paint applied with a roller or brush generally does not need to be thinned. If you have several different cans of the same color paint, you can box the paint—combine all paint in one common bucket.

Pour the Paint Into the Bucket

Working outside or another area unaffected by large spills, transfer the paint from the paint can to the five-gallon paint bucket. Fit the paint can with the pouring spout, then tip the can so that paint flows slowly into the larger can. Avoid pouring fast, as this can create bubbles. Limit the initial pour to no more than three gallons, since any more than this will envelop the bucket screen and make it difficult to use.

Add the Bucket Screen

Hook the bucket screen over the lip of the five-gallon bucket. The screen will extend a few inches into the paint with a majority of the screen visible above the paint. If you have less than 9 inches of usable screen, pour some of the paint back into the paint can.

Load the Roller Cover With Paint

Slide the roller cover onto the roller frame. Immerse the roller cover in the five-gallon bucket. Do not immerse far beyond the roller cover as this will cover the roller frame in paint and result in drips. Let the roller cover fully soak up paint, then move it to the top of the bucket screen and roll downward gently several times. Avoid pressing too hard, as this will transfer pronounced grid marks to the wall that can be difficult to smooth out.

Roll Paint on the Main Surface Area

With a loaded paint roller dry enough that it is not dripping with paint, begin rolling the main (not edge) area. Remain within local areas of about 4 feet by 4 feet, moving in an up-and-down W-pattern. Always keep working off of an adjacent wet edge to avoid creating lines.

Reload the Roller Cover

When the roll marks begin to look spotty and hazy, it's time to reload the roller cover with paint. After that first complete immersion of the cover in the paint, every subsequent reload is only a partial dip in the paint. Dip, then press out the roller several times on the bucket screen to equalize the paint on the entire cover.

Back Roll the Main Area

Back rolling is the process of painting a second time while the first coat is still wet in order to fill in sections and deepen the color. You must return to the area soon after that first coat has been laid. If you wait too long, the first coat will be tacky and will result in a textured, not smooth, finish.

Roll Close to the Edges

Assuming that you have previously painted the edges, you now have a band of paint several inches wide that you can meet with your paint roller.

Roll a Second Coat

After the paint has fully dried, lay down a second coat of paint. Two or more coats of paint will deepen the color and make the paint more durable.

Clean the Work Area

Remove the painter's tape after the paint has dried. If latex paint was used, the roller frame, bucket screen, bucket, brushes, and other items can be cleaned with warm water and soap.

Tips for Painting With a Roller

  • Be careful when rolling close to a non-painted surface (such as a ceiling), as rolling may splatter fine drops of paint on that surface. Roll slowly to avoid this.
  • Roller covers can be difficult to clean. Many painters prefer to discard roller covers after each use and put on a fresh one when starting the next coat.
  • If possible, turn off forced heat or air conditioning while a coat of paint is still wet to avoid dust sticking on and embedding into the paint.