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Tips for rolling paint on wall surfaces

Paint the ceiling before painting walls

Working from the top down is a general rule in house painting. If the ceiling is going to be painted, then start with the ceiling before painting walls. Painting walls before the ceiling will often result in paint roller spray and drips from the ceiling marring freshly painted walls.

Cut-in wall surfaces before rolling paint

Use a paintbrush to cut in corners, above baseboards, around outlets and switches, around door and window trim and other areas where it would be difficult to apply paint easily or neatly with a roller. Once cut in, wall surfaces can be rolled quickly. A good cut-in distance around trim and in corners (on each side) is approximately two inches. The top of the wall below the ceiling should be cut in approximately three to four inches.

Work from the top down

For wall painting, start applying paint about one or two feet below the cut in to the ceiling. After unloading paint, then carefully roll paint up to the cut in line. Applying paint at the ceiling cut in when the roller is full can result in a line of paint that can not be smoothed with roller strokes. (due to proximity with the ceiling

Use a rolling pole

A rolling pole screws into the base of a roller frame. It enables the work of rolling paint to be shared by both arms, both shoulders and the back. Without a rolling pole, the muscles of one arm and one shoulder would have to do the bulk of the work. By using a rolling pole, you are able to roll more surfaces with less fatigue. For wall areas where a regular four-foot, or so, rolling pole can not be used, adust an adustable pole down to two-feet or use a two-foot rolling pole. The two-foot "short pole" is ideal for tight space rolling where plastic-covered furniture has been moved three or four feet from wall surfaces. Short poles are also ideal for rolling hallway, bathroom and closet walls.


Apply paint in small sections

Use your roller to apply paint in sections approximately three-feet by three-feet on walls. Apply paint using an “N” or “W” pattern. Work from the top to the bottom of the wall. Apply paint evenly. Apply additional paint if the section is not covered completely, or thin in areas. If excess paint is applied, use roller strokes to apply excess into the next section. Once paint is evenly applied, it is time to start the finishing strokes.
Note: Avoid exerting forceful pressure on the roller cover when applying paint on the wall. A light rolling motion is best. Apply paint until you hear a “sticky” or “suction.” This type of sound indicates that loaded paint has been applied and that the roller is now technically “dry.” (with only the amount needed to prime the roller cover) Applying paint beyond what is needed to prime the cover results in extra paint loading time during the next dip into the five-gallon bucket or reservoir of the rolling pan.

When the roller cover is “dry,” it is ready for long, light finishing strokes

When paint has been applied and the roller cover is technically dry, (see note above) with only enough paint for priming, it is time for finishing strokes. Finishing strokes are long, light passes of the roller cover over one or more rolling sections. (You do not have to finish stroke each section by itself) These are designed to even and unify the paint coat applied in each rolled section. The purpose is also to unify the rolled coat in adjoining sections. If you finish stroke each section, then make sure that you finish stroke the newer sections into the previously completed sections.

Keep a wet edge

Keeping a wet edge on the border of your last paint section will help to blend it into the area of you next applied section. Paint sections that have wet edges blend more successfully together and look uniform when dry. Working in small sections will help you to keep wet edges.


Reposition your halogen work light to keep angled light on the work surface

As you move from section to section, move your halogen work light so that you have correct surface lighting. It is much easier to apply paint evenly with correct lighting. You will also be more effective in finding and correcting application mistakes.

Check your work and make any corrections before moving on to the next section

With proper lighting, check your work on each section before moving to the next section. Mistakes that are left to dry will take more time to repair.

Occasionally roll out the accumulated paint on the ends of the roller cover to avoid cover end tracking lines

Roller tracking lines are often caused by accumulated paint in the ends of the roller cover. To prevent these lines, exert light pressure on the left and then right ends of the roller cover. You will see the accumulated paint form lines on the surface. Roll this paint into the section, spreading it evenly into the applied paint. Done every few sections, this technique will help to prevent prevent roller cover end tracking lines.

Do not stop work in the “middle” of a wall surface

Paint should be applied until the coat being rolled on the ceiling or current wall surface is completely finished. Stopping paint application and allowing paint to dry in the middle of a wall surface can cause a noticeable line where one paint application stopped, and then a new application began.

For best results, complete the entire wall before allowing the paint to dry. Before concluding work for a time, wall surfaces should be rolled with paint until a corner is reached. Work can begin at a later time on the wall next to the corner previously reached.


Detailed information about interior house painting surface preparation is available in the book:

The Homeowner's Guide to Surface Preparation for Interior House Painting

All content copyright Steve Broujos LLC