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How to Paint Walls: Tips for a Flawless Finish

Painting a wall may seem like a simple task – and it actually is! But you need to know how to paint a wall properly, or you won’t get the professional-looking finish you want.

Hand with roller painting a wall

If you want that kind of finish, you need to do some prep work. And use the right techniques. There’s a lot more to it than grabbing a brush and starting to paint.

Done right, painting is one of the quickest, easiest ways to transform a room. There’s a simple step-by-step process of painting a wall, from choosing the right tools and materials to applying the final coat.

Choose the Right Paint and Tools

Your first step is picking the tools and paint. Here’s what you’ll need.

Selecting the Paint:

Choose a paint type that suits the surface you’re working on. For most interior walls, latex-based paints are best. They’re durable and easy clean-up.

Consider the finish as well; matte finishes are ideal for hiding imperfections, while semi-gloss or satin finishes are easier to clean. Matte is generally preferred for most rooms – living rooms, bedrooms, etc.

For bathrooms and kitchens, you want satin, semi-gloss or glossy paint. This stands up to the humidity from cooking and bathing better than matte finish paint.

If you’re painting a light color over old paint that’s very dark, you will also need paint primer for your first coat. This covers over the dark color so it doesn’t tint your new shade.

Tools and Equipment:

There are different schools of thought on precisely which tools you need, but generally you will need:

  • At least one good paint brush <–this is a set I’ve used in several projects
  • At least one good paint roller and some paint trays. This set has everything you’ll need.
  • Drop cloths to protect floors and furniture. Hint: dollar store plastic tablecloths work well.
  • Painter’s tape, to protect ceilings, corners, etc.
  • Spackling if there are any noticeable holes in the wall.

Prep the Surface

Proper surface preparation is crucial for achieving professional-looking results. Follow these steps:

Clean the Surface: Remove any dust, dirt, or grease from the wall using a mild detergent solution and a sponge. Rinse thoroughly and allow it to dry completely before proceeding.

Repair Imperfections: Fill in any holes or cracks with spackling compound or putty. Use sandpaper to smooth out rough areas and create an even surface.

Protect Adjacent Surfaces: Cover floors, furniture, and fixtures with drop cloths or plastic sheets to prevent accidental splatters or spills.

Tape the Ceilings, Baseboards, Moldings

To prevent getting paint on ceilings and trim, use the painter’s tape. It’s very easy – just stick it to the ceiling trim, making sure it covers the ceiling or trim completely without covering any of the wall.

And if you’re leaving any walls in their original color – say, if you’re just painting one wall as an accent wall – put tape down the corner of the wall you aren’t painting.

Remember the windows, too. Tape around the window trim to protect it.

With this done, you can paint so much faster with no worries about accidentally painting over trim or getting color on the ceiling.

Prime the Wall

Priming is an essential step that promotes better paint adhesion and enhances the overall finish. If the wall you’re painting is in great shape, you can actually skip this step and still get excellent results.

But primer always helps. And it’s essential if you’re painting over a darker color or a bad paint job.

Choose the Right Primer: Choose a primer that is compatible with your chosen paint type and suits the surface conditions. For example, if you’re painting over a dark-colored wall, use a tinted primer to improve coverage.

Apply the Primer: Use a brush or roller to apply an even coat of primer to the entire wall surface. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions regarding drying time before proceeding to paint.

Apply the Base Coat

Now it’s time to apply the base coat of paint. Follow these steps for optimal results:

Cutting In: Use a high-quality brush to “cut in” along the edges of the wall, such as corners, trim, and ceiling. This creates a clean line and allows for easier application when using a roller.

Rolling: Pour paint into a paint tray and load your roller evenly. Start from the top of the wall and work your way down, applying steady pressure and using a “W” or “M” motion to distribute the paint evenly.

Consistency: Maintain a consistent wet edge by overlapping each new stroke slightly with the previous one. This helps avoid visible lines or streaks.

Mastering Techniques for a Flawless Finish

To achieve professional-looking results, consider these techniques while painting:

Feathering: When using a roller, lightly feather out the edges of each stroke to blend them seamlessly with previous sections. This technique helps eliminate roller marks and ensures an even application.

To do this:

  • While the paint is still wet, use the roller to lightly go over the edges of your painted area, blending the new paint with the old. The key is to use very light pressure.
  • Keep painting, making sure to feather the edges as you go. This will help you achieve a smooth, seamless look.

Avoid Overloading: Be careful not to overload your brush or roller with too much paint. Excess paint can lead to drips or uneven coverage.

Multiple Coats: Depending on your desired finish and the color you’re working with, you may need multiple coats of paint. Allow each coat to dry completely before applying the next one.

Sand Between Coats: For an ultra-smooth finish, lightly sand the surface between coats using fine-grit sandpaper. This helps remove imperfections and creates a better surface for subsequent coats.

Common Painting Issues

Even experienced painters encounter challenges along the way. Here are some common issues and how to address them:

Drips or Runs: If you notice drips or runs your freshly painted, wait for it to dry completely, then gently sand affected area. Once smooth, touch up with additional paint as needed.

Brush or Roller Marks: To eliminate visible brush or roller marks, use long, even strokes in one direction. Alternatively, consider using a foam roller for a smoother finish.

Uneven Coverage: If you notice patches of uneven coverage after the paint has dried, apply an additional coat of paint and feather it to blend it in.

Finishing Touches

Once you’ve completed painting the walls, take care of these finishing touches:

Remove Tape: Before the paint dries completely, carefully remove painter’s tape at a 45-degree angle to achieve clean edges. If necessary, use a utility knife to score along the tape line before peeling it off.

Inspect for Touch-ups: Inspect the entire painted surface for any missed spots or imperfections. Touch up these areas using a small brush and a minimal amount of the matching paint color.

Clean Up: Clean your brushes, rollers, and other painting tools immediately after use. Latex-based paints can be easily cleaned with soap and water.