Interior Painting Tips for Beginners

A professional paint job depends on proper preparation, color uniformity and using the right tools to apply the paint.
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If you've never done it before, painting may look easier than it really is. What more is there to do, after all, than open a can of paint, dip in a brush, and slap it on the wall? Even if your ideas about painting aren't this simplistic, you may still underestimate the importance of proper wall preparation, paint mixing and application techniques. Before you open that can of paint, a few tips can help ensure you get professional results.

Cover Everything

New painters -- unaware of the propensity for paint to spatter -- often neglect to properly prepare the space with dropcloths. Invest in canvas ones; plastic dropcloths tend to move around, and they're slippery. Don't rely on dropcloths to protect your fine furniture -- move it out of the room.

Test the Paint

The hue on a color chip is often slightly different that the actual paint, and the variation can greatly affect the final results. Sheen is also a factor -- satin and semigloss paints with the same color formulas reflect light differently, and one may appear slightly shaded compared to the other. Invest in a tester jar or quart of the paint you plan to use and cover a good portion of the wall before committing to several gallons.

Perfect the Preparation

An oft-heard adage among painters is that preparation is 90 percent of the job. To avoid finding this out the hard way, plan to spend a generous amount of time washing dirty walls with soap and water, patching drywall cracks, scraping and sanding loose paint and masking off areas you don't want to paint. It isn't unrealistic to expect this process to take an entire day for a single room.

Box the Paint

Most interior painting jobs require more than 1 gallon, but all your gallons may not be mixed in exactly the same way. To avoid inconsistencies in color, pour all the paint you need into a single 5-gallon bucket and take what you need from there.

Prime First

Priming is essential when you're painting new drywall, and it's not a bad idea when you're painting over an existing finish. Besides providing insurance against peeling, it ensures color uniformity. If you tint the primer toward the color of your topcoat, you may even save some paint.

Use the Right Brush

"A brush is a brush" isn't necessarily true. Use only synthetic bristle brushes for latex paint -- water turns natural bristle brushes wimpy -- and invest in a good-quality one with tapered edges. You'll be happy you have it when you need to brush a straight line.

Use the Right Roller

Choose the roller nap size according to the wall texture; short naps are best for smooth walls because they save paint, but use a long nap for deep textures to ensure you get paint in all the crevices. Get a 4-foot roller extension to avoid the need for a ladder when painting the tops of walls and the ceiling.

About That Ladder ...

The one you use should be about 3 feet shorter than the highest point you have to reach. Never climb higher than the second-highest rung; it's easy to lose your balance when standing on the top of a stepladder, and even if it's a short ladder, you can be injured if you fall -- not to mention the mess you'll make.

Let the Light Shine

It's best to turn the power off in the room you're painting so you can remove electrical cover plates and ceiling light fixtures. Invest in a halogen work light that you can plug into an outlet in an adjoining room, and move it around while you're working so the light shines off the walls at different angles. This way, you'll spot voids and streaks before the neighbors come in to admire your work and find them for you.

About the Author

Chris Deziel has a bachelor's degree in physics and a master's degree in humanities. Besides having an abiding interest in popular science, Deziel has been active in the building and home design trades since 1975. As a landscape builder, he helped establish two gardening companies.