How to Use a Paint Pad

Follow painting expert Brian Santos' instructions for handling a paint pad. Read more in his new book, "Painting Secrets."


Enlarge Image Author Brian Santos

A pad is the ideal detail paint tool. A little understanding and practice will help you use this high-tech tool to lay paint faster, better, and more evenly on any surface.

7 Expert Tips

1. Look for complete paint pad kits. The plastic packaging for the kits is also the loading paint tray and an airtight lid.

2. Make the tool hold you: Make a flexible handle. Place the empty tray in your hand, palm side up, then stick a piece of tape down one side of the tray, loosely over the back of your hand, and up the other side.

3. Always hold and use your painting tool in your dominant hand. Grip the pad handle firmly as you paint. Keep the tool in front of your face; you will have a better view of your work and better physical control of the tool.

4. The tracking wheels -- that's what got you interested in the gizmo in the first place, right? You thought they would eliminate having to use masking tape. Wrong. Even though pads are designed to deliver the paint right up to the edge of adjacent surfaces, they are not foolproof. What can easily happen is that when you load the pad, paint gets smeared onto the wheels and they leave little paint marks along the wall or ceiling or trim. Take out some painting insurance -- masking tape!

5. Load the pad and tray often. This prevents the pad from drying out.

6. Use long sweeping strokes to apply and spread out the paint. These broader movements will give you better leverage and minimize muscle fatigue.

7. If you need to stop painting for a short time, set and store the pad inside the tray and snap on the lid to stop the paint from drying in the tray.

A paint pad is designed to evenly load and lay paint to a surface. Don't overwork this tool. Here are some techniques that will give much better control.

1. Dip the pad into the paint. Pour only 1/4 inch of paint into the loading tray. This amount won't let you overload the pad bristles, or let the pad sink into the paint, or easily spill the tray.

2. Wiggle the pad to load the paint into its bristles and foam core. This action will pump in, load up, and lock in the paint.

3. Scrape the pad gently across the edge of the tray. Don't press too hard; you want the bristles to be full of paint, but not dripping. The excess paint will flow back into the paint tray. This lets you control the load amount going onto the surface.

Different Strokes

Remember that gravity is your friend, so work from bottom to top and from side to side with strokes about 24 to 36 inches long. You'll need only two strokes for a smooth finish.

1. Place the loaded pad firmly on the surface. The first stroke is always in one direction to unload the paint in the pad.

2. The second stroke runs gently back over the area in the opposite direction to set the paint and remove bristle marks. At the end of this stroke, lift the pad while moving to feather back into the wet paint. This will help the paint blend evenly onto the surface.

Apply the paint quickly moving up and along the wall, painting from bottom to top, moving forward between strokes.

Cool Tool

Make a micro paint grid. Cut a rectangle of #14 stainless steel screen mesh slightly larger than the inside dimensions of the paint tray. Measure in 1/4 inch from the screen edge and bend the screen down to form the legs of the grid. Place the grid inside the paint tray. It prevents the pad from sinking too deep into the paint and getting paint up into the tracking wheels.

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