Paint rollers can be a fun and convenient addition to any painter's toolkit, whether you're a professional or a do-it-yourselfer. What really makes paint rollers so effective isn't just good paint skills, it's also a matter of working with the right type of roller.
The two most common types of rollers are the nap rollers and foam rollers. Nap rollers are made up of numerous fibers or strands. Foam paint rollers offer a budget alternative to traditional rollers and are specifically helpful with certain kinds of painting jobs.
Here are some of the most common ways that painters use a foam paint roller for interior or exterior painting work.
1. Smooth Surfaces
While your individual projects may vary, a good rule of thumb painter's use is to plan on using foam rollers for smooth interior walls and traditional rollers for the more uneven exterior walls of a home.
Because of the way they absorb the paint, foam paint rollers are most useful on smooth surfaces. When a wall has been finished to a fine, smooth flatness, the foam roller glides along and dispenses paint evenly.
Imagine the way a nap roller would go about that same job. The varying fiber lengths would absorb and apply paint unevenly and potentially leave behind roller marks. Consequently, it's where traditional nap rollers shine that foam rollers fall short: the rougher, irregular surfaces. Rough exterior walls and popcorn ceilings actually squeeze paint out of foam rollers and make them drip.
2. Thinner Paints
The benefit of using foam is that it absorbs liquids easily, and when the outer surface of the foam is smooth, it redistributes that same liquid evenly. In the painting world, thin paints absorb well, so varieties like water-based paints and latex work ideally with foam rollers.
On the other hand, oil-based paints tend to be thicker and more syrupy than liquid-like. Try to avoid using foam rollers with oil-based paints, as they likely won't absorb as completely or as evenly, thus negatively impacting the finished paint job.
3. Large Surface
As stated, foam rollers are especially absorbent, which translates to taking in a larger volume of paint than a traditional roller might. Having lots of paint in the tank means it's a tool best suited to having a lot of surfaces to cover.
Brushes or other tools may better serve a painter on smaller walls and surface areas.
4. Matched Width Trim
Smaller foam paint rollers called "trim rollers" are available for various types of trim frames, molding, and other smaller bits of a job. These 3-4-inch designs can give trim the same neat look as the wider foam roller gives to a wall area. So long as you get the appropriate sizes of trim roller you can quickly cover all of the parts of a room or space.
5. For Short Term Use
Foam roller covers do not tend to last a long time. They are great for when a painter does not take on jobs routinely. If you're the kind of craftsman who only paints a room when you get sick of its current color once every few years, foam rollers are for you. They're inexpensive, and while useful, are in no way precious.
If you do anticipate that you'll be painting frequently, traditional lambskin rollers may be a better idea, since a one-time purchase will last you quite a while.
Substitute When Necessary
Keep in mind that all of these rules are interchangeable and interdependent. For example, just because you have a large surface to paint doesn't mean you're restricted to using a foam roller, as that same large surface may also be a rough surface.
Similarly, foam rollers can be used on occasions when they are not the ideal tool. For instance, you may have a project where spray painting would be the absolute best method for paint applications. However, sometimes the best option isn't a practical option. Spray painting requires specialized tools, preparation, and skill to adequately control the distribution of paint, whereas a foam roller just requires paint and your arms.
Edward Kimble, a professional painter, and the author of "Interior House Painting Blog" contributed to this article.