Beginner Tips for Painting a Room

For the uninitiated, painting a room seems like a big undertaking—there are so many different paints, brushes, rollers, and techniques to know. However, when you break the project down piece by piece, painting a room isn’t difficult at all. With the following tips for painting a room, you’ll have all the knowledge you need to get started on a painting project.  

Tools needed to paint a room

The following items include some of the tools and materials you’ll need to tackle a paint project: 

  • Spackle or joint compound: Use spackle to fix holes and cracks in the drywall.
  • Putty knife: This will help you apply spackle.
  • Sanding block: You need this for sanding the spackle.
  • Primer: For covering drywall, wood trim, and any stains in the ceiling or wall surface.
  • Paint: You need more paint than you might think: aim for one gallon of paint for every 400 square feet of painted walls.
  • Paint roller: If you’re unsure which size to choose, a 9-inch paint roller is typically the best for most paint jobs.  
  • Roller cover: Choose ⅜-inch nap for smooth walls and ceilings.
  • Drop cloths: Use drop cloths to cover your furniture and the floor to protect them from any paint drops.
  • Paintbrushes: 1.5 to 2-inch paintbrushes are a good size for painting the edges of a room. Choose paintbrushes designed for the chosen paint type.
  • Paint tray: This is useful for loading the roller.
  • Painter’s tape: For protecting surfaces that you don’t want to be painted.

How to prepare a room for painting

You’ve heard it before, but it’s true: A paint job is only as good as the prep work that goes into it. These tips on prepping a room for painting will help ensure that the final coat of paint looks as smooth as possible. 

1. Remove outlet covers, window coverings, and switch plates.

Start by removing everything from the room that you can. This includes furniture, outlet covers, curtains, switch plates from the light switches, vents, and anything else that might get in the way during painting. Cover items that are too large or heavy to move with drop cloths.

Removing the framing cover from the socket before painting.

2. Cover the floor with canvas drop cloths.

Be sure to stretch canvas drop cloths across the floor to catch drips and spills. If possible, avoid folds in the middle of the drop cloth as they’re easy to trip over. Instead, fold the drop cloth at the wall.

Painting in a white room with windows with a stepladder

3. Using a putty knife, fill nail holes or dents with spackle.

Before even opening a can of paint, you need to patch the walls. First, run your hands over the walls to find any rough or uneven surfaces, and then circle them with a pencil. Next, scrape any loose paint or gunk off the wall with the tip of the putty knife. Then, use the butt of the putty knife to create a dent over the repair area. Finally, apply spackle to the repair. Allow it to dry before sanding it smooth.

Worker's hand in yellow gloves holding putty knife patching a hole with spatula with plaster or putty in white wall.

4. Cover trim and surfaces next to walls with painter’s tape.

New painters that don’t have steady hands should rely on painter’s tape. First, apply it along the tops of the walls where they meet the ceiling. Then, when the ceiling is painted, apply it along the trim where it meets the walls (windows, doors, and baseboards). Finally, apply painter’s tape along the floor where it meets the baseboards and along the walls where they meet the trim.

Woman spreading painter's tape across wall trim.

5 tips for painting a room

With the bulk of the prep work out of the way, you’re ready to start painting. The following tips will help you organize a paint project and create a top-notch finished product.

Use primer. 

For the best possible results, always start with a coat of primer. This coat might seem like an unnecessary step, but you’ll see the difference when you finish painting the room: the primer creates a clean, even finish. Apply this coat just like you would paint: cut in along the edges with a paintbrush and roll with the paint roller. 

Long handle roller brush applying white primer paint on concrete wall

Box your paint for consistent color. 

If you’re buying multiple cans of the same paint, there is a chance that the tints might vary slightly between cans, resulting in different paint colors on the wall. You can avoid this by “boxing” the paint, or mixing it all together in one large bucket. Simply pour three or four 1-gallon cans of paint into a 5-gallon bucket and stir for a consistent coat of paint. 

Don’t overload the paintbrush. 

New painters have a tendency to overload the paintbrush and then scrape the excess off in the can. This technique can actually ruin the brush, as it allows the paint to get under the ferrule (the metal part that holds the bristles together), which then hardens and creates a stiff brush despite appearing clean. Instead, dip the tips of the bristles just an inch or two into the paint and wipe off a little of the excess paint.

Hand holding brush painting color to the angle wall

Paint from top to bottom. 

When you paint a room, start with painting the ceiling, then move to the walls, and then to the baseboards and window and door trim. Then, when everything cures, go back with a paintbrush and touch up any mishaps.

a man in a gray T-shirt with a roller on a long stick paints the ceiling in gray at home

Cut in as you go. 

Switch back and forth between cutting in and rolling. Cut in a few feet, roll the area, and then move back to cutting in. This allows the paint from the brush and the paint from the roller to bond before anything dries, leaving a much more consistent coat of paint. 

How to use a paint roller

Using a paint roller improperly can leave lap marks and ridges, so it’s best to adopt the correct technique right away. Start by skimming the roller cover across the top of the paint in the paint tray, dragging some paint up the ramp of the tray. Then, start at the top of the ramp and roll down a few times to coat the entire roller with paint evenly.

When painting with a roller, create narrow W-shaped patterns on the wall. If working left to right, position the arm on the right side of the frame. If working right to left, position the arm on the left side. Don’t apply a lot of pressure or you’ll create ridges.

  • Avoid lap marks. Whether you’re brushing or rolling, it’s important to maintain a wet edge. This means overlapping the previous stroke by a few inches. Maintaining a wet edge will avoid lap marks, which are a tell-tale sign of a poor-quality paint job.
  • Keep a damp rag on hand. If you make a mistake while brushing or rolling, you don’t necessarily need to wait for it to dry for a touch-up. If you have a damp rag on hand, you can clean up these drips or dabs before they try. Simply stretch the cloth over a finger and wipe away the paint. If you have to scrub, you waited too long and you’ll have to touch it up.
  • Remove the tape before the paint cures. Remove the painter’s tape an hour or two after the final coat. If you wait until the paint dries completely (a few days), the tape will be hard to remove, and it can damage the painted walls or trim. 
  • Ease your way to the seam, edge, or corner. When new painters cut in along baseboards, trim, or ceilings, they tend to load the brush and jam it directly into the corner, and that results in puddles, errant brush strokes, and drips. Instead, bring the loaded brush to the surface an inch or two from the edge. Then, with a few careful brush strokes, slowly bring the bristles up to the seam, edge, or corner.
  • Don’t be afraid to use an extension pole. For tall rooms, reaching the ceiling or height of the wall can be difficult from the ground. Rather than relying on a ladder for the entire process, consider screwing an extension pole into the roller handle. Just be sure to take your time and give yourself enough room to manipulate the pole carefully. 
  • Clean your equipment well. If you clean your paintbrushes and trays well, they’ll last for many projects. Cleaning latex paint from a paintbrush or tray requires no more than soap and water, though mineral spirits can hasten the job. For oil-based paints, paint thinner is the preferred remedy. You can clean roller covers, but it’s hardly worth the effort.

MT Copeland offers video-based online classes that give you a foundation in construction fundamentals with real-world applications, like drywall finishing. Classes include professionally produced videos taught by practicing craftspeople, and supplementary downloads like quizzes, blueprints, and other materials to help you master the skills.

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