Painting techniques - using paint rollers

With a paint roller, the paint can be applied quickly and effectively to give a smooth finish.

A 'standard' roller frame will accept 9 inch rollers of various types:

  • Foam rollers (the cheapest) will give a good finish but if overloaded with paint, it will drip off the ends and they tend to cause splashes if used fast. Suitable for emulsion or oil based paints.
  • Mohair rollers have a strong, fine and short pile which holds the paint well. Suitable for emulsion or oil based paints on smooth or slightly textured surfaces.
  • Sheepskin or lambswool rollers have a long pile making them ideal for painting heavily textured surfaces, such as heavy embossed wallpapers - they are not suitable for a smooth finish on a smooth surface. Suitable for emulsion or oil based paints.

12 inch rollers are also available, in theory these cover an area quicker than the smaller rollers but they can be harder work as they hold more paint and are therefore heavier.

When painting walls, you will probably need a step-up to reach the top - even if you can reach while standing on the floor, having to stretch up will soon become tiring and you might as well work in comfort. Make sure that the steps used are safe and stable and don't try to overreach when using them.

When painting ceilings, set up a strong and stable work platform to work from - alternatively a roller with an extended handle can be used whilst standing on the floor. You won't be able to paint the edges (cutting-in) from the floor so will need a stable set of steps or similar while you do the cutting-in. If you do set up a platform, just using two pairs of steps and a scaffold board parallel to the windows will enable you to reach a strip about 1m wide without having to keep moving the platform.

Cutting in the edges

Start by 'cutting in' the paint - this is simply using a brush to paint the edges where the roller won't reach - i.e. in the corners, upto the skirting board, around windows and door frames, and around electrical fittings etc.

Try to use a 1 or 2 inch brush if space allows, the object is to produce a sharp line at the edge of the paint area. If the adjacent area (i.e. around a corner) is also going to be painted in the same colour, there's no need to produce a sharp edge.

Using the brush, paint an area about 50mm (2 inches) wide around the edges where the roller won't reach, make the band somewhat wider where two walls meet the ceiling (or skirting board) and where vertical door architrave meets the skirting board - these are awkward areas for a roller.

To achieve a sharp edge, start by using the brush to apply the paint to within a short distance from the edge, then when the paint has been spread out, use the brush to carefully paint over the small gap to the edge.

Only 'cut in' immediately before you are going to paint the surface, if the 'cut in' areas are allowed to fully dry before applying the roller, the edge bands will show up.

Using a paint roller

Once the edges have been 'cut in', the rest of the surface can be painted using a roller.

Pour some of the paint into a clean roller tray to half fill the sunken well at one end.

Before loading the roller with paint, dampen the sleeve with water (for water based paint), roll out the excess moisture onto some clean and absorbent (not newspaper, the roller will pick up the ink).

Load the roller by rolling it in the paint and then up the tray to spread the paint evenly around the roller- if when you lift the roller above the tray, paint drips off, the roller is overloaded, run it up and down the grid in the tray to remove any excess.

In your mind, divide the surface up into areas about 1 metre square, start in the middle of a 'square' at the top corner nearest the window of a wall - when painting a ceiling, start at a corner nearest the window - and roll the loaded roller over the surface in a rough 'M' pattern without lifting the roller off the surface. Starting in these places will allow you to use the natural lighting to check that you achieve complete coverage.

Without reloading the roller, repeat the 'M' pattern at right angles to spread the paint and join the strokes - repeat, reversing the pattern each time, until all the under-surface has been covered. Finish off by using the roller in a single direction over the whole area - vertically on walls, parallel to the window for ceilings. Where the roller applied paint meets the cutting-in band, overlap the roller onto the brushed area.

Reload the roller - after the first loading of the roller, less paint will be needed as the roller will still be partially charged with paint. Repeat the application of paint on to the surface next to the area just painted. Start by putting the new paint onto the unpainted area and as you spread the paint, work it into the previous area to blend the edges.

To roller paint narrow and awkward areas, such as behind cisterns or installed radiator, special, mini roller are available, these are smaller and have long handle to reach into these areas.


  • Wrap the roller in a plastic bag if you are going to stop painting for more than a few minutes, this will prevent the paint from forming a skin on the roller.
  • Clean both the roller frame and the sleeve when you finish 'for the day' - rollers will come apart to make cleaning relatively easy. Squeeze out as much paint from the sleeve as you can then rinse, keep repeating rinsing and squeezing until the cleaning liquid is clear.
  • If you are using anything except water-based paint, never leave the paint loaded roller or any rags or brushes in an enclosed area - some non-water based paints can combust. Place them out of doors or in a bucket of water and definitely out of reach of children and animals.

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