When you need to paint large expanses of surfaces in a room, 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 when compared to the more costly method of spray painting.
Though painting with a roller is a time-tested and preferred method of painting large spaces, it is not as simple as dipping a roller cover in a paint tray and spreading the paint. However, there's one unexpected secret to painting a room with a roller like a pro: Use a bucket and screen instead of a paint tray and liner.
On large jobs, professional painters typically load several gallons of paint in a 5-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.
Remove small items such as chairs, area rugs, and side tables from the room. Lay the drop cloth by the area you intend to paint. Cover all other items with sheet plastic. Secure the plastic with painter's tape. Wash and prime your walls before painting.
Before opening the paint, turn off the forced heat or air conditioning in the room. If possible, keep the forced heat or air conditioning off until the painted wall is dry. This will help avoid dust embedding itself into the paint that's in the can, bucket, and on the wall.
To keep the paint project rolling smoothly, make sure you have plenty of paint before you begin to avoid any surprise trips back to the store. Figure out exactly how much you'll need with the help of The Spruce's paint calculator.
The Best Techniques for Using a Paint Roller
Equipment / Tools
- Drop cloth
- Plastic sheeting
- Painter's tape
- Paint edger
- Tapered paint brush
- Metal spiral power mixer/drill (or wood paint stirring stick)
- 5 gallon Bucket, preferably with a lid (5 gallon)
- 5 gallon Steel or plastic bucket screen
- Paint can pour spout
- 9 inch Roller frame
- 9 inch Roller cover (one for each coat of paint, if preferred)
- Extension pole (optional)
- Latex or nitrile gloves (optional)
- Interior latex paint
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 protecting the other surface from paint. Finally, if you have a steady hand, you may wish to cut-in the paint with a tapered brush designed specifically for the job.
Interior latex paint washes off your hands easily with water. Sometimes it takes a bit of scrubbing under the nails to release the paint. If you prefer to avoid the feeling of wet paint on your hands while doing the job, wear a pair of latex or nitrile gloves.
Mix the Paint
Paint is composed of pigments and solids, which can separate if the paint has been sitting for as little as 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.
Pour the Paint Into the Bucket
Working outside or in another area where large spills won't matter, transfer the paint from the paint can to the paint bucket. Fit the paint can with the pouring spout, then tip the can so that paint flows slowly into the larger bucket. Avoid pouring fast, as this can create bubbles.
Limit the initial pour to no more than 3 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 paint 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 into the paint 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. Move it to the top of the bucket screen and roll gently downward several times. Avoid pressing too hard, as this will transfer pronounced grid marks to the wall that can be difficult to smooth out.
If you have a high wall or you're painting the ceiling, opt for an extension pole. There are different types: a wooden stick with a threaded end (good), an aluminum pole with a locking mechanism (better), and an adjustable pole with a locking mechanism (best).
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 edges) area. Remain within local areas of about 4 feet by 4 feet. Move the roller in an up-and-down W-pattern. Always keep working off of an adjacent wet edge to blend the edges and to avoid creating lines.
Rolling too fast may splatter fine drops of paint on to a nearby unpainted surface, such as a ceiling or window. Roll slowly to avoid this.
Reload the Roller Cover
When the roll marks on the wall begin to look spotty and hazy, it's time to reload the roller cover with paint.
Dip the roller part way into the paint, but don't fully immerse it when reloading. Then press out the roller several times on the bucket screen to equalize the amount of paint that is on the entire roller 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 and unsmooth finish.
Roll Close to the Edges
Assuming that you have previously painted the edges (see Step 2), 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. Two or more coats of paint will deepen the color and make the paint more durable.
Follow the steps above to complete the second coat. If you prefer, roll on a third coat of paint, following the same steps.
Roller covers can be difficult to clean. Many professional painters prefer to discard roller covers after each use and put on a fresh one when starting the next coat.
Clean the Work Area
After the paint has completely dried, remove the painter's tape. Carefully remove the plastic sheeting and drop cloth (watch for spills). If latex paint was used, you can clean the roller frame, bucket screen, bucket, brushes, and other items with warm water and soap.