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Painting Tips & Tricks: Painting Ceilings

Ceiling Painting TipsWhen possible it’s best to remove all furniture prior to painting. Doing so makes the job go much faster, the danger of damage to furniture is removed, the danger of falling is lessened, and you will generally get a better looking job. However, if removing the furniture isn’t possible, it should be moved to the center of the room and covered with drop cloths to protect it from paint drips.

You should also remove all window treatments, area rugs, pictures, mirrors—and if you’re planning to paint the walls too—heating/AC registers, and switch and receptacle covers. Light fixtures or ceiling fans should be covered with plastic, taped in place. If plastic drop cloths are used on the floor, they should be taped or tacked into place to avoid slippage which can be both dangerous and can damage freshly painted surfaces. Drop cloths should be sufficiently strong to avoid rips from traffic during the paint process. While some heavy canvass drop cloths look to be a good choice, most lack the rubberized backing which keeps spills from passing through them. They are a good choice to protect against minor drips, but if used on the floor should be combined with plastic or other material to protect surfaces from spills.

Surfaces to be painted should be cleaned—I often use a wide dust mop on walls and ceilings. If the walls or ceiling are stained from leaks, smoke from candles, fireplaces, or cigarette smoke, I recommend applying a good coat of primer first. While a finish coat with no primer may look good when the paint is fresh, over time, the stains will penetrate the paint, resulting in an unsatisfactory job and the need to paint again. Small stains can be spot sealed, but general discoloration is best covered with a full coat of primer designed for that purpose. Particularly difficult stains may require a shellac-based primer. Get a recommendation from the expert at your paint store.

Small gaps between molding and drywall should be filled with caulk (see: Caulking Tips), and allowed to dry prior to painting. Holes or nicks in drywall or wood trim should also be filled and sanded smooth and any such repairs should be primed.

Make certain the area has good ventilation. All paints give off some fumes, and some can be hazardous. You should also protect wood trim, especially baseboards, with masking tape, to avoid getting paint drips on them. Depending upon your proficiency with a paint brush, you may wish to use masking tape around window and door trim. (I don’t normally mask such trim for I’m comfortable using a paint brush in tight areas.)

Roller FrameOnce you’re ready to paint, do the ceiling first, using a good quality roller and frame, not the 99¢ version from the discount store (see the section on Painting Tools). I also recommend using an extension pole to limit the amount of work from your ladder. I use a ¾” nap roller cover for almost all jobs. While many of the paint “experts” recommend shorter nap rollers for drywall or other smooth surfaces, the reality is that a ¾” nap works just fine, and it offers the advantage of providing a slight bit of “texture” to the finish, hiding most imperfections and roller marks. Roller CoverThis is especially helpful for painting “textured or stippled” ceilings. A ¾” roller cover also holds substantially more paint, allowing for fewer trips to refill. If, however, no texture is desired, such as painting flush doors or painting over interior paneling, go with a shorter nap roller cover.

Begin by cutting in the corners with a paint brush, using a 3” brush—I prefer the angled “sash” brush as it allows me to easily get into corners and other areas a standard brush can’t reach. If the ceiling is to be painted with a different color from the walls, or is separated by trim, you may have to practice learning to “cut-in” a straight line. Using masking tape to create a line causes more trouble than it solves—removal of tape on drywall can sometimes remove some of the paint, paint can seep behind the tape, and it’s virtually impossible to maintain a straight line with tape. It’s best to improve your brush skills.

While most recommend cutting in the entire ceiling first, I prefer to divide the cut-in process into several parts, cutting in the next area to be painted and then using the roller to blend in the fresh “cut-in” paint with the paint from the roller. Cutting in an entire room gives the paint time to dry and increases the chance that the differences between paint applied with a brush and with the roller will show—described as the “hat band” effect. Cutting in is best done from a step ladder, using a small container to hold only enough paint for the job.

Once you’re ready to paint the ceiling, begin in one corner and work yourself out using a “W” pattern, painting a small area at a time, returning over the area using straight lines to get even coverage. Watch for lines that appear along the roller edge, and if they appear, roll over them with the center of the roller. Continue to cut in and roll until the ceiling is completely painted. Allow the paint to dry to make certain another coat isn’t needed, and you’re ready for the walls.


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