Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

How to Paint a Room

How to Do Decorative Painting
To texture paint with a foam brush, slather it on, then go over the surface with the flat of the brush, patting the paint.
To texture paint with a foam brush, slather it on, then go over the surface with the flat of the brush, patting the paint.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.

Sometimes a room doesn't feel finished without decorative touches. In this section, we'll show you three common decorative painting techniques: stencils, textures, and stripes.


Stenciling is one of the oldest and easiest decorative painting techniques. Use it to create borders of various patterns on walls, ceilings, floors, and around windows and doors. Stencils look like the reverse of a coloring book page, with spaces where the pattern would ordinarily be. About the size of a sheet of typewriter paper, reusable stencils are made of thin plastic or heavy paper. They're available at art supply stores or retail paint outlets.

You can make your own stencils, too. Use thin cardboard -- shirt cardboard is fine. Sketch a design, transfer it to tracing paper, and cut it out with scissors or a craft knife. Lay the pattern on a piece of cardboard slightly larger than the pattern itself, trace around it, then cut it out.

To transfer your design to the wall, tape up the stencil at all four corners. Use a special stenciling brush -- usually round in shape, but flat across the bristles -- to apply latex or alkyd paint to the cutout. Pour paint into an old saucer or pie tin. Dab the brush lightly into the paint, then dab it lightly on kraft paper to remove excess paint. You should be working with an almost dry brush. Don't stroke the paint on the stencil. If you do, you'll force the paint under its edges. Instead, use a light up-and-down dabbing motion. Let the paint dry to the touch, peel the stencil slowly away from the wall, and move on to the next area.

If you want to create a border using the same pattern over and over again, it makes sense to buy or make extra stencils so you can continue to work on other areas as the paint dries on the first ones. If your stencil requires two or more colors, paint with only one color at a time and let the first dry before adding the second.

Plastic ready-made stencils are washable and reusable. Those made of heavy paper or cardboard, however, will only last so long before the paint saturates the fibers and weakens the stencil. When that happens, buy or make new ones so that the stencil stays flat against the wall as you paint.


What can you do if you have a wall with flaws so serious that ordinary paint won't cover them up? Or what if you want a surface with a more tactile quality? Or maybe you want to try for a weathered or stucco look. For any of these, texture painting is a good option.

Paints specifically designed for texture work are as thick as pancake batter or wet plaster. Some are gritty and some are not. All are ideal for flawed surfaces and for creating a rustic look. You should still wash the surface, scrape off flaking paint, and patch major holes, but you don't need to make the surface perfectly smooth. Texture paints will camouflage most surface blemishes.

Texture paint without granules in it can be applied with special texturing rollers, a wide brush, a urethane foam brush, or even a trowel. Whatever tool you use, smear the paint onto the surface, about 1/16 inch thick. As with regular wall paint, work with sections approximately three feet square.

Create the surface design in one section at a time. A long-napped texturing roller will give you a uniform stippled effect all over. Similar but less regular stippling can be achieved with a foam brush. Apply the paint, then go over the surface with the flat of the brush, patting the paint to create little peaks and valleys.

You can use less conventional texturing tools once the paint is on the wall, such as crumpled wax paper or a big sponge. With a coarse brush you can create circles or swirls in the paint. Keep the thickness and the texture uniform from one section to another, overlapping their borders as you go along.

For applying grit-textured paint to ceilings, buy a special long-napped roller or use a synthetic-bristle brush. Instructions on the can explain how to apply the paint.


You can paint stripes on walls or furniture using some easy techniques.

For medium-wide stripes of one to four or more inches, use a level to draw two parallel lines on the wall. Follow the lines with masking tape, pressing the tape down carefully with your thumb or the bowl of a spoon so that paint doesn't seep under its edges. Use a trim brush to paint between the masking tape lines. Wait until the paint is just barely dry to the touch, then slowly peel the tape away from the wall.

A series of thin, parallel stripes can be painted all at one time if you use special striping tape, the kind used to paint racing stripes on cars, available at automobile supply stores. The tape is one inch wide overall, but it has up to eight 1/16-inch peel-off strips down its length. Again, use a level to create a straight line. Follow the line with striping tape. Then peel as many of the removable strips off the roll as you like, automatically exposing what will soon be stripes.

Because you're dealing with more tape edges here than before, go back over the tape again, carefully pressing down all the edges to keep the paint from seeping under them. Finally, working with a dry brush, paint over the tape. (A 1/2-inch trim brush is best for delicate work.) Let the paint dry to the touch, then slowly peel away the tape.

Your work is done, but it isn't really done. The final part of painting a room is cleaning up, which is outlined in the next section.