How to Choose Paint Applicators
Learn how to select the right tools for your next paint project with our guide to paintbrushes, rollers, and more applicators.
When it comes to paint applicators, it's not one size fits all. To get a project done right, whether it's painting a dresser or painting an entire room, you should get familiar with the tools available to you. The right applicator makes your job efficient, so you can finish on time and with as few hiccups as possible. The wrong choice, however, could leave your paint project with drips or streaks, or it could double the work time you spend on it. Below, we share everything there is to know about choosing the right paint applicator. We lay out what tool is right for you, and how to make the most out of brushes, rollers, and more. Be sure to read our tips before you even think about opening that gallon of paint.
Brushes are ideal for paint jobs, like painting furniture, with more targeted areas. When painting a room, this also means trimming the walls and ceiling. For most smooth surfaces, a 2-1/2- or 3-inch flat brush will do, but for tricky corners or curves, an angled brush will give you more control.
Use natural bristle brushes for oil-based paint, stain, varnish, shellac, lacquer, and polyurethane. Water-base paints work best with manufactured bristles. A common mistake beginner DIYers make is loading the brush with too much paint, which will leave you with a thick coat of paint that will form noticeable drips. Too little paint on a brush will stretch your painting time and might lead to uneven coats and streaks. The right way to load a brush with paint is to dip it in about one-third of the way. Tap the bristles against the can's rim to remove excess paint. The brush shouldn't be dripping as you carefully transport it from the paint can to the wall or project.
You'll be tempted to buy a cheap, throw-away fuzzy-napped roller, but save yourself the headache! A 1/2-inch foam paint roller works faster, easier, and better. You can load three or four times the amount of paint onto the roller. Such porosity means less dipping into the roller tray, which means more coverage in less time.
Another advantage is that a foam pad will roll over any surface—texture, lap siding, stucco—because it is designed to conform to any surface it touches. A foam roller won't splatter paint or leave fuzzies in the paint on the wall. If you purchase a roller with a nylon core, it is easier to clean, and you can use it over and over. Yellow foam covers are designed for applying water-based paint. Gray or blue foam covers are used with oil-based paint.
When selecting a roller frame, choose heavy-duty plastic or stainless steel. Make sure the handle is comfortable to grip and has a threaded socket in the end so you can add an extension pole. Or, buy a frame with a telescoping handle. Our favorite has a handle that can expand from 12 to 32 inches, making it easy to roll the wall from floor to ceiling. A 4-foot extension pole works best; it's long enough to help you paint from floor to ceiling, yet short enough to work in a closet.
Get a fiberglass handle, not an aluminum one. Fiberglass will not conduct electricity, so if you should happen to make contact with a live outlet or fixture, you won't get hurt. Fiberglass also bends slightly, giving you better feedback on how much pressure you're putting on the roller.
Mini rollers will be your new best friends. These 4-inch-wide rollers make it easy to paint small, tight surfaces, and they apply paint as evenly as the larger versions. Plus, they allow you to paint within corners. Corner rollers, which are narrow and tapered to an edge, are ideal for getting into tight corners. The beveled shape and foam material is designed to evenly roll paint on both surfaces of an inside corner.
The 4-inch paint pad is a tool that has everything to offer: It's made of plastic, with a short, thick ergonomic handle. Tracking wheels set off the application pad from adjacent moldings. The bristle face of a pad is perfect for cutting in, edging, and painting flat trim. The pad's foam core holds three times more paint than a brush, has five times more surface area than a regular brush tip, and has bristles that are only 1/4-inch long, so the paint won't dry out. It splatters and drips less than a brush. Most pads even come with a plastic paint tray and airtight snap-on lid.
To use this clever tool, load the pad and foam core with paint. Lightly press the pad onto the wall with the assisting wheels aligned with the adjacent wall or trim. Pull the pad down the wall and then back up, retracing your mark. The wheels are meant to guide your strokes so you don't mark adjacent walls. However, this doesn't mean you are safe to forego painter's tape on wall edges. Excess paint can drip into the corners and paint can get on the paint pad's wheels, leaving a streak of color down the adjacent wall.