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Paint pads, foam brushes and foam rollers

Listed under Blog, brushes, Painting Posted Dec 03 2010

As with any trade, the more experience you have, the less you have to worry about being caught out. Occasionally, standard brushes and rollers aren’t up to the task in hand, which is why paint pads and foam rollers are a must have in my tool kit.

Paint pads

They are mohair or a derivative of the material, which is used on high quality pro roller sleeves. This means paint goes on flat, smooth and quite cleanly. However, they seem to have a bad rap, seen by the trade as a DIY product. Try your local decorator merchant to see what I mean.

It is like anything, though, horses for courses, and I have nothing against Peter the paint pads for applying acrylic or oil paint in the right circumstances.

On a hot day. If there is no escape from heat, and you need to apply a fast-drying acrylic primer to flat timber surfaces, a paint pad will outperform a brush or a roller-and-brush combination. Or for edges of doors, one swipe of a paint pad and it is done.

Painting behind radiators or obstacles really tight to the wall.
If you have a radiator to paint behind, the straightforward solution is to use a 4″ radiator roller – a skinny roller with a long handle.

However, if the radiator is perilously close to the wall and a roller sleeve won’t fit down the back, one solution is to tape a paint pad to the handle of the rad roller. That works with about a 1″ gap. Any tighter to the wall than that, and I imagine it is next to impossible to see behind it.

Of course, you can take radiators off, but that is a judgement call that is not mine to generalise on. (Removing a radiator on some arcane systems involves completely draining the system first.)

Painting door knobs with a paint pad!

I am not a big fan of painting door knobs, as they tend to wear and / or get grubby – and it is cheaper, usually, to buy new with a factory finish. However there are rare times when it is absolutely not cost effective to remove the existing pine knobs, which, in this case had been pegged, and just for good measure, glued. Paint pad to the rescue.

So I dissembled a paint pad and wiped the different paint layers on. The mohair material left no ridges whatsoever, and it took seconds per coat. And with the drying times, in a warm room, you can get all those protective coats on in a day.

(The spec was to clean off, prime with Zinsser BIN, apply an acrylic paint in matching colour, and use 4 coats of Polyvine clear satin glaze as a protective / sacrificial sheen. This could be a royal pain to do with a brush, especially with Zinsser BIN, which is shellac based, very fast drying, ie not user friendly.)

Foam applicator
One applicator I had never seen, before working in a boatyard, was a foam brush. The “painters” roll on the paint with a short pile roller (nothing new there) and “tip off” with the foam pad in the shape of a brush. To be fair, if it is done well, it can’t be beat as a technique.

The limitations appear, however, once you get intricate. Foam brushes aren’t sturdy enough to apply paint into crevices repeatedly, and they can break down and leave foamy fluff.

I have adapted that approach, and use a foam roller to apply the paint on the flats (nothing new), and then use the end of the foam roller to force the paint onto mouldings (following a “duh, why not” moment).

Once applied by roller, take a nice brush to finish the covering and laying off.


There are lots of jobs that don’t go smoothly, you have to be flexible and not a little creative. I have used full on yard brushes to paint exterior masonry and pebble dash, and cut paint brushes down to size or strapped brushes to 12 foot poles so I could cut in to beams from the floor. No rules, just one proviso, does it result in a really nice job? If so, do whatever it takes – and a foam applicator or a paint pad will come in useful one day!

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6 comments to “Paint pads, foam brushes and foam rollers”

  1. acmasterpainter

    [watch out!] Paint pads, foam brushes and foam rollers – via #twitoaster https://traditionalpainter.com/paint-pads

  2. imaginarynumber

    The downside with most paintpads is that they use a foam backing. This results in too much paint being loaded and squelches out of the sides.

    To date the only foam free pads I have seen are the Anza ones (and the wheeled Wooster ones).

  3. Andy Crichton

    good point, and good shout on alternatives, wheeled Wooster?

  4. imaginarynumber

    the wooster one (TRU-EDGE™ TRIMMER) has wheels to enable you “cut in” straight lines. Anza additionally do one too but I only ever use the 170mm Anza pads.

    Unfortunately Hamilton Acorn (parent company Anza) won’t import the decent Anza pads but they now seem to import the yucky foam backed ones sold in the likes of B&Q.

  5. Andy Crichton

    Why is it companies keep good kit out the public eye? I see the big Anza pads feature in the marine chandleries, I can see those working well on topsides, for painters with long arms.

    What paint do you apply to MDF with the large pads?

  6. imaginarynumber

    Homekey used to distribute them before Anza purchased Hamilton Acorn. I used to buy them from Leyland SDM in bulk for £2 each.

    The marine shops get theirs from Blakes Paints, other than that the only place i know of that imports them is Ray Mann in fulham.

    On raw MDF I use the inferior but lovely to sand Leyland Acrylic, it is thin enough to flow/layoff with minimal Floetrol and it doesn’t clog my paper like Dulux.

    The leyland does little for the suction levels which is good because it enables the first DT OB eggshell to soak in deeper and provide better colour obliteration.

    I sand the Leyland back with my Rotex and Titan paper, pretty much until I can see the colour contrast between the parallel peaks and troughs in the MDF (ie the MDF manufacturers finishing sanding).

    95% of the time i only need two coats of the OB eggshell (with Owatrol, terebene and Ws added).

    The pads are easier than a big brush to lay off the paint evenly and give you nice shallow tramlines. The areas that the pad can’t reach into are finished by brush.

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