How to Paint a Room Like a Professional

Young couple painting wall

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You can paint a room, and then you can paint a room well. If you want to go beyond the norm and learn how to paint a room with true perfection, one that is neat, clean, and which looks fantastic, you need to think like the masters of the craft: professional painters.

Project Metrics

  • Working Time: 6 hours (150 square foot room)
  • Total Time: 7 hours
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Materials Cost: $50 to $200

Tools and Supplies You Will Need


Painting a room like a professional hinges on the quality of the tools. Professional painters work with premium tools, and they maintain them well because these tools are their livelihood. For you to duplicate a professional job on a do-it-yourself basis, you also must work with quality tools.

Purchase a premium brush and roller, as well as an extension pole. Paint trays and paint liners are do-it-yourselfers' favored method of picking up paint with a roller. But professional painters tend to pour paint into a 5-gallon bucket about halfway full, hang a screen from the side, then roll out the roller on the screen. This avoids the time and mess of continually refilling a paint tray. Excess paint simply drains back into the main area to be rolled up again in the next round.

Also, with a tightly fitting lid on the bucket, you can store the paint for long periods without having to pour the paint back into the original cans. Purchase a roller cover 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. Get a roller pad 9 inches wide; this will suffice for most rooms. If painting between cabinets or in other confined areas, then use a smaller roller.

Move Items Not to Be Painted

Move what you reasonably can before you paint the room. If you can remove every item, then do so. Items left in the room only block your work and potentially can be damaged by paint splatter and spills.

  • Move furniture away from walls. At the very least, move everything to the center of the room. While it is possible to paint a room without removing the furniture, it's always best to move it when you can. If you do decide to keep the furniture in the center of the room, you can cover all of the furniture en masse with one plastic sheet.
  • Remove pictures, wall decorations, light-weight shelves, clocks, and anything held up by nails or picture hooks.
  • With a small screwdriver, 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, be sure to place them in zipping plastic sandwich bags. Place the covers into a bucket or drawer. If the covers were looking dingy, place them in a solution of warm soapy water to clean them while you are painting. As for cracked or broken faceplates, completely replace them.
  • Place a strip of blue masking tape on the outlets and switches to avoid painting over them by accident. Be sure to turn off the electrical circuits controlling these outlets and switches. If you accidentally touch the metal screws on the side of the outlet or switch, you run the risk of electric shock and injury.

Cover Floor and Unmovable Items

Use plastic drop cloths or a large tarp to cover all your furniture. Tape up the sides of the plastic. Lay tarps or rosin paper on the floor. Rosin paper works best on hardwood floors, as plastic sheeting can create a slippery surface. Rosin paper comes in rolls at the hardware store or you can purchase inexpensive builder's paper.

Mask or Remove the Trim

Unless you intend to paint door and window trim the same color as the walls, be sure to run painter's tape along the edges to protect them from paint. If baseboards can easily be removed, do so. Otherwise, run painter's tape along the top edge of the baseboards to protect them from the wall paint. Since baseboards tend to be dirty, clean the top edge first to help the tape stick.

Make Repairs and Clean the Walls

If any 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.

If there are any stains, then these will need to be primed with a masking primer. Look for primers that indicate that they will block or mask stains. Keep priming these areas until the stain disappears; do not rely on your paint to do this.

Finally, wash the walls with tri-sodium phosphate (TSP), an inexpensive painter's detergent effective at removing surface oils and dirt. Fill the clean bucket with cool water, pour in the manufacturer-specified amount of TSP, and stir. Then soak the sponge in the TSP solution and clean the walls. Refill the bucket with clean water and rinse the walls.

Cut-In the Edges (Optional)

Cutting-in is a term that refers to painting right up to the edge of surfaces that will not be painted, minus the painter's tape. Cutting-in is truly a technique favored by professional painters because it is expedient, inexpensive, less wasteful, and cleaner than using painter's tape.

If you do decide to cut in, lightly dip an angled brush into the top of the paint. Gently draw the brush along the wall and up close to the surface that will not be painted (such as door trim). Go slow and have a cloth rag with you to quickly clean up any errant paint marks.

Dip the Roller and Screen It Out

Lightly dip the roller into your paint. Do not immerse your roller into the paint. While this might initially seem like a good idea for reducing trips back to the paint bucket, that first heavy load of paint on the roller can create large drips on the wall that are difficult to roll out. Pull the roller back up the screen several times until the roller is coated all around. Keep rolling up and down until you hear a sticky sound. Do this several times until you are confident that the roller cover is coated in paint but the roller core is not full of paint.

Roll the Wall in a W-Shape

Start in one corner, then make a 3-foot downward pass, then up again, down, and finally up to create a "W." This W-shape, which will be filled in with the next step, is the building block for most wall painting projects. Fill the W-shape, working quickly enough so that the paint edge does not dry. You always want to be working from a wet edge. Flat or matte paint does have a better tolerance level for dry vs. wet edges. As you progress to glossier paint sheens, though, that tolerance level shrinks and it becomes even more important to work from a wet edge.

Fill In and Complete

Build on that initial block with adjacent blocks, both horizontally and vertically. Occasionally, step back to view your work. Be sure to work with a strong light so that you can catch any missing spots. At edges where you previously cut in the paint, turn the paint roller either vertically or horizontally to parallel the cut-in edge. Stay as far away from the unpainted area as possible. Even if you do manage to avoid accidentally rolling paint onto these areas, paint splatter can still spray off of the roller and onto those areas.