Paint cans
Beaucroft/ iStock/ Getty Images

Indoor Painting Tips and Tricks

Painting tips everyone should know before getting started

Painting is so easy, anyone can do it. But if that's the case, why do professional paint jobs look so much better than amateur work? It's because pros know how to choose colors that work for the space, and they know how to choose the right paint sheen for each color. Of course, they also know how to prep and paint like pros, so the finished product has that flawlessly fresh look. So what's the secret to getting similar results when doing it yourself? Paint like the pros do.

Choose a Color

Choosing a color is the hardest part. What's most important is to find one that will create the desired mood and make you happy.

  • If you really don't have any idea about what color to paint, try pulling a color out of a piece of art or area rug that's in the room. It's a guaranteed way to find a complementary color.
  • Take home several paint chips and see how they look in the room. Hold them up to the furniture, floors, artwork, cabinets, and anything else that's already in the room. Try to narrow it down to three or four choices.
  • Get a small sample container of each color and paint a large square on the wall. If possible, get the samples in the same sheen you will use because sheen affects how the paint looks under light.
  • Watch how the sample colors change as the sun moves across the sky and the amount of light in the room changes as well as how they look under artificial light.

Use Multiple Colors Wisely

If you're using more than one color in the room, keep a few things in mind:

  • If you have a chair rail or wainscoting and you want to paint the top and bottom of the walls different colors, it's best to use the darker color on the bottom portion and the lighter on top. The light color will dominate and the dark color will have a grounding effect.
  • To accentuate trim, paint it a shade lighter or a shade darker than the walls. The same goes for the ceiling. Painting it a shade darker will make the room feel cozier, painting it a lighter shade will create an airier feeling.

Consider Paint Effects

Don't be afraid to think outside the box and try some different paint effects. There's a lot you can do with paint, and there's no need to do the walls all in the same color. Some fun techniques include color blocking, stenciling, and color washing. You can use different colors on the same wall or, for a subtle effect, you can use different sheens. For example, try painting a wall with flat paint and then stenciling a design (such as damask) over the base coat with a glossy paint. The effect is subtle yet elegant.

Select a Sheen

Once you've chosen a paint color and design, you'll need to decide on a sheen, or finish.

  • Flat: Flat paint offers a matte finish and has a dry (sometimes chalky) feel. It is good at hiding imperfections and has a soft, subtle look. However, it does not wash well, so it is best reserved for walls that see very little traffic (as in fingerprints) and for ceilings, where the matte finish cuts down on glare from artificial light.
  • Satin and eggshell: Satin and eggshell are popular for walls because they have a very slight shine and are fairly easy to clean. They offer a softer look than semi-gloss and gloss paint.
  • Semi-gloss and gloss: Both semi-gloss and gloss sheens are quite shiny, almost plasticky, which makes them highly reflective and highly washable. This is why they're popular for trim and for heavy-use surfaces like kitchen cabinets.

Determine the Right Amount of Paint

Add the width of all the walls in the room together and multiply the number by the height of one wall (from floor to ceiling). Take the total and subtract the total area of all the doors, windows, archways, etc. This will get you the exact area of wall space you'll need to paint. A general rule of thumb is that a flat surface usually requires one gallon for every 400 square feet. However, you should plan on two coats (at least), so double the amount of paint needed for one coat.

Prepare to Paint

Proper preparation is one of the most important painting tips and is key to getting a professional-looking paint job.

  • Move anything out of the room that might get in the way, and remove all hardware and fixtures that won't be painted.
  • Wipe down the walls with a solution of water and a little bit of dish soap or with trisodium phospate (TSP) or a TSP alternative. This will remove dirt, dust, and grease. TSP and similar solutions also etch the surface slightly to help the new paint stick.
  • Fill cracks in walls and ceilings with spackle and sand it smooth. Fill cracks and gaps in trim with paintable caulk. Wipe off all sanding dust with a damp cloth.
  • Make sure you have all the brushes, rollers, and paint trays you will need before starting. You don't want to have to take a break in the middle of painting to run to the hardware store for supplies.

Tape off Areas to Be Painted

Taping off is time-consuming, but it's worth it. Use painter's tape to tape off the trim, ceilings, windows, doors, and anything else that should be protected from paint. It will ensure you get nice, straight lines and you don't cross over onto an area you don't want to be painted.

Paint From the Top Down

Always start painting from the highest area to the lowest. Start with the ceiling or top of the walls and work your way down. This way, you can catch any drips, and they won't mess up a freshly painted wall.

Stick to Thin Coats

One of the biggest mistakes amateur painters make is to put too much paint on their brush or roller. It's far more effective to put a small amount on the brush or roller and use long, even strokes to apply thin coats. It's tempting to slather on a lot of paint in the hopes of not having to do another coat, but the end result won't look as good. Two or more thin coats will do a better job of covering the walls than one thick coat.

Paint the Trim Last

There's some debate on this topic, but quite often the trim can catch some of the spray that comes off of paint rollers. For this reason, it's best to paint the trim last, since it will be done with a brush, and excess paint won't get on the walls.