In a Glaze

Here's how to create some of today's hottest wall finishes.

If you love the mottled look of a decorative paint finish, but aren't sure what "glaze" is, much less how to apply it, read on for some handy tips that will help you create a look you'll love.

Decorative painting has long been a prized skill of professional painters and decorators. But now, easy-to-use water-base glazing liquids put basic techniques, such as ragging, sponging, and combing, within the reach of the average do-it-yourselfer.

The concepts and supplies for decorative paint finishes are rather simple. The beauty is that the results aren't meant to be perfect. If you're not pleased with the result, you can wipe away -- or paint over -- mistakes.

Glaze looks milky, but dries clear.

Glazing liquid is the medium that gives decorative finishes their depth. Milky in appearance (see photo), it dries clear, makes paint transparent, is workable, and allows thin layers of color for a deeper, more professional look.

Historically, oil-base glaze recipes were used, and many professionals still use them. Oil-base advantages include more depth, more intense color, and a longer open time (the time a glaze stays wet on the wall), which allows blended, multilayer effects.

However, for simple applications, latex (water-base) products in paint or crafts stores work fine. They dry quickly and clean up with soap and water.

Experiment First

Before applying glaze to the wall, it's wise to experiment. Use sample boards (plywood or foam core) painted with your base coat to try colors, tools, and applications.

There are two basic ways to apply glaze -- a negative application or a positive application. In negative, you apply the colored glaze over the base coat with a paintbrush or sponge brush. Then you remove areas of glaze by rolling or dabbing it away, revealing the base coat. With a positive application, you dip the tool lightly in the colored glaze, wring it out, then lightly apply it to the wall.

Photo 1

Removing areas of applied glaze before it dries is a negative application (Photo 1). It reveals the base coat and generally results in stronger colorations and patterns.

Photo 2

Applying glaze to a painted wall with a tool is called a positive application (Photo 2). It generally results in lighter colorations and more subtle patterns.

Most decorative painting tools are inexpensive, already in your home, and usable for positive or negative applications.

Ragging. Any clean cotton cloth can be used for ragging. Wad the cloth in a hand-size ball with folds and creases to dab on the wall, or twist the rag into a tube to roll across the wall. Experiment with the textures that different cloths leave on the wall. Try rags, T-shirts, flannel, muslin, or cheesecloth. Also consider plastic wrap, paper, even bubble wrap.

Sponging. Sponging works best with a sea sponge that can be purchased at paint, crafts, and hardware stores. Look for hand-size pieces, or cut up large sponges.

Combing. For striated and wavy-line effects, purchase a comb with notched rubber edges in a paint or crafts store. The teeth come in a variety of widths. You can make a wider combing tool by notching a rubber squeegee or using the corrugated side of cardboard. Household brushes with coarse but pliable bristles can also be dragged through glaze for a stringy look.

Alternative materials. Just about any material can be used to dab or drag. Stipple over a glazed wall with a household brush for grainy texture, or drag a hair comb through wet glaze.


Cheesecloth can be rolled or dabbled for a fine texture in positive or negative techniques. Wash any cloth before using to soften and remove lint.


Sponges create soft-edge effects. Dampen and soften them with water before applying or removing glaze. Apply subtle layers of color rather than thick, distinct blotches. Rotate the sponge to avoid a repetitive pattern.

Bubble wrap

Bubble wrap is an alternative material that creates a whimsical, dotted pattern that might be fun for a bathroom or a child's room. Have fun; experiment. Think of it as arts and crafts class.


Paper offers a crinkled look with sharp lines when dabbed or rolled. Use clean paper, such as brown bags, butcher paper, or blank newsprint.


Combs produce straight or curvy lines in negative applications. Comb steadily -- or with a curve -- from top to bottom on the wall, or just below the chair rail where the distance is shorter and lines easier to control.

Plastic wrap

Plastic wrap can be bunched to apply or remove glaze. Or, apply larger sheets of it to wet glazed walls. It will adhere and wrinkle on contact. Peel it away to reveal markings that resemble plasterwork.


Mitts are alternatives to sponging or dabbing. They're one of a variety of tools found in crafts stores that help you apply pattern and texture easily and evenly.

Closely related base colors are easiest to blend.
  • For negative techniques, you'll need a semigloss or satin base coat (flat paint absorbs glaze, which isn't a problem for quick, positive techniques). For beginners, choose closely related base and glaze colors, such as a light and a dark blue. Stark contrasts are trickier to blend.
  • Tape off the woodwork and ceiling. To avoid double layers of glaze in corners where tools might mark the opposing wall, tape around one wall, let it dry, then tape the edges of the wall you just did, and glaze the others.
  • Mix enough glaze to do all the walls. Another batch may not match the color.
Negative applications work best with an assistant.
  • Wear thin rubber gloves.
  • For positive techniques, pour some mixed glaze into a shallow container, such as a plate or paint pan. Dab some glaze off the tool before you take it to the wall for light layers of soft color.
  • With negative applications, put a thin, even amount of glaze on the wall -- too much gets messy. This application works best with a helper: one person applies glaze while the other adds texture before it dries, keeping a wet edge. If you have to stop during this technique, finish the wall you're on to avoid dry edges and overlap marks. You can stop work on positive applications at any point.
Dab over mistakes with the base coat.
  • Work in 2- to 3-foot sections so the glaze stays wet. Additives called extenders will lengthen open time (the time the glaze stays wet enough to work with once applied).
  • If you make a mistake, dab over the area with base coat.
  • Apply tools lightly; pressure leaves too much glaze and not enough pattern.
  • Rotate your hand and tool for pattern variety.
  • Read the container for mixing instructions and tips.
Look for tinted glazing in art supply and crafts stores.

Glazing products are sold in paint, art supply, and crafts stores, and through home centers. Many paint stores sell quarts and gallons of glazing liquid to mix with latex wall paint. The more paint you stir in, the darker the effect; the less paint you stir in, the lighter the effect.

In art supply and crafts stores, look for tinted glazing liquid -- you pick the color, pour it out, and start glazing.

Also look for glazing systems that let you purchase a bucket of glaze, then mix in colorant. The colorants come in small bottles costing only a few dollars and are good for experimenting. Be sure to read the label to determine how much area a container or batch will cover.

Glazing is a good value because it offers lots of coverage per gallon and per dollar. For $20 to $30, you generally can get a couple of colors to experiment with, plus enough untinted glaze for most any project.

The other supplies you'll need -- rags, glazing tool(s), and the brushes you select -- come in all shapes and quantities. Explore your local paint-supply or crafts store.


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