What is a nap, and why does it matter so much when painting?

DIY painters looking at painting supplies frequently raise this question, especially if they don’t have much experience with larger painting projects where rollers are needed. So, what’s nap length about? It affects how much paint a roller can hold, and how easily a roller can paint a rough surface (as well as how the paint looks when it’s done). Here’s what you need to know about picking the right roller for different kinds of surfaces.

Heavy-Textured Surfaces

These are especially rough surfaces with a lot of nooks and crannies to navigate. That makes it difficult for paint to reach everywhere, so shorter naps are no good here. It takes a long, thick nap that can hold a lot of paint to properly roll over these areas. Look for naps that are 3/4-inch or longer for such surfaces: Typically these painting projects are outdoors and involve rough materials like brick, stucco, some types of concrete, and so on.

Light-to-Medium Texture Surfaces

These are very common surfaces that exist in the interior of most homes. They include most woods, textured drywall, and similar materials that have some rough spots to fill in. For medium textures, you should try a 1/2-inch nap. For light textures, a 3/8-inch nap should work just fine. When it doubt, a 3/8-inch nap is one of the most common roller options and should be sufficient for just about everything in your home.

paint roller nap

Smooth Surfaces

Smooth surfaces are an interesting case. These materials are usually new, untextured drywall, smooth panels, sanded wood, and anything else that feels smooth to the touch. You can paint these materials with a longer nap, say 3/8-inch, if you want. But this can make the paint a little different, a little thicker, which is a design choice – but if you want very flat, very smooth-looking paint, then look for the shorter naps around 1/4 to 1/8 of an inch for those particular results.

Also keep in mind that the shortest naps don’t hold very much paint. This can help you save on paint, but it does mean you’ll have to go a little slower and put more work in for the smoothest results.

Additional Points to Keep In Mind

Rollers typically come in packs, and you should always try to buy more than one roller for your project. A roller that’s sealed and refrigerated can last maybe several days at the most. Rollers left out overnight may be useable in the morning, but may also be too dried out. Switching paint colors usually requires new rollers. So make sure you have some spares on hand.

Still not sure which nap is right for your project? Give us a call and we can help you find out just what you need to know about your next painting project! The Painting Company also provides a number of additional services, including free quotes.


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