How to Paint a Room Like a Pro

Change your walls—transform your space

Caroline Gilbert
Written by Caroline Gilbert
Updated September 2, 2022
Couple preparing to paint room by adding blue painter’s tape around window
Photo: kali9 / E+ / Getty Images
Difficulty

Easy

You've got this!

Time to complete

72 hours

Primer, paint, and joint compound all take about 24 hours to dry, so it may take several days to complete.

Cost

$100–$500

Doing the labor yourself goes a long way.

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What you'll need:

TOOLS

  • Drop cloths and plastic sheets
  • Painter’s tape
  • Ladder or step stool
  • Approximately one gallon of paint for every 400 sq. feet (400 sq. feet is the size of a small bathroom)
  • Primer
  • Gloss or semi-gloss paint for the trim
  • Ceiling paint (optional)
  • Joint compound/spackling paste and sandpaper for repairs
  • Caulk

SUPPLIES

  • Paint stirrer
  • Paint tray
  • Paint roller and roller cover
  • Roller extension pole for ceilings and high walls
  • Paint brushes for cutting in and touch-ups
  • Putty knife
  • Caulk gun (optional)
  • Work lamp (optional)

Changing up the interior paint colors in a room is a key way to transform your space to better fit your style. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced homeowner, equipping yourself with the knowledge to properly paint a room is a great DIY skill to have in your tool belt. Once you have picked the perfect color to complement your style, use these tips to learn how to paint a room like a pro.

Steps on How to Paint a Room

By following these steps, you can get a professional-looking paint job every time.

  1. Prep the Room

    Woman covering the floors with paper to protect them from paint
    Photo: viktor holm / Adobe Stock

    Before you start painting, take some time to prep the room and protect the existing space to avoid any damage from paint drips and splatter. 

    • Move and cover furniture. Move lightweight furniture out of the room. Move heavier furniture to the center of the room and cover it with a drop cloth.

    • Apply painter's tape. Cover door knobs and hardware. Next, shut off the circuit breaker and unscrew light switches and outlet covers. Cover the switch plates with tape, and keep the screws and covers in a designated place for easy access once you’ve finished the project.

    • Cover ceiling lights and fixtures. While the circuit breaker is still off, wrap any large ceiling fixtures with a plastic sheet. If you have a ceiling fan, remove the blades before covering. If you have recessed lights, mask them with painter’s tape. A portable worklight or light plugged into another room can make up for lost light.

    • Cover the floor with a drop cloth. Tape it down with painter’s tape so it stays in place.

    Pro tip: If you have limited supplies, save your drop cloths to cover the floor and use plastic sheets to cover any furniture. Plastic tends to be more slippery and harder to walk on.

  2. Prep the Walls

    While it’s exciting to envision how your room is going to look once the paint is actually on the walls, you shouldn’t start painting without prepping the walls first. It may be tedious but a good prep job will help your paint last a long time. 

    • Patch any holes or cracks with joint compound/spackling paste. Remove any nails and fill in small cracks, dents, or holes with spackling paste. Fill larger holes and cracks with joint compound. Be sure to allow your paste or compound enough time to fully dry before sanding it down (about 24 hours for joint compound and two hours for spackling paste). Skim coating your wall should make it as smooth as possible.

    • Wash the walls. Use a mixture of warm water and mild soap to remove buildup, dust, pet hair, and any other particles that would prevent the paint from fully sticking.

    • Mask off the ceiling with painter’s tape (optional). Tape over crown molding to protect it from ceiling paint and wall paint. If you don’t have molding, paint the ceiling and allow it to fully dry, then apply painter’s tape to the ceiling where it meets the wall. This will protect your freshly painted ceiling while you paint your walls.

    • Mask off window frames, door jambs, frames, and trim. Tape up anything else you want to protect.

    Pro tip: Using shorter strips of painter’s tape when masking off a given area will allow the tape to go on easier and avoid tangling.

  3. Prime the Walls (Optional)

    Man applying primer to a dark wall
    Photo: EyeWolf / Moment / Getty Images

    Primer is an inexpensive base coat that adds protection and durability and creates a good surface for new paint to adhere to. Apply it to the wall with your roller in even coats and allow it to dry before applying your paint. 

    Why Prime? 

    While priming a wall before painting isn’t always required, it is recommended to give the room a flawless finish. However, if you are working within a tight budget or are facing painting time constraints, you may want to skip priming unless it’s absolutely necessary. Here are a few of the times when it’s important not to skip over this step:

    To cover darker paint: If your new paint color is lighter than the existing color of the wall, use a primer to create a neutral shade to paint over. This can potentially save you time and money because you won’t need to add multiple coats of paint.

    To cover a porous or glossy surface: Porous surfaces such as new drywall, wood, or paneling are absorbent and may require multiple coats of new paint. Add a primer if you want to use fewer coats. Alternatively, if your walls are covered in glossy paint or oil-based paint, it can be difficult for the new paint to adhere to the old paint. A primer allows the paint to bind to the walls more easily. Plus, it hides any unwanted sheen caused by the old paint popping through. 

    To cover stains or odors: Grease and stains can show through new paint, and certain rooms may be subject to more stains than others, such as playrooms or kitchens. Additionally, certain odors, such as cigarette smoke, can be difficult to cover. Using primer in these instances can help, though you may need a more heavy-duty primer.

    Pro tip: Not all primers are created equal, so research ahead of time to get the best coverage for your particular walls.

  4. Cut In

    Man cutting in white paint around door frame with paint brush
    Photo: RightFramePhotoVideo / Adobe Stock

    Once the room and walls have been prepped, you can start cutting in, a painting technique where you use your paintbrush to paint a straight line along the edge of areas that would be difficult to reach with a roller. This includes trim, crown molding, ceiling lines, and baseboards. Professional painters often skip masking off these areas because they’re so adept at cutting in. Here’s how to do it:

    • Load up your paintbrush. Dip the bristles of your paintbrush into the paint can and tap off excess paint.

    • Paint a 2-inch straight line parallel to the tape. Start about an inch away from the masked off area, and then carefully work your brush closer to the tape edge. You only need to paint about 2 inches of wall this way because the roller will cover the rest.

    • Feather the paint. Once you reach the edge of the area you are cutting in, feather the paint downward to easily blend your brush line with the roller paint.

    • Roll out the wall immediately. This ensures that the brush strokes blend with the roller strokes.

    Pro tip: Apply gentle pressure when cutting in as too much force can cause excess paint to seep under the areas you have already masked off.

  5. Paint the Walls

    Learning how to paint a room with a roller can take a bit of practice, but it goes fairly quickly once you get into a rhythm. You will want to work from top to bottom, starting with the ceiling and using your extension pole for hard-to-reach areas.

    • Mix the paint and pour it into the tray. Pour the paint into the paint tray’s reservoir without overfilling it.

    • Lightly dip the roller into the reservoir and pull back. Roll over the divots in the tray a few times to remove any excess paint. Your paint should still evenly cover the roller.

    • Roll the paint onto the walls in an “M” or a “W” motion. This helps blend the roller lines.  Work in three-foot sections at a time.

    • Reverse. Once you have finished in one direction, go back over it in the opposite direction until the area is fully covered.

    • Roll over any cut in areas. Overlap the paint with the area you have already cut in for a smooth finish.

    • Repeat the process for all walls. Allow paint to fully dry.

    • Apply a second coat (optional). Repeat the same method until the paint is blended and you have a smooth finish.

    Learning how to paint a room for beginners may take a bit of time but once you get a hang of this method, you can confidently conquer more painting projects in the future.

  6. Paint the Trim

    Painting window trim with a paint brush
    Photo: ungvar / Adobe Stock

    After your paint is completely dry, consider adding a fresh coat of paint to the trim. Taking the time to do so can give you that professional-looking appearance you are seeking.

  7. Clean Up

    After investing money in supplies, it’s important to properly clean them so you can use them again for future painting projects.

    Rinse your paint roller and other tools with warm, soapy water until the water runs clear. Make sure you check which type of paint you used before cleaning. If you used a water-based paint (latex) and your house is on a public sewer system, you can rinse your brushes in the sink. If you used an oil-based paint, however, you will need a paint thinner when cleaning to avoid damaging your pipes. 

    After rinsing, dry all metal tools completely with a rag to prevent rusting. 

    Pour any remaining paint from the tray into the can, and then rinse out the tray with warm and soapy water. Store the can in a cool, dark area off of the floor so the can does not rust if exposed to moisture. Remember to save some paint from the project for touch-ups in the future.  

    Consider donating unused paint if you have enough leftover and it is still in usable condition. To dispose of water-based paint, you can use a special paint hardener or cat litter to dry it out and then throw it away with the lid removed. If you used an oil-based paint, check with the county to locate a paint recycling facility to dispose of the unused paint. 

    Important: Depending on your location and the type of paint you used, there are certain local regulations for disposing of unused paint and paint cans so always check with your county first before disposing. 

    If you are planning on continuing the project within a day or so, you can wrap brushes and roller covers tightly in cling wrap so they don’t dry out. 

    Store clean, dry brushes in wax paper wrapped with a rubber band so they retain their shape.

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Get quotes from top-rated pros.