Whether you’re using a large roller on your walls or a small one to paint your furniture, chances are, you could be using it better. The first time I worked with a roller was an all-around comprehensive disaster. Alright, so that might be a bit of an exaggeration — but I did have to repaint the whole thing! Since then, I’ve learned how to paint with a roller without leaving streaks, which is what I’m going to tell you about today.

Obviously, rollers can be pretty useful painting tools no matter which project you’re tackling. However, you do have to do your research before you use them. There are plenty of things that can go wrong:

  • You could transfer roller fibers or lint to your paint and then to the surface you’re painting
  • If parts of the roller sleeve are dry, you could have splotchy coverage where the dry fibers hit the wall
  • If you don’t roll excess paint off your roller and distribute it onto the walls properly, you could end up with paint literally dripping down your walls
  • Using only up and down or side to side motions to roll the paint on could result in uneven coverage
  • Many types of paint require more than 1 coat, especially if you’re trying to cover dark walls with a light color

But don’t worry — I’ve made mistakes so that you don’t have to. In this guide, we’re going to talk about all of the steps you’ll need to take in order to achieve streakless full coverage on your walls.


I’ll begin my guide by sharing some of the basic preparation tips you may have already learned from some of my other articles. Then, I’ll get into the specifics on how you can get a streak-free finish after painting your walls with a roller.

Prep the Space for Painting

Obviously, the first thing you’ll need to do is prepare the room you’ll be painting. I’ve explained how you can do this many times before. Basically, you’ll want to:

  • Get the majority of your stuff out of the room and shove the biggest pieces of furniture toward the middle of the floor
  • Do some basic cleanup, dust and vacuum the room
  • Cover everything you need to protect from paint — check out the article I’ve linked to above for more information
  • Most importantly, prepare the walls themselves — repair any damage, use a primer if necessary (like if you want to cover up dark walls), sand, and clean them

Once you have everything ready for you to paint, you can get your supplies.

Getting the Supplies

In the past, I’ve also written about all of the painting equipment you’ll need to make your job as easy as it can be. However, I did leave out a few crucial details from that list. Even though I did mention that you’ll need rollers along with brushes to paint your walls, I’d like to explain that here.

So what is there to explain?

Well, you see, rollers don’t usually come in one piece — at least the good ones don’t. They’re actually made up of 3 parts:

  • Roller frames. Personally, I recommend getting a metal one if you want it to last you a long time or one with a non-slip nylon cage.
  • Roller sleeves or covers. These are the fibrous parts of the roller that hold the paint. They come in different thicknesses, or “naps,” wherein the thinnest, 3/8 and half-inch ones are for smooth surfaces. The thicker ones are 3/4 and 1 1/4 inch thick, and they can deposit paint onto rough, textured walls. Whichever type of nap you end up getting, just make sure that the sleeve is as long as your frame.
  • Extension pole. This one goes without saying, but an extension pole can make your job so much easier. I recommend getting a 2-to-4 foot one if you’re just working on your apartment or home.

Now, all of these things are also available in painting kits like this one that gives you two 9-inch metal roller frames and a 9-inch paint tray.

Alternately, you can get a kit that contains a paint tray, a 9-inch frame with two sleeves, a 3-inch frame with a cover, a 2-inch angled brush, and even a plastic tray liner.

Paint Tray vs. Paint Boxing Bucket

In fact, if you want to use a paint tray while you work, I suggest getting one that comes with cheap plastic sleeves. Trust me — they’ll save you from having one more thing to clean.

On the other hand, if you don’t want to use a paint tray, you might want to mix your paint in a 5-gallon bucket. That method is called paint boxing, and it ensures that several cans of paint have the same consistency and tone.

However, you don’t want to just dip a roller into a bucket of paint and slap it onto your walls. Instead, you can get rid of the excess and ensure an equal distribution of paint by moving the roller up and down a metal grid you can lower into the bucket.

Paint the Outline First

Every time you’re painting a wall or a ceiling, you need to start by painting around the perimeter of the surface first. Use a 3.5-inch angled synthetic brush to paint about 4 or 5 inches at the corners of the walls as well as from the ceiling down. These types of brushes are pretty ideal if you’re looking for streak-free results.

However, that’s not to say that you can’t use any other brush for painting walls. There’s a time and a place for everything. If you want to know which brushes you can use when, make sure to read my reviews of the best paint brushes for smooth application.

Anyway, the purpose of applying paint around the perimeter of the surface you’re painting is two-fold:

  • It gives you more wiggle room with your roller since you don’t have to go near the surrounding walls, the ceiling, and the baseboard trim
  • It allows for a more seamless blend — but only if the paint you apply around the edges is still somewhat fresh by the time you apply it with your rollers onto the middle of the walls

So once you have your perimeter paint on, you’ll be racing against the clock. Luckily, applying the paint with a roller is fairly quick and painless.

Dip the Roller Into Paint

Hold your horses! There’s still more prep work to do before you can dunk your roller. First, you have to make sure that it’s clean.

Use a lint remover to get any excess fibers off the roller sleeve. If you don’t have one of those, you can just use painter’s tape. As I explained in my article about painting equipment, painter’s tape is pretty versatile. So you can roll it around your hand with the adhesive facing out and use your hand to remove the lint.

Then, you can run the roller cover under a tap or simply squeeze it with a damp towel. It shouldn’t be dripping, just damp — that will ensure that the whole roller loads up with paint evenly. Screw in your extension pole and get your paint.

If you’re using the bucket method I’ve described above, you can dump all of your paint in and mix it at this point. Then, drop your metal grid in and dip your roller into the paint, moving it up and down against the grid until you see that the paint has soaked through the whole roller cover. The cover should be loaded but not dripping, so don’t actually plunge the whole thing into the bucket.

If you’re using the paint tray method, you can pour some of the paint from the can into the deeper end of the tray. Hopefully, you’ll have put in a plastic tray cover beforehand. Once again, don’t dunk the whole roller in. Instead, work it in bit by bit, all the while moving the roller over the textured part of the tray.

Use the Right Rolling Method

Once you have loaded the paint into your roller, it’s time to apply it. The edges of your wall or ceiling should still be damp enough to melt into this new layer of paint. Now, you can start painting the wall, using up the paint in the roller and refilling after you’ve covered a 3-foot wide section.

Every time you dip the roller back into the paint and start a new section, start a roller’s length away from the previous one and roll back into it so that the two sections overlap. Make sure to feather the paint out in order to avoid thick borders between the sections.

Putting the paint onto the walls is a 3-step process:

  • Slap the paint on. Put the loaded roller onto the wall and paint a big W shape in the section you’re working on.
  • Spread it out. Roll out the paint you’ve applied in your imaginary 2 or 3-foot section. These movements can be more narrow and long up and down swipes. Also, go slow so as not to spill the paint.
  • Lay it off. After you’ve applied the paint everywhere, do another pass with your roller without dipping it back into the paint. This method is called “laying off,” and it essentially ensures that smooth finish we’ve been looking for. Start from the top of the wall and move the roller down vertically. Once you get to the bottom of the wall, lift the roller off and move it half of its length to the side, then slowly move it upwards, and so on.

If you’re more of a visual learner, you can see how it’s done in this video. From here on out, you only need to continue doing the things as I’ve described them.

Clean the Rollers

Most people just chuck their roller covers after they’re done with them. However, I don’t often get rid of things after a single use. In any case, roller covers are actually washable. So you can at least use the same ones to prime and paint your walls.

If you’ve ever wondered what the circular dent in those 5-in-1 scraper knives is for, I’m about to enlighten you. They’re actually meant to clean your roller covers. You’re meant to hold the knife handle in one hand, position it at the top of the roller, and then pull the knife downwards, stripping the paint from the cover.

When you think you’ve taken off as much paint as you could have, soak the roller in water. Detach the metal roller frame and wash that separately. Finally, wring out the roller cover and let it dry overnight.


Hopefully, I’ve managed to include some tips you didn’t know about in this article. As you can see, getting a streak-free finish with a roller is pretty easy. You just need to learn some of the closely guarded secrets of the trade.

So you can just say goodbye to dripping paint, patchy coverage, and paint that has lint in it. From here on out, your walls will be so smooth that your friends won’t believe you painted them yourself.

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