How to Paint Drywall

It's easy to make mistakes when painting drywall -- if you don't prepare correctly. See more home construction pictures.

I remember how proud I was the first time I painted a room. I didn't realize how much paint drywall can suck up, so I made sure the roller was nice and loaded. That caused drops to splatter here and there, but so what? I'd carefully set drop cloths on the room's newly carpeted floors to protect them. When the paint was dry, I admired my handiwork, then began to clean up. Reaching down to pick up the drop cloths, I was dismayed when they stuck to the new carpet. My "drop cloths" were actually old bed sheets -- sheets so threadbare, the paint drops soaked right through them and onto my new carpet. I learned several valuable lessons about painting drywall that day, mainly not to overload the roller with paint, and to use professional drop cloths.

If you haven't had the pleasure of painting drywall yet, you probably will at some point. Drywall is the most widely used material for finishing interior walls, and is found in homes in many areas of the world [source: Calfinder]. So what is it, exactly? Drywall -- also called Sheetrock, gypsum board and rock lath -- is created by mixing together gypsum plaster and fiber, then wrapping the concoction in a heavy paper and letting it set. Once it's set, the resulting product is a heavy, solid material perfect for forming walls and ceilings [source: Molloy Interiors].


When constructing most homes, builders screw sheets of drywall to the framing. Once that's done, they fill all joints and imperfections with a joint compound, commonly referred to as "mud," and tape over them with a special paper drywall tape. This reinforces the wall or ceiling, plus hides the seams and any imperfections, such as the dimpled areas that result after you insert a screw or nail into drywall. After that, it's ready to be painted.

Painting drywall is relatively easy. However, to get the best results, you should follow a specific process that includes a certain amount of prep work, which you can learn more about on the next page.


Cover Your Bases: Drywall Prep

Your paint job starts with cleaning the surfaces to be painted, probably walls or a ceiling. It's not a sexy job, but every wall and ceiling has plenty of dust, cobwebs and other dirt particles on it, even if they're not visible, and you don't want to be painting over them. The drywall in kitchens and bathrooms is especially prone to collecting dirt: oil, grease and food particles in the kitchen; hairspray, cosmetics and airborne shampoo particles in the bathroom. New drywall is extra dusty. You can clean most drywall easily with a vacuum or microfiber tack cloth, but do wash areas in your kitchen and bathroom with a household cleaner to make sure you pick up any grease, oil and heavier dirt [source: Glave].

Next, run painter's tape around the edges of all trim, casings and baseboards, and cover furniture with plastic cloth. Make sure to tape the plastic together where there are gaps so your furniture is totally covered; paint drops can make their way into the tiniest openings. Protect your floors with a professional grade drop cloth. Don't use plastic; spilled paint will puddle on it, creating a slipping hazard. Plus, you'll likely step in some of the paint drops at some point, then inadvertently track paint all over your house [source: DrywallFlorida].


With everything secure, apply a coat of primer. People often omit this step to save time and money, but that's unwise. Primer helps conceal drywall mud and tape, so it's especially critical if you're painting new drywall. And since new drywall soaks up a lot of paint, applying primer may mean you only need two final coats, not three. Quality primer is also essential if you're trying to cover a glossy finish, prevent the old color from bleeding through or seal any stains on your wall, including mildew and water [source: Calfinder]. Tint your primer to match your final color, unless it's a deep tone. In that case, tint it gray. You can't match a deep-toned paint by tinting white primer, because dark colors are created from a clear base, not a white one [source: Painting and Decorating Concourse].

Next, find out how to do a killer paint job.


Staying Within the Lines: Drywall Painting

Using a paint roller
Using a roller instead of spraying paint on may help you to keep paint off of areas it shouldn't be.

First, figure out if you'll be rolling your paint or spraying it on. Spraying is a lot faster, makes your paint stretch the furthest and covers the best. But you have to really prepare well, thoroughly covering everything -- including windows and doorways and fixtures -- because sprayed paint gets everywhere. Proper ventilation is also critical [source: Calfinder].

Next, assemble your materials. You'll need enough paint for two coats, plus quality brushes and rollers. You have a lot of options when it comes to the type of paint you use on the walls. Flat latex is popular because it's easy to touch up without leaving marks, especially compared to higher-sheen paint. However, higher-sheen finishes are easier to clean, so people often prefer them, especially for messier areas like kitchens and bathrooms. Satin finishes are good options for most rooms -- they're not flat, but not that glossy, either, giving them both durability and the ability to mask touch-ups [source: Valspar at Lowe's].


Prepare your rollers by lightly wrapping them in masking tape, then pulling it off. This gets rid of any loose, fluffy strands on the rollers that you don't want to paint onto your walls. Pour the paint into a 5-gallon (19-liter) can with an attached side tray; roller trays that you set on the floor spill too easily, are often stepped in, and are difficult to pick up and move without creating a mess [source: Painting and Decorating Concourse].

Ideally, work with one other person. The first person should "cut in" the edges with a quality brush, painting along the baseboards, ceiling line and corners, while the second person follows and rolls the main portion of the wall or ceiling. Stay close to each other, because you always want to paint over wet edges. If the cutter gets too far ahead and the paint dries before the second person catches up, that may cause "banding" -- visible lines you'll notice once the paint dries [source: Glave]. The person rolling should work from the top of the wall down, first making a large "M" or "W" on a section of the wall, then painting through that section vertically. This helps better spread the paint than simply using straight vertical or horizontal strokes, and reduces the likelihood of seeing lines when you're finished [source: Painting and Decorating Concourse].

Let your paint dry at least two or three hours before applying the second coat. When both coats are dry and you're cleaning up, run a blade in between the painting tape and walls to cut through any dried drips, then remove. If you don't take this step and just yank the tape off, it may pull a chunk of the paint with it [source: Glave].

As for my own drywall painting skills, it's taken 25 years, but I've finally gotten it down: Tape everything with painter's tape and lay down professional drop cloths. Buy quality brushes, rollers and paint. Work as the cutter (I'm more meticulous) and let hubby be the roller. Now I just need a fail-safe way to pick out the perfect paint color.


Paint Drywall FAQs

Do I need to prime drywall before painting?
Once you have installed the new drywall, it is best to prime it before having it painted. New drywall also soaks up a lot of paint so applying primer may mean you only need two final coats, not three.
How do you prepare drywall for painting?
Before painting the drywall, make sure it is thoroughly cleaned, smoothed over and scraped. You can clean most drywall easily with a vacuum or microfiber tack cloth and smooth any rough areas over with sandpaper.
Do you paint the ceiling first or last?
If you're painting the entire room, paint the ceiling first, then paint the walls. Paint the trim last so paint doesn't drip or splatter on them while you're painting the walls.
What happens if you don't prime drywall before painting?
If you don't prime the drywall before you paint it, the paint could end up peeling, especially when it's humid. Plus it could be difficult to clean later down the road.
What kind of paint do you use on bathroom drywall?
Bathrooms are notorious for high humidity. So stick with either semigloss or high-gloss paint because both are easy to clean and can withstand the high temperatures and wet environment of a bathroom.

Lots More Information

Author's Note: How to Paint Drywall

I've painted a lot of drywall in my life, having first lived in an older home with dated colors, and then in a home we built -- and painted every inch of. I've made plenty of mistakes in those homes, to be sure. The biggest thing I learned? It's really true that you should buy a top-quality brush for the cutting. It may cost about $15, but that's just a drop in the (paint) bucket. You'll be amazed how much easier it is to paint with a good brush, and how much better your paint job looks when you're all finished.

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • Apartment Ratings. "8 Drywall Painting Tips." July 2, 2010. (March 19, 2012)
  • Calfinder. "Drywall Painting." (March 19, 2012)
  • Calfinder. "Drywall Paint, Glaze." (March 19, 2012)
  • Calfinder. "Drywall Paint, Rolled." (March 19, 2012)
  • Calfinder. "Drywall Paint, Sprayed." (March 19, 2012)
  • Calfinder. "Drywall Paint, Why Choose Latex?" (March 19, 2012)
  • Calfinder. "Primer Preparation for Drywall." (March 19, 2012)
  • Drywalldoc. "Priming and Painting new sheetrock, drywall, wallboard properly." Oct. 6, 2008. (March 19, 2012)
  • DrywallFlorida. "DrywallFlorida Drywall Repair Plugs." (March 19, 2012)
  • Glave, James. "Secrets of a Perfect Paint Job." This Old House. (March 19, 2012),,1566019,00.html
  • Hanson, Mike. "Remodeling." Mike's Computer Info. May 13, 2011. (March 19, 2012)
  • Molloy Interiors. "About Drywall." (March 20, 2012)
  • Online Tips. "How to Paint Drywall." (March 19, 2012)
  • Painter Click. "New drywall painting." (March 19, 2012)
  • Painting and Decorating Concourse. "How to Paint New Drywall." (March 19, 2012)
  • Super Pages. "Secrets for Painting Drywall." (March 19, 2012)
  • Valspar at Lowe's. "Painting Interior Drywall and Plaster." (March 19, 2012)