10 Tips For Painting Ceilings

Get a professional finish when painting one of the trickiest surfaces in a home

10 Tips For Painting Ceilings

Paint a ceiling the easy way with the help of an expert

They’re usually much larger than a single wall and are often illuminated with raking light that accentuates even the smallest flaws, which means ceilings present some unique painting challenges.

Add to that the difficult task of working overhead and things can get messy in a hurry, so we’ve grilled a pro to help you get the best result.

Bill Nunn is the owner of William Nunn Painting, which specialises in painting older houses.

We’ve called on his 35 years of experience in the business to find out the best ways to paint a ceiling, so you get a top-quality finish every time.   

1. Sand before painting

Over time, and as the layers of paint build up, lumps and bugs can get stuck to the ceiling. 

On ceilings that aren’t textured, start with a quick once-over, sanding with 100 grit abrasive paper. This helps ensure a perfectly smooth paint job and also increases paint bonding. 

Use a sanding pole to make working easier, then wipe the ceiling afterwards with a damp sponge to remove the dust.

sand a ceiling before painting, handyman magazine,
Sanding will help ensure a perfectly smooth paint job 

2. Use a good primer

Roof leaks, overflowing sinks and tobacco smoke can all leave ugly stains that are hard to conceal with regular ceiling paint. 

Apply stain-blocking primer to cover any stubborn ceiling marks. Try Zinnser Smart Prime, which is formulated for this purpose and water-based for easy application. 

use a good primer before painting a ceiling, handyman magazine
Cover unsightly ceiling marks with a stain-blocking primer 

3. Cut in and then roll 

Use a paintbrush to cut in at the edges of square-set ceilings. Doing this before you roll means the majority of the brush marks will be covered with the roller. 

Carefully brush paint along the edge of the ceiling in 3m sections, then roll that section. This keeps the cut-in section wet until you roll, which allows the paint to blend in better. 

Bill says it’s also less boring to alternate between cutting in and rolling, making the task of painting a whole ceiling less tedious.  

use a paintbrush to cut in edges, handyman magazine,
Use a paintbrush to cut in at the edges of square-set ceilings

4. Roll in all directions 

There are a few tricks to getting a smooth and consistent coat when applying paint to the ceiling.

Work in square sections about 2 x 2m, moving quickly from one section to the next to make sure the paint along the edge doesn’t dry before you roll the next section. 

Keeping a wet edge is the key to minimising overlap marks.

Bill also says you’ll get the best coverage by immediately re-rolling each section at a right angle to your first roller direction as you go.

roll in all directions when painting a ceiling, handyman magazine,
Work in square sections about 2 x 2m, moving quickly from one section to the next to make sure the paint along the edge doesn’t dry 

5. Purchase ceiling paint 

As a general rule, you will achieve the best result by using paint that’s specially formulated for ceiling application. 

You need paint that doesn’t spatter, dries slowly and is flat rather than glossy. Premium ceiling paints have added pigments to make the ceiling look brighter.

They can also be tinted if you don’t want to stick to a white ceiling.

6. Overlap the edges onto walls 

If you also plan on painting the walls, overlap the paint onto them a little bit when cutting in. Then when you paint the walls, you will cover the overlap as you cut in to the ceiling at the top of the walls

Some painters like to skip the overlapping and cutting-in steps and save time by mashing the roller into the corners instead. 

Bill doesn’t recommend this method as it’s sloppy, builds up excess paint in the corners and can leave runs or a thick paint line on the wall.   

overlap the edges onto walls, handyman magazine,
If you also plan on painting the walls, overlap the paint onto them a little bit when cutting in

7. Experiment with colour 

While you may not want to paint your ceiling yellow, don’t be afraid to deviate from a plain white surface. 

Bill points out that painting the ceiling in a colour can make a small room seem bigger, or a room with a high ceiling appear cosier. 

TIP For help with ceiling and wall colour choice, search online for examples of rooms you like.

experiment with colour when painting a ceiling, handyman magazine,
Think beyond white when painting the ceiling, bold colours can do a lot to enhance a room 

8. Opt for simple accessories 

When it comes to painting equipment, Bill prefers low-tech solutions. 

You can buy extendable paint poles, but he suggests using simple timber broom handles with a thread because they are light, inexpensive and will get the job done. 

opt for simple accessories, handyman magazine,
Less can be more when it comes to painting a ceiling 

9. Use a thick roller cover 

Lambswool covers are the key to a good finish, and while more expensive, they’re easy to clean and can be re-used.

They are ideal for getting as much paint on the ceiling as possible in a short amount of time while minimising spatters.

10. Go gently on textured ceilings 

Painting a textured ceiling is tricky. If it has never been painted, the water in the paint can loosen the texture and cause it to fall off. Ceilings that have been painted are probably safe.

Try rolling paint onto a small section first and if the texture becomes loose, painting the ceiling is risky and the necessary repairs will need to be carried out before painting. 

Bill says the best tip for rolling on paint is to avoid overworking it. If the ceiling needs a second coat, wait for the first one to dry completely, then roll another perpendicular to the first. 

TIP If possible, spray on the paint, as it’s less likely to loosen the texture.

go gently on textured ceilings, handyman magazine,
Be careful when painting a textured ceiling, try a test patch first to see if the texture becomes loose 

This article was originally published in the March 2015 edition of Handyman magazine 


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How To Paint A Ceiling

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