3 Reasons Your Roller Paint Job Looks Bad (and How to Fix It)

published Aug 8, 2023
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Paint roller
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Picture this: You’re sitting in a newly refreshed room, basking in the wonder that is your DIY handiwork. You’ve painted the walls, the cabinets, or the built-ins, and you’re admiring the color, when you spot it: a little ridge of dried paint left over from your roller. When you take a closer look, you suddenly notice inconsistent coats throughout the space. And even though you’re still proud of the room’s transformation, you just can’t stop nitpicking at  

“We often hear of consumers doing DIY painting jobs, but before you tackle a project, you’ll want to make sure you have the time, tools, and talent to do the job well,” says Angie Hicks, chief customer officer at Angi and co-founder of Angie’s List. The key with DIY paint jobs, as with anything, is practice. “I recommend applying a fresh coat of the same color in a small bedroom before tackling changing a room’s color or painting rooms with walls that have more items to work around, like kitchens and bathrooms,” Hicks says.

Jenna Pilant, polychromatic designer of Room Bloom Design, agrees. She’s also noticed how spaces don’t quite get the professional finish DIYers are looking for because of one thing: technique. She’s seen a surge in projects using paint sprayers recently, but Pilant is still a roller devotee (her go-to tool is a trusty 3- to 4-inch roller).

“It might take longer to paint, but rolling is much more manageable if you’re pursuing paint perfection,” Pilant says. Why is that? Well, for one, there’s a learning curve for paint sprayers if you’re not used to using them. And secondly, using a paint sprayer for something like your kitchen cabinets makes it tough to do touch-ups down the line and have the finish match exactly. If you roll on your paint, you’ll also be able to roll on your touch-ups.

Of course, rollers aren’t infallible. Here, you’ll find three reasons why your roller paint job looks bad, according to Hicks and Pilant. And good news: After reading their tips below, you’ll know exactly how to fix it. 

You need to prep your walls — seriously. 

While there are so many high-quality paints out there advertising the possibility of skipping a few hours of prep, don’t fall for it. Create a playlist and commit to this part of the project, because your future self may thank you.

“Prep” in this case means smoothing out any dings, removing any lingering grime, and protecting areas that you don’t want to paint. “Be sure to patch up any holes or cracks, wash the surface with warm water and soap to remove any debris, and mask off any areas you don’t want to paint,” Hicks says. Doing this will ensure that your paint rolls onto your walls easily, and there won’t be anything getting in the way of a smooth finish.

Yes, you most likely need a primer.

Using a primer on your walls is also one of those details that perhaps can be skipped if the change is straightforward (repainting a bedroom in the same color, like Hicks noted, for instance). But most pros won’t shrug this step off when it comes to big transformations, and neither should you.

“While it’s not required, priming your walls can add protection and help your paint job last longer,” Hicks says. “Most pros use primers and strongly recommend them, so it’s a great way to make your DIY paint job look more professional.”

Using a primer is especially important when it comes to painting built-ins and cabinets, as well as areas of your home subject to moisture (hello, bathrooms). Taking that additional step will keep your paint from chipping or peeling.

It matters how you roll on your paint. 

You’re probably used to rolling your paint in both an upward and downward motion. And while that paint can look even as you’re still working, the alternating directions of your application may show up after the paint has dried — especially when light shines on it. The fix? While the paint is still wet, make sure to backroll the area all in the same direction with a top-down motion.

“If you alternate your roller strokes, you will see your roll marks,” Pilant says. “By rolling from top down with your application you will get a paint sprayer finish with the ability to actually touch up the paint later. This is especially key with cabinets and furniture that gets used and abused.”