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How to Paint a Ceiling

A professional home painter shares his tips for painting both smooth and textured ceilings, with equipment recommendations and tricks of the trade.

By the DIY experts of The Family Handyman Magazine

Learn how to paint a ceiling

Meet the pro: Bill Nunn

Meet the pro: Bill Nunn

Meet the Pro

Ceilings present some unique painting challenges. For starters, they’re usually much larger than any single room wall and are often illuminated with raking light that accentuates even the smallest flaw in the paint. Add to that the challenge of working overhead and things can get messy in a hurry. That’s why we called in Bill Nunn, one of our favorite painting consultants, to help you out with his best ceiling painting tips.

Bill is the owner of William Nunn Painting, which specializes in classic old home painting. Bill has been painting for more than 35 years.

Sand before you paint

Cut in before you roll

Roll both directions

Buy special ceiling paint

Clear the Room

Bill prefers to move everything out of the room and cover the floors with drop cloths before painting a ceiling. But if this isn't possible, he groups furniture in the center and covers it with painter's plastic. Sometimes it may be necessary to make two or more small groups so that you can reach over them with the roller.

Lap your cut-in onto the walls

Don't be afraid of color

You don't need an expensive pole

Use a thick, premium roller cover

Roll gently on textured ceilings

Painting textured ceilings is a bit of a crapshoot. If the texture has been painted over already, it's probably safe to paint again. If the texture has never been painted, there's a risk the water in the paint could loosen the texture, causing it to fall off in sheets. A lot depends on the quality of the texturing job. If you have a closet or other inconspicuous area, do a test by rolling on some paint to see what happens. If the texture loosens, painting over the larger ceiling is risky.

Bill has a few tips for painting over texture. If possible, spray on the paint—it's less likely to loosen the texture than rolling. But spraying in an occupied house is usually impractical. Bill says the best tip for rolling on paint is to avoid overworking the paint. Just roll the paint on and leave it. Don't go back and forth with the roller, as this is likely to pull the texture from the ceiling. If the ceiling needs another coat of paint, wait for the first coat to dry completely. Then roll another coat perpendicular to the first one using the same careful technique.

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Required Tools for this Project

Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.

    • Dust mask
    • Lambswool roller cover – Roller sleeve
    • Paint roller
    • Painters tape
    • Paint tray
    • Rags
    • Roller tray
    • Sanding pole
    • Paintbrush

Required Materials for this Project

Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here's a list.

    • Ceiling paint
    • Stain-blocking primer
    • Dropcloth

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