Painting is one of the easiest things a DIYer can do. Without much practice, most people can do at least a halfway decent job of painting a room or some trim. But with a few tips, you can turn that passable job into a job you can be proud of.
I’ve written extensively about painting on this blog, but felt that putting some of the best tips I can think of into one single post would create a great resource for readers like you. (Tip: bookmark this page for a quick future reference for all of your painting jobs to come!) I’ve also included some of the most common questions from readers about painting to help everyone paint better.
Follow these simple tips and your next paint job will look like it was done by a pro!
1. Pick the Right Paint
There are exactly 1,264,994,827 different types of paint in the world today. How do I know? I don’t. I just made that number up, but there are a ton of different paints available today.
With so many choices, you may feel overwhelmed and just choose a good all-around paint. Don’t! Find the paint that best suits your needs. Here is a short list of some common painting projects and the type of paint your should use.
- Wood Siding Exterior – Exterior Acrylic Paint
- Drywall/Plaster Interior – Interior Acrylic Paint (Preferably low VOC)
- Windows/Doors – Oil or Water-based Enamel
- Woodwork – Oil or Water-based Enamel
- Furniture – Chalk Paint
- Floors – Porch or Floor Enamel (designed for extra traffic)
If you want your paint to last, then choose the right paint for the right job. Get as specific of a product that meets the needs of your project as you can.
2. Get a Quality Brush & Roller
Don’t skimp here. Using a high quality brush and roller makes your job look so much better. Even the best painters can’t cut in a clean paint line with a cheap brush. And a cheap roller doesn’t hold much paint, so you have to continually recharge it. Not to mention, cheap brushes and rollers notoriously shed fuzz and bristles into your paint job and that makes for an uneven and unattractive paint job.
I recommend Purdy brushes. They come in whatever size you need and they last a long time if properly cared for.
3. How Long Does Paint Take to Dry?
This is so variable according to what type of paint and what the weather is like, but I can take a stab at it. Almost every manufacturer lists the drying times for their paint on the can (if it’s not on the can, call the manufacturer or ask at the paint store for the SDS sheet).
The drying times are usually figured at 77°F and 50% humidity. Warmer weather means faster drying, as does lower humidity. The drying time will also depend on whether you are using oil-based paint or water-based paint.
Water-Based Paint Drying Times
- To Touch: 1-2 Hours
- To Recoat: 3-4 Hours
Oil-Based Paint Drying Times
- To Touch: 7-9 Hours
- To Recoat: About 24 Hours
Drying to touch is important in order to keep the surface from being marred of smeared by touch, but the time to recoat is often overlooked. If you rush this recoating time, then you are likely to have paint that will blister and peel off. Do not rush to recoat! Wait the appropriate time and you will be awarded with a much longer lasting paint job.
4. Which Sheen Paint Should I Use?
Sheen choice is a matter of some preference, but there are some major faux pas you can avoid in this topic as well. Generally, the flatter a paint is, the better it hides imperfections, and the glossier a paint is, the better it can be cleaned. So, there is a trade off you have to make.
Here are my suggestions for where to use each sheen, but you can usually get away with a sheen above or below what I suggest here as well.
- Flat/Matte – Interiors, ceilings, walls (not in children’s rooms)
- Eggshell – Interior walls
- Satin – Exterior walls and trim, kitchen & bathroom walls, interior trim & woodwork
- Semi-Gloss – Interior trim and woodwork, windows, painted floors
- Gloss – Doors, windows, interior trim
5. Paint Better with Additives
There are two main additives I don’t paint much without. They are Floetrol (for water-based paints) and Penetrol (for oil-based paints). These additives slow down the drying time and thin out the paint just enough so that I can get a nice smooth coat without brush marks.
They’re usually not needed for walls or ceilings, but when painting windows, doors, and trim they are a necessity, in my opinion.
6. Paint in the Right Weather
It doesn’t have to be perfect weather to paint, but painting under the wrong circumstances will ruin what would have otherwise been a perfectly good paint job.
Here’s a little painter’s joke:
A painting crew is on the last day of the job painting a huge church. The last piece they have to paint is the top portion of the steeple. As the crew gets closer to the end, they notice that they are running low on paint and likely won’t have enough to finish the job.
The supervisor, noticing the approaching rain clouds, decides he doesn’t have time to run to the paint store before the storm hits, so he instructs the crew to thin the paint down to help it go just a little bit further.
The crew is a flurry of activity to thin the paint and get the top of the steeple finished before the storm hits. Just as the last remaining brush strokes are applied to the steeple, the sky unleashes a torrential downpour and the thinned paint begins running off the building. Just then lighting strikes the steeple knocking the supervisor down to the ground. As he slowly picks himself up off the ground he hears a booming voice from above say, “THOU SHALT NOT THIN!”
Nothing better than a little painter humor! Seriously, though, here are some simple rules for when to not paint. Any other time is just fine to break of the brushes and climb that steeple.
- If the paint won’t be dry to the touch before rain hits
- Above 95°F or below 55°F
- On a wet surface
- On a dirty surface
- On windy days
- In direct sunlight (if at all possible)
- During a hurricane, tornado or when your wife tells you otherwise
7. How to Stop Sticking Paint on Windows and Doors
When two painted surfaces stick together, that is called “blocking”. It’s not only annoying, but it ruins plenty of nice paint jobs. This wasn’t so much of an issue until the introduction of water-based paints.
Oil-based paints, once dry, are very good at preventing blocking. Water-based…not so much. So, what can you do?
Well, for starters, you can use oil-based paint on windows and doors. Sure, the drying time is a bit longer, but you won’t have sticking doors for the next 20 years.
If oil-based isn’t the way you want to go, then you can also wax a door jamb or window jamb to help prevent the blocking. Look for any areas that may touch when closed and after the paint has had about 24 hrs to dry, you can add some beeswax or finishing paste wax to the those specific spots.
You can also remove any weatherstripping for the first month while the water-based paint cures. Then re-apply afterward when the chances of blocking are greatly reduced.
8. Don’t Paint Silicone
If you want to make a mess and watch paint completely refuse to stick to or dry on a surface, then by all means, paint something silicone. Paint will not adhere to silicone…period. Spray paint, primer, oil-based, water-based. Not nothing.
Bottom line, if it’s silicone caulk, or weatherstripping or silicone anything, don’t try to paint it.
9. Clean the Surface First
If you try to paint a dusty, dirty, wet, oily, or otherwise soiled surface, your paint will likely not adhere well. Wash the surface first to prepare for paint. If it is greasy or soapy like kitchen and bathroom walls can get, then scrub the surface with some TSP to clean and degrease the surface.
Once the dirt or residue has been removed, then you’re ready for paint.
10. Prime, Prime, Prime
If you’re wondering if you need to prime a surface first, the answer is probably yes. No, you don’t have to prime every surface every time, but it is never a bad idea and it provides that extra security you want.
Priming when changing from oil-based to water-based paints or vice versa is imperative. Priming bare wood is always important.
There are a ton of reasons to prime, and the only reason to not prime is the added expense and time. If time is a concern, then you can always have your primer tinted to the new color you plan to paint, thus helping you get faster coverage.
[Tweet “Priming solves the problems you didn’t know you had until after you paint.”]
I hope this answers some of your questions to help you paint better. I’m sure it will, because I get asked these all the time. Now there is no excuse to put off that painting project any longer.
Founder & Editor-in-Chief
I love old houses, working with my hands, and teaching others the excitment of doing it yourself! Everything is teachable if you only give it the chance.
11 thoughts on “10 Ways to Paint Better”
HELP! I am painting the base of my kitchen cabinets. (I’ve hired the doors painted). I;m using oil based paint and I cleaned, sanded, removed dust, tack clothed and primed with Sherwin Williams oil based primer. Let it dry and (here’s my mistake) and because I am not a professional painter, (i’m a housewife with some can-do saavy), I had a hard time getting the primer on smoothly. A friend told me to just ‘hit’ the primer with a little sanding and the first (oil base Benjamin Moore paint) would smooth everything out. My common sense told me this would not be the case, but I took the advice and sure enough, it is not smooth. I do not want slick, mirror finish cabinets (house is a mid-century ranch and I like ‘old’) but I would like them a little smoother. It has been overnight since the first coat of oil paint, can I sand it or do I wait? How long? What kind of sandpaper? OR do I just hope the professionally painted doors cover my bad paint job?
Mary, sorry you’re having a hard time with the cabinets. After 24 hrs you can sand everything down to get it as smooth as you want then prime any bare spots again. Sand it smooth after the primer dries and reapply your paint. Should be better.
Thank you for your reply. I love your site!
Hi there, I’ve just finished painting my sash windows (interior side) after sanding with 2-3 coats of Zinsser Perma White satin, good or bad paint to use? btw I could not wait for oil based panit to dry in yime with windows out. thanks
Alex, I only know of Zinsser but have not used it so I can’t say one way or the other. Any high-quality acrylic paint or oil base paint should be fine on your window sashes.
Hi Scott! In a previous post (July 10, 2014) you recommended SW Sher-Cryl for wood windows (“my new favorite is Sherwin-Williams Sher-Cryl”). My husband is painstakingly restoring the windows of our 100 year old Craftsman in Alabama and we want to choose the best paint for the job. Based on your recommendations in the July 2014 post, we bought the Sher-Cryl for the windows and the SW Floor & Porch paint for other areas (it’s a brick house, but porches, eaves, soffits, etc. are wood). You seemed to suggest these two paints were the most durable for exterior, if I understood you correctly. Since that post is now two years old, could you kindly let us know if this is still your recommendation? Thank you so much!
Lisa, still love and use Sher-Cryl on Windows and doors, for for wood eaves and soffits, etc. I would probably use Sherwin Williams Resilience or Emerald. The Sher-Cryl and Porch and Floor enamel are mainly for Windows, doors, and porchs where have a lot of traffic and need a hard finish.
Would you prime little dings and chips (doorways, etc.) Before touching up with oil-based paint? I feel like it would probably make the touch ups last longer, but the two-stop process takes longer. Plus, I have to mark every spot after priming so I can find it later to paint! (with white trim paint).
Also, 2 finish coats necessary on touch ups or no?
I would touch up with primer otherwise the paint will flash and the sheen will be different on the patches. If there are a tons of touch ups it may be better to just prime and paint everything to logical stopping point. That way you get a smooth surface that all matches.
Would you use exterior acrylic paint (such as Sherwin Williams Resilience) on an outdoor wood porch rail? The previous paint job peeled off in under two years. I suspect bad prep, as the wood does not look primed. I will do the proper prep but cannot decide what would look the best or last the longest–exterior acrylic or enamel?
You’re right that it’s probably bad prep if it failed that quickly. Exterior acrylic would work well on the hand rail but if you think it will get more traffic then something like a Sherwin Williams Porch & Floor Enamel might work well too.