Brush Up on Techniques, Cover All Your Bases Before Painting


Whether you’re going boldly forward with color or have decided on a more neutral paint scheme, you need to consider how to go about getting that new paint on the walls.

If the job is not too complex--the walls are in fairly good shape and easily repairable--many people feel confident tackling the work themselves.

If, however, the walls have major damage, difficult-to-reach areas, problem surfaces or you lack the time and energy to tackle the project, calling in a professional painter may be the best option. The pros generally charge anywhere from $12 to $35 or more per hour, not including materials.

If you’ve decided to take on the painting yourself, you’ll need to do a little planning and exercise your patience: Putting that new color on your wall is one of the last things you’ll do.


Do-it-yourselfers tend to get in trouble when they dash out, buy whatever paint and brushes are on sale at the local discount store, and without thought to the surface to be covered, open the paint can and start rolling.

They often end up with a disappointing version of what they’d envisioned, realizing among other things that the paint that claims to cover in one coat presumes that the surface has already been prepared. That claim does not cover walls that have had water damage, have been papered, paneled or have cracked plaster, among other common problems.

Starting slower can help ensure you’ll be pleased with the results, and buying the right paint is an important first step.

In addition to choosing a color scheme, you need to decide on paint finish--glossy or flat.


Professional painters adhere to some tried and true rules. For instance, because wood is usually in high-traffic areas (door jambs, windows and other areas where there is a lot of dirt potential), it should always be painted with enamel, which is washable.

Flat paint is generally used for walls in living rooms, bedrooms, dens and other rooms that are not subjected to heat or steam. Bathrooms, kitchens and laundry rooms that are exposed to moisture are usually painted with an enamel or semi-gloss paint.

If, however, children are in the household, it may be prudent to use more widely a paint that can be easily cleaned, such as enamel.

“If you want to kid-proof the walls in a living room or family room, or even a bedroom, use an eggshell acrylic enamel finish,” says Brett Peterson, owner of Peterson’s Painting in Silverado Canyon. “It’s just one step up from a flat finish and has a nice soft shine to it.”


Oil-base paints, once the norm, have gradually been overtaken in popularity by water-base paints. Environmental laws will, over the next few years, make oil-base paints illegal--primarily because of disposal problems with solvents and unused paint.

The pending changes are not popular with many older professional painters, who favor the oil-base enamels because brush stokes disappear as the paint dries and the paint has a harder finish.

The new water-base enamels are quick drying, making it more difficult to smooth out brush strokes.

“Everyone is going to have to get used to the new water-based enamels,” Peterson said. “You can’t put oil-base paints down the drain and you have to use paint thinner to clean your brushes and that can’t be put in the sewer system. Disposal is much easier with the water-based paints. And if you buy a good quality water-based, you won’t have as much trouble with stroke marks showing.”


Buying a good quality paint rather than a bargain basement brand is worth the investment, say professionals. Higher quality paints are usually carried at stores that specialize in painting and can cost as much as $40 per gallon for a special tint.

It is equally important to use a good brush for the woodwork to avoid brush strokes or stray hairs coming loose and drying in the paint, Peterson said. “Purdy’s are the only brushes I use. You can find them at most paint stores. A good general brush is a three-inch angle cut for about $18.”

It is not necessary to buy the top-of-the-line roller, Peterson said. Any roller will do as long as the nap is less than three-eighths inch and no more than one-half inch.

When it comes to drop cloths, most painters shy away from using a plastic covering on the floor. Paint does not dry on plastic and can then be stepped in and tracked all over a house. A thick canvas cloth is the preferred cover, but old sheets will also work. A one-millimeter thick plastic cover is recommended for protecting furniture while painting.


Once all the supplies are in, it’s time to start on the walls, but not yet time to paint.

“The biggest mistake people make is not doing any prep work,” said John Burmeister of Burmeister Custom Paint and Decorating in Huntington Beach. “They always want to just open the can and slap the paint on.”

To prepare a wall for painting, all nail holes and cracks should be repaired. Once the plaster is dry, it should be lightly sanded to make a smooth surface. If the walls are dirty, they should be washed.

If the surface is anything other than drywall or plaster, things get more complicated. For example, it can be tricky painting over wallpaper. Experts suggest putting a texture on the paper before painting. Spread a thin coat of plaster over the wallpaper and give it at least a day to dry, according to David Lee, Cal West Painting Co. in Garden Grove.


“There are two (plaster) surface types, an orange peel and knock down,” Lee said. “The orange peel looks just like the skin of an orange, knock down is a rougher surface. It just depends on what look you want.”

Another surface that can be painted over is paneling, whether real wood or made from a synthetic. The trick here is to lightly sand the paneling to make the surface more porous so the paint will adhere better.

“Use a 220-grit sandpaper, then make sure the surface is clean and free of any grit before painting,” Burmeister said.

If the room to be painted is not empty, move all the furniture to the center and cover with a plastic drop cloth. Next run at least a 1 1/2-inch strip of masking tape along the baseboard. If there is carpeting, make sure to tuck the tape between the carpeting and the wall to keep the carpet from sticking to the newly painted baseboard.


If you chose to mask windows, use at least a two-inch-wide masking tape. If you’re not painting the trim, professionals suggest using a painter’s edge to avoid getting paint on it.

After you cover the floor with the canvass or sheet drop cloth, it’s finally time to open the paint can.

If more than one gallon of paint is being used, it is wise to blend the gallons together in a bigger container. This is especially true if the paint is a custom color.

“It’s called boxing the paint and you do it in case there is a slight difference in color from one can to the next,” Peterson said.


Professionals suggest always applying a primer--an undercoat of paint--to ensure even coverage and true color. That can mean using two coats of the color you want the room to be or using a plain white primer as the first coat.

It is acceptable to use an inexpensive primer on a wall as long as the wall is clean. If there are water stains or the wall is a darker color than the new color, then it is better to use a high-quality primer.

If the ceiling is being painted, that should be done first; if the trim is to be painted, that should be done last.

Start by “cutting in” along the ceiling and other edge points with a brush. You do that by painting at least a two-inch strip along the wall where it meets the ceiling, in all the corners and along the baseboard.


After all the edging is done, begin painting the wall surfaces. To help ensure that the paint is spread evenly, professionals usually apply paint in a “W” pattern--using a roller to apply a generous amount of paint in that shape and then spreading the paint out in a loosely defined square. Progressing across the wall in a panel-like fashion, they generally paint the top first, from ceiling to midpoint, and then repeat the process, from midpoint to floor board.

After you’ve made it around the room with your primer coat, repeat the steps with your top coat of paint.