A Dozen Painting Tips

Before you choose a color, dip the brush, or get rolling, read these 12 easy tips.


Enlarge Image Pick the proper paint.
  • Flat paint is the dullest of the sheens. It's best used in low-activity areas, such as hallways, living and dining rooms, bedrooms, and on ceilings. Of all the sheen options, a flat finish is best at concealing wall imperfections.
  • Eggshell (sometimes called satin or low-luster) paint has a bit more shine to it than flat. It works well in kids' rooms, where easier-to-clean walls are often wanted.
  • Semigloss paint has even more shine and reflective qualities than eggshell and is great for kitchens and bathrooms where moisture and cleanup are major considerations.
  • Gloss paint is just that: glossy. It has the highest shine factor, so it should be limited to truly high-traffic areas. Because it highlights imperfections more than a lower-sheen paint, it's best when used on small areas, such as cabinet doors or trims.
Enlarge Image The right brushes make the job go more smoothly; see #1.

1. Brush Basics Your brush options fall into two main categories: natural bristles and synthetic bristles. Use only synthetic-bristle brushes with latex paint. For oil-base paint, use either natural- or synthetic-bristle brushes. Brushes come in many shapes and sizes. Wall brushes (3 to 4 inches wide) will get the job done on large, flat expanses. Sash brushes are angled and usually 1-1/2 inches wide, making them ideal for detailed areas, such as the mullions on a window. Trim brushes have a 3-inch-wide straight edge that will serve you well as you cover doors and window frames. If a brush is tapered at the tip, it will hold more paint than a flat-end brush.

2. Roller Rules For paint rollers, follow the same rule as for brushes: Use only synthetic rollers for latex paint and either synthetic or natural rollers for oil-base paint. Another roller rule of thumb: The rougher the surface you're painting, the longer the roller nap should be. To test a roller's quality, squeeze it around the middle with your hand. It should return to its original shape quickly. If it doesn't, invest in a better roller.

Enlarge Image Reduce drips by punching a hole in the can's rim; see #4.

3. Tape Talk Buy plenty of tape for your paint job. You'll want to tape off baseboards, moldings, windowpanes, and doorknobs -- anything you don't want to get paint on. Look for masking tape or painter's tape, which is a little more expensive but has a low tack, making it easier to peel off. Some rolls have a short piece of paper sheeting attached along one edge for extra protection. To avoid pulling up the new paint as you remove the tape, get out a hair dryer and give the length of tape a quick shot of air as you lift it: The heat will help prevent the tape from sticking to the finish underneath.

4. Drip Tip After you've pried the lid off the paint can, but before you start to paint, grab a hammer and tap a nail into the can's interior rim, creating a hole. Remove the nail. Now when you dip your brush into the paint and drag it across the edge of the can, the excess paint will go back into the can instead of building up in the rim and flowing over the edge.

Enlarge Image A bit of wire helps you get an even coat; see #6.

5. Where to Start To paint a wall, start with the edges, then fill in the center area. Because there could be variations between batches of paint, avoid starting with a new can of paint in the middle of a wall. Even a slight variation would be noticeable there.

6. Getting an Even Coat If you start brushing on the color and notice an uneven distribution of the paint, try this trick used by professional painters: Decant some paint into a new, smaller paint can (available at hardware stores and home centers). Clip a bit of a wire coat hanger and bend it across the top of the small paint can. Secure the wire by twisting the ends into the rim or wrapping them around the handle. Then, after you dip your brush into the paint, gently wipe the excess off along the wire instead of along the can's curved rim. Your brush will carry an even amount of color across the width of the brush, and you'll get more even results on the wall.

7. Handy Helpers Keep a clean rag handy to wipe up any drips or spills. Have a stash of inexpensive disposable foam brushes, too, for quick touch-ups. But don't be tempted to use them for the long haul; the foam will start to disintegrate and leave a mess on your wall along with the paint.

8. Be Patient When applying multiple coats of paint, allow the walls to dry to the touch between applications. Premature brushing of the second coat can ruin the job by pulling up the first coat of paint.

Enlarge Image Wrap brushes with plastic wrap to save time mid-project; see #9.

9. Quittin' Time When you take a break or stop for the day, don't break your back trying to clean your brushes. Simply wrap wet brushes in plastic wrap or aluminum foil, take your break, then start where you left off. If you're quitting for the night, wrap the brushes and set them in the freezer. They'll keep until morning, and you won't have to waste time washing them out until the job is complete.

10. Brush Basics, Part 2 Soaking a brush makes it easier to clean. Drill a small hole near the metal band of your brush, then slide a large nail into the hole. Hang the brush over the top of a canning jar or small coffee can, and fill the jar or can with enough water or paint solvent to cover the bristles. After it soaks for a while, take it out and clean it. Once it's thoroughly cleaned, suspend it in the jar or can minus the water or solvent, and the bristles will dry straight.

Enlarge Image Tray liners make cleanup a breeze, and cost pennies; see #11.

11. Roller Rules, Part 2 If you're using a roller and tray for your paint job, spend an extra 50 cents on a tray liner. You'll save the time and trouble of rinsing and cleaning out the metal tray. Tray liners are available anywhere you buy paint supplies. Or make your own by lining the tray with aluminum foil before pouring in the paint. When the job's finished, carefully peel out the foil and toss.

12. Don't Touch Believe it or not, the curing process for a fresh coat of paint takes 30 days. Don't plan on washing your newly painted masterpiece for about a month.


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