Paint roller buying guide

Paint roller buying guide

Sebastian, self-taught DIY-er, Exeter

Guide written by:

Sebastian, self-taught DIY-er, Exeter

221 guides

A paint roller should be chosen to match the type of paint you want to apply and surface you're working with. Designed to apply anything from gloss paint to render, paint rollers come in a range of designs including honeycomb, short pile and non-drip models. Read on to find the perfect paint roller for your job.

Important features

  • Type of application
  • Pile length
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Paint rollers are really practical if you have large, flat surfaces to paint. The roller itself is made up of a handle and a frame which is covered by a rollersleeve. It is usually possible to switch the sleeve of a roller. Your choice of paint roller will depend on the following:

  • the type of surface you want to paint;
  • the type of product you plan to apply (paint, varnish, render, etc.);
  • the finish you're after.

Paint rollers can be purchased alone but often come as part of a painting kit. At the very least, a roller will usually come with a paint brush which can be used to tackle corners and tight spaces.

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Painting kits


Picking a roller handle is simply a matter of common sense. Nonetheless, here are a few tips to guide you.

Extension poles

Go for a long handle if you need to reach ceilings and consider getting an extension pole – or even a telescopic pole – to secure the roller. Alternatively, you can go for a regular handle and work from ladder, stepladder or step stool!

Handle materials

Roller handles can be made of wood, plastic or a composite material. The last two options are easier to clean, though the cleaning product should be chosen to match the type of paint used (i.e. water for acrylic or alkyd paint and white spirit for oil-based paints).

Sleeve type

Roller sleeves come in a range of designs to suit different surfaces. Choose from various materials and special features to match the result you're looking for.

Foam sleeves

Foam sleeves are great for a variety of applications. You can use them to apply undercoat or simply to freshen up your floors with a lick of paint.

Varnish roller sleeves

As the name suggests, these sleeves are specifically designed for use with varnish. Varnish is designed to allow wood breathe while lending it colour and protecting it from UV rays. A varnish roller will provide a very smooth finish.

Gloss or lacquer roller sleeves

Gloss paint provides a high-shine finish. These sleeves are specially designed for applying gloss (or varnish) to smooth surfaces.

Exterior roller sleeves

Exterior roller sleeves feature a long nap which is used to fill in any gaps in surfaces. This makes them ideal for painting over render. Of course, you will usually need an extension pole or work from a stepladder or stool to paint an exterior wall.

Long pile roller sleeves

Long nap paint roller sleeves are designed for uneven or textured walls. They can be used for painting on brick or even plastered walls, but do tend to drip.

Short pile roller sleeves

These sleeves are recommended to create an even finish on smooth surfaces. The material and the length of the pile means that they don't drip very much.

Honeycomb roller sleeves

Honeycomb roller sleeves are used to give render its distinctive pattern. These sleeves feature holes all over their surface to create a textured or stippled effect.

Spiked roller sleeves

A spiked roller sleeve can also be used to create heavy-textured profiles.

Roller sleeve materials

Paint roller sleeves can be made of synthetic fibres, natural fibres or a mixture of both.

Synthetic fibres

Synthetic roller sleeves are best suited to water-based paint application.

Mixed fibres

Paint rollers with a mixed nap are designed for use with oil-based paints.

Natural fibres

Natural fibres can be used with all types of paint and offer the best results.

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Ladders and scaffolds

Most paint rollers are designed for a specific application; for example, for acrylic paint, radiator paint, and so on.

Furniture and doors

Furniture and doors should be painted with a gloss paint roller with a synthetic 5 mm pile for the best results. If you are planning to repaint wooden doors or furniture, we recommend that you choose your wood paint wisely and prepare the surface well. These steps will help you achieve a better finish.

Lightly textured ceilings and walls

A lightly textured ceiling or wall should be painted using a non-drip paint roller with a pile of around 12 mm. Use a special wall and ceiling paint, floor protection and a paint grid and/or paint tray. Get your hands on a roller extension pole if your job requires it.

Smooth walls and ceilings

A smooth wall calls for a double-layer roller with a 10 mm nap. If you are redecorating a kitchen or bathroom, be sure to use a special bathroom or kitchen paint designed to cope with humidity and to prevent your walls from ageing prematurely.

Exterior walls and render

Exterior walls should be painted using a 18 mm pile roller. If required, be sure to choose a roller designed specially for use with pliolite paints to avoid damaging the nap of your roller sleeve. If you are planning to paint on wooden surfaces (such as wooden cladding), we recommend reading our tips on exterior wood paint in order to choose the best protection available.


Render is applied using a honeycomb or stipple effect roller. This type of roller features holes which produces peaks and gives the render its distinctive look.

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Telescopic pole

Be sure to prepare your surfaces properly before you start to ensure a great finish. Choose from a range of painting tools designed to protect, prepare and clean your tools and accessories. For your next painting job, think about investing in the following:

  • a dust sheets and masking tape to protect your floors from paint spills and drips and to cover any areas you do not want to paint;
  • a paint tray with a grid to control the amount of paint applied to your roller;
  • a solvent to clean your roller sleeves and brushes between applications of oil-based paint;
  • a protective mask to keep you safe from harmful VOCs (volatile organic compounds).

More information

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Guide written by:

Sebastian, self-taught DIY-er, Exeter, 221 guides

Sebastian, self-taught DIY-er, Exeter

Redo a roof with wooden beams? Check.Advise Mister everybody in the DIY shop? Check.Redo the bathroom plumbing? Check.Fit together, build the walls, paint a partition, throw my hammer in a rage thinking that it will fix the problem? Check. The DIY motto ? Learning is better than delegating… well, it's also a question about your wallet! The satisfaction? The beer at the end of the job! What do the best have in common? The influence of Gyro Gearloose, Mac Gyver and Carol Smiley depending on your generation, a good dose of curiosity, a average hand-eye coordination and a taste for risks… and if it doesn't work, try again! Advise you? I'll do my best!

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