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Painting 101: Quick Reference Guide

Use our checklists to keep everything on track and paint your room like a pro.

Yvonne Harbison
Yvonne Harbison
Painting 101: Quick Reference Guide

Often one of the easiest ways to change up a room is a fresh coat of paint. It could be just an accent wall for a splash of color, or a full project, encompassing all four walls and a ceiling, too. If you have the wallspace, the idea, and the means, you can tackle a paint job when the weekend-warrior mood strikes if you’re fully prepared. (If you’re a renter, however, you should check with the property owner as an extra step in the preparation process.)

Painting a room can be a two day project, but it makes a long-lasting difference. If you’re a homeowner, the added character of that extra update can add to the home’s visual appeal and value. All you need is a little planning, likely a trip to the hardware store, and you’re on your way to a refreshing update of your space.

It isn’t just slapping paint on the walls, though. That’s where careful planning pays off. Cutting in the edges can be done right, it or it can make a mess of your ceiling; it’s all a matter of the tools you have ready to work with when surprises come up.

Here’s a quick checklist of tricks and habits to remember when painting in your home. For a more detailed look, with more tricks, check out the useful guides they came from.

Build a Painter’s Kit

  • Use samples - Make sure you like the color you pick before you commit to it!
  • Always use the right tools for the job
  • Buy quality tools that you can reuse for later projects
  • Canvas drop cloths are more effective and reliable for most projects
  • A paint bucket with a paint grid is often easier to work with than a paint tray
  • Painters’ tape is better for the job than masking tape - They are not the same!
  • A dehumidifier or heat lamp can be used to keep your project on track in any weather

Read more about assembling the ultimate painter’s kit here. These are good to keep on hand and keep ready. You never know when you’ll need to touch up the walls - especially if you have animals or young children - and the ready painter’s kit can save you time and money for those last minute surprises.

How to Prep a Room For Paint

  • Shortcuts make more work than they save
  • Buy and mix all your paint at the beginning of a project so you don’t run out
  • Remove or cover all furniture
  • Remove fixtures such as switch covers, curtain rods, or doors
  • Tape and seal the edges of surfaces you don’t want painted
  • If painting the ceiling, cover the entire floor
  • Fix cracks, dents, or rough spots before beginning
  • Remove old paint - Don’t paint over cracked or peeling paint
  • Clean the walls of dust and grime
  • Watch the weather - it’s best to paint in warmer weather with low humidity

There’s a more detailed breakdown of how to prepare a room for a painting project here. With every project, there will be temptation to take shortcuts, especially if you’ve already painted a room before. The shortcuts sometimes add up to extra work and costs cleaning up after them, however. Ignore the shortcuts and prepare every room the same way, every time, and you’ll get great results, every time.

Do I Really Need a Primer Coat?

  • Primer creates a protective barrier between the old surface and the new paint
  • Primer base coats seal porous surfaces and make paint spread smoother to cover more
  • Not every wall requires a primer coat, but primer paint is definitely useful
  • 1 gallon of paint covers approximately 400 square feet
  • 2 paint coats are recommended for full color and durability
  • Clean your walls thoroughly before applying a base coat
  • Clean and treat walls that have smoke stains before applying a base coat
  • Use an oil-based primer coat if applying over wallpaper
  • Some paints are available with a primer base coat mixed in

The important thing to remember is to use what’s best for the project, even if it means an extra step. Not every project needs a primer base coat, but for some, you’ll be glad you did. You can learn more about the uses for primer paint here.

How to Paint Trim and Baseboards

  • Use semi-gloss or high-gloss paint
  • Use a primer coat if painting over existing paint, or repairs
  • Fill in and seal holes, cracks, or seams and allow spackle or caulk to dry completely
  • Protect the floor under the trim by using a putty knife to lay wide tape under the edge
  • Paint the trim first, and then the ceilings, so you don’t have to repaint over drips
  • You can paint baseboard trim before it is installed
  • Use a sandpaper sponge to remove grit before painting
  • Use longer pieces of tape to avoid messes when taping off around the trim
  • Work in short, horizontal strokes, then smooth the wet paint with long strokes
  • Allow the paint to dry completely between coats
  • Cut the painters tape away with a sharp edge

The baseboards and window trim take a little more finesse than other parts of the painting project. With a narrow brush, start at the broadest part of the trim or baseboard in short strokes, before sliding closer to the upper rim, using the paint already on the brush and the board to help spread it smoothly over the edges. The trim requires a little more care and detail work, but it applies the same patience and work used in every other step of the painting process, which makes it a great starting point.

How To Paint The Walls

  • Paint the walls last
  • Wipe the walls clean before painting
  • Use rollers for larger surface areas
  • An extension pole for the roller will save you a lot of time and effort
  • Start painting at the top of the wall and work your way down
  • Clean up any runs or spills as they happen
  • Always work with the wet edge of the paint
  • Work small areas at a time so the paint doesn’t dry while you’re working with it
  • Paint the edges in first, then paint the larger surface areas
  • Allow the paint to dry fully between coats

Keep in mind to paint quickly but carefully. It’s easier to work with wet paint to blend it throughout the areas you’re working, rather than add in defined lines and layers of paint that can change your color. Feather the edges to help blend them in with the larger areas to be painted. For more tips on painting walls, check out this article here.

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