An assortment of paint brushes and rollers on a drop cloth.

Even if you have the best quality paint, using the wrong roller or brush for your project can waste time and money. By taking a moment to consider your tools, your paint job is going to get the most payback for your investment.

Kinds of paintbrushes: Natural and Synthetic

Natural-hair bristles are best used with oil-based paints, stains and varnishes while Synthetic bristles are better with water-based and latex paints. Synthetic bristles hold their shape and maintain stiffness no matter how much water they’re exposed to. A top quality polyester brush is well worth the initial cost—when cleaned and stored properly, they’ll keep painting smoothly for years to come.

Choosing the right brush size and shape

An assortment of paint brushes

Brush Sizes

  • 1” – 2 ½“ Straight Edge are best for woodwork and molding
  • 1” – 2 ½” Angled Sash are best for window frames and trim (more precise applications)
  • 2” Straight Edge are best for cutting in at the corners of exterior and interior walls
  • 3” – 4” Straight Edge are best for painting interior walls and ceilings

When you’re buying any paintbrush, there are a few things to look out for:

  • Tug on the bristles. If one or two bristles can be pulled out, the brush is probably poorly made.
  • Hold the brush by the handle. Choose a brush that feels comfortable in your hand.
  • Note the type of bristle tips. Flagged bristles, or split ends, hold more paint, while tipped brushes are favored by pros for their precision and control.

Choosing a paint roller

The best part of using a roller is you can cover a lot more surface area in a lot less time. So, if you’ve got a large, flat area to paint like a wall or ceiling, rollers are a great option. As with brushes, when you’re painting with latex and water-based paints, make sure you use synthetic roller covers.

An assortment of rollers.

When you’re choosing a roller, just like brush sizes, you’ll want to think about the roller’s width:

  • 3” are best for trim and narrow areas
  • 9” are best for most interior wall and ceiling jobs

Another important consideration when you’re shopping for rollers is the length of the nap, or the material that makes up the roller cover. Generally speaking, you should paint smooth surfaces with a short nap, and rougher surfaces—like stucco, brick and masonry—with longer nap so those fibers really get the paint into every nook and cranny. That’s going to save you time.

  • 1/8 ” – 1/4” are best for wallboard, smooth plaster, wood or metal
  • 3/8” – 3/4” are best for light-textured stucco, poured concrete and rough wood
  • 3/4” – 1” are best for heavy-textured stucco, concrete block and brick

Consider the paint’s finish or sheen when picking a roller cover

Gloss and semi-gloss paints go on better with short-nap rollers because these tend to generate less foam and fewer bubbles when you’re rolling the paint out.

When you’re buying any paint roller, as with brushes, you’ll want to pay attention to a few things:

  • Squeeze the roller cover. If the roller cover quickly returns to its original shape that means it’s well made.
  • Choose a plastic “cage.” Cardboard handles and rotating “ribs” tend to fall apart; go for a plastic cage that will stand up to the job and cleaning.
  • Opt for quality covers. Cheaply made roller covers can leave nap fibers and lint behind on the paint surface.

It’s an extra step in your DIY project, but choosing the right tools can get the job done faster with higher-quality coverage and a better finish.