Lowe's Home Improvement

Paint Applicator Buying Guide

Learn About Paint Applicators

Painting can be a chore, but with the right applicator, the job is a breeze. Choose from brushes, rollers, paint pads, and sprayers.


Flagged Brush

Paint Brushes


The brush is the most popular paint applicator. Brushes are easy to hold and relatively easy to clean. If used and cared for properly, they give an excellent finish and waste less paint. A quality brush can last for years.

Brushes are available in two categories:

  • Natural bristle brushes are made with animal hair. Hog hair is regarded as best. Use with oil-based or alkyd paint. Clean brushes with paint thinner.
  • Synthetic brushes are made from nylon, polyester or a combination. They can be used with oil or latex paint. Clean brushes with mineral spirits (oil) or water (latex).

For latex paint, use synthetic bristle brushes only. Natural bristle is too absorbent to use with latex paint. Either synthetic or natural bristle can be used with oil-based or alkyd paints. It is always a good idea to check the manufacturer's recommendations before purchasing.

You can accomplish most paint jobs with a larger 4" brush for coverage and a smaller 2" brush for trim work and cutting in around corners.

A smooth finish depends on the bristles. When purchasing a quality paintbrush:

  • Inspect the tips of the bristles. A good natural-bristle brush is flagged, having split ends on the tips. The good synthetic ones have fuzzy-looking tips.
  • Look to see if the bristles are trimmed to a tapered chisel-shaped end, not flat.
  • Tap the ferrule (the aluminum or stainless steel band) and make sure that no bristles will fall out. The ferrule should be tightly wrapped and secured around the brush handle. Cheap brushes will lose their bristles. A rusty ferrule can also discolor paint if dipped into the can.

Handle styles will vary - from wider sizes to fit palms to small pencil-sized ones for precision work.
Disposable brushes are an inexpensive alternative that can be discarded after the job is done, eliminating clean up. Keep in mind that cheaper brushes will lose their bristles faster, marring an otherwise perfect finish.

Brush Tips:

  • Dampen a synthetic brush before use. Paint will be less likely to dry on the brush.
  • Don't overload a brush with paint. The application will be smoother and less wasteful.
  • Paint with the brush at 45-degree angle to maximize the bristle's surface area.
  • For a better finish, paint from the area just painted towards the unpainted area. Painters call this "wet to dry".
  • Dip the bristles one-third of the way into the paint; any deeper will waste paint. Tap the side of the brush on the inside of the can to remove excess paint.
  • If you need to stop for an hour or so, position the brush in the paint to cover the bristle tips. For longer interruptions, wrap the brush in aluminum foil or plastic wrap and put it in the freezer for oil-based paints. If you're using latex, the refrigerator will be fine.
  • Before cleaning, remove remaining paint by stroking the brush back and forth on newspaper. Before storing, remove paint with the proper thinner.


M Technique

Paint Brushes & Roller Kits

Rollers are the tools of choice when you have a large area to cover. Rollers will use more paint than a brush. Ceilings and interior/exterior walls can be covered with much less time and effort, but as with brushes, you must choose the correct type.
Rollers are also available in two categories:

  • Natural - Oil-based paints work best with natural materials, such as mohair or lambswool.
  • Synthetic - These rollers are made of nylon, polyester, or a combination. Use with water-based paints.

For latex paint, use synthetic materials only. Natural material is too absorbent to use with latex paint. Either synthetic or natural material can be used with oil-based or alkyd paints. It is always a good idea to check the manufacturer's recommendations before purchasing.

Nap (or pile) is the length of the roller's painting surface. Lengths will vary from 1/16" to 1 1/2". Choose the correct nap for the paint job. If you're painting a smooth surface, choose a short napped roller. For a rough surface such as masonry, use a longer nap. Rollers with textured surfaces are also available for special fashion finishes.
Rollers come in widths from 4 to 18 inches. The metal frame for the roller cover comes in two types - birdcage and metal. The birdcage frame works better if you're using fast-drying paints, as it cleans up more easily than the solid-metal type. Most handles are made for attaching an extension.
Trim rollers come in varying shapes and sizes. Cone-shaped types work well in inside corners. Doughnut-style rollers paint mouldings and other fine work.
When purchasing a quality roller:

  • Look for beveled edges on the roller for a smooth finish.
  • Check to make sure the roller has no visible seams.
  • Give it a squeeze - it should rebound to its original shape.

Roller Tips:

  • Moisten before use with water or thinner to prevent paint from drying on the roller.
  • Load the roller with paint from the slanted edge of the tray to prevent overloading.
  • Paint in shape of the letter M. Start by moving the roller away from you. Without lifting the roller from the wall, fill in the open space.
  • Don't try to paint too quickly.
  • To clean a roller cover, roll it back and forth on newspaper. Remove paint with the proper thinner. If you're rinsing out solvent-based paint, wear rubber gloves. Let it dry before storing.

Disposable rollers are available. If you don't plan on repainting soon, you may want to use these to avoid cleanup (especially when using oil-based paint).


Painters Pad
  • Pad and sponge painters are made in a variety of shapes and sizes. Pads can be useful in tight spots; however, they hold less paint than conventional brushes and rollers.
  • Painting strokes must be all in one direction. Never paint back over the just-painted area.
  • Pads can be washable or disposable. It's also a good idea to use a tray when painting with pads.

Powered Painters and Sprayers

Sprayer Kit

  • Power painters are available in gas-powered, electric or cordless models.
  • Professionals use compressed air systems.
  • Airless units are the most common for the do-it yourselfer. In an airless model, the paint is pumped to the applicator, eliminating the need to reach to a bucket or tray to reload.
  • Applicators are available in various sizes and types of brushes, rollers, and the spray nozzle type.
  • Power rollers offer fingertip control of the paint supply. Once you get the hang of it, they can cover a room quickly.
  • Sprayers offer the best coverage, but expect more wasted paint than with a hand- powered paint applicator. Sprayed paint will dry quickly. Because of the small opening, spray nozzles can clog. When you're finished, there will be a lot of parts to clean.

Sprayer Tips:

  • Power spray painters require a steady hand. Hold the applicator parallel to wall when using.
  • Invest in drop cloths and tape.
  • Sprayers are available in various sizes and power ratings for specific needs, including paint and stains.

Other Applicators

You are certainly not limited to these applicators. Special designer finishes use a variety of applicators:

  • Diapers
  • Grocery bags
  • Sponges
  • Feathers

Painting Accessories

Painters Basics

Gadgets and time-savers abound, from drip guards to drill-operated paint stirrers to brush and roller spinners. Use your own judgment on these, but here are a few accessories you will be glad you picked up:

  • Drop cloths save countless hours of cleanup, not to mention saving things that just aren't meant to be painted, such as sofas and carpet.
  • A tray is must for a roller, but also a good paint holder when using a painting pad.
  • Unless you enjoy scraping windows, painter's tape should be part of your painting toolbox. Always use painter's tape instead of masking tape. Painter's tape allows you to keep areas covered for up to 3 days. If you let masking tape stick around that long, you'll end up pulling off part of your finish.
  • For safety and easier painting, the proper step stool or ladder is essential.
  • An edger or painter's shield is a simple straightedge with a handle that enables you to make clean cut-ins where walls meet ceilings.
  • Using an extension handle for your roller may be just the trick when you need to extend your reach. Make sure your roller will accept a screw-in extender and that the extender is stiff enough to give you enough leverage to apply the paint.

Get the Right Amount of Paint