Painting 101: best practices

Painting 101: best practices

Hello! This is lesson three in our Painting 101 series. Be sure to also check out lesson one: choosing wall color and lesson two: recommended supplies.

In this lesson I want to mostly focus on the steps, best practices for getting the best paint job, and when to use primer. These are the things that I was most unsure about for a while, so I figured I might not be alone in that.

Now that we’ve picked out our paint color and gathered all of our supplies, we can finally put some paint on the wall, right? Well, there might be a few things to do first.

Prepping your wall

Before you can finally paint you’ll need to prep your wall. I know. I’m the queen of lazy so I’ve skipped this plenty of times and lived to regret it. It’s a pain in the butt and no one wants to take the time to do this, but you’ll be glad you did.

Start by patching any nail holes with putty. Then depending on the putty you use, you may want/need to give it a quick sanding to smooth the bump. If you need to caulk anything, do that now too, and be sure to use a paintable caulk.

Go over your wall with a damp cloth and/or a vacuum to get rid of any old dust or splatters. Something like a dry swiffer is also good for getting dust up high on your wall. You don’t want to get dirt on your roller and paint it onto your wall! It’ll make bumps and also, ew.

Take a minute to remove any hardware that may be in the way. Please please don’t paint over door hinges or light switch plates. Ugh. Just take the two seconds to remove them first, ok? When all of this is done, you can move on to primer.

So when do you use primer?

Honestly, there would be nothing wrong with using primer every single time you paint… if you love doing extra work. Because who doesn’t love doing extra work especially when it’s painting?? Um, no one.

Here’s my rule. Use primer if:

  • your current paint is darker than your new paint
  • your current paint is really shiny
  • your current paint is old and/or cracking
  • you are painting something for the first time, like new drywall or wood
  • your wall needs a lot of patching

The general rule of thumb is that primer is a lot less expensive than paint, so when in doubt, use primer. You’d rather do three coats of primer to cover up some dark paint than 5 or 6 coats of real paint that costs more.

Beyond helping to cover up dark paint, primer also provides a surface for your paint to stick. On new drywall, you must always apply a coat of primer that is specially formulated for use on new drywall, or your paint will peel right off. (Believe me, I’ve accidentally missed a spot and after the paint dried, it bubbled up and peeled.)

On the other hand, if you have light walls in a satin finish, there’s no need to take the extra time to pre-prime. A high quality paint should cover most light-ish colors with just two coats.

Tip: paint+primer in one is NOT the same thing as plain primer. Paint+primer is essentially a thicker paint that provides a greater coverage more similar to what you would get with a separate primer, but it does not provide the same benefits. I love paint+primer but still use a separate primer first when I need one.

For most projects, you’ll want to look for a water-based, acrylic primer. Oil-based primers are great if you’re painting over wood that has never been painted before because the natural oils in the wood, the tannins, will often seep through acrylic primers and even through your paint. This happened to us in our pantry when we had some old wood trim to paint over that was stained but never painted. After a couple of coats of acrylic primer, there were still brown stains seeping out. Oil-based primer fixed it in one coat, and you can still paint over oil-based primer with acrylic paint. But for 99% of the projects we do around here, we use acrylic primer, which is way easier to work with and way less stinky.

It took three coats of primer and two coats of white semi-gloss paint to cover the black trim in our hallway.

Where do you start?

We’ve learned that if we do things in this order, it’ll be a lot easier and faster:

Most of the time when you’re painting a room you should also paint the ceiling and trim. Do them before the walls because it’s usually a whole lot easier to make a careful edge on your wall than on the ceiling or trim. I’ve been known to skip this when I’m in a rush to get a wall painted, and I always, always kick myself afterwards.

I won’t lie, ceilings kind of suck. We don’t do the ceiling every single time, but it’s going to look at lot better if you do. Painting the ceiling before the walls lets you get a little paint on the wall without worrying about it. It’ll be so much easier and quicker if you’re not freaking out about getting paint on your wall — same goes for trim. We have always bought white ceiling paint off the shelf at the hardware store, but I recently read that some people recommend using a more high quality paint, like whatever kind of paint they’re going to use on the walls, in a flat finish, because it will provide better coverage and just look better in the long run. I definitely want to test this on our next project.

For trim, we always buy white semi-gloss off the shelf, usually Behr at Home Depot. It is a million times easier to paint your trim before the walls. I’ve made this mistake a few times and it’s a HUGE pain to go back and try to paint trim later without getting it all over your pretty paint.

Ok, so when all of that is done NOW you can paint your walls. Start with the edges using an angled brush and then go back over them with the roller, as close to the edge as you can safely get. This helps to eliminate brush strokes. It’s great when Andy and I can work together. I usually do the edges and he does the rolling and the high parts. This works out great for us.

It’s best to do multiple thin coats than try to slop as much paint on the wall as you can get. That’s only going to make your walls runny and bumpy. We always use at least two coats of paint. Even if you think it looks ok after the first coat, there are probably little spots that the roller missed that you’ll find weeks from now and that will drive you insane. Yes, speaking from experience. The good news is the second coat always goes faster than the first!

If you used tape on any of your edges, remove it while the paint is still wet. You’ll end up with a cleaner edge and less paint seeping under the tape. Your tape will also be a lot easier to remove if it hasn’t gotten dried out and stuck.

So that’s it. That’s the entire painting process from start to finish. Of course, like anything else, this is what works best for us after lots of trial and error, but you may find that something else works better for you. Let’s be honest, painting is always a pain, but we’ve learned that when we follow these steps, we’re going to be more efficient and happier with the finished result.

I hope you found this series helpful. Please let us know if you have any questions at all! We’ll add lessons in the future as we learn new things!

— Kerry

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