I’ve been trying to paint this desk I’m putting together but can’t get the paint to look smooth.

Using Kilz 3 primer and an acrylic satin paint (what the paint store gave me).

I used two coats of primer and 2 coats of paint and sanded in between (120 grit for 1st primer coat and 220 for the rest).

I’m using a roller with a Purdy white dove nap.

If keeps being this bumpy - what am I doing wrong? Do I need to sand it and just add a top polyurethane coat on it?

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  • 1
    Looks to me (not a painting expert, not even close...) more like an eggshell finish. My hunch (but I'm not an expert, so just a comment) is that you need to use a glossy finish paint instead of satin. A quick search (since I wasn't sure) puts satin somewhere between eggshell and semi-gloss. And I think you want high-gloss - that's how you get the super-smooth surface. Commented Jun 22, 2022 at 0:03
  • sand it but with 400, not 220
    – Traveler
    Commented Jun 22, 2022 at 0:04
  • "I’m using a roller with a Purdy white dove nap." If you want it smooth, then why are you using a roller? If you want it smooth, make sure the paint is thin and brush it on. If you want it even smoother, then spray.
    – Glen Yates
    Commented Jun 22, 2022 at 15:05

4 Answers 4


It looks like you might be using roller covers with too long/deep of knap. Rule of thumb is shorter knap for smoother surfaces, and longer knapp for more textured surfaces. You might try a shorter (1/4") knapp if you don't have that already.

Also, you might try thinning the paint slightly. It may be too thick to "flatten out" or it may be drying too quickly. The "more liquid" the paint is, the more time it generally has to settle out to a smoother surface. Avoid strong breezes or air currents while painting that might encourage the paint to dry too quickly.

You might abandon the roller entirely and try brushing on the paint or spraying the paint onto the surface if you have the requisite equipment. Brushing may deposit a thicker layer of paint that will dry more slowly and "lay down" more smoothly.


That looks like normal roller stipple.

I don't know the kind of paint you are using, but most water-based "latex" paints are fairly thick and gooey. They tend to leave stipple and this is often a desired design effect.

You can try different styles of roller, such as a foam roller, but all will have some stipple.

If you do not want that, then the (fairly sparse) Google word is "Roll and Tip". It's mainly a term related to marine paint, where spraying is often avoided, and the goal is to get "spray look" from roller/brush.* It involves roller to quickly lay down a lot of paint fast, and then a light-handed "tip out" with the brush to remove roller stipple. I'd say 90% of my paint work is that.

However as you will see if you google it, it requires a well chosen brush, a knack, and learning how to reduce (thin) the paint just right so it flows out.

It helps A LOT that your target surface is horizontal, try it on the side of a boat!

I can tell you latex paints are way too thick coming out of the can; they are supplied thick for use with airless sprayers and everyone else is expected to reduce it. (it's easy to thin paint, but not really possible to thicken it).

* Because, often boats cannot be put inside paint booths, and larger boats are occupied and it is impossible to cordon off part of the ship to keep people away from the overspray. 2-part marine paints that come in "A" and "B" parts have highly toxic heavy chemicals in the resin. They polymerize with the A-part to create a non-toxic final coating safe enough for inside of food cans and potable water tanks. However that makes spraying rather dangerous, and requires a "moon suit" with pressurized air to protect the sprayer. Not something you can do on an occupied ship that is underway, and not something amateurs want to do. As such, marine paints come in "brush" formulations (a custom B-part with good flow-out).


What you see is the roller texture.

Try a very smooth roller (foam roller will do), but sand it with 400 before.


Ways to get this increasingly smoother:

  • use a smoother roller, eg a fine foam one
  • dilute the paint
  • use high gloss paint
  • use a brush with light pressure
  • combine the above OR
  • use a sprayer OR
  • use a tinted poly (you'll need to strip it first)

A sprayer is the only way you'll get a solid white factory finish that isn't high gloss.

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