How to Paint a Wall Like a Pro

Follow these wall painting techniques to revitalize any space in just a day or two.

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 6 hours
  • Total Time: 1 day
  • Skill Level: Beginner

Painting doesn't have to be a job strictly for professionals. With the right tools and preparation, you can master the art of painting an interior wall yourself.

The instructions for painting walls are fairly simple—cutting in the edges with a brush, then filling in with a roller. With this in mind, painting a wall goes a lot more quickly when two people work together: one using a brush to cut in the corners in sections, and the other following with a roller and filling in. Tandem painters are able to eliminate any lap marks caused by applying rolled paint to an edge that's already dried.

With our help, you can go into your next painting project with confidence. We'll show you how to prepare walls for paint, plus the wall painting techniques that promise to get the job done right.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Drop cloth
  • Putty knife
  • Broom, dust mop, or dusting rag
  • Small, hand-held container
  • Angled sash brush
  • Paint roller
  • Roller tray


  • Surfacing compound
  • Fine-grit sandpaper
  • Drywall patch, if needed
  • Nonsudsy trisodium phosphate, also known as TSP
  • Primer, if needed
  • Painters tape
  • Latex paint


  1. Prep for the Project

    Head to the hardware store to pick your wall paint colors. Choose latex paints in satin or eggshell finish for most interior walls. Durable semi-gloss paints are shinier and can be used on kitchen and bathroom walls. Opt for flat finishes for walls with imperfections; flat finishes hide defects. Glossier sheens will highlight flaws. Once you have your paint mixed, apply it to your walls within 24 hours—any longer than that and the colorant will start to separate from the base paint and your wall color won't have even coverage.

    Then, prepare the room by moving small furnishings out. Push larger pieces to the room's center and cover with plastic. Remove all wall-mount fixtures and hardware; take down curtains and artworks. Cover switch plate and outlet receptacle openings with plastic and painter's tape.

    Also, consider adjusting the room's humidity levels. When you're painting inside your house, you don't have to worry about rain pouring down your newly painted surface. You should, however, be mindful of the inside temperature and humidity. Interior paint goes on more easily and dries more uniformly in moderate temperatures and average humidities. Ask your supplier for the interior temperature and humidity ranges most suitable for your paint. You might need to adjust the thermostat, open windows, or add an exhaust fan to control the temperature. If the air is heavy with moisture (often the case when it's raining outside), you might be able to reduce the humidity by turning on the air-conditioning to a low level or bringing a dehumidifier into the room. To raise the humidity in a dry room, run a humidifier.

  2. wiping baseboard with blue towel
    Marty Baldwin

    Sweep and Dust Walls

    Use a broom or dust mop to sweep dust and cobwebs from the room's ceilings, walls, and woodwork. If there is a lot of dust in the room, vacuum as well to get rid of particles that could get stuck in the paint. Wipe baseboards and trim with a microfiber cloth.

  3. placing putty on wall
    Marty Baldwin

    Repair Wall Surface

    Next use a putty knife and surfacing compound to fill nail holes. Thinly spread surfacing compound across each hole using an X-motion. Scrape off excess. Let dry. For any hole larger than a screw or nail hole, use a drywall patch or drywall repair kit.

    Editor's Tip: Make sure you don't scrape too much, making the compound level with the wall. It's better to leave a little mound and sand it down once it's dry to avoid shrinkage and an obvious divot in the wall.

  4. sanding putty on wall
    Marty Baldwin

    Sand Patches

    Sand the patched areas with fine-grit sandpaper until it is smooth and flush with the wall. If you sanded too aggressively or your putty shrank in the hole, repeat the previous step and sand again until you reach the desired finish. Wipe away any residue with a microfiber cloth.

  5. wiping wall with pink towel
    Marty Baldwin

    Wash Wall

    Working from the baseboards up, wash walls and woodwork with TSP and water. Take special care to remove greasy residue; grease may interfere with paint adhesion and create a bumpy finish. Rinse walls with water and let dry fully before starting to paint.

  6. taping baseboard with blue painter's tape
    Marty Baldwin

    Tape Trim

    Lay down drop cloth. Protect woodwork, ceilings, and other non-wall surfaces with painters tape. Adhere the tape firmly to surfaces in a straight line, making sure tape edges don't intrude on areas to be painted.

  7. Prime Walls (Optional)

    Apply primer (following painting instructions below) if you will be painting over dark-color walls, stained surfaces, high-gloss finishes, or new drywall. For dark walls, such as red or chocolate, have the primer tinted to match the existing color. Using a tinted primer means fewer coats of new paint. Some paints include primer, so check the label before priming or painting walls.

  8. painting wall with brown paint
    Marty Baldwin

    Cut In

    Fill a small hand-held container with paint. Working on one wall at a time, use an angled sash brush to apply lines of paint (cutting in) along the top of the wall, around window and door trim, down the corners, and above the baseboard.

    Editor's Tip: Use a 2- to 2-1/2-inch angled brush to cut in. Any larger and it can be difficult to maneuver; any smaller and you run the risk of not covering enough surface.

  9. using roller to paint wall with brown paint
    Marty Baldwin

    Paint Wall

    Starting in a corner, roll paint in a W-pattern across the walls. Work in small, 3- to 4-feet sections, getting even coverage before moving too far along the wall. If your reach is short, attach the roller to an extension pole. Once you've filled in the area, finish it with light vertical strokes to smooth the paint and remove roller marks. Alternate between cutting in and rolling until you've completed a wall.

    Editor's Tip: The closer you can place the end of the roller to the corner of an adjacent surface, the less you'll notice any difference between cut-in paint and rolled paint. You can get really close by pulling the roller cover slightly off the end of the roller cage and painting carefully.

  10. painting wall brown with small brush
    Marty Baldwin

    Check for Flaws

    Check painted walls for flaws, missed spots, texture paint, or drips; try to repair defects before paint dries. How much time you need to allow for latex paint to dry and properly cure depends on what you intend to do with it after it's applied.

    Generally, you'll need to wait at least 2 hours before applying the next coat of paint. You might need to wait even longer if conditions, such as high humidity or low temperatures, slow down the drying process, if you've applied the paint in a thick coat, or if you've applied a heavily tinted paint (one with more than 8 ounces of colorant per gallon). If paint is blistering, wrinkling, or lifting, or if it has an uneven sheen, it needs to dry longer before recoating or applying a wall paint design.

  11. peeling painter's tape off of baseboard
    Marty Baldwin

    Remove Tape

    Remove painters tape as quickly as possible while the paint is still tacky. This will prevent the tape from getting stuck to the wall.

    Normally you should wait 2 weeks or longer before cleaning the surface. Some manufacturers recommend 30 days, and the wait time is influenced by a number of factors. Gloss paints have more co-solvent to evaporate and rely on getting maximum hardness from the binder, so they require longer drying than flat paints. Your cleaning method also matters. Cleaning with a wet sponge is less demanding than with a brush and detergent. If your paint abrades, blisters, or changes its sheen or color when you try to clean it, you'll need to wait longer.

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