In this complete guide on how to paint a room, you will find all the information and tips you need to tackle all of your room painting projects.
We love the color of our living room walls (Behr Natural Gray), but it sure took a while to find the right color! The same goes for all the other walls in our house. We’ve painted every wall at least once, many of them twice, and some of them three times! We are now expert painters, and we’re not done yet! Since Greg has limits for how many times he’s willing to repaint a wall, lately I’ve been doing most of the painting. I still have a few rooms to go, and I’m ready to get to it, so what better time to show you the tricks and techniques I’ve learned from my three years’ experience in painting walls?
But before jumping in to how to paint a room, I want to give a “LONG POST” warning, so you can grab a cup of coffee or tea before carrying on with the rest of post.
Since this is a complete guide on how to paint a room, first let’s talk a little about the paint itself: you know…the differences between high-quality paint and standard paint…or are there any differences at all? Apart from the price, the biggest difference between high-quality and standard paint is the amount of what I call goodies they have. First, let’s look at the usual suspects that you’ll find in a can of paint. Don’t worry, this won’t be a boring chemistry lesson…it’s all good info, really! 😉
All paints have two types of pigments: prime and extender. Prime pigments provide the color and hiding power (think of hiding power as the optical performance of the pigment – the better the hiding power, the better one coat will cover and “hide” the surface underneath the paint). Prime pigments are the expensive pigments. Extender pigments are referred as fillers, and they are less expensive They contribute very little to the color and are added to the paint to increase the pigment volume at little additional cost.
Then there are additives and binders (or resin). Binders contribute qualities like adhesion, gloss, durability, scrub and stain resistance, moisture and crack resistance etc., while the additives would contribute to shelf-life, overall feel, surface-life (on-the wall life) and UV- and rust-resistance of the paint.
And then there are solvents (primary and co-solvents), which also define the quality of the paint, but not with a positive correlation. Primary solvents liquefy the paint and carry the solids. In other words, if you are buying a water-based paint, then the primary solvent would be water. Co-solvents, on the other hand, help your paint form a tough and durable film. But with the low VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds) trend these days, paints tend to have less co-solvents. While the primary solvent usually constitutes 50% to 75% of the total paint volume, co-solvents only account for 0% to 10%.
Among all these ingredients, pigments, binders and additives are what I call my goodies, whereas solvents are the liquid. The bottom line is that a high-quality paint will have less liquid and more goodies in it, and would therefore give a better experience while painting and better end-results when finished.
Now that we know more about the paint itself, let’s talk about choosing the color and the sheen.
Tips On Choosing The Color And The Sheen
Consider the artificial and natural lighting of the room.
When we first moved to our home, I couldn’t wait to change our wall colors. Therefore, despite all the great advice I got on why I shouldn’t decide on the wall colors before living in our house for a few months, I decided that we should jump right in and paint everything. And you know how well that decision worked out, right? We ended up painting our entire house almost twice and some rooms even three times! So my first tip on this topic will be:
This is what I call the Golden Rule. Lighting is the most important factor, because it changes the appearance of colors:
- Direct sunlight shows the colors in their natural form (without any additional affects).
- Indirect sunlight tends to make colors appear warmer than they actually are.
- Artificial lighting can cause colors to appear warmer or cooler depending on your lighting choice (incandescent warmer, fluorescent cooler, etc).
In our first round of painting the house, we were in our “little did we know” era, hence we happened to paint our living room (which gets a lot of direct & indirect sunlight) with Martha Stewart’s Cayenne color (a very nice terracotta-ish color). By that summer, Greg and I couldn’t bear spending time in that room, because it just felt too hot! Now that we know better, we learned how lighting and color can change the “perceived temperature” of a room. Now we tend to go with warm colors for our north-facing rooms and cool colors for our south-facing rooms.
Use the color illusions to your benefit.
Painting is all about creating illusions, and color is the best tool, as it can alter or define the feel of a room.
- subtle colors make a room seem spacious.
- intense colors make a room seem smaller.
All of these illusions are influenced by the lighting and the colors around it. So with this, we again visit back to the Golden Rule, as light is one of the main factors that affects a color’s appearance 😉
Darker colors tend to show more imperfections on the paint’s surface and the wall underneath due to their low Titanium Oxide (TiO2) content. TiO2 is the pigment that gives paint most of its hiding power. But the content ratio of TiO2 also defines how dark your paint can be tinted, as it is a white pigment. This is why darker colors usually have lower hiding power than lighter colors. Counter-intuitive, right?
First, decide on the sheen, and then narrow down your color choice.
Sheen is a measure of reflected light, so it influences a color’s appearance when viewed from different angles. Glossier sheens tend to show surface imperfections more than flat sheens, since the angles created by the imperfections reflect light differently.
Sheen affects the durability and cleanability of the paint: the glossier the sheen, the more durable and cleanable the paint. That said, touch-ups are always easier with the lower-sheens like flat and eggshell, as they will hide the imperfections much better. Therefore, the best advice I can give on this topic is:
As a picture can tell a thousand words, I prepared the table below to provide some guidance on how to choose a suitable sheen based on the room/area. I hope you’ll find it useful! 🙂
Paint chips are good, but paint samples are better.
Most brands give their paint chips for free, and they are helpful when trying to narrow down your color choices. But once the colors choices are down to two or three, try the paint samples on your wall to help you decide on the final color.
As different light conditions affect the appearance of colors [never forget the Golden Rule! 😉 ], here are a few things to keep in mind when trying the paint samples:
- Paint two coats of big swatches (even larger than 12″ x 12″) to resemble the final look of the wall.
- Leave the swatches on your walls at least a day, so you can see how the color changes with the light over the course of a day.
- If you are planning to use the same colors in another room, then instead of painting the big swatches directly on the walls, just paint a piece of drywall or foam board with 2 coats of sample paint. This will allow you to move the swatches to any room or any place in a room to see how light affects the color throughout a day.
- Certain brands do not make their paint samples in all sheens, so just go for the closest sheen when you are buying your sample.
And as a bonus hint…
Trust your Designated Photographer’s eye!
I know this sounds a bit strange, but every home has a Designated Photographer who has a better eye for photography than other family members. In our home, our Designated Photographer is Greg! What can I say…apparently my eyesight is not that great, and I can’t even differentiate the undertones in certain colors, just as I can’t distinguish dark navy blue from black…but of course, we discovered this only after we painted our home almost twice with the colors I chose! LOL. I know, right?
Nowadays, I only join in when it comes to the “light/dark/cool/warm” selection and ask him to choose the color that will work best in that room. And oh boy!..does he do a great job with that!
So, trust your Designated Photographer’s eye, as he/she will see more than you, including light illusions, how colors work together, permanent features and other details of a room. Seeing all these aspects becomes important when you want the paint color to highlight all the great features in a room and minimize the attention on the poor areas.
Now that we have talked about what to consider when choosing the right color and the sheen, let’s have some action, shall we?
How To Paint A Room
Although planning to paint a room doesn’t take much, here are some things to keep in mind:
- If you are planning to paint an entire room from ceiling to floor, start with ceiling first, because unless you cover your walls entirely, you may end up splattering them. Once you are finished with the ceilings, then you can move on to walls, then the trim and finally the floor.
- If you are painting the floor, start with the farthest corner from the door and make your way towards the door. Although this is common sense, on some of the construction projects I have worked, I have seen painters who forgot this simple rule and either had to step on the painted area or had to wait for the paint to dry properly to be able to exit the room!
- I usually paint in the fall, winter or spring, as those are the times we have low to normal humidity in our house, and the room temperature is always around 70ºF. These are the perfect conditions for taping and painting.
- If you are buying the paint from Home Depot or Lowe’s, keep in mind that you can’t return it – even the unopened cans – if you change your mind or don’t like the color or just have too much leftover paint. Before buying paint, calculate your need so you buy only enough: typically, a gallon of paint will cover 200 sq feet with 2 coats of paint (400 sq feet with a single coat). That said, covering textured, rough or un-primed surfaces may require more paint.
Prep work is the most tedious part of all, but trust me when I say: the better your prep work is, the quicker and easier your painting will be, and the better end-results you’ll get. I don’t cut corners when it comes to prep work!
As I prefer working with a roller more than working with a brush, first I start by taping off almost everything in a room: trim, edges of the ceiling, and the outlets/switches. Although taping all these areas takes time, I save that and a lot more during painting, since I minimize the need for cutting in. Unless I am painting a room with a popcorn ceiling or painting a tight area where I can’t fit a roller, I almost never use a brush when painting walls.
Here are my DOs and DON’Ts for taping:
- As masking tape occasionally leaves a sticky residue behind, I prefer using the 1.88″ original blue painter’s tape. And no… there is no need to get fancy with the tape, since they all do the same job, if you know how to seal the edges.
- Before taping, I wipe the trim and the edges of the ceiling with a clean, dry cloth, as painter’s tape sticks better to dust-free and dry surfaces.
- I try to tape using long strips. Longer strips help prevent paint from seeping underneath the tape.
- I never stretch the tape, because stretching will prevent the tape from sticking properly and will allow paint to seep underneath.
- Once I place the tape, I burnish it, as this helps to remove the air bubbles and helps it to stick properly. In other words, I rub the tape with my finger nails, applying enough pressure at the edges of the tape. If the tape still doesn’t stick properly, then I use a putty knife to seal those edges. That said, I always put the least amount of pressure necessary on the tape when taping ceilings, because flat ceiling paint is not durable, and the tape may pull off the existing paint when you peel it off.
- I make at least two-inch-long overlaps when connecting two sections of tape (as shown in picture below).
Once I am done taping the trim (meaning baseboard and all other woodwork) and ceiling edges, I remove all the wall plates and tape the front face of the outlets and switches – of course without touching any cables! I do this so I can paint over them without having slow down in those areas.
After taping, I get ready for the dirty work. I put on my painting clothes (old clothing that I don’t mind ruining) and a bandana to protect my hair from the dust and possible paint splatters.
Since our house is fairly new (built in 1996), I don’t test the existing paint for lead. But if you are living in a house that was built before 1977, then make sure to test the existing paint for lead before you do anything with those walls and trim. If the existing paint contains lead, then skip the next step (which is repair and sanding), as exposure to lead-paint dust or chips can cause serious health problems. Please take proper safety precautions when dealing with lead paint, because we love having you around as our reader! For even more exciting safety talk please visit our Disclosure page. 😉
Now that we are done with the safety warning, let’s move on to the next step.
I repair the walls, if needed, and then I give the walls a good sanding with a sanding sponge. I apply very little pressure, as this is only to get rid of the uneven areas and to smooth the wall surface. Although while doing this little area I forgot to wear a dust mask, I suggest you wear one, as inhaling paint dust is not good for your lungs.
After sanding, I wipe the walls with a damp cheesecloth to clean them. If I am working on the kitchen walls, then depending on how dirty they are, I may use a degreaser or TSP (Tri-Sodium Phosphate) instead, because paint won’t adhere to greasy or dirty surfaces. And if I am working on the bathroom walls, then the prep takes me even longer, as I watch out for mildew spots. I make sure to kill all the mildew before I re-paint the walls, because those spores can live under the paint and can ruin the newly-painted surface in the long run. As I said, I never cut corners with the prep work when painting walls!
When I am finished cleaning the walls, I vacuum the baseboard and the floor, so that dust on the floor (from sanding) won’t get kicked back up and stick on the walls while I am painting. And with that, the walls are ready for me to paint, so I gather my tools and supplies for painting.
Click on ‘Page 2 of 2’ below to read about painting tools and the painting process with some useful tips.