Good products, good preparation, and proper application are the keys to colors that last.
1. Spend more for quality. 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.
2. Look at 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.
3. Choose color wisely. Light colors tend to open up a room, making it seem lighter and more spacious. Dark hues add depth and/or 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 may make white walls look pink.
4. 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. Some paint manufacturers now offer larger paint chips, as well as in-store or online programs that virtually paint a digital image of your room. But the best test is to buy quarts or sample sizes of a few colors, paint small sections of a wall, and observe during different lighting conditions.
5. Use the right equipment. Choose brushes with long and dense bristles -- nylon for latex (water-base) paint and natural for oil-base paint. A 2-inch angled sash brush, a 3-inch trim brush, and rollers are enough for most jobs. For rough or textured surfaces, get a roller with a 3/8-inch or thicker nap; for smooth surfaces, use a roller with a nap of 1/4 to 3/8 inch.
6. Determine how much paint you will need. Some manufacturers include calculators on their Web sites 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, and 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.
7. 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 solution. Remove switchplates and other hardware, and apply a primer, which helps to conceal stains and ensure uniform color and absorption.