Painting Primer

Wanna paint like a pro? No problem. Use our cheat sheet for getting the job done right.

Step 1: Prep

  • Find your materials. A 2-inch or 2 1/2-inch brush, tape, spackle, sandpaper, drop cloths, rags, a roller and pan, and, of course, paint!
  • Take down frames, window treatments, and artwork. Remove light switch plates and any fixtures you don't want painted; cover furniture and floors with drop cloths.
  • Fill any holes or cracks with spackle (try DAP DryDex, which turns from pink to white as it dries), and sandpaper it smooth.
  • Wipe your walls with a clean rag and mild soap to get rid of any dirt and dust that might keep paint from sticking. Keep a few disposable, low-lint rags (like SCOTT Rags) on hand.
  • Tape over any areas you don't want painted that color, like the trim, floor boards, and ceiling.

Step 2: Paint

  • Use a brush to paint one wall along the trim and in the corners. Use the flat side of the brush for corners -- it makes the job neater. Your brush can overlap onto the trim (that's what the tape is for!) but don't let the paint collect and get goopy where it meets the tape. Buy good brushes from a brand like Purdy that won't leave bristles all over.
  • Start at the ceiling on the same wall (when your brushwork is still wet), and roll the paint in an “N" shape. Fill in the “N" with horizontal strokes, and then finish with vertical strokes. Keep disposable rags nearby to wipe up any paint mistakes before they dry.
  • Use a brush to paint the trim. Tape along the trim after the walls are dry. Apply paint with the wood grain for an even finish.
  • For doors and windowsills, be patient! Tape over any glass or hinges, stick with a brush, and paint with the grain.


  • Test your colors. Buy the smallest amount possible and paint two coats in a small area on a couple of different walls to see how you like the shade in different types of light (bright incandescent bulbs for a room with floor lamps, natural light for a bright room…you get the idea).
  • Use a primer. If you're starting with unpainted walls or making a drastic color change (like brown to yellow), a base coat will give better results.
  • Keep paint mixed. Stir the paint from the bottom up to make sure it's evenly mixed. Grab a few of the free stir sticks when you're at the paint store.
  • Save some for touch-ups. Keep leftover paint (along with a mini roller) for scuffs and such. Seal the can with plastic wrap before you tap the lid closed with a hammer.
  • If you're painting a ceiling, use an extension pole that screws into the handle of your roller. Roll from right to left rather than forward to back so you don't strain your neck.