Published on September 9, 2018

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illustration by PHUONG NGUYEN

Painting the walls of a room is one challenge almost every homeowner or renter will face at some point or another. For those less seasoned in the art of DIY, simply navigating the hardware store is stressful in and of itself—let alone taking your roller to the wall. And while we’d like to tell you that painting is as simple as laying down tape and letting luck take it from there, such a pursuit is easier said than done.

When it comes to proper painting technique, we’re not just talking about how steady your strokes are. In fact, the most common mistakes DIY-ers make often happen before they’ve even picked up the brush. As you sort through samples, select finishes, and gather your trusty tools, remember that every decision you make will ultimately affect how smooth and durable your walls turn out.

To get the DL on all the do’s and don’ts, we took our most pressing questions to a handful of interior designers and experts who know paint best. From picking out colors to prepping the walls, these are the mistakes they want every DIY-er to avoid.

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Picking Colors That Are Too Bold

“I think the biggest mistake I see people making with paint is picking colors that are far too saturated,” shares Jacquelyn Clark of Lark and Linen.

Sure, a glossy black might appear stunning in swatch form, but once executed on a much larger scale, an all-over look has the potential to overwhelm the eye. When you want a little color in your life but are concerned about overpowering a space, a soft lavender, muted blue, or greige might be your best bet. Likewise, relegating a saturated hue to an accent wall is another great way to embrace color in smaller doses.

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“I personally feel like greens of all shades are the most difficult hue to select for your walls. They’re better left to the pros for sure!” adds the designer. For a complete list of bold hues that are hard to get wrong, check out our paint guide here!

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Forgetting to Sample

We get it, you know what you want. And while we envy your confidence, may we still suggest you take your color for a test run before committing? “Sample, sample, sample!” says Amber Lewis, the blogger and designer behind Amber Interiors.

“It’s crucial to test out the paint color on a large area (at least 24 x 24 inches) on the walls you plan to cover. Live with those samples for a couple of days and check how they change throughout the day and into the night.”

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Using Cheap Tools

Even if you’re not hiring a professional to get the job done, between purchasing the paint and stocking up on the essential accouterments, your expenses can quickly add up. Although it can feel especially tempting to save on tools, investing in quality paint brushes and painter’s tape can actually save you money in the long run.

The tools often make the difference between an easy job that looks great and a hard job that doesn’t look so good when it’s finished,” explains Mike Mundwiller, Field Integration manager at Benjamin Moore. “A good quality brush will apply more paint quicker and give you a good clean straight line. Not to mention, it will last a lifetime if you take care of it.”

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Using the Wrong Type of Brush

Part of selecting quality brushes is making sure you have a variety of options. Before you even think about walking down the brush aisle, make sure that you’ve selected your paint already, as the types of brushes you’ll want to buy largely depends on the kind of paint you’re planning on using. Selecting the right tools is essential to achieving a smooth, durable finish and consistent coverage.

“I recommend Wooster brushes and rollers—they are the finest, highest-quality materials, allowing for easy application,” suggests Jessica Barr, a national sales and development trainer at Behr Paint. “For Behr’s water- and latex-based finishes, use a high-quality, nylon-and-polyester brush, which is clean, durable, and will last for years with the proper care. Natural-bristle brushes made with animal hair are best for oil-based paints, as they hold more paint and assure a smooth finish.”

“A good quality brush will apply more paint quicker and give you a good clean straight line.”

If you’re covering a large area, Mundwiller suggests using a roller for most of the job (but “try to avoid pushing the roller into the wall when you paint”). Angled brushes that are 1-2” inches work best for trim, notes Barr, and 4” inch brushes are best for large, flat surfaces.

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Not Knowing Your Finishes

There are certain finishes (flat, high-gloss, eggshell, semi-gloss, satin) that look better in certain rooms and on certain surfaces than others. For instance, it’s best to avoid using a flat paint on the walls in a high-traffic area as this type of paint is often harder to clean and soaks up light, rather than reflects it. And, remember: The higher the sheen the more defects it will show.

“My rule of thumb is: flat on the ceiling, eggshell on the walls, and satin or semi-gloss for doors and trim,” shares Clark.

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Painting Without Washing the Walls

If you’re serious about pulling off professional-looking walls on your own, you have to be willing to go through the extra steps it takes to achieve said flawless surfaces. Once you’ve removed items from the room like picture frames, doorknobs, doors, and nails and have protected your furniture and flooring with plastic sheeting, it’s time to take your talent to the walls.

“One of the most common painting mistakes DIY-ers make is painting an un-prepped surface. Starting with a clean, prepped wall ensures a smooth painting process from beginning to end.” Barr tells Domino. Here are her steps for getting your space in top shape:

  1. Clean the wall with warm water and dish soap to remove dust and surface debris.
  2. Once the walls are thoroughly dry, apply patching material to any cracks, holes or imperfections.
  3. Allow the patching compound to dry completely, and sand the finished area so it blends evenly with the surface.
  4. Lightly wipe the patched and sanded areas clean with a rag dampened with warm water to remove sanding dust.
  5. Apply painter’s tape to protect the trim and ceiling. Once all walls are prepped, you’re ready to begin priming and painting.
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Painting Without Priming

“Priming walls is an important step, especially if you are painting new sheetrock,” notes Mundwiller. “The primer will seal the substrate (walls, wood trim, etc.) for optimal paint performance. Another important point to remember is spending the time to prepare your walls and trim properly. By fixing small imperfections and using spackle to smooth out questionable surfaces, the color will look that much better and you will be that much happier with the end result.”

All this prep work might seem like a nuisance, but skipping an essential step can cost you time and money—especially if you’re thinking about using lacquer.

When painting with lacquer, or anything super high gloss, you essentially want to make sure that your base is completely flawless. The tiniest dent or bump in your pre-painted surface will glow like the light of a thousand suns once the paint has been applied!” warns Clark.

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Skimping on Your Roller

Finally, it’s time to get down to technique. If you’re making over a room with four walls chances are you’ll be using a roller for most of the work to save on time. While having too much paint on a brush is a no-no (excessive dunking can lead to runs and wasted paint), that’s not necessarily the case for rollers.

“Roll your roller through the paint about 10 to 15 times, making sure you have allowed the paint to saturate the roller fabric completely. This will ensure you apply paint at the recommended coverage rate. And, don’t forget to reload that roller—show your roller and your wall some love by adding paint for every two-foot by two-foot section of wall,” explains Barr.

Because paint runs and roller marks are practically impossible to avoid—especially if you’re new at painting—wait until the excess paint has already dried, and then lightly sand the spot and re-apply the paint.

“If the run or roller mark is still wet, a damp cloth will clean it right up. To avoid these mistakes in the future, keep in mind that a properly loaded roller or brush should not drip when you lift it to your wall,” adds Barr.

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Painting Straight Up and Down

Want to keep your DIY a total secret? The key to pulling off a pro-worthy job lies in the hand. For a perfectly smooth surface, Barr suggests sticking to the “W” method.

When starting a new wall or room, roll your paint onto the wall in a “W” shape. Then, fill in around and inside the “W” to create a square and repeat, loading your roller with more paint, until the wall is covered. Each “W” should be about an arm’s length, with strokes 12″ or longer. This method will give the wall a clean, even and professional-quality finish,” she says.

“A properly loaded roller or brush should not drip when you lift it to your wall.”

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Freestyling

For those who are feeling more concerned than confident, don’t overlook the value in consulting the pros! Seeking advice from your paint retailer or contractor is much preferred to winging the job on the fly. “Every job has some unique aspects that an experienced professional can help sort out,” shares Mundwiller.

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