Just like some salty sea dogs will take any port in a storm, there are painters out there that are still using a single roller cover for every type of paint and job.  It’s not that a general-purpose cover won’t get the job done, it’s just that some covers will do a much better (and faster) job than others.

Natural, synthetic, blended, deep or short naps, oh my!

A Brief Intro to Paint Roller Cover Materials

Generally speaking, paint roller covers can be divided into three main types: natural, synthetic and blended.  Natural covers are often made from animal products, like sheepskin or mohair, synthetics from lab-created materials such as nylon and polyester.  Blended are exactly what you’d think: a roller cover containing a mix of the two, often the mix is wool and polyester.

It should go without saying that your roller cover material should match that of your brush - if you’re using a natural hair brush, use a natural roller cover, too.  The closer the match, the more consistent the results with the paint you’re using.  After all, having to apply a new paint layer because your roller didn’t take the paint as well as your brush is a preventable waste of your time.

Roller Covers Versus Paint Types

Grabbing any old roller cover is a great way to have to redo a paint job, so it’s always best to choose one from the beginning that works with the paint you’re using.  Although there are often more specific matches provided by your favorite paint distributor, these rules of thumb can help you get on the right track.

1. Use a natural roller cover if you’re using oil-based finishes. Although they can be extremely durable, natural roller covers have a single Achilles Heel: water. Rather than rolling smoothly with latex or other water-based finishes, your natural covers will mat due to the swelling caused by the high water content.

2. Choose synthetic covers for latex. Latex is often a go-to paint for homeowners, but it has a place among professional painters, too. When you’re using latex, synthetic covers do great work since they don’t absorb water readily, they can be very inexpensive (depending on the nap and type you need) and they’re available in a slew of materials. Again, check your finish’s packaging for the ideal application materials.

3. Blended covers are the best of both worlds in some ways. Although blended covers can be generally used with any sort of paint or finish, you may want to stick to a cover material more specific to your needs. Having a few blended covers around for general work or as backups for finishes you know have worked well together in the past isn’t a bad idea, though.
Although it’s a type of synthetic roller, foam can stand in a league of its own when it comes to roller cover material.  When you need to work with materials that have a high gloss finish and you need it to be as smooth as glass, look to your handy-dandy foam roller cover.

Talk to Your Paint Reps

Even if your paint rep isn’t your favorite person, they do have information provided by their company about the paints that are being sold.  When the manufacturer recommends a short nap microfiber for a particular paint line, it’s a good bet that this roller will do the very best job with the finish.  After all, the paint company wants you to buy more paint and you’re not going to do that if they recommend roller covers that make their new high-tech materials look like a kindergartener was let loose with a set of watercolors.

What kind of roller covers do you use most?  How do you pair them with your paints?