Paint 101

Understanding color concepts and painting techniques will help you pick the right hues the first time -- and apply paint in a way that will last. Here are some tips to get you started.


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Painting a wall is an easy way to add color to your rooms.

Here are some hints designed to help you achieve painting perfection.

Before you apply the first coat of paint, be sure the surface is clean, smooth, and dry.

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  • Sanding: Use 80-grit sandpaper to smooth out blemishes and surfacing compound to repair dings. Always sand the surfacing compound once it's dry and remove any dust.
  • Washing: It's a good idea to wash wall surfaces before you begin, especially if you have sanded and need to remove the dust.
  • Paint only dry surfaces. In damp weather, run an air-conditioner or dehumidifier or wait for more favorable conditions.
  • Use a 2-1/2 or 3-inch flat brush to outline walls and ceilings and an extension roller to fill in the rest of the space.
  • Paint ceilings before walls. Textured ceilings might require a sprayer.
  • Load a brush by dipping the bristles one-third of the way into the paint. Lift the bristles out of the paint, then gently tap (don't wipe) them against the can's rim. The point is to load the brush just short of dripping on the way to the wall.
  • Load a roller by dipping it into a tray full of paint and rolling it up the tray's ramp until the cover is saturated. Work in small sections (4-foot areas), rolling paint onto the wall in an overlapping W motion to prevent roller marks.
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The key to applying a good coat of paint is choosing the correct brush.

As a basic rule, natural bristle brushes are best for oil-base paint, including stain, varnish, shellac, lacquer, and polyurethane; manufactured bristles are best for water-base (latex) paints.

If you prefer a very smooth surface, paint pads and foam rollers are excellent tools.

Cut down on some of the drips of paint by using a nail to punch several holes around the bottom of the paint can's rim. The holes will let paint drain back down into the can and keep it from pooling around the rim when you pour into a roller tray or smaller container.

More: How to Use a Paint Pad

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  • Determine the purpose of the room, then browse these guidelines to help you decide what type of finish to choose.
  • Flat paints offer ideal, nonreflective surface quality. These paints are better suited for lower-use areas in the home or in new construction, as flat paints help mask surfaces to make them appear smooth and uniform.
  • Eggshell and satin finish paints have a bit more sheen than flat paints and are ideal for places that need a cleanable but not shiny finish.
  • Semi-gloss and high-gloss paints are ideal in spaces where wall surfaces need to be wiped frequently, such as the kitchen. High-gloss paints also produce the toughest and most stain-resistant finishes, so they also are ideal in children's bedrooms and bath spaces. TIP: surface preprartion is key to a successful high-gloss finish, since every imperfection will be highlighted with glossy paint.
  • Oil-base paints have resins and thinners in them and are best used on chalky surfaces and over areas already painted with oil-base paints.
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  • Many paint companies now offer small containers of paint to take home and try before committing to a gallon or even a quart. Always paint a few color samples on your walls (or on a sample board). View them in daylight and artificial light so you can see which color will work best in your room.
  • The larger the room, the stronger the color appears. In big rooms, consider buying a lighter value of the hue.
  • Apply two thin coats instead of one thick coat, which could dry unevenly and leave lap marks.
  • In calculating the amount of paint needed, measure the perimeter of the room and multiply the result by the ceiling height to get square footage. (Don't deduct for windows or other openings unless they add up to more than 100 square feet.) Divide the square footage by the number of square feet the gallon of paint promises to cover. This will give you the number of gallons you will need.
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ROLLER: A 1-1/2-inch foam paint roller allows you to load three or four times as much paint as other materials and will roll over any surface. Rollers won't splatter paint or leave residue behind.

MINI ROLLERS: Typically 4 inches wide, these rollers make it easy to paint small areas, and they apply paint as evenly as the larger versions. The smaller rollers are ideal for getting into tight corners.

PADS: These tools are good for decreasing splatters when applying paint to a surface. They work fast and are good for painting edges. The pad's handle can be attached to an extension pole for painting ceilings or high walls.

BRUSHES: Use a 2-1/2- or 3-inch flat brush to outline walls and ceilings (a technique known as "cutting in"). Use angled brushes for tricky areas that require more brush control.

More: Color Without Commitment

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