The step-by-step room painting guide
Painting is nobody’s favourite job. What starts with excitement can quickly descend into fourth-trip-to-B&Q headaches. But it doesn’t have to be this way! You really can finally tackle that spare room, transform your living room, update your hall, or any other space and not be filled with paint-flecked rage and disappointment. It is all in the preparation. Get the preparation right and everything else will fall into place. Before you get stuck in to any project, use our foolproof guide on how to paint a room to make sure you have everything you need.
In this guide you will find the essential tools you need to get started and the painting tips to ensure a perfect finish.
Essential supplies – what you need to paint a room
Making sure that you have everything you need for the whole job is one of the most important parts of a painting job. Once you’ve started you want to get stuck in til you’re done, you don’t want to be dashing out to make second and third trips to the hardware store. So, here’s what you’ll need to paint a room:
Supplies for prepping the walls/surface
- Surface filler and spatula – If the wall has any dents, scratches, or divots, now is the time to cover them over. Patch up any holes with the filler and use the spatula to level it out with the wall.
- Sandpaper – Even out bumps and smooth over any rough surface.
- Sugar soap – The best paint work requires the cleanest surface. Washing the walls and ceiling down with a sugar soap and water solution will remove any dust, dirt, grease, and stains.
- Masking tape/painter’s tape – Here is a purchase where it pays to buy the slightly more expensive option. Painter’s tape is used for masking off floor edges, trim, or windows to protect them from errant brush strokes. It needs to seal the surface and, if applied on paint, not pull the paint up with it when you remove it.
- Drop cloths – A vital element to really make sure you don’t splash paint on your surfaces. Canvas or material drop cloths are best, though plastic ones work they can also be slippery and tear more easily.
Supplies for painting a room
- Paint brushes – Seems self-explanatory but you need to make sure you have the right brush for your paint type. Paint brushes with natural bristles are meant for oil-based paints while synthetic bristles are meant for water-based paints (but can be used for anything). If you are painting straight lines or cutting in (see below), then a brush which angles or tapers to a chisel edge will provide the best line.
- Rollers – The workhorse of the painting tools stable, rollers come in a variety of ‘naps’ or thicknesses. A flat, smooth roller is perfect for smooth walls, while textured walls will require a roller that is thicker and more plush.
- Stirring stick – You’ll regret not having one of these once you get the paint tin open.
- Roller extension poles and a ladder – Especially if you are painting a ceiling and don’t want to put your back out, you may need both.
- Paint tray – Make sure you get a paint tray big enough for your roller size. To make life even easier, you can buy plastic insets or cover the tray with alfoil or cling film so you don’t have to scrub out the tray when cleaning up.
- Paint bucket – A little container to hold your paint while you use a brush. You can also use the paint tray for this. Using the paint pot itself can contaminate the paint and leave it exposed to air for too long.
- Rags – Accidents happen, and it is always a good idea to come prepared for spills and splashes.
- Plastic bags/cling film – If painting takes longer than you had planned, or if you have had enough and want to call it a night, popping brushes and rollers cling film or airtight plastic bags will keep the paint fresh and mean no extra clean up steps halfway through the job.
And finally, the paint itself
- Primer – If your walls are in good condition, or if they are a similar shade to the one you plan on using, you can probably skip this step. If you are having a dramatic colour change, priming will mean better coverage with fewer coats of paint. For painting trim, doors, or windows, priming will provide an extra smooth surface and good grip for the next layers of paint.
- Wall and ceiling paint – What you want here is emulsion. Emulsion is water-based paint based on vinyl and acrylic resins that comes in a variety of sheens. For walls it is conventional to use matte, eggshell, satin, silk sheens.
- Gloss for woodwork – Trim, doors, skirting boards, and windows traditionally use gloss paint in higher sheens than that of the walls. Non drip options are popular.
Ready to paint a room? We break it down step by step
You really will need a weekend
When you take into account all the moving, masking, painting, tea breaks, second coats, and clean ups, painting is not a job you can get done in an evening. It’s always better to over rather than underestimate the time you will need. If you don’t get it all done in one day that’s okay, just wrap up your rollers and brushes in cling film or pop them in an airtight plastic bag. So long as no air gets to the paint you can start up again the next morning from where you left off.
Have you tested the paint colour?
Not to harp on about this but, no matter how good the paint is, you really should test your colour on the walls you intend to use it on. This may mean painting it on a sheet of paper and sticking it on the wall or just painting a test patch. For the best idea, put test patches in a couple of places in the room that get different light. Even if you like it, sleep on it and check back. Colours change depending on the light and you might realise it is not right for the room after all.
Clear the room and organise your kit
Before you start with anything try to move all the furniture out of the room. Take everything off the walls. If this isn’t possible move everything to the middle of the room and make sure they are completely covered with a drop cloth. To make sure drop cloths don’t shift, masking tape the edges to the floor. Get all your supplies together at a makeshift work station in the middle of the room. Being able to turn around and find everything you might need will make the whole process far easier.
Remove doorknobs, power point and light switch covers, and light fixtures
The best way to protect the your accessories like sockets and switches from paint is to unscrew the covers. If you have a number of doors or sockets in the room keep them separate by putting them together with their screws in individual bags, and write where they came from on the front. If you can remove light fixtures, do this too. If not, cover the light with a plastic bag.
Get prepping! Mask, clean, fill, wipe down.
Though it might be tempting to slop some paint on that ugly old wall and forget about it, not prepping properly will shine through and cause problems later. Put masking tape around your window frames, along the floor edge or skirting boards, around the door, and anywhere else you want a clean line and no mess. Now, look at the walls. If they are in good condition, simply clean them down with a sugar soap solution and a cloth. You need to get the dust and grime off. If there are holes, dents, loose or flaking paint, or cracks, you will need to fix these. First, clean the walls down with sugar water solution and wait til they dry. Then, even out the cracks and holes with filler, remove the loose paint and, if necessary, fill where they used to be. When the filler is dry, sand it back with a fine sandpaper to make a smooth surface. Wipe the walls down to remove the sanding dust.
That’s it! You’re ready! Time to get the paint out.
Crack open the tin and grab the stirring stick, it’s time to get stuck in. Make sure you get the bottom of the tin with the stirring stick and leave the paint looking homogeneous. Pour the paint into the lined tray, get your brush and begin edging the room. Paint along the edges of the wall and ceiling and into the corners, making sure your get into the angles where the walls meet. The strip should be about three inches wide, and feathered on the blank wall side so that it will blend with the rolled paint. Basically you are making sure to get all the bits of wall that the roller will not get. And don’t be cavalier about the tape – it may still let paint seep under if you use too much paint.
Once the edges are done it is time to fill in the middle. When you use a roller, the trick is to roll the paint onto the wall not straight up and down but in overlapping Ws, using diagonals to make sure there are no roller marks on the walls and that you get the best coverage. Not using too much paint will also help this. Once the area is painted, run the roller over the area again to ensure an even finish – the paint must be still wet when you do this. Leave the first coat to dry. For the second coat, simply repeat!
Cutting in vs masking tape – which one should you use?
There are two schools of thought in how best to edge a room: masking or cutting in. There are pros and cons to each side. If you use the right masking or painter’s tape, it will pull away cleanly and leave you with a neat line. For the DIYer, masking tape is the best option as it is easier once the painting starts, though it is tedious in the prepping stage. If you opt for wide tape you have the added benefit of protection from accidental roller marks.
Cutting in is the method where, rather than relying on masking tape, you freehand edges with your paintbrush. Using the right brush (angled or sash brushes, for example), you can get a clean line but this is probably not for the first-timer. If you feel confident once you get your eye in, maybe give it a try. But make sure you have the right brush!