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Must-Know Painting Tips (You'll Want to Read This Before You Paint)

Put down the paint and brush up (see what we did there?) on these tricks and tips for better painting. From picking the right color to must-have tools and post-job cleanup, we have you covered.


    Everything in this slideshow

    • Choose Color Wisely

      Light colors tend to open up a room, making it seem lighter and more spacious. Dark hues can add depth and warmth. Use a dark color on a single accent wall to create visual interest without making the room feel smaller. Before painting a room white, pay special attention to how surrounding elements will reflect light and alter the color. For example, red furniture or carpeting might make white walls look pink.

    • Consider Luster

      Sheen refers to the degree of shine. Generally, the higher the gloss, the better the finish will stand up to stains, abrasions, and cleaning. Choosing sheen can be a matter of personal preference, but there are some general guidelines to follow. Flat paint is widely used for ceilings but is not a good choice for walls in high-traffic areas. Eggshell works well in bedrooms, living rooms, and hallways where frequent cleaning is not needed. Easier-to-wash satin or semigloss paints are good choices for bathrooms and kitchens. Use high-gloss paints for trim, cabinetry, and doors that are in perfect condition.

    • Swatches: Your BFF

      Overwhelmed with paint swatches? No need to be. We demystify these tiny but super helpful paint-picking tools.

    • Test Paint Color Before You Buy

      The only way to be certain about a paint color is to see it on the intended surface, surrounded by the room's other elements. The best test is to buy sample sizes or quarts of a few colors, paint small sections of a wall, and observe during different lighting conditions. You won't regret spending money on samples. If you're hesitant to paint your walls with samples, pick up some poster board and paint it instead. With this method, you can also see what the color looks like in different parts of your room.

    • Determine Paint Needs

      Some manufacturers include calculators on their websites to help you figure out how many gallons of paint to buy. You can also use this formula: Add the widths of the walls, multiply that figure by the room's height, then divide the total by 350 (the square footage that 1 gallon typically covers). This formula doesn't factor in doors and windows, so you should have paint left over for touch-ups.

    • Spend More for Quality Paint

      The accrued costs of frequent repainting cancel the "savings" you enjoy by buying the cheap stuff. Good-quality paints cost more because they have a higher percentage of titanium dioxide, which determines covering ability, and other additives that increase durability. The heavier bodies of high-end paints help them go on smoother, splatter less, and resist fading.

    • Choose the Right Roller Cover

      A roller cover isn't just a roller cover. The differences in nap are tailored to specific jobs:

      3/16 and 1/4 inch: Apply a perfect finish with gloss paints on smooth surfaces.

      3/8 inch: Roll flat and semigloss paint onto walls or ceilings with ease. 

      1/2 and 3/4 inch: Tackle tough surfaces such as concrete floors and textured walls.

      1 and 1-1/4 inch: Cover brick and stucco completely.

    • Brush Up

      Choose brushes with long and dense bristles -- nylon for latex (water-base) paint and natural for oil-base paint. The brush essentials for most projects:

      2-inch angled sash brush: Good for painting door and window frames, moldings, and other areas where you need a lot of control; hold it like a pencil.

      3-inch trim brush: This workhorse brush is good for outlining walls and ceilings and for painting large areas. Look for a bare wood handle to get the best grip. Hold it between your thumb and fingers in a relaxed grip.

    • Use High-Quality Brushes

      High-quality brushes apply paint in a thick, smooth film. Examine a brush for a good taper, with bristles in the center slightly longer than those at the edge. The bristles should be at least half as long as they are wide and should be bound with a rust-resistant metal ferrule that is nailed on, not just crimped to the handle. Look for a well-shaped, bare wood handle large enough to grip comfortably.

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      Painter's Tape Pointers

      Specialty painter's tape is used to mask off areas before painting. Medium-adhesion tape is often used on woodwork that has a nonporous finish, such as gloss or semigloss paint. It adheres and seals well and will stay put for the duration of the project. If left on too long, however, it may pull off the finish when removed. Low-tack painter’s tape for delicate surfaces is used to temporarily mask off stripes, borders, and wall panels. It is often removed immediately after painting. Its mild adhesive will not pull off paint when removed. Both types of tape are available in a variety of widths.

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      Do the Prep Work

      Paint will cover more uniformly and adhere better to clean, dry, nonglossy surfaces. Scrape off any flaking paint, fill holes with spackling compound, and sand walls. Wipe off sanding dust, and wash dirty walls with a trisodium phosphate (TSP) solution. Remove switchplates and other hardware, and apply a primer, which helps to conceal stains and ensure uniform color and absorption.

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      Applying Painter's Tape

      Apply no more than 8-10 inches of painter's tape at a time to be certain of a straight edge. Smooth the edges with a putty knife. Wait until paint is dry to the touch and remove the tape slowly at a 45-degree angle. If the tape begins to tear, run a crafts knife along the seam to loosen it from the dried paint.

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      Paint Top to Bottom

      Begin with the ceiling and work your way to the bottom of the room for best results. Once the ceiling has dried, paint any crown molding, trim around windows and doors, and baseboards. Finally, paint the walls.

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      Keep Paint Fresh

      Punch a series of holes around the bottom of a paint can's rim with a nail. The holes will let paint drain down into the can and keep it from pooling around the rim when you pour it into a roller tray or other container. It also will ensure that your lid goes on tightly. A good seal will help keep the paint fresh.

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      Mix It Up

      When using more than one gallon of the same paint, mix all gallons together in a 5-gallon bucket. Called boxing, this procedure will ensure that the color is uniform throughout the application. This is particularly worthwhile if you're using a custom-mixed color.

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      Break Time

      When you take a break from your paint job, wrap brushes and rollers in plastic bags, squeeze the air out, and seal with twist ties or rubber bands. To leave them overnight, place the sealed tools in the refrigerator.

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      Store Extra Paint

      Store paint successfully by keeping air out of the paint container. To accomplish this, add a gasket between the cover and the can using a circle cut from a heavy-duty trash bag. Spray vegetable oil on one side of the bag and set it spray-side down on the can. Set the lid on top of the plastic. Tap the lid to seat it in the well. Store the can upside down in a room free from temperature extremes.

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      Storing Brushes

      To keep brushes in good shape after your paint job is done, make a DIY cover for the bristles. Cut a rectangle of heavy kraft paper or grocery bag -- twice the length of the ferrule and bristles and four times the width of the brush. Crease the paper vertically down the center. Place the brush next to the crease on the opened paper at the edge, and fold the paper. Roll the brush into the paper. Secure it with a rubber band. Hang the brush by the handle or store it flat.

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      Next Slideshow Did You Know You Can Do This With Spray Paint?

      Did You Know You Can Do This With Spray Paint?

      Haven't visited the spray paint aisle in awhile? You'll want to plan a trip ASAP. With a rainbow of paint colors and types (yup, there's even chalkboard spray paint), the project ideas are almost endless. Now, get inspired, go forth, and spray paint.
      Begin Slideshow »



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