Learn How Wall Texture Can Hide Flaws and Reduce Drywall Finishing

Stippling Ceiling With a Roller
Stippling Ceiling With a Roller. Getty / Gary Ombler

Stipple texture ceilings and walls are an acquired taste—or sometimes a taste born of necessity.  Given a choice, most homeowners would choose a smooth, glass-like texture.  Besides being the preferred look of today, smooth surfaces help wall color stand out better.  Because there are no bumps to create a shadow effect, the surface is brighter.

Wall texture creates small shadows due to the bumps and depressions.

While these shadows do not matter much in direct light, they lengthen as the light source moves at a sharper angle to the wall. This darkens the overall shade of the wall, thus darkening the room.

For that very reason, textured walls and ceilings have their place: they hide imperfections better. If your drywall is not perfectly installed--if it has seams, bulges, sags, or depressions--stippling can go a long ways towards hiding joint imperfections.

This is one reason why ceilings are so often texturized: because ceilings receive the most light, it is very hard to hide their imperfections if the surface is perfectly flat. 

How It Works

The idea behind stippling is to lay down a coat of texture compound that is thicker than ordinary paint.  This compound creates peaks.  But this compound is thin enough so that it does not bulk up and create the long, sharp peaks associated with popcorn or cottage cheese ceilings.

Types of Stipple Mixture

  • Do It Yourself:  Some painters recommend thinning out drywall (mud) compound with water to a 4:1 ratio.  Use a five-gallon bucket and a metal paint mixer attachment on your drill to thoroughly mix the texture.  You will need to add a handle to the drill so that you can get a firm grip on the drill.
  • Store-Bought:  You can purchase special texture compounds.  Popular brand include Sheetrock Stipple Wall & Ceiling Paint and Behr Interior Texture Paint.

How to Do It

If you are in the habit of painting without a drop cloth--and this is possible with minor paint touch-ups--this is not the case at all with stipple texturing. By its very nature, texturing is a messy operation that results in wet texture material flying in directions you do not want it to go.

Cover both the floor and any kind of wall surfaces, including door and window trim and casing.  Use a cloth dropcloth for the flooring and plastic for vertical surfaces.

Prepare Walls for Texture By Patching and Priming

Even though it may sound counter-intuitive, you do need to make some preparations on the wall before you can apply the stipple texture. First you need to patch any holes or chips with either drywall compound or light-weight spackle. Use your drywall knife to force the compound into the hole and give it a quick swipe with the edge of the knife to smooth the compound across the surface. Do not spend too much time on this as it will get covered with the stipple.

Next, prepare the walls with one coat of flat white latex wall paint or base coat paint.

 Let dry.  This precoat is essential, because stipple paint applied directly to bare drywall will be absorbed into the wall surface, compromising your efforts.

Stir and Roll Paint Onto the Surface

Mix up and stir the texture paint or your homemade compound until it has the consistency of thick latex paint. It should be smooth and easy to roll on. Dip the roller in the paint tray, roll it out and then roll over the wall or ceiling surface. Note: This technique will produce a stipple texture using an ordinary paint roller cover, but there are also stipple roller covers available with textured surfaces aimed at simplifying this process.

Let Dry to Correct Consistency

Let the texture paint dry until it is halfway between wet and dry. It can be hard to determine exactly when to do this, but since you are going to be applying texture to the surface anyway, you can test out the surface by pressing your thumb into the paint and pulling straight out.

The result should be sharp spikes almost like meringue.  As mentioned before, spikes are not your eventual goal; they are just a way to test the compound.  Use your thumb to press the spikes back down.

Roll Again

Roll the surface again. Note that you are not rolling the surface with more texture paint. You are rolling the surface simply with the paint remaining on the roller from before. Your goal is to pull the surface up, away from the wall, creating the texture.

Optional "Knock Down" Texture

As an option, before the surface is completely dry, you can “knock down” the surface by smoothing a drywall knife across the texture at a sharp angle to the wall. Again, the texture paint needs to be the correct consistency. If too wet, the paint will smear. If too dry, the paint will not "knock down."