Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Tips for a first-time painter FROM a first-time painter

These tips are just results of what I've learned while painting our interior walls for the first time. I certainly don't pretend to be a professional and I'm sure they might say that many of these are wrong. But I'll tell you what worked for us and what didn't work for us. I'm sharing some long-winded tips and some quick tips. In no particular order:

1. Paint. You can do all the research you want and talk to all the people you know, but basically what I've discovered is that there are mixed reviews for every brand of paint out there. Some people will love it and some people will hate it, whatever it is. On a contractor's forum, the professional painters seemed to favor Benjamin-Moore and loathed Behr, but we ended up going with Behr anyway because we had already picked out our colors and had a local Home Depot (not a local B-M). I liked the Behr in that it was thick and it didn't splatter or drip. I could see a huge difference between the thin primer and the thicker Behr paint for our kitchen, but for our bedroom our gray primer was quite thick. If your paint is thin, I could see how painting could be a challenge. I tried doing research but there doesn't seem to be any way to actually thicken paint, whereas you can always thin it.

2. Patch your walls. We spent a lot of time spackling our walls and sanding them down, especially in the hall where it was a high-traffic area and the bedroom walls were just atrocious all the way around (see Painting the Bedroom (Blue!). The walls were in pretty bad shape: not a smooth texture and lots of dents, nicks, and holes. It's not hard to fill in the holes and sand off the spots--I think the hardest part about that is being able to see all the areas that need it. Some people also recommend sanding the whole wall to ensure that the primer will adhere to it, but that would be difficult unless you have an electric sander. I strongly recommend patching your walls because while a lot of the marks we had to fix on the white wall were obvious, every bump and dent was 10x more obvious after it got painted red--possibly from the semi-gloss sheen. Contrarily, the imperfections blended into the wall much better in the bedroom where our color was a dark blue eggshell.

3. Wash your walls. After patching and sanding you need to get all the dust off the walls--along with any grease (kitchen), grime (bathroom), and dirt/dust that has settled on the walls from the air. We used soapy water (dish soap), but a product called tri-sodium phosphate (TSP) is supposedly the best product to clean your walls with. Apparently you can do "one pass with TSP or you can do 4 or 5 passes with a lesser cleaning product." I had an awful time trying to wash the ceiling in the kitchen, so I basically did my best around the stove area but the rest I didn't wash and the paint still turned out okay, perhaps because we primed first.

4. Tape off your edges with painter's tape. Multi-surface should work fine for the first painting job but if you're going to want to paint any trim or other areas that would require you to put painter's tape on the walls you've freshly painted, you'll need painter's tape for "delicate surfaces." Also, the term "freshly painted" basically means anything that's been painted less than 30 days ago. You shouldn't tape a freshly painted wall until at least 24 or 36 hours of dry time has passed, but waiting longer would probably be best.

  • Related note: we started with 1" painter's tape, but soon found out that 2" would have been better (you'll see why below). I ended up going around the room and double-taping the edges to make them wider. As a first-time or new painter, I think a wider tape is safer (we were very clumsy to say the least).
  • Tip: Use a putty knife to press down the tape and make a good seal.
You're supposed to take the tape off when the paint is still wet (15-20 minutes after painting), but I don't know how you're supposed to do that if you're doing more than one coat. As a result, there can be paint dried on the tape and the tape might tear when you're peeling it off because it "set" or dried over time.
  • Tip: If your tape is peeling paint off the wall along with it, you can use an xacto-knife to slice along the edge of the tape so that it doesn't pull up the paint you just put on (which I spent a lot of time fixing/touching up! Until I learned the next trick as an alternative....)
  • Update: Tip: If you're having trouble with your tape ripping as you try to peel it up or it's peeling your paint off the wall, use a hair dryer to help peel the tape off. Blow heat from a blow dryer onto the tape and pull it off at a 45 degree angle. Works like a charm!

5. Always use a primer. We used Behr Premium Plus Ultra Interior Paint which claims to have paint-and-primer-in-one so that you don't need primer. Not true. I'm not sure on what occasion anyone would ever not use a primer first if they wanted a good coat on their walls. Primer helps seal your wall so it doesn't soak up all your paint and it assists in giving you an even coat, as well as giving the paint a good surface to grip. Some prefer to buy more expensive primers that will give you a good single coat. If you're going from a light wall to a dark color, you'll want a grey-tinted primer. I've heard that getting your primer tinted to the same color you're painting isn't usually a good idea and it can cause you to need to put on many more coats of paint. The darker the color you need, the darker the grey primer. If you're going from dark to light you'll most likely want to use a white primer. And don't forget, you'll need the appropriate type of primer to go with your paint. If your paint is latex, you'll need a latex-based primer. If your paint is oil-based, you'll need an oil-based primer.

  • Tip: Incidentally, I found out after painting on the primer that cold cream and cotton balls take primer off of skin fairly easily...I had accidentally wiped my nose and cheek when I had primer on my hand!

6. "Cutting in." When you begin painting, you're supposed go along the edges with a paint brush and then roll the rest.
Kitchen: My husband and I found this to be particularly difficult with red paint. On our first wall I did the trim while he did the rolling, and they ended up being two different colors. I had brushed on the paint a lot thicker while my husband rolled it on a lot thinner, and they didn't even come close to blending together. We rolled on a second coat to see if would help but it didn't improve it at all. There was also nothing but brush marks and roller lines all over.

  •  Here is what I think we did wrong and what I did instead: I think I was not brushing the paint on thick enough to prevent brush marks. I believe it would have to be put on quite thick for that to happen though, and the edges already looked vastly darker than the rest of the wall. I did not continue to cut in with a brush after the first wall so I can't tell you what really works. I watched plenty of videos of demonstration, but I just couldn't get it right!
  • Instead of using a brush, I began using a min-roller with a cigar-shaped roller cover, technically a corner roller. I would roll perpendicular to the ceiling, sort of jamming the long edge of the roller into the corner between the wall and the ceiling. Sometimes it would drip a little paint onto the wall but it was easy to roll over and pick up. This is the main reason why I double-taped the ceiling (would've used 2" tape if I had had it). I supposed I could've rolled it parallel to the ceiling like how the roller is supposed to work in corner angles, but I found that I was smudging by doing that. By using this method to paint the trim areas of the wall, my husband was able to use his large roller and it blended all together much more evenly. 
Update: Bedroom: We still taped off but I also "cut in" with a brush, then went over it parallel to the wall, as close to the ceiling as I could get so that it made almost all the brush marks disappear; the brush marks closest to the ceiling aren't noticeable at all. I think this is because the dark blue (with gray primer) acts differently than the red. This method was better than what I did in the kitchen even though it takes more effort and time. 

7. Quality brushes & rollers. You'll want to get pretty good quality tools for the best results. 
  • Brushes: At home depot the brushes were labeled economy, good, better, & best. Basically I think you get what you pay for. You want soft-bristled brushes or else brush marks will show (this is assuming you've mastered proper "cutting in"!). You'll want to care for your brushes so that they can last years into the future (see Tip #8).
  • As for rollers, you'll want ones that have the correct "nap" according to what you're painting. "Nap" is thickness or what I consider "fluffiness" of the roller fiber. Rough surfaces need a higher nap and smoother surfaces need a thinner nap. The roller cover package should tell you what surfaces will be appropriate to use it on, as well as what kind of paint. 1/4" nap is for very smooth to smooth surfaces, 3/8" for smooth to semi-smooth, 1/2" for semi-smooth to semi-rough. You'll want rollers that have plastic cores rather than cardboard (which can absorb the paint and get soggy), and a better quality roller will have better fibers as well. You don't want the fibers to come off while while painting and get stuck to the wall. To help prevent this, you can wrap the roller in masking tape and then peel it off--this helps take off all the lose fibers that could otherwise come off in the paint. Also dampen the roller with water beforehand. The density of the fibers affect the roller's ability to hold paint and spread it evenly. Cheap rollers that have lose fibers tend to become matted and fail to spread paint evenly, which creates a mottled look. 
  • You won't want to use sponge brushes for any painting because they tend to leave bubbles in your paint. We got a few specifically to help pour paint from the bucket to the roller tray and pouring leftover paint back into the bucket. They work great as a sort of spatula, so they are still a valuable item.
8. Cleaning your supplies. As soon as you're done painting for the day you'll want to clean your equipment to extend it's longevity. Latex paint that is mixed with plenty of water is safe to go down the drain, for lack of a better alternative. 
  • Rinse your brushes very thoroughly in warm water, and you can use a few drops of dish soap as well. Squeeze out the excess water and replace the cover on it that it came with, allowing it to dry. 
  • Rinse the paint tray with warm water and soap as well. You'll likely need to let it soak to get as much paint off as possible. Plastic paint tray inserts are great to use because you can recycle them when they get too warped and used, or you could just chuck them after every use. 
  • You don't want to leave any paint on the tray where the roller might pick it up later after it has dried--it could create "paint boogers" that will transfer to the wall and get stuck there. If you notice it and try peeling it off after the paint is dry on the wall, you'll be left with whatever color is under the paint peeking out (the same goes for lint fibers from the roller).
  • Be warned: I washed our paint supplies in our crummy guest bath tub (we don't have a utility sink) and as a result it had become stained pink and had rough dried residue coating it. I used Barkeeper's Friend and some elbow grease and it took care of the stains. 
  • Another warning: Primer seems very latex-y compared to the paint and doesn't dissolve as well in water. A lot of gummy material ended up stuck to our bathtub and in the drain. 
  • Update: I would suggest dumping in the toilet instead of the tub to prevent stains and the primer gummy mess. This was preferable the second time around for the bedroom, especially because I didn't want to have to scrub the tub so much again. But it does make it a paint switching buckets and making sure I can lift them to carefully dump them without spilling water all over!

9. Plastic wrap. A good tip to avoid having to wash paint brushes and rollers every day is to wrap them in plastic (saran) wrap. It's especially good when you plan on painting more than once a day or if you want to take a break. Wrap the rollers and brushes in plastic wrap, and you can also put plastic wrap on the roller tray to prevent the paint from hardening on there as well. The rollers and brushes that we wrapped up did well overnight, but I would either pour the tray paint back into the bucket or at least tape down the plastic wrap so that it doesn't dry out on the tray. 

10. Dampen rollers & brushes. Before you start painting, moisten the rollers and brush just a bit so that they don't have such a hard time soaking up paint. Sprinkle water on them and wring them out, and if they seem too wet (you don't want to thin your paint), you can give them a few squeezes in a thick paper towel

11. Mix the paint! As you're painting, make sure you pay attention to the paint in your tray or bucket that you're using. We noticed more than once that the [red] paint began separating while we were painting and if we hadn't noticed then we would've had significantly pink hues on our walls. Pay attention, and keep mixing it!

12. Load 'er up! One of the problems we had while learning how to paint is not "loading" our rollers enough. We had no idea how much paint to put on our rollers and it didn't seem like anyone on the internet could give a very good description of it. I've determined that you want a lot of paint on your roller to get the best color and coverage. You want it to look wet, but not to be dripping (Behr was so thick that we never had a dripping problem). Loading the roller so much made our methods of rolling it on the wall change--we went from putting some pressure on the roller to almost no pressure at all. Putting pressure on the roller while it had so much paint on it often made it slide or smudge instead of roll, so it just takes some getting used to, and keep an eye out for lines of paint from the edges of your roller. 

13. Painting tight corners. In the corners between walls, the corner roller is the best thing to use in my opinion, but you have to be a quick worker. The roller has fibers on the end (regular rollers don't) that will paint in the corner crease for you. However, as you roll down the wall it can leave a smudge of red on the adjoining wall. Quickly, I would paint in the corner the appropriate amount of edge for my husband to continue with his rolling, and on the opposite side (smudged side) I would do the same. It is very easy to smudge either side like this while trying to get close enough in the corner, and though it was all red and they might be small marks it was something that I'd notice and I couldn't let go of it. To solve this problem I would carefully place my roller on the smudge and roll horizontally away from the corner to sort of "pull out" the smudge line. You can try very carefully rolling over it the usual way (vertically) but I found that I would be constantly smudging the other wall because I'd get too close!

  • Update: In the bedroom, since I was cutting in, I used my brush in the corner and only rolled parallel along the wall corner like I did between the wall and ceiling. It worked well, but I still had to be quick about it. 

14. Paint drying too quickly. One big problem we had with our paint was the drying time--it was drying very fast and we couldn't keep up with it. As a result we'd get lines and dark marks all over the place where we overlapped fresh paint on half-dried paint. Luckily there is a product to help with this: a clear latex paint additive called Floetrol, which advertises that it helps reduce brush marks and improves the "performance" of latex and acrylic paints. This basically means that it helps it not dry so darn fast! It helped immensely. It is supposedly used for spraying paint as well to prevent clogging. We call it a paint "extender."

  • The bottle calls for 8oz per gallon. We combined the 3 gallons of paint for the bedroom (like you're supposed to to make sure it's all a uniform color), but we only had 16oz left of Floetrol. We used it all and it seemed more than sufficient even though we were a cup short.

15. Don't play with it! On a related note to #14, don't "play" with your paint (on the walls) too much. We found this difficult sometimes and had to have self-discipline to stop constantly trying to fix every little imperfection. Our imperfections were usually a result of the underlying layers or condition of the wall itself so there was no point in trying to help it by rolling over it again and again! Even with the extender you still don't want to keep rolling or brushing over your paint or it will not have time to blend together before it dries, making a more even surface. Playing with it too much will create brush marks and roller lines galore. 

16. Roller poles. Use paint roller poles to help with efficiency. In the beginning, I was on a ladder trying to paint all the edges and it was just too cumbersome with my husband trying to quickly come in behind me to roll the wall before my edges dried. We didn't have a ton of space in the kitchen either, so the ladder was mostly in the way. We each got a roller pole and it made it immensely easier to maneuver next to each other, me with my cigar-roller painting the trim and him with his large roller doing the rest of the wall.

  • Update: We had more room in the bedroom so using the ladder was much easier. The paint didn't dry too quickly and that helped, but I think the biggest difference was the color of the paint again. Red dries differently than blue.

17. Removing painter's tape.  You're supposed to remove the tape fairly soon after you've painted--like 30 minutes or so. If you let the paint dry completely when you pull the tape up it could peel the paint off the wall with it. The first time around, I had a lot of trouble because we put on so many layers of paint and primer on (one wall has 7 coats between the first paint debacle, the primer, and the second try). I read belatedly that they recommend you remove and re-tape everything after every coat--I wonder who actually does this? Because that sounds like a LOT of tape and a LOT more work.

  • Tip: I scored the edge of the tape with a razor blade so that wouldn't peel the paint up with it, but this was by far not a very efficient way of doing things and it didn't look that great either. See the next tip.
  • Update: Tip: Anytime your tape keeps tearing as you're peeling it off (also a problem I had) or it peels the paint on the wall along with it, the best solution is a blow dryer!  It helped monumentally and I'm never going to paint again without using it! At first I put it on high heat but blew it on the "low" setting, but after a while I put it on high and it didn't seem to damage anything that way and made the work quicker. I aimed the dryer at the tape and it softened the paint and warmed up the adhesive in the tape so that it peeled off easily. Wonderful!

  • Extra tip: I also read that if you have a roll of masking tape that's really old and you can't use it anymore because it keeps tearing, just pop it into the microwave for 10 seconds to melt the adhesive and it'll be good as new!

18. Fixing dark lines. We watched carefully for any dark lines left on the walls in the kitchen, but missed two that seemed like they should've been obvious to us. So what do we do? Everywhere on the internet it says to sand them and repaint them--but wouldn't that make it terribly obvious? At least, for dark colors? [Update: or maybe just for red? We didn't have this problem in the bedroom with blue] It was very obvious at first. We sanded two lines which then turned white (I think we should have let it dry/set longer), and then we painted another coat on the whole wall. This made even more obvious light colored lines rather than darker ones. Today I took a paint brush and carefully dabbed and very lightly brushed paint over the lines--only the lines--as we didn't want even more dark lines where I overlapped onto the non-damaged area. I have to say they are looking much less noticeable and I think one more careful coat will do it. However, if I could change the past I would still vote to leave the stupid dark lines alone rather than trying to "fix" them!

19. Red Paint. Apparently red is the most difficult color to paint with, so it wasn't the wisest choice for us to start. We figured that much out the hard way, but there's light at the end of the tunnel. Originally we bought too much paint for our kitchen but that ended up being a good thing after we messed it all up the first time. When it comes to red, you should use grey primer and roll it on pretty thick (we used white primer--live and learn...). Red seems to really show up any imperfections you make (like drips and lines) by leaving them much darker than the rest of the wall. Putting on thicker layers has decreased the noticeability of imperfections that you miss. I have read that more/thinner coats look better than less/thicker coats, but I'm not sure if that seriously applies to the color red. After two coats of primer and 3-4 coats of thick red coats on our walls, they are looking very acceptable and I'm happy about it.

20. Leftover paint. When you're done with painting a room, you might want to keep the leftover paint for touch ups or at least for future reference. I poured the leftover paint into a small jar, and to make sure it's air-tight I will taped around the lid with duct tape. I labeled the jar with the brand, color, what room it was used in, and the date. I also taped the original color swatch on the back. This way, when we move somewhere else then the next owners of the house will have it to use and reference to. Paint won't stay good in a paint can that's been opened and I think a glass jar is the way to go.

21. Following the "rules." Remember it's okay to not follow the "rules" all the time. We discovered the very popular rule of rolling in a "W" or an "M" fashion really didn't work for us and my husband is better at rolling in straight lines instead. I discovered that I am (or maybe red is) hopeless at "cutting in" with a paint brush, so I found a different way to do it. It's okay to improvise when you want to or need to. My cigar-shaped roller is what worked for me and you can do whatever works for you. At one point my roller broke right in the middle of painting and I had to quickly Maverick it with masking tape so I could finish painting--I couldn't imagine the patchiness and lines we would've been left with if I had given up instead of improvised a solution. Be flexible!

22. Learn. Try not to get too frustrated and remember that it's a learning process. I got frustrated and it took most of my self control to not throw my fist into that ugly red patchy wall. But don't give up! I had to accept the fact that we had to start over after doing so much work already, but it worked out the second time after I got the hang of it (see #'s 1-20 *wink wink*). If it didn't work the second round...I would've probably changed colors. Things went much smoother while painting the bedroom.

23. Plastic vs. Paper. Update: Instead of annoying sheets of plastic, this time we used a big roll of paper on the floor instead (brown all-purpose masking paper). I'm so glad we did this! It was so much easier to deal with compared to plastic! If you don't want to pay for a real canvas drop cloth, definitely go with the paper route instead. It's even cheaper than the plastic was and it goes really far too--4 bucks for 180 feet! In the bedroom we only used plastic for covering the furniture instead of tangling up the ladder and tripping us.

24. Juggling paintbrush & roller. Update: While I was on the ladder in the bedroom it was really difficult have a paint container, mini roller, and a paintbrush all on hand so my brilliant husband rigged up this paint-roller-holder for me using an old paint roller cover.


And it also works for a paintbrush if needed!

If I have any more tips or comments to make about painting, I'll come back and add to this post.
[UPDATED: April 9, 2012 after painting the bedroom.]