Best Type of Roller for Painting Cabinets (Quick Guide)

Best Roller for Painting Cabinets

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Painting your cabinets is a budget-friendly way to breathe new life into your kitchen.

But, to do it right, you need the right tools.

If you’re preparing for this exciting do-it-yourself project, you might be wondering:

What is the best type of roller for painting cabinets? 

In short, the best type of roller for painting cabinets is a 4-inch roller with a foam cover or, in some cases, a fabric cover with a thin nap.

A 4-inch roller is best because it allows you to control paint application in tight spaces and navigate around the trim, curves, and grooves inherent in cabinet designs.

Foam and fabric roller covers with a thin nap, as opposed to fabric covers with a thick nap, are ideal because they provide the smooth, even finish that most homeowners want for their cabinets.

Many brands make 4-inch foam rollers, but if you’re looking for a quick recommendation, this six-pack of roller covers is super affordable and gets excellent reviews on Amazon. In fact, several reviewers praise how well these rollers work on cabinets.

4 inch foam paint roller cover
4-inch foam paint roller covers (see on Amazon)

While the roller cover is most important, make sure to pick up a compatible 4-inch roller frame (like this one on Amazon). Avoid roller frames that have a cage (most 4-inch roller frames don’t have a cage), as these covers won’t fit. 

Paint roller frame without cage vs. paint roller frame with a cage
Paint roller frame without cage (left) vs. paint roller frame with a cage (right).

 In this quick guide, you’ll learn:

  • Why a 4-inch foam roller is best for painting cabinets
  • The pros and cons of other painting methods (such as using a brush or spray painting)
  • Answers to frequently asked questions about painting cabinets
  • And much more.

Let’s roll up our sleeves and get into it!

Use the links below to navigate this guide:

Foam Paint Roller vs. Fabric Paint Roller

The best paint roller for your cabinets depends on the type of paint you choose and the surface you are painting.

The two most common types of rollers are foam and fabric.

Paint roller for cabinets foam vs fabric
Foam roller cover (left), fabric roller cover (right).

Foam rollers, which have a firm sponge-like texture, are ideal for painting cabinets because they provide the smoothest finish.

They work best with latex or water-based paint because that type of paint is thinner and more easily absorbed by the sponge-like quality of the foam roller.

For most cabinets, I recommend using latex paint and a foam roller. This combination will provide the most even and smoothest finish.

The other type of roller is called a fabric or nap roller. I only recommend using a fabric roller if you plan to use oil-based paint, and the surface of your cabinets is a bit rough.

Nap refers to the thickness of the fibers used to construct the roller cover. In general, rollers with a thick nap are best for rough surfaces, and rollers with a thin nap are best for smooth surfaces.

Fabric paint roller nap up close
Fabric paint roller nap up close

For example, a roller with a thick nap (¾ of an inch) works well on rough surfaces like brick and concrete because it can hold more paint, and the long fibers can reach tiny crevices in the material.

A roller with a medium nap (⅜ of an inch) works well on semi-smooth surfaces like ceilings and drywall.

But, since most cabinets have a very smooth surface, you’ll want to use a fabric roller with the thinnest possible nap— ¼ of an inch. The short fibers don’t hold as much paint, but they help to avoid a textured finish.

Still, I only recommend a fabric roller if the surface you are painting is not ultra-smooth, and you plan on using oil-based paint.

What is the Best Size Paint Roller?

Paint rollers come in many different sizes–from 4-inch up to 14-inch–and the right one for your cabinets depends on the surface area and design of your cabinets.

If your cabinets are large and don’t have any intricate design elements such as trim, beveling, or curved features, you might be able to get away with a 7-inch roller.

But, for most cabinets, a 4-inch roller is the best size. It’s small and easy to maneuver around cabinet boxes, doors, shelves, and drawer fronts without splattering paint everywhere.

4 inch paint roller for cabinets
4 inch paint roller for cabinets

What is the Best Paint Roller Brand?

Does the brand of the paint roller matter? Not really.

When it comes to choosing the best paint roller, there are a few name-brands out there, such as Wooster and Purdy, but there are more important characteristics to focus on than brand.

Here are a few things to look for when making a decision:

Price: Foam roller covers tend to be less expensive than fabric covers, but they typically only last one use. So, if you have a large project, you may want to consider a multi-pack with good reviews (like this pack on Amazon).

Roller Material: I recommend foam rollers for painting cabinets, but a ¼-inch nap fabric roller (like this one on Amazon) can also do a good job. If you decide to go with a fabric roller, be sure to choose a high-quality one with zero to minimal shedding.

Cover and Frame Compatibility: Make sure that the roller frame is compatible with the roller covers. Most 4-inch rollers have the spinning functionality built into the cover and a small hole where you insert the thin steel frame.

paint roller with small opening

However, some rollers, like this one from Wooster, have the spinning functionality built into a cage that’s part of the frame. If you buy a roller frame like the Wooster one, you’ll need covers that have big holes that fit onto the cage.

Ergonomic Support: It’ll take time to paint your cabinets, so make sure the paint roller wand grip feels good in your hand. Some companies offer roller frames with ergonomically-sound handles.

Special Features: Do you want additional features such as an extension pole attachment or a built-in paint reservoir? These features increase the price, but if you have tall cabinetry boxes, they can make the job easier.

Painting Cabinets: Roller vs. Brush vs. Spray

When it comes to painting cabinets, one of the most common questions people ask is:

Should I use a roller, a paintbrush, spray paint, or a combination?

While all are doable, there are pros and cons to each method.

Painting Cabinets With a Roller

Regardless of your skill level, rollers are by far the easiest tool to use when painting cabinets.

Rollers cover more ground than brushes so you can get the job done quicker, but more importantly, they spread paint more evenly, so you get a smoother finish.

To use a roller, you’ll also need a tray to hold your paint. Fill your reservoir at the deep end of the tray and dip your roller into the paint lightly. Move the roller back and forth against the tray to distribute the paint on the roller cover.

The trick is not to overload your roller cover with paint, add coats lightly, and let them dry thoroughly in between. Caked up paint in cabinet crevices are a sign that you have too much paint on the roller.

Painting Cabinets With a Brush

One great thing about using a brush is you don’t need extra equipment. You can dip your brush directly into the paint can.

Another benefit of painting your cabinets with a brush—future touch-ups will blend in more discreetly than if you use a roller or sprayer.

The main issue with using a brush is how hard you’ll have to work to eliminate brush strokes on your cabinets. It’s nearly impossible to get the ultra-smooth finish with a brush that you could get with a roller.

You might also get brush hairs stuck to the cabinets as they sometimes dislodge from the brush, although this can also happen with cheap fabric rollers that shed lint or fibers.

One way to get a smooth finish while using a brush is to gently sand your cabinets after the paint dries to smooth out the strokes. It works, but it takes time, and over sanding can also put you back at square one. Not worth the extra effort, in my opinion.

Another option is to use a foam brush; however, foam brushes hold very little paint. Again, the extra time isn’t worth the effort.

Foam brush for painting cabinets
Foam brush for painting cabinets (check out foam brushes on Amazon)

Painting Cabinets With a Sprayer

Painting your cabinets with a paint sprayer will provide excellent coverage and an ultra-smooth finish. It’s the preferred method of most professional painters, and it works exceptionally well if your cabinets have an intricate design.

The downside of spraying—you’ll have to spend a significant amount of time and effort preparing the area to ensure that no excess paint sprays where it shouldn’t.

Droplets of paint will be circulating in the air, and they’ll cover your room when they settle.

You can remove the cabinet doors and use a sprayer outdoors, but you run the risk of bugs or debris getting stuck to your cabinets while they dry.

Besides the time-consuming prep time, there is a learning curve to consider. All of these factors add more time to your project, so you’ll need patience if you go this route.

Sprayers can either be bought outright on Amazon or rented from stores such as Home Depot.

Combining Methods

Another practical approach is to use a roller to paint the majority of your cabinets and a foam or angled brush to handle trim, beveling, or curved features.

If your cabinets have a simple design, you might be able to pull off the job with only a roller. But, if your cabinets have details that you can’t roll over smoothly, using a brush is necessary.

If you use a sprayer, you won’t need a roller or brush since the sprayer provides even coverage regardless of the design details.

If you choose to work in tandem with a brush and roller, pay attention to drying time. Drying times are usually on the paint can, but to be safe, wait 24 hours before applying a second coat. Pushing a roller or brush across a surface with sticky paint could cause a bumpy texture that you’ll need to sand later.

Pros and Cons of Each Method

This chart provides a quick view of all three methods so that you can decide which approach you like best.

MethodProsCons
Paint RollerInexpensive, even coverage, smooth finish, suitable for all painting skill levels, multiple sizes and material options, reusable.Requires a paint tray, cheap rollers can leave lint in the paint finish, difficult to paint detailed trim, beveling, or curved features
Paint BrushInexpensive, easy to paint trim, beveling, or curved features, does not require additional equipment, reusable.Can leave brush strokes and paintbrush hairs in the finish, requires advanced painting skills to achieve a smooth finish.
Paint SprayerEven coverage and smooth finish, professional results, fast application time, the sprayer can be used for multiple projects.Most expensive, time-consuming area prep, learning curve to use it properly, requires special equipment to rent or buy.

Preparing to Paint Your Cabinets

Before you get started painting your cabinets, it’s essential to follow some necessary steps that will make the job easier and safer.

Thanks to the experts at Good Housekeeping and Bob Vila for some of these tips. 

Buy Enough Paint: Calculate how much paint you need to complete the job and to have enough left over for touch-ups. Use this handy paint calculator on Sherwin-Williams.com to make sure you have enough.

Detach Cabinet Doors and Pull Out Drawers: This allows you to paint the cabinet boxes without obstruction and paint the front, back, and sides of each cabinet door and the front and sides of each drawer.

Thoroughly Clean the Cabinets: Over time, cabinets can get a lot of buildup from grease, dirt, and splashes of food. A clean surface will accept paint more easily. One recommended cleaning product is a spray that contains trisodium phosphate or TSP. It has excellent reviews for effectiveness, but it’s potent, and you must use it properly. Safer alternatives include no-rinse TSP substitutes such as Klean Strip (see on Amazon) and Krud Kutter (see on Amazon).

Sand the Cabinets: Sanding creates a more porous surface that paint can adhere to more easily. For the initial sanding, use 100-grit sandpaper (like this on Amazon), but you should use finer sandpaper (such as 150 or 180-grit) between coats.

Protect Yourself: Protect your hands, eyes, nose, and mouth with safety equipment before getting started, such as gloves, goggles, masks, and respirators.

Protect the Rest of the Kitchen: Be sure to protect your work area, including your countertops, appliances, sink, backsplash, and floors by using drop cloths and painters tape. 

Follow the Instructions: Read all manufacturer instructions for the paint and any cleaning or sanding products you choose.

How to Assemble Your Paint Roller

The roller is made up of two parts: the roller frame and the roller cover (the part that looks like an empty paper towel tube).

Place one end of the roller cover against the open end of the roller frame and push the cover until it snaps in place.

Once assembled, the roller cover will stay securely in place due to the built-in tension of the frame that will press against the cover.

To remove the roller cover, squeeze the frame while pulling the cover away from the frame.

Frequently Asked Questions About Painting Cabinets

Q: How many coats of paint are necessary for cabinets?

A: It depends on whether you are going from light to dark or vice versa. In general, if you are painting a similar color, expect to do at least three coats (one of which will be primer). If covering a darker color or dark wood, you might need an additional coat.

Q: Can you reuse the same paint roller for multiple coats?

A: Yes. Since some paint drying times can extend to 24 hours, you can either clean the roller cover and set aside to dry overnight or place the roller cover in a Ziploc-style bag and store in the fridge until ready to use again. For best results, clean the roller (learn how) in between coats.

Q: What kind of paint do you use to paint kitchen cabinets?

A: It is best to use a paint that can also be cleaned easily with warm water without harming the finish since kitchens are ground zero for splatters, spills, and smudges. To achieve this, choose options like high gloss, semi-gloss interior, semi-gloss enamel, interior satin.

Water-based, acrylic or latex paints are durable, water-resistant (when dry), and much easier for an amateur DIY painter to work with than oil-based paint. Always read the information on the paint can to ensure it lends to easy cleanups.

Q: Can you paint cabinets without sanding?

A: Not if you want the best result possible. Sanding your cabinets provides a better surface for the paint to adhere to and should help your paint job to last longer. But, if you want to throw caution into the wind, learn the best way to paint kitchen cabinets without sanding (HGTV).

Q: Do I need to prime before painting?

A: Yes, yes, and yes. Skipping this step is one of the most common mistakes people make according to respected home improvement beacon, Bob Vila. Check out his advice on approaching your kitchen cabinet painting project. Kilz, a respected leader in quality primer products, also has handy information on how to best paint your kitchen cabinets.

Q: How much does it cost to have cabinets painted professionally?

A: The short answer; it depends.

A quick check on HomeAdvisor, a leading site for access to professional home services, yielded projects ranging between $400 to $12,000, including supplies and labor.

According to Thumbtack, another online home services marketplace, the average cost for hiring a professional to paint your cabinets is between $1,200 and $7,000.

Prices vary by region and the complexity of the job.

Some contractors charge by linear foot or the number of surfaces ( boxes, doors, shelves, trim, molding, and drawer fronts) that they’ll need to paint. Other variables that impact cost include the condition of the cabinets, cabinet material, and going from dark to light colors.

Bottom line—you will save a lot of money if you paint your cabinets yourself.

Final Thoughts

Choosing the right type of paint roller for cabinets is part of the foundation of a successful project.

To achieve the smoothest finish, use a high-quality, 4-inch foam roller. While there are dozens of decent options out there, I highly recommend these roller covers and this roller frame; both are inexpensive and available on Amazon.

You can also buy a set that includes the roller frame and cover from Home Depot, Ace Hardware, or any other local home improvement store.

4 inch foam paint roller set
4-inch foam paint roller set

To paint the trim, beveling, or curved features of your cabinets, use a high-quality foam brush (like this one on Amazon) or an angled brush (like this one by Purdy).

Now that you know what type of roller is best for painting cabinets, it’s time to get to work!

Leave us a comment to let us know how your project goes!

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