Learn How to Paint a Room Like a Pro

Young couple painting wall
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If you want to know how to paint a room, you need to think like the masters of the craft--professional painters.

Most of the work in every great paint job lies in the preparation. That's where we'll begin.

1. Move Anything You Don't Want Painted

You can't paint a room without space to move around. If you're going to be painting the ceiling in the room, then you have only a few items to move at this point; you can skip to the next step.

But most people who want to know how to paint a room usually are starting with the walls.

  • Furniture - Move the furniture away from those walls. Move everything out of the room (if possible), but at the very least, move everything to the center of the room.
  • Pictures - You'll also want to remove all pictures, wall decorations, etc.
  • Plates - Take a small screwdriver and remove all the switch plates and outlet covers, leaving the screws screwed in place by a few threads after removing the covers. If you remove the screws, you'll be sure to lose one. Place the covers into a bucket or drawer. If the covers were looking dingy, place them in a solution of soapy water to clean them while you're painting. As for cracked or broken face plates, completely replace them.
  • Taping - Place a bit of blue masking tape on the outlets and switches. You don't want to paint those by accident. If you don't have blue tape, you should get some, or simply use regular masking tape.

2. Cover with Plastic

  • Use your painter's plastic or a large tarp to cover all your furniture.
  • Tape up the plastic so you don't have any paint drips waiting for you when the job is done.
  • Drape tarps or rosin paper on the floor. Rosin paper works best on hardwood floors, as painter's tarps make for a slippery surface. Rosin paper comes in rolls at the hardware store, and you can also get inexpensive builder's paper. Rosin paper is thicker, in case you spill, but either will get the job done. If using paper, tape it down.

3. Mask the Room

Be sure to run tape and paper over your door frames to protect your doors from drips. Creating a little "hood" with paper and tape can save some headaches in the future with a stray drip.

You may also want to run a 2" strip of tape along any baseboard or apply a paper masker. At your hardware store or home improvement center, you will find several products that dispense either paper or plastic with just an edge of tape. This will help prevent drips or splatters from polka-dotting your baseboard as you paint.

After you paint, remove the masking once the paint is dry to the touch. Just be sure you didn't paint heavily over any tape. When you remove it, it may peel off your hard work. If you do notice that the paint is trying to peel from the wall, score the tape lightly with a sharp box cutter blade.

4. Repairs and Primer

  • Repairs - If your surface needs some repairs, do this before painting; paint does not make surface imperfections disappear. Any mistakes visible before paint will be visible after painting.
  • Stains - If there are any stains such as marker or ball point pen, then these will need to be primed with an oil or shellac-based primer. Look for primers that specify "stain blocker." Keep priming these areas until the stain disappears; do not rely on your paint to do this.
  • Wash - Wash the walls with a product called TSP, a cheap painter's detergent used to remove surface oils and dirt. These prevent professional grade results. Get the no-rinse variety and save yourself a step.

5. Purchase Quality Painting Tools

For the sake of your future happiness, use quality tools. You have been forewarned.

  • Brush, Roller Cage, and Extension - Purchasing a quality brush and roller cage as well as an extension arm (a telescoping kind, at least the 2-4' variety) will ensure great results.
  • Bucket and Screen - The best, quickest set up is to get a 5-gallon bucket for your roller. Buy a screen to fit the bucket.
  • Roller Nap - Get a roller with a quality nap, one designed to fit your job. The nap is the thickness of the roller pad itself, which goes on the roller cage. Make sure it's designed for your walls and your paint.
  • Roller Pad Size - Get a roller pad 9" wide; this will suffice for most rooms. If painting between cabinets or in other confined areas, then use a smaller roller, typically called a weenie roller.
  • Brush and Bucket - For your brush set up, keep a half gallon of the paint handy. If you like, you can set a hook into the side of your brush so it can rest in the rim of your can, draining excess paint where it belongs. This way you'll also preserve the life of your brush as you keep the paint off the ferrule--the part where the bristles begin at the handle.

    6. Cutting and Rolling

    Cutting in the Paint:

    First: cut in. This is a term used to refer to brushing areas your roller cannot reach: corners, up against a ceiling, around fixtures and cabinets. Work one wall at a time, unless you have a partner who can backroll (or follow) you.

    If you do have a backroller, this person will start painting once you get far enough ahead. Cut in from the top-down. Start anywhere, pick a wall, and begin at the top-left corner. Hit the "highs" then the "lows" as you make your way from one end to the other.

    Rolling the Paint:

    Once you've cut in, rolling is easy.

    • Dip - Beginning in the same vicinity your cut began, use your roller and extension pole, and with about a halfway-filled 5-gallon bucket, lightly dip the roller into your paint. Do not immerse your roller into the paint. You'll wind up dripping for the rest of the job, wondering why you didn't hire a pro to paint for you. If you want to know how to paint like a professional painter, then be sure to just barely dip your roller arm into the top of the paint.
    • Screen It - Pull it back up the screen, then roll back down onto the surface until you hear the sticky sound. Do this several times until you're confident the pad is coated in paint but the roller core isn't full of paint.
    • Roll the "W" - Roll out the excess on the screen, catch some drips into the bucket, and start in the upper left corner, making about a 2 1/2' to 3' downward pass, back up in a "W" pattern, and so on until you have a "W."
    • Fill In - Fill in that little square with your roller before returning it to the bucket, wetting it like you just did, and repeat. Be sure to work top-down, in a "Z" pattern. Once you get about four cycles of this done, roll them together with your roller and repeat until you reach the floor.