Brushing & Rolling Paint

Brushing and rolling paint are the two most common forms of interior painting. Nearly any interior painting project will require some form of either, and most likely both.

A paint brush and a paint roller are two of the most basic tools ever invented, on par with the screwdriver and the hammer. How hard can it be, right? You put the paint on the tool and the tool against the wall.

If only it were that simple. For all their simplicity, brushing and rolling paint can be deceptively difficult to do.

Uneven finishes, misplaced blobs of paint, the dreaded “roller marks”, and irregular lines…these are just a few of the problems than an incorrect brushing or rolling paint technique can cause.

And yet, most paint brushes and rollers come with absolutely NO instructions! Why are we all expected to instinctively know the proper way to use them?

Below I’ve provided all the important tips and techniques for brushing and rolling paint that I’ve learned over the years through advice, classes, and (more commonly) trial and error.


Choosing Paint Brushes

The paint brush is a very simple tool, yet at times it can be downright frustrating! The first (and most important) paintbrush tip I can give you is to choose the right brush.

Different paints require different types of brushes. Oil-based paints work best with “natural” bristle brushes.

Latex (water-based) paints work most effectively with synthetic nylon-poly brushes. Latex paints are far and away the most common type of interior paint, and the type I recommend for most interior painting.

  • First, choose a quality brush. How do you know?

    First look at the bristles. The ends should be “flagged”, or split, and feel very fine against your fingers. “Flagged” bristles help to hold the paint and release it in a controlled manner.

  • Avoid “bargain bin” paintbrushes. You will rue the day you purchased a dollar store paintbrush.

    A quality paintbrush needn’t cost a ton of money. Widely-available quality brushes manufactured by Purdy and Wooster are reasonably priced and of a sufficiently high quality.

    Paint Brush Uses

    In interior painting, paint brushes are for several purposes:

    • To “cut in” along edges and woodwork.

    • For any detail work where a roller will not fit.

    • For blending and spot touch-ups.

    • For painting woodwork, moldings, windows, doors, and anything else that requires a fine touch.

    Painting with paint brushes is an acquired art…you will become much better with practice, so perfect your technique on a practice board or a spare piece of drywall.

    Applying Paint with a Brush

    Okay…you have a quality brush and you’re ready to start painting. The very first step in applying paint is to properly load the brush.

    One of the most common mistakes an amateur painter makes is under- or over-loading the paintbrush.

    Overloading the brush will cause the paint to drip and run. Under-loading the brush will create coverage problems and cost an excessive amount of time.

    Dip the bristles of the brush approximately 2 inches into the paint can. When you pull the brush free, tap it gently against the side of the can, don’t wipe. This knocks free excess paint and sets the remainder deep into the bristles, where its release can be controlled.

    Wiping dries out the outer bristles, and should be done only when doing detail work that requires a deft touch.

    When applying the paint to the surface, press just hard enough to “release” the paint from the bristles without causing drips. Usually, the pressure required should be just enough to flex the bristles.

    Don’t stop. Keep your brush moving…if you stop the brush in a single place or press too hard the paint will run. Depending on the surface you’re painting, you should get a 16-24” strip of paint from each fully loaded paint brush.

    Cutting In

    Most professional painters do not tape off all adjacent surfaces and woodwork…they simply “cut in” very carefully with a brush, creating a nice, even line.

    This takes patience and lots of practice to perfect. I advise any “do it yourselfer” to tape off all adjoining surfaces and paint almost worry free.

    However, if you feel you have a steady hand and a straight eye, give “cutting in” a shot. You may find you’re a natural.


    The same applies to a roller as applies to a paint brush. Use high quality materials.

    Poor quality rollers will shed fibers into your paint, hold very little paint, and in general make your painting project much more difficult than necessary.

    I can give you two very important tips to start off with:

    • For most paint jobs, use a 3/8” nap roller cover for rolling paint. Rollers with longer naps are made for textured walls (1” nap is for masonry and brick, for instance). A shorter nap than this puts a very thin coat of paint on the wall, increasing the time and frustration of painting.

    • Always (even if you purchased a quality roller cover) cover the fibers of a new roller in painter’s tape, allow to set for a moment, then remove. This will eliminate any loose fibers from the roller cover that may come out into your newly painted wall.

    Rolling Paint onto Walls

    The first step is to load your roller with paint. Immerse the roller cover in paint for several seconds, allowing the fibers to “soak up” the paint.

    Once it has absorbed some paint, run the roller back and forth across the “ribs” of your tray for a moment to remove any excess paint. Like with a paint brush, you want your roller to be as full as possible without running or dripping.

    Find a convenient place to start (a top corner is always a good spot) and create an approximately 3x3 box. This is approximately how much space a single roller full of paint can cover.

    Pressing just hard enough for complete coverage, make a large “W” within that space with your roller. This distributes the paint over the area you want to paint.

    Then go back and fill in all the blank space, until your 3x3 area is complete. Then simply reload the roller and continue onto to an adjoining 3x3 square.

    Work these boxes together with a roller while the paint is still wet, so the paint does not dry and form a visible line in the finished look. It is always a good idea to complete a wall without stopping once you’ve begun. You always want to work with a “wet edge” so that each section blends seamlessly together.

    Finishing Off

    When rolling paint on walls, you need to “finish off” each section of wall while it is still wet. You “finish off” each section with a ceiling to floor stroke. Use very little pressure. You’re not attempting to apply paint…you’re merely trying to level out any ridges left by the edges of the roller.

    Lastly, keep moving. Remember, maintaining a wet edge is the key to an even paint job. Roll the paint on, “finish off” each section, then move on to your next adjacent section, all while the paint is still wet.

    I hope you have found this tutorial for brushing and rolling paint helpful. Check out the other painting tips and techniques at How To Paint.

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