Top 5 Painting Supplies

By: Bambi Turner

Painting a room takes a little bit more than some brushes and elbow grease!
Painting a room takes a little bit more than some brushes and elbow grease!
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Painting can seem like such an easy task for the weekend warrior. A gallon of paint, a couple of brushes and you can give your home a whole new look. Unfortunately, while painting itself may be easy, getting great results is not. Those who head into a painting project without the proper tools often find themselves with walls that are streaky, peeling and uneven. Worst of all, they'll usually find themselves repeating the process months later, or paying big bucks to hire a professional.

A great coat of paint starts with selecting the right tools for the job. Choosing higher quality tools will often produce dramatically better results than simply using an old brush you find in the garage. They not only help you to apply coatings more smoothly, they make the job easier on your body, and result in less wasted paint.


Beyond choosing the right tools for application, it's also important to protect your property from paint drips and splatters. That quick and affordable DIY paint job can quickly lead to hundreds of dollars in cleaning bills if you neglect to properly cover floors and furniture. Splattered paint from exterior jobs can also ruin your lawn and plants, making drop cloths a must for both indoor and outdoor paint jobs.

Before you paint, it's also critical to use primer to prepare your walls. Those who skip this step, or use the wrong primer for the job will find that their results looking quite different than they expected. Improper priming can lead to streaking, undesired textures, and a lot of wasted paint.

When choosing tools and supplies for your next project, consider the relatively small investment in time and money compared to the long-lasting results you hope to achieve. Take the time to do it right, and you'll enjoy the results of your work for years to come. Read on to learn how to select the proper tools for your next paint job.

5. Paint Brushes

When you're trying to decide among a dozen different paintbrushes at your local hardware store, it can be tempting to choose the cheapest model and be on your way. While that brush may cost half as much as more expensive versions, it's not likely to last for more than one use, and will usually provide inferior results.

Professional painters rely on quality brushes to provide a smooth and even finish, and to provide the best quality results in the shortest time. Those who try to paint with cheap brushes will find they waste a great deal of time picking shedded bristles off their walls or out of their paint tray. Cheap brushes also hold less paint, which means more time and effort involved in producing an even coating [source: This Old House].


This doesn't mean that the most expensive brush will always be the best quality brush available, however. Look for paintbrushes that have bristles of various lengths, and are tapered along the edges. This helps produce an even coat, and prevents striping [source: Crowder]. Check to see that the ends of the bristles are slightly split, which helps the brush hold more paint. Finally, run your hand across the bristles to make sure they're secure. If any fall out or are loose, look for a different brush [source: Ace Hardware].

Now that you know what to look for in a quality brush, it's important to understand how to choose the right type of brush for your project. Paintbrushes can be divided into three basic categories, based on the material of the bristles. Natural bristles are made of animal hair, which make them some of the stiffest brushes available. Because of their superior ability to hold their shape and stay stiff, they're best used when applying oil based paints and lacquers [source: Crowder]. Synthetic brushes are made from polyester or rayon. Polyester is the softer of the two, and works best when using latex or acrylic paints. Its soft texture provides a smooth finish, making it the best choice for any indoor painting jobs. Nylon brushes are slightly stiffer, and are best for rough surfaces or outdoor use [source: Old House Web].

But what if you're planning to paint several rooms? To get larger paint jobs done more quickly, check out the next section on rollers, our No. 4 best painting tool.

4. Paint Rollers

Rollers can get the job done faster than brushes can.
Rollers can get the job done faster than brushes can.
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Paint rollers are a great way to cover large areas quickly. They consist of a metal frame and a soft roller cover that's used to apply the paint. As with paintbrushes, a better quality roller can make your paint job go much faster and produce better results. When choosing a roller, there are a number of features you should look for to ensure you're making a smart purchase.

Roller frames should be strong and sturdy, with ball bearings at both ends of the roll to produce the smoothest results. The frame should feature either expandable compression wires or metal rings for holding roller covers in place [source: Crowder]. It's important to choose the right size roller, too. Many people are tempted to get the largest roller they can find, thinking that this will get the job done fast. In fact, larger rollers are heavy and unwieldy, and can be difficult for novice painters. The most effective size for painting walls and ceilings is 9 inches (22.3 centimeters), while smaller versions are useful for painting trim and cabinetry [source: This Old House].


If you plan to paint the walls and ceilings in your home using a roller, you may also want to look for models that have compatible extension poles. Check to ensure that the pole is connected via a locking mechanism, rather than a twist connection, which is less secure. Most homeowners will find that poles that can expand between 4 and 8 feet (1.2 to 2.4 meters) in length are the most practical to meet their needs [source: Crowder]. Using a pole will allow you to paint without using a ladder, and can make the job less stressful to your neck, back and shoulders.

Roller covers should be chosen based on both their thickness and material. Synthetic covers should be used with oil-based paints and lacquers, while wool covers work well with most water-based paints. Covers made from mohair provide a very smooth finish, and are best for painting doors and furniture. The thinner the cover, the shorter the nap or pile of the fibers will be. Naps shorter than 1/4 inch (6.35 mm) produce the smoothest results, while those between 1/4 inch and 1/2 inch (6.35 and 12.7 millimeters) are best for interior walls and ceilings. When painting rough surfaces or the exterior of your home, use rollers with 3/4-inch (19-millimeter) naps. Materials thicker than 1 inch (25.3 millimeters) are designed for very rough surfaces, such as stucco [source: Old House Web]. Choose more expensive roller covers to avoid dealing with loose fibers as you work. To create a textured look, look for rollers with integral stippled or stenciled patterns.

Working on a really big job? Read up on paint sprayers in the next section to learn how to complete a big job quickly and still get professional results.

3. Sprayers

If you have a large area to paint and want to get the job done quickly and professionally, consider using a sprayer to apply the paint. These devices can be purchased or rented from your local home improvement store, and are fairly easy to use. Sprayers can be broken down into high or low-pressure categories, with each offering distinct benefits and drawbacks.

High-pressure sprayers are designed for outside use. Those that operate using a piston pump are the most versatile option, and can handle both thick paints and thinner lacquers and varnishes. High-pressure sprayers with diaphragm pumps produce a finer finish and aren't designed for use with thick paints and primers [source: Crowder]. The power of these sprayers is measured in gallons per minute (GPM) or liters per minute (LPM). Units rated for .5 GPM (1.89 LPM) or lower should be used with stains and lacquers. Those rated between .5 and 1 GPM (1.89 and 3.79 LPM) are designed for most exterior paints and epoxies, while sprayers rated above 1 GPM (3.79 LPM) should be used with thin, light coatings and paints [source: Simpson].


If you'd like to spray the interior of your home, look for a low-pressure sprayer. These units produce a super smooth, even finish, which will look best on interior walls, ceilings, and doors. They also use less paint, which means reduced overspray and easier cleanup. Finally, they're fairly light and easy to control, making them a great way to get familiar with paint spraying technology [source: This Old House]. These units are generally powered by air compressors, which can be rented by the day at most hardware stores.

When working with paint sprayers, you'll have a number of options when it comes to choosing hoses and spray tips. Most manufacturers will recommend a range of acceptable sizes that work with specific sprayers. The thicker the paint or coating you plan to use, the bigger the spray tip should be. This doesn't mean you should use the largest tips available however. Start at the small end of the size range for your sprayer and work your way up until you find the perfect balance of volume and control.

Now that you've learned the various ways to apply paint, read on to the next section to learn how to protect your home from spills and splatters while you work.

2. Drop Cloths

Drop cloths are imperative for keeping your floors, furniture and landscaping free of paint splatters.
Drop cloths are imperative for keeping your floors, furniture and landscaping free of paint splatters.

While many people will spend hours selecting wall colors or choosing the perfect paint, few stop to consider how they'll protect their floors and furnishings while they work. For most homeowners, drop cloths are an afterthought, with newspaper and paper covers often being draped over furniture at the last minute. As much as many homeowners spend on expensive couches and hardwood floors these days, a drop cloth is a must-have for painters. To fully protect your property, consider the different types of drop cloths that are available and decide which will work best for your painting project.

Most home improvement stores sell cheap, paper drop cloths, which often seem like a good idea for novice painters. While these work well to protect furniture and floors, they can't stand up to prickly bushes and other outdoor uses. They're often good for only one use, making them a poor choice for eco-conscious consumers. Some versions come with a vinyl or plastic backing layer, which may allow for more than one use, but doesn't necessarily make them any stronger [source: Carter].


Plastic drop cloths are a good mid-range option, and are one of the easiest and most flexible ways to cover furniture and windows. They're considered a poor choice for protecting floors, however, because they're quite slippery and tend to move around, leaving your floor exposed to paint stains. Plastic drop cloths are also fairly thin and lightweight, making them difficult to use outdoors [source: Carter].

Professional painters tend to rely on drop cloths made from canvas. These cloths can be washed and reused again and again, making them an environmentally friendly choice. They're strong and heavy enough to use outdoors without being damaged, and those with a PVC or vinyl backing will stay put even on slippery floors.

Even with careful efforts, most homeowners are surprised by how far paint splatters as they work. Invest in a proper drop cloth and protect your décor.

Read on to the next section to learn how using primer can help you dramatically improve the results of your next paint job.

1. Primer

Some novice painters may have trouble deciding what type of primer to use on their project. Others may question whether primer is even necessary, preferring to skip right to the paint. For most projects, primer is a necessity and can make or break a paint job. By failing to prep your walls carefully, you're sabotaging your own work before you even begin.

Primer offers numerous benefits when it comes to prepping walls. It helps seal porous surfaces, keeping them from soaking up excess paint. This not only makes the painting process faster, but also can keep you from wasting money on materials. By smoothing and evening out the surface, primer helps create a better quality paint job, and allows paint to last longer than it would on unprepped walls. It can hide dark stains or colors on the existing surface, which would eventually show through your new paint, and even helps to balance out PH levels in surfaces like drywall and brick. Left untreated, these out of balance PH levels can break down your paint, causing drying and cracking [source: Crowder].


While priming is important for a good paint job, it's just as critical to choose the right primer. Oil-based options are the most versatile, and can be used indoors or out. They're a good choice for covering up wallpaper, graffiti and any type of texture or color. Water-based latex or acrylic primers are the most affordable options. They produce smooth results that resist peeling, but often don't work well on textured or outdoor surfaces [source: Ferris]. For walls that have been damaged by smoke, a shellac primer is the only wall to seal in the smoke odors, whether from cigarettes or fire. This product is one of the more expensive options, but is one of the only effective ways to prep smoke-damaged walls.

Primer can be applied with a roller, brush or sprayer depending on the area to be covered, as well as its texture. Be sure to choose paints that are compatible with the primer you've chosen.

To get more information on the perfect paint job, roll over the links on the next page.

Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

More Great Links

  • Ace Hardware. "Paint Sundries." 2009. 6/18/09.
  • Carter, David. "The Complete Book of Paint." 1996.
  • Crowder, Karl. " Airless Paint Sprayers." 2009. 6/20/09.
  • Crowder, Karl. " Choosing the Best Paint Brush for Your Next Painting Project." 2009. 6/20/09.
  • Crowder, Karl. "Cover Your Floors Completely With Drop Cloths." 2009. 6/20/09.
  • Crowder, Karl. " Paint Roller Poles are a Must for Increasing Productivity." 2009. 6/20/09.
  • Crowder, Karl. " Professional Paint Roller Frames." 2009. 6/20/09.
  • Ferris, Jerri. "A Homeowner's Guide to Paint Primer." 2008. 6/18/09.
  • Old House Web. "Selecting Paint Brushes and Rollers." Date Unknown. 6/19/09.
  • Simpson, Robert. "Airless Paint Sprayers Buyer's Guide." Paint Pro. Vol. 3, No. 3. June 2000. 6/19/09.
  • This Old House. "Essential Paint Techniques." 1999.