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How to paint a room to achieve the best results

Date posted: 23 January 2014

The average room in a house takes less than a day to paint, and with the right tools it is a DIY task that most home owners can take on themselves rather than paying for a professional decorator.

With some preparation, good quality paint, and the right tools, even amateur DIY enthusiasts can usually achieve a good finish. Our guide to painting a room offers guidance and tips to help you achieve the best finish.

What type of tools will I need?

You will need decorating tools such as paint brushes, a roller, a paint tray and a filling knife, as well as dust covers to protect flooring and furniture, and  white spirit to clean up your tools afterwards. You may be able to use a roller extension if you need to reach high ceilings, but it's more likely that you will need a sturdy ladder or even some scaffolding so that you can work safely at height. It's inexpensive to hire a good quality ladder or scaffold towers from a local platform hire or tool hire centre if you don't have suitable equipment at home to cater for the job. A paint kettle is also a handy accessory if you are planning to economise by buying larger pots of paint, but want something lighter to carry around with you while you work.

How do I choose the right paint colour?

Your choice of colour will obviously have a major impact on the mood or atmosphere of your room, and with so much choice it can be difficult settling on a particular colour and shade. Bear in mind how much natural light the room gets and be careful about choosing a shade that will make the room too dark (unless that is what you are hoping to achieve!). Get tester pots to try on the wall, and let them dry properly before making a decision (as the shade will lighten when it dries). Take into consideration the colour of any existing furniture so that your chosen paint complements it. Before you buy paint it may help to browse through some lifestyle magazines, cutting out ideas and colour schemes that appeal to you and that you think might work in your own room.

How do I know what type of paint to buy?

Interior walls are usually painted with emulsion, although this comes in a few different finishes: vinyl matt, vinyl soft sheen or vinyl silk. Each is best suited to a slightly different set of circumstances:

  • Vinyl Matt is ideal for walls where you want to hide tiny flaws, because its non-shiny finish doesn't highlight the imperfections.
  • Vinyl Soft Sheen, as the name suggests, has just a very subtle sheen rather than being shiny or matt. It wears better than matt, and is well-suited to areas you may need to wipe over from time to time.
  • Vinyl Silk delivers more of a sheen and is the longest-lasting of all the emulsions, making it ideal for bathrooms or kitchens that are prone to suffering from condensation. If you have rooms that are particularly humid, however, look out for specialist paints also available that are specifically designed to cater for this.

Should I uses brushes, paint pads or rollers?

Your choice of decorating tools comes down to personal choice to some extent, and you may want to mix and match your use of brushes, rollers or paint pads according to which part of your room (e.g. radiators, windows, walls, etc) you are painting.

  • Brushes: Brushes are made from various materials including natural hair from an ox or a hog or synthetic fibres. The key is to find a good quality brush with thick, flexible, smooth bristles and a comfortable handle. You will need a 4-6” wall brush for painting flat surfaces such as walls and ceilings. A 2” brush is also perfect for painting flat surfaces including smaller areas that demand greater precision. There are also smaller brushes available such as the 1”, which is good for painting close to the edges of walls and ceilings, or for on mouldings and door frames, and the 1/2” brush to focus on fine detail such as on window frames. For cutting in small, angled brushes are available to help you paint right into corners.
  • Paint pads: Another option is paint pads, which also come in a variety of sizes, with a rectangular sponge face covered in short mohair pile. You then fix this onto a firm plastic back and use it to apply paint to smooth surfaces (although be aware they will snag easily on uneven walls).
  • Rollers: Finally, rollers are a popular and efficient choice for applying paint to larger areas, enabling you to work about three times quicker than you can with a brush. Again, they are available in different widths and weights and you use a roller sleeves on them to apply the paint. These are made from a variety of materials each suitable for specific surfaces and paint types, so make sure you buy one suitable for your specific job.

What preparation work should I carry out before painting?

Your walls and ceilings need to be clean, dry, free of dust and as smooth as possible before you start painting. Wash down your walls with some detergent, rinse them with water, and allow them to dry completely. On new plasterwork check for and remove any blistering, while old walls may require some filling (and then sanding) before you get started. Use dust covers to protect your flooring and furniture before you start painting.

How many coats of paint will I need to apply?

First, apply a primer or base coat specifically designed to prepare walls for painting with emulsion.

Next, move on to the proper emulsion in your chosen colour and shade. If you are painting on wallpaper- and colour-free walls you may get away with just one coat of paint, depending on the type of paint you buy, although two is often better – and if you are trying to cover a darker colour or pattern you may need to apply up to three coats to get adequate coverage.

How should I go about painting the room?

Start by painting the ceiling and then work around the walls, painting any woodwork at the end. If you are using a brush, dip a 2” brush lone-third of its bristle length into the paint and hold it at 90 degrees to the ceiling, painting a straight line and cutting into the corner between the walls and the ceiling. Next, turn the brush parallel to the ceiling to run over the first stroke again carefully with the bristles close to but not quite in contact with the ceiling. Repeat this process along the bottom and the top of the wall. You can then use a bigger brush to paint the rest of the room.

If you're painting with a roller, fill the tray until it is about a third full and dip the roller in, removing excess by rolling it up and down the ribbed part of the tray repeatedly. Slowly apply the roller, painting evenly and always working from a wet edge, blending these edges in to avoid leaving any paint ridges behind. For ceilings you may need to attach an extension handle to your roller, or use a ladder or scaffolding instead. You will still need to use a brush to cut into corners or reach behind and pipe work.

If you would rather use a paint pad, choose a pad or about 8" for walls and ceilings and about 1-2" for cutting in round the edges. Draw it across the provided tray's roller and apply the pad flat to the wall or ceiling, then move it in random directions to achieve a smooth finish.

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