How to Choose a Paint Roller

Expand your understanding of paint rollers for improved project results.

A hand using a paint roller

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Painting a room is a common DIY project that many people undertake on their own. They pick up paint, a paint tray, a paintbrush, and a paint roller, then get started painting the walls. However, if you haven't tackled a paint project before, you may not know that paint, paint trays, paintbrushes, and paint rollers come in several different types. Choosing the wrong paint tray can slow down the project, while selecting the wrong brush can leave you with a streaky finish. For these reasons along with several others, it's important to learn more about the paint and tools you need before starting a project.

Paint rollers are a relatively basic tool. They consist of a handle, a metal frame, and a metal roller that holds a paint roller cover. Despite the simplicity of the tool, there are still several types of paint rollers and a range of paint roller cover options based on size, function, roller cover fabric, and pile height. Discover how to choose a paint roller that's suitable for your next home renovation project.

Buying Considerations for Paint Rollers

Many people grab the first paint roller they see without considering the size of the roller, where the roller will be used, or the type of roller cover. This mistake can delay the project and the wrong roller cover could result in an uneven finish. Take some time to learn about what to consider when buying a paint roller.


Paint rollers come in several different sizes, so it's important to consider the area you will be working in before deciding on a paint roller. If you are painting average-sized walls, then it's best to look for a standard roller, which typically measures 9 inches in length. For larger walls and ceilings, you can find oversize paint rollers that range in size from 12 inches to 18 inches.

However, if you are working with trim, doors, doorframes, or narrow walls, a mini paint roller is the right way to go. They come in a variety of lengths, including 2-inch, 3-inch, 4-inch, and 6-inch. Just keep in mind that a project may need more than one size of roller. Don't try to find an all-purpose roller for every surface when it's relatively inexpensive to pick up the right size paint roller for the task.


When you need to choose a paint roller cover or sleeve, it's necessary to figure out what material is best for the job. Paint roller covers are typically made of woven or knit synthetic material, lambswool, or foam. Opt for woven or knit synthetic paint roller covers if you are painting interior walls and ceilings. This fabric doesn't shed as much as lambswool and it creates a smooth, even finish.

The woven synthetic covers work best with glossy finishes, while the knit synthetic roller sleeves are better for flat or eggshell finishes. If you are working with oil-based paints, switch to a lambswool roller cover for a more even finish. Lambswool is also a good choice for glossy latex paint. Just keep in mind that the rollers tend to shed.

Foam rollers are better for painting smooth surfaces, like fine furniture. Use these rollers with varnish, polyurethane, or paint to finish off woodworking projects.

Pile Height

Paint roller sleeves absorb paint from the paint tray and release it on a surface when a small amount of pressure is applied by the user. With this in mind, you need to choose the pile height or nap of a paint roller carefully to avoid creating an uneven finish on smooth surfaces or having difficulties painting rough or heavily textured surfaces.

Standard interior paint projects will typically require a paint roller sleeve with a 3/8-inch to 1/2-inch nap or pile height. However, for rougher surfaces, like the back deck or fence, a 3/4-inch to 1-inch pile height is suitable. Brick, cinder block, and stone may require a thicker paint roller pile ranging from about 1 1/4 inches to 1 1/2 inches.

Types of Paint Rollers

There are five main types of paint rollers, each designed for a specific purpose, including manual, pad, textured, specialty, and mini paint rollers. Understanding the differences between these types is essential to effectively learn how to choose a paint roller for your next project.

Manual Paint Rollers

The most common type of paint roller is known as a manual paint roller. These are the standard paint rollers with a simple handle, frame, and rotating metal roller that are typically used for painting interior walls and ceilings. They can also be used outdoors for painting exterior surfaces when they are equipped with the right paint roller cover.

The drawback of these paint rollers is that they can be too long for painting thin surfaces, like baseboards and doorframes. However, manual rollers are one of the most affordable types available.

Pad Paint Rollers

While they are still considered a type of roller, pad rollers do not roll. They have a flat pad that absorbs and releases the paint onto the target surface in straight, even strokes. The design of these rollers helps to prevent paint splatters that are common with manual paint rollers. However, paint pads only apply a thin layer of paint to the wall, ceiling, or any other surface, so they aren't very good for covering darker or more vibrant colors.

Textured Paint Rollers

A textured paint roller actually refers to the roller sleeve, instead of the actual roller. You can use a manual roller with a textured paint sleeve to create innovative patterns or mimic designs, like wood grain, brick, or stone textures. The sleeves are made with foam and have individual patterns etched in to create the desired look, though these patterns can be difficult to appreciate on small walls on surfaces, so it's best to use textured paint rollers on larger walls where the pattern is easy to see.

Specialty Paint Rollers

Similar to textured paint rollers, a specialty paint roller is intended to create specific paint patterns. The main difference between the two types is that specialty paint rollers are not just manual paint rollers with an innovative roller sleeve. These are specialized tools designed by the manufacturer for specific textured paints. You don't need to use these rollers with the textured paint, but you may get better results with the specialized tool over a more general-use textured paint roller sleeve.

Mini Paint Rollers

When a manual roller is too big to use for thin surfaces or to get into tight corners, the mini paint roller is the way to go. They come in a range of sizes, including 2-inch, 3-inch, 4-inch, and 6-inch, allowing you to select the right length based on the needs of the project. Some types of mini rollers are used with small-diameter mini hot dog roller sleeves. The reason they are referred to as mini hot dog rollers is because, with the small diameter and short pile height, the roller sleeves resembles a mini hot dog. The thin roller sleeve is ideal for painting in tight corners and difficult to reach places, like behind the toilet.


One of the main reasons to invest in the right size and right type of paint roller for each portion of a painting project is that these tools are not expensive. You can purchase two or three different paint rollers to handle interior, exterior, and detail painting and ultimately end up with a better looking home than if you tried to stick to a manual paint roller with a standard roller sleeve for the entire project.

On average, a paint roller costs about $10 to $100. As with most tools, specialized products tend to cost more, like textured paint rollers or paint-specific specialty paint rollers. Mini paint rollers, manual paint rollers, and pad paint rollers are all relatively similar in price, occupying the low end of this price range.

How to Choose a Paint Roller

Once you have a better understanding of the various roller and sleeve types, as well as a firm grasp of the range of sizes, fabrics, and pile heights, then you can begin to consider which roller and roller sleeve is best for your project.

What Is the Scope of the Project?

The size and type of roller can heavily depend on the location you are working in. Average-sized walls and ceilings can be painted with a standard manual paint roller or you can use a textured paint roller for a more customized appearance. Go with a mini paint roller if you are working in tight spaces or need to paint baseboards, door frames, window frames, and any other thin surfaces. A pad paint roller can be a great choice for applying a thin second coat of paint over the first coat and it can help to even out the finish, just keep in mind that the pad only applies a thin layer of paint, so it isn't a good option if you need to cover a bold color.

Are You Painting Interior or Exterior Surfaces?

Whether you are working inside or outside matters. Paint roller sleeves have a fabric pile or nap that absorbs the paint and releases it when the roller is pressed against a surface. Smooth, interior surfaces should be painted with a 3/8-inch to 1/2-inch roller sleeve to get a soft, even finish. However, to ensure that you get an even finish on a textured exterior wall, stucco surface, deck, or fence, go with a 3/4-inch to 1-inch pile height.

Brick and stone are typically used outdoors, but some homes use these materials indoors to create a unique aesthetic. If you are painting these tough, textured surfaces, use a paint roller sleeve with a 1 1/4-inch or 1 1/2-inch nap to ensure that you get adequate paint coverage.

What Paint Finish Are You Using?

In order to get the best results, it's important to match the tool to the paint. If you are painting the room with a flat or eggshell latex paint, then a knit synthetic roller sleeve is the right choice, but if you are using a glossy latex paint for the job, it would be better to rely on a woven roller cover. Lambswool roller covers can also be used with glossy latex paint, though they are better for applying oil-based paint. If you are working with varnish or polyurethane, a foam roller is the best option. These foam rollers can also be used for applying soft, even coats of paint to very soft surfaces, like fine furniture.

  • Does a paint roller create a better finish?

    A paintbrush is an essential tool for painting narrow corners, textured doors, and other uneven or difficult to reach places. However, a paint roller is a better choice for a more even finish. Users can even select a different roller sleeve to create a variety of finishes, including unique textured designs.

  • Should you use a brush or a roller to paint a door?

    You can use a mini roller to paint a door or a manual paint roller if the door is completely flat, but if you are painting a door with wood or glass panels, then it's better to use a paintbrush for a more accurate application.

  • Why does my paint roller slide instead of roll?

    Paint rollers have a metal roller attached to a frame that is designed to rotate, so if the paint roller is sliding instead of rolling, it's a sign that you have overloaded the roller with paint. This will cause the roller to slide and smear, instead of smoothly rolling. Use the paint tray to remove some paint from the roller before continuing.