How to Paint Ceilings for Beginners

Painting a ceiling might doesn’t need to involve paint drips and stiff necks. If you approach the job with the right tools and the following ceiling painting tips in mind, you’ll find it much more manageable and a lot less intimidating. 

Ceiling Painting Tools

There’s good news: The tools required to paint a ceiling aren’t wildly different from those for painting walls. The following are some of the most common ceiling painting tools you can use during both the priming and painting processes.

  • Paint roller. The paint roller is the most important tool for ceiling paint jobs. When fitted with the appropriate roller cover or sleeve, this tool allows the painter to apply a lot of paint or primer quickly and evenly. Paint rollers screw onto the end of an extension pole so the user can reach the ceiling without a ladder. Paint rollers come in different widths, but the most universal and easiest to use for ceilings is the 9-inch roller.
  • Roller cover. The roller cover or sleeve slides over the paint roller frame, and they come in a variety of thicknesses or naps. In general, smooth ceilings require ⅜-inch nap roller covers. For popcorn or textured ceilings, ½ to ¾-inch nap roller covers will do the trick. Ensure that the roller covers you purchase are suitable for your chosen paint (i.e., latex paint vs. oil).
  • Extension pole. Aside from the paint roller, the most critical tool for painting the ceiling is an extension pole. This pole, which can range from a telescoping, paint-specific pole to an inexpensive wooden broomstick, screws into the paint roller frame’s handle. It will allow the painter to reach high ceilings without a ladder. 
  • Paint tray. You’ll need a paint tray to hold the paint for quickly reloading the roller and avoiding paint drips. Find one that works for a 9-inch roller. For the best results, the heavy plastic models are the easiest to use and least likely to deform during use. Disposable paint tray liners will also minimize cleanup. 
  • Paintbrush. The paint roller does the bulk of the work, but a good paintbrush is also critical to cut in along walls and to fill in any areas the roller misses. Find a brush with slanted bristles, 1.5 to 2 inches wide. You’ll use this brush for cutting in along the tops of the walls. Like the roller cover, make sure that the paintbrush works with the type of paint chosen. 
  • Painter’s tape. Running painter’s tape along the tops of the walls helps the painter keep messes to a minimum. When painting a ceiling, use painter’s tape at least 1.5 inches wide (2 inches is better).
  • Canvas drop cloths. You can minimize paint drips, but you can’t avoid them altogether, so protect your floors and furniture with canvas drop cloths. These cloths are tightly woven to prevent paint from seeping through. They’re also much easier to layout than thin plastic sheets.

There are a few additional items you’ll need, such as a ladder for cutting in along the tops of the walls, a screwdriver for removing light fixtures, and a stirring stick for mixing paint.

How To Paint Ceilings

Ceiling painting can be simple and stress-free—with the right know-how. One critical tip: Be sure to stretch your neck and shoulders before and during the paint job to avoid discomfort.

1. Remove everything in the room and lay down drop cloths

Remove all of the furniture in the room. Cover anything too large or heavy to move with a drop cloth. Lay canvas drop cloths out to cover the floors.

Also, carefully remove any ceiling light fixtures as well. You can tape and cut in around them with a brush if you’re not comfortable with electrical work.

2. Apply painter’s tape

Use the ladder to apply painter’s tape along the tops of the walls, around any light fixtures you aren’t removing, and anything else you might touch with a wet paint roller. 

3. Apply the primer

If you’re using primer, use the stirring stick to mix the can thoroughly. When ready, pour it into the paint tray, filling just the well at the bottom. 

Load the brush by dipping it into the primer about ¼-inch and then tapping the bristles on the inside of the paint bucket to remove the excess. Brush along the tape at the edge of the ceiling and around any fixtures in 3 to 5-foot sections before rolling. 

With a roller cover fitted, attach the extension pole to the paint roller. Load the roller by dragging just a little primer up the ramp and rolling back and forth until the roller cover is evenly coated. Roll the paint onto the ceiling along where you just cut in. Move back and forth in narrow “W” shapes, being sure to maintain a wet edge to avoid lap marks. Continue until you need to cut in with the brush again.

4. Clean up while the primer dries

Clean up while you’re allowing the primer to dry. Pour the rest of the primer back into its bucket, throw away the liner and roller cover, and wash the paintbrush with soap and water. 

5. Apply the paint

Following the same process used for primer, apply paint to the ceiling. Start by mixing the paint and pouring it into the paint tray. Then, use the brush to cut in along the tops of the walls, painting 3–5 feet of the ceiling at a time to maintain a manageable area and avoid lap marks.

Working within the cut-in area, use the paint roller to paint in narrow “W” shapes, overlapping the last stroke to maintain a wet edge. Continue painting until you need to cut in again, alternating between the paintbrush and roller as necessary.

Allow the first coat to dry before deciding if a second coat of paint is necessary. Don’t be discouraged if you do need a second coat; white ceilings (which most ceilings are) can be deceiving when wet.


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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