A step-by-step guide to painting perfectly

  • Martha Stewart Living
  • Thursday, November 26, 2009 12:01am
  • Life

In theory, we all know how to paint a room with latex paint. Dip a brush or roller in a color and spread it over the wall.

But painting neatly and efficiently using the foremost methods and tools is a skill most of us could brush up on.

Here’s a guide detailing what you need to know to paint a flawless finish in any space. The how-tos are for use with latex paint.

First, consider the finish and color you want. A flat finish is most commonly used on walls; however, some people prefer satin or eggshell finishes.

Semigloss is primarily used on trim. Shinier paints are ideal for kitchens and bathrooms because they are easy to clean, but they’re also more apt to show imperfections on the wall.

As for color, test several paint shades on your wall before committing to one, since they will look different depending on the time of day (“feather out” the swatches’ edges to avoid creating a ridge that will have to be sanded later).

Once you’re set to go, be sure to allow enough time to complete your project; the average room takes about four days, including drying time.

Getting ready

Take a day to protect floors and furnishings, patch holes, fissures and gaps, clean and tape off walls, and prime.

Safeguard belongings: Remove small objects from the room; gather large ones in the center and cover them with a plastic drop cloth. Unscrew switch and outlet faceplates. Lay masking paper over floors and tape down. Protect carpeting with canvas drop cloths.

Fill holes: With a flexible putty knife, apply spackling compound to nail holes in the wall and wood filler to small cavities in trim (overfill slightly, as compounds will shrink). Let dry completely, and then sand using a medium-grit paper on walls and a coarse-grit one on wood.

Repair cracks: Cover crevices in the wall with self-adhesive fiberglass-mesh joint tape. Apply a thin layer of joint compound over the tape with a flexible, 6- to 12-inch-wide taping knife; smooth before the paste dries. Lightly sand with a fine-grit paper.

Apply caulk: To fill cracks between the baseboard — or any trim — and the wall, apply latex caulk (look for labels that say “paintable latex” or “paintable acrylic latex,” which are easy to clean up with a damp sponge), following the manufacturer’s instructions.

Immediately after application, use a damp sponge to even it out and wipe off excess.

Clean and prime: Vacuum the room, and wash walls with a sponge and warm water. Tape off the ceiling with painters’ tape.

Prime walls, using techniques from “Painting Like a Pro,” below. If you’ll be covering a light-colored wall with dark paint, use a gray primer or have one custom-mixed to match your paint shade.

Paint like a pro

Paint your walls before taping off the trim. Apply two coats to both, allowing four hours of drying time in between.

Decant paint: Flatten a cardboard box and place it under paint containers to give floors an extra layer of protection.

Mix paint with a wooden stir stick, and then pour some into a smaller plastic vessel, filling about halfway.

Dip your brush: Using a 1- to 2-inch-wide brush, insert the bristles about an inch into the paint, then tap them against the sides of the container to remove excess.

Cut in: Paint part of a corner or around the trim. Do 4-foot sections at a time.

Roll on paint: Pour paint into your roller tray. Dip in one edge of the roller, and then move it back and forth on the tray bed until it’s saturated but not dripping.

Paint a 2-foot-wide V on the wall, and, without lifting the roller, fill it in with tight vertical strokes. Repeat, working top to bottom, until you’ve completed the wall.

Paint a door: Remove all hardware, and then sand and prime the surface. With a 3-inch-wide roller, paint one area, such as an inset panel, and then immediately brush over it with a 3-inch-wide brush.

Work in sections until you’ve finished the body of the door; then do the edges.

Finish trim and baseboards: Let wall paint dry overnight and then tape off the trim with painters’ tape.

Mix paint with a wooden stir stick and then pour some into a smaller plastic vessel, filling about halfway. Apply paint with an angled 2-inch-wide brush.

Painting window frames: This task requires a lot of detail work, so set aside a day to complete it. (Aluminum and plastic frames don’t need to be painted.)

Prep windows: Line the perimeter of each pane with painters’ tape, leaving 1/16 inch between the edge of the tape and the frame.

When painted, this will create a seal that prevents moisture from getting in and rotting the wood.

Remove locks and other hardware and clean wood with a tack cloth.

Painting technique: Use a 1-inch-wide angled brush to paint narrower sections of the frame, and an angled 2-inch-wide brush to do broader sections, taking care to fill in your seal.

Remove excess paint: To clean off paint that has seeped underneath the tape, lubricate a single-edge razor blade with glass cleaner and scrape the panes.

Using a razor blade on some new windows will void the warranty; double-check yours to be sure.

Cleaning up

Store paint: Pour leftover paint in smaller airtight plastic containers and seal. Make labels with the name of the room the color was used in and keep the paint on hand for touch-ups.

Washing brushes: Run each brush under lukewarm water, and then add a few drops of dishwashing liquid and continue rinsing. Dislodge dried bits with a metal brush comb. Wrap bristles in paper towels, and lay flat to dry.

Address questions to Ask Martha, care of Letters Department, Martha Stewart Living, 601 W. 26th St., Ninth floor, New York, NY 10001. Send e-mail to mslletters@marthastewart.com.

Talk to us

More in Life

Kotor's zigzagging town wall rewards climbers with a spectacular view. (Cameron Hewitt / Rick Steves' Europe)
Rick Steves: Just south of Dubrovnik lies unpolished Montenegro

One of Europe’s youngest nations offers dramatic scenery, locals eager to show off their unique land, and a refreshing rough-around-the-edges appeal.

Dark gray wheels and black exterior accents provide extra visual appeal for the 2024 Subaru Impreza’s RS trim. (Subaru)
2024 Subaru Impreza loses a little, gains a lot

The brand’s compact car is fully redesigned. A couple of things are gone, but many more have arrived.

TSR image for calendar
Music, theater and more: What’s happening in Snohomish County

This weekend in Snohomish: The Snohomish Blues Invasion and the Snohomish Studio Tour 2023.

Made by Bruce Hutchison, the poster for “A Momentary Diversion on the Road to the Grave” is an homage to 1985 classic “The Goonies.” (Photo provided)
Indie film premiering on Whidbey Island

Filmed almost entirely on Whidbey Island, “A Momentary Diversion on the Road to the Grave” is set to premiere in Langley.

TSR image only
Does your elementary school child have ADHD?

It’s important to identify children with this condition so we can help them succeed in school.

This photo provided by OceanGate Expeditions shows a submersible vessel named Titan used to visit the wreckage site of the Titanic. In a race against the clock on the high seas, an expanding international armada of ships and airplanes searched Tuesday, June 20, 2023, for the submersible that vanished in the North Atlantic while taking five people down to the wreck of the Titanic. (OceanGate Expeditions via AP)
A new movie based on OceanGate’s Titan submersible tragedy is in the works: ‘Salvaged’

MindRiot announced the film, a fictional project titled “Salvaged,” on Friday.

A clump of flowering ornamental grass or pennisetum alopecuroides in an autumn garden.
My garden runneth over with fountain grasses, and for good reason

These late-blooming perennials come in many varieties. They work well as accents, groundcovers, edgings or in containers.

This Vacasa rental is disgusting. Can I get my money back?

The vacation rental Carol Wilson books for her group through Vacasa is infested with rats and insects. Vacasa offers to refund one night, but can they get all of their money back?

A woman diverts from her walk on Colby Avenue to take a closer look at a pickup truck that was partly crushed by a fallen tree during an overnight wind storm Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022, in north Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / Herald file)
Storm season is coming. Here’s how to prepare for power outages.

The most important action you can take is to make an emergency preparedness kit.

Do you prefer green or red grapes? This antique Moser pitcher is decorated with enameled grapevines on shaded red-to-green glass.
Grapevine pitcher was made by renowned Bohemian company

Also, queries about grandmother’s coffee set and late husband’s Beatles records and memorabilia collection.

The city of Mukilteo is having a naming contest for its new $75,000 RC Mowers R-52, a remote-operated robotic mower. (Submitted photo)
Mukilteo muncher: Name the $75,000 robot mower

The city is having a naming contest for its new sod-slaying, hedge-hogging, forest-clumping, Mr-mow-it-all.

Death of parent with child. Piece of paper with parents and children is torn in half.
Helping children cope with the hard realities of divorce

I’s important to set aside one’s feelings and find a way to make this challenging transition as comfortable for children as you can.