The Secret to Making a Paint Job Look Professional



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It's Prep Before Painting

The easiest and cheapest way to renovate a room is to paint it, but hiring a professional can still cost $300 to $800. Homeowners can do the same job themselves for about $150. Sure, there's more to painting than just picking a color and slapping it on the wall. It's best to take a day to prep before you start to paint, for example; you want walls to be in the best possible shape before they see a new color. But with the proper prep work and a few tips, a DIY job can look perfect and last for years. (Do you have any painting secrets? Please share them in the comments.)

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choosing paint color

Choose Your Colors

Deciding on a paint color can seem daunting when looking at a chip array in a store. Select a few and get some sample cans to bring home, where you can paint pieces of poster board and move them around the room, looking at them in different lights at different times of day. Once you've selected your color, pick a finish: Paints run from flat matte (usually used on ceilings) to high gloss. Eggshell and satin finishes, which have a slight luster and are washable (although not scrubbable), are used for most walls.

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Paint Can

Have Enough Paint

A gallon of paint covers about 400 square feet. Keep in mind the area of the ceiling and the linear feet for molding and trim, as well. Walls almost always need two coats, but one is generally fine for ceilings and trim that are staying roughly the same color. If the math is a bit much, use a paint calculator.

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Repair the Walls

Scrape off loose or peeling paint with a sharp putty knife or paint scraper, just to the point where it becomes difficult to remove. It's inevitable for walls to sustain some pock marks and dings, particularly if there are kids around. To fix these up before you paint, and fill nail holes, use a putty knife to apply a bit of spackle diagonally across the hole or ding. Wait for it to dry, and sand using 120- or 180-grit paper or a sanding block until it's flush with the wall. Cover larger holes or drywall that is opening along a seam with a self-adhesive mesh patch and joint compound or spackle applied in a crisscross pattern. Feather it out along the edges to blend with the wall and sand it down when dry. 

clean walls

Clean the Walls

All that sanding leaves dust on the walls that will keep paint from having a smooth finish. Wash them down with a dampened tile sponge or rag. If the walls are greasy (say, in a kitchen), wash them with a heavy-duty trisodium phosphate solution before painting. Walls where latex paint is going over oil-based paint also should be washed with this TSP solution. 

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Seal Cracks

Caulk as Necessary

If there are spaces between the molding and wall, caulk them before painting. Make sure you use paintable acrylic caulk; silicone caulk repels paint. Walls and moldings should be cleaned first, with water and a bit of dish detergent. After caulking, smooth the seam with a wet finger. Let it set for 24 hours.

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prepare room to paint

Prepare the Room

Move all furniture to the middle of the room and cover it with a plastic tarp. Cover the rest of the floor with a canvas or paper drop cloth (flattened cardboard boxes are perfect for this). Using painter's tape to fasten a cloth to the baseboards will keep it from shifting. Remove all switch plates and outlet covers, taping the screws to the plates so they don't get lost.

priming walls

Prime the Walls

You need to prime when painting over spackle or joint compound, going from a dark color to a light color, or vice versa. Primer that's tinted to the paint color you're using makes everything easier, and there are paint-and-primer-in-one products, although some experts question their efficacy.

paint tools

Have the Proper Tools

A ladder is essential. An extension pole helps reach ceilings and high walls. Brushes with angled tips navigate edges. A 2-inch flat brush is ideal for trim and for doing corners. Rollers with a 3/8-inch or half-inch "nap" (the thickness of the roller) generally work fine for flat, non-textured walls. (And when you buy roller brushes, be sure that they match the size of the roller frame.) Roller-pan and brush-bucket liners help greatly with cleanup. Blue or green painter's tape — the wider the better — ensures that you color in the lines. Wet rags or paper towels should be handy at all times to clean up spills and drips immediately. 

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mixing paint

Follow Best Practices

Make sure paint is well-mixed. If you're using more than one gallon, guarantee color consistency by mixing them together in a 5-gallon bucket and pouring some as needed into a roller pan or brush bucket. When filling a brush or roller with paint, use very little. Tap brushes against the side of the container to remove excess — don't wipe them. Fill the roller pan only in the basin, and roll the roller against the textured side of the pan to even out the paint.  

Paint The Walls

Do the Ceiling First

Tape the edges, smoothing down tape with a putty knife. Tape over light fixtures, and remove ceiling fan blades. Paint along the edges with a 2-inch brush. Make sure there are no drips or globs of paint, and feather over strokes if needed. Fill in the middle with a roller attached to an extension pole, rolling in parallel lines. If the ceiling needs a second coat, paint in straight lines perpendicular to the first coat. Remove tape before the ceiling is completely dry to avoid taking paint off. Also: Don't work directly over your head if you can avoid it.

young couple painting wall
Charday Penn/istockphoto

Next, Do the Walls

If you need to, tape against the baseboards, moldings, and window and door trim, although if you have a steady hand, you can skip it. Start by running an angled tip brush along the trim; again, use a light touch and brush over any drips or places where the paint is heavy. Paint in straight lines with a single stroke, pulling the brush toward you, refilling when necessary. Cut in corners with the same brush, or use a flat brush. You should have a 2- or 3-inch border. When you start using a roller, dampen it and dip it into the roller pan. Starting at the top of the wall, paint a large "W" about 4 feet square, then roll in overlapping vertical lines to fill in. When the roller starts making a smacking sound, it's time to refill. When you get near the parts you painted with a brush, use the roller horizontally to overlap the brushwork. Continue this way around the room. Wait for paint to dry, and put on a second coat, paying special attention to spots you may have missed. If you used tape, again, remove it before the paint is completely dry.

paint the trim

Tackle the Trim

Once the second coat is dry, you are ready to paint the trim. For this, a 2-inch flat brush is usually fine. You may want to use a smaller brush (a 1-inch angled sash brush is perfect) to cover the sides of the trim and moldings, where the woodwork is narrow. Tape will help you avoid getting paint on the walls you just finished. Press it down with a putty knife, if necessary, and remove it immediately.

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baby room

Finish Up

Clean bushes and rollers with soap and water, making sure to remove excess paint first. Then step back and admire your handiwork. Wait until the next day to put the furniture back to be sure everything is completely dry and also so you can catch any spots — with fresh eyes the next day — that might need extra touch-up.

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