12 Tips and Techniques for Your Home Painting Project

Katy Willis
Written by Katy Willis
Updated December 20, 2021
Brightly orange painted livingroom with white trim
Photo: vicnt / iStock / Getty Images Plus / Getty Images

You can give your home a makeover and still save money by painting rooms yourself

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Professional painters make painting a room with a flawless finish look easy, but this process involves more than just slapping paint on the walls and maybe splattering your partner for a little extra fun. Most of the actual work of achieving that perfect finish is actually in the prep, not the painting. 

Follow our pro tips and techniques to make sure your home painting projects turn out picture perfect.

1. Smooth Out the Surface

To get the best finish, you've got to prep the surface, and that goes beyond giving it a good wash to get the grime off (remember, because of food residue, kitchen walls need extra prep before painting). Over time, our walls and trim also get chipped, dented, and scratched from furniture, kids, pets, and, you know, life. 

If you go straight for the paint, it'll only cover the most minor imperfections, so instead, you need to fill them. Use a high-quality filler and a putty knife to cover every crack, scratch, dent, or hole. Let it dry, then sand over to smooth the area. If you've got bumps, bubbled or flaking paint, use a scraper to remove as much loose debris as possible, then sand the area flat.

2. Help Your New Paint Stick

If the surface you're painting over is satin or gloss, it's ultra-smooth and shiny, so your new paint needs some help to stick to the existing surface. The best and easiest way to get the best coverage from your new paint is to sand over the existing surface to roughen it up. 

Don't go crazy and sand right through to the bare wall; instead, just apply light pressure with medium-grain sandpaper using a circular motion.

3. Clean Your Walls

Before you bust out your roller and start to throw paint on the entire wall, you need to be certain the surface is pristine. Getting into the habit of cleaning walls before taking a brush to them is one interior painting tip that will make all the difference when you’re contemplating application. While TSP is the gold standard product, a simple wipe down with a slightly wet rag is often all you’ll need to prepare the wall surface for paint. Creating a contaminant-free area is the key first step to painting a room like a pro. Not cleaning your walls is one of the biggest mistakes you can make while painting a room.

4. Tape Off the Edges

If you’re not a skilled painter who can cut in a perfect line, you’ll want to use blue painter’s tape to carefully mask off your trim and your ceiling. Carefully apply the tape then crease down the edges—this step is critical to success and a nice, paintable edge, so you’ll want to approach it carefully and with great detail. Paint bleeds through even the most meticulously applied tape, so spend some time making sure there are no air bubbles and that your lines are perfectly straight.

5. Use Primer to Cover Dark Colors

If your teen has just finished their emo phase or your love affair with royal purple has ended in favor of a pastel hue, the easiest way to hide the dark color is to apply a primer. A matte gray primer is a smart choice, as it creates a uniform, neutral canvas that's easy to paint over with your new paler shade. 

Just remember to give your primer plenty of time for the primer to dry before applying the topcoat. You can use a neutral primer before applying bright colors too, to maximize their vibrancy. And it works when you're trying to paint over wallpaper, too.

6. Start With Cutting In

A common painting mistake is to leave the cutting-in until last. Instead, get it out of the way first. Cutting in is the essential step of painting around light switches and corners and along edges with a small, fine-trim brush. These are areas where a roller or bigger brush is just too big, unwieldy, or imprecise. 

To give yourself enough clearance to avoid a roller mishap, paint a 2 to 3-inch perimeter along and around obstacles, corners, and edges. And don't forget the top edge where the wall meets the ceiling.

7. Use the Trim Brush Properly

Trim brushes are rectangular, and most people tend to hold them with the wide side sitting horizontally. But actually, you'll get a neater, crisper line and be less prone to splodging paint everywhere if you hold it the other way, with the narrow sides in the horizontal position, like a pen.

8. Change Masking Tape Between Coats

Most folks know that it's a good idea to put painter's tape around light switches and edges where the trim, baseboards, and ceilings meet the wall. But they don't know that you should change the tape between each coat. Once you've finished one coat, remove the painter's tape while you're waiting for the paint to dry. 

Removing the tape while the paint is wet stops paint bridging over the tape as it dries, then tearing away when you remove the tape. Once you're ready to apply a new coat, reapply painter's tape and you're ready to go.

9. Mix Paint Early and Often

Whether you've got oil-based paint, latex, or water-based, you should mix it early and often. The components of all types of residential paint tend to settle and separate fairly quickly. Even the time it takes to empty one tray and go back for a refill is enough for some separation to occur, even if it still looks okay. Any degree of separation is potentially noticeable and can result in unwanted and unsightly color changes when it's dry and on your walls.

10. Always Paint Top to Bottom, Big to Small

Always start at the top of the surface you're painting and work your way down. If you go the other way, you'll likely end up getting drips and splatters all over the bottom portion that you've already finished. 

Similarly, always paint larger areas before smaller ones. If you're painting a whole room, for example, do the cutting in, then paint the ceiling. You can also texture your ceiling for added style. Then move onto the walls, and only when you finish those should you move on to painting doors and trim.

Think about how you move when you're painting large areas. You move pretty quickly and with less precision, so paint is more likely to accidentally spray and spatter all over the place, particularly onto the trim. So save yourself some work and paint in the right order: Top to bottom, big to small.

11. Load Your Roller Just Right

Overloading your roller results in thick drips and sloughing as the paint dries on the walls. It’s not only unflattering, it can be difficult to fix.

To combat this, don't submerge the whole roller head in the paint when you're loading it up. Also, make sure you roll the roller on the textured part of the paint tray to remove excess paint before you put it back to the wall. 

If you try to spread the paint too thin, you'll overstretch it and get a blotchy, patchy finish that requires extra coats to cover, so don't go too far the other way. Your roller shouldn't be dripping, but it shouldn't be too dry, either.

12. Keep Your Supplies Fresh When Taking a Break

If you've been working hard and you need a break, go for it—you've earned it. But take a few precautions, first. Cover your roller head, paintbrushes, and your paint tray in saran wrap or a close-fitting plastic bag. 

If it's hot or you need to leave them for more than an hour or two, store them in the refrigerator and remove them about 30 minutes before you're ready to use them again.

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