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Paint Applicator Buying Guide

The right paint applicator can make just about any paint job easier. Before you take on your next paint project, find out everything you need to know about brushes, rollers, paint pads, and sprayers.

Painting a room.

Brushes

Flagged brush.

There are two types of brushes:

  • Natural bristle – made with animal hair; hog hair is best. Natural bristle brushes are best used with oil-based or alkyd paint.
  • Synthetic brushes – made with nylon, polyester or a combination. They can be used with oil or latex paint.

For latex paint, you should only use synthetic brushes. For oil-based or alkyd paints, you can use either synthetic or natural bristle but it's always a good idea to check the manufacturer's recommendations.

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

A smooth finish depends on the bristles so be sure you're getting a quality brush:

  • Look at 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.
  • 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 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.

 

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 a 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.

Rollers

Roller nap.

Rollers are available in two types:

  • Natural – made with mohair or lambswool; best with oil-based paints.
  • Synthetic – made with nylon, polyester, or a combination; best with water-based paints.

For latex paint, you should use synthetic materials only. For oil-based or alkyd paints, you can use either synthetic or natural material. As with brushes, it’s 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 inch to 1-1/2 inch. 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 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 are good for mouldings and other fine work.

 

When purchasing a 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 the shape of the letter W. 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).
Good to Know

Use a mini roller when painting woodwork, small areas or in tight spaces.

Pads

  • 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 all be in one direction. Never paint back over an area you just painted. It's also a good idea to use a tray when painting with pads.

     

Power Painters and Sprayers

Paint sprayer.
  • Power painters are available in gas-powered, electric or cordless models.
  • Airless units are popular among do-it yourselfers. In an airless model, the paint is pumped to the applicator.
  • Do-it-yourselfers also use HVLP (high volume, low pressure) models. HVLP ensures that there is less overspray while you apply the paint.
  • Professionals use compressed air systems and stationary paint sprayers, both designed for larger jobs or high-volume jobs.
  • Applicators are available in various sizes and types of brushes, rollers, and spray nozzles.
  • Power rollers offer fingertip control of the paint supply. Once you get the hang of it, they can cover a room quickly.

 

Sprayer Tips:

  • Power spray painters require a steady hand and some practice. Try your paint application on a piece of cardboard until you get the hang of it. Hold the applicator parallel to the surface when using.
  • Invest in drop cloths and tape to minimize rework and reduce cleanup.
  • Sprayers are available in various sizes and power ratings for specific needs, including paint and stains.
Caution

Sprayers offer the best coverage, but expect more wasted paint. Sprayed paint will dry quickly and because of the small opening, spray nozzles can clog. When you're finished, there will be a lot of parts to clean.

Painting Accessories

Here are a few accessories you’ll 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 a must for a roller, but also good when using a painting pad.
  • 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 three days. If you let masking tape stick around that long, you'll end up pulling off part of your finish.
  • The proper step stool or ladder is essential for safety and easier painting.
  • 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.