How to Paint a Ceiling

Follow these simple painting tips to freshen up your ceiling.

June 26, 2020

Nothing brightens a room like a fresh coat of paint. If you want to completely makeover a room, start with the ceiling before you paint the walls. It may seem like a messy, daunting task, but designers say painting a ceiling is well worth the effort. "We consider ceilings the fifth wall," says Miranda Cullen with Duet Design Group.

We’ve uncovered expert advice on how to paint a ceiling that will make the job a cinch. Follow along for a step-by-step approach to the perfect paint job.

Pulling It All Together

Pulling It All Together

Carry the new color of your ceiling throughout the space by choosing pieces that are a similar shade — like the velvet green bench and the plant life in this photo.

Photo by: Jalynn Baker

Jalynn Baker

Supplies and Materials

  • paint
  • extension pole
  • paint roller and cover
  • paint tray
  • step ladder
  • drop cloth
  • painter's tape
  • angled paint brush
  • 100-grit sandpaper

Tip: Roller extension handles make it easy to paint regular ceilings without constant bending and stretching. To paint the trim, remove fixtures and reach high ceilings, you will also need a step ladder.

Step 1: Choose Your Ceiling Paint

Flat or matte finishes are most often used for ceilings as they will hide imperfections. Paint made specifically for ceilings is designed to roll on with minimum spatter and will resist yellowing over time. And of course white is a popular ceiling color as it reflects light into a room. But clearly there are color options.

"Ceilings are often an afterthought, but I like to accent them because it can really change the entire mood of the space. Highlighting them with a dark color or a patterned wallpaper all of a sudden elevates the entire design," says Kelly Sutton of New Orleans-based Sutton House.

Paint Glossary: All About Paint, Color and Tools

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Step 2: Calculate How Much Paint You Need

Before you get started, you’ll need to calculate how much paint you’ll need. Measure the length and width of the room to get the square footage of the ceiling. Paint cans are labeled with the area they should cover, so you can easily buy accordingly.

Step 3: Prep the Room

The best paint job starts with prep work. Follow these tips:

  • Remove artwork from the walls and obstacles from the floor to avoid accidents.
  • Take small items to another room until the painting is complete.
  • Large furniture may be covered with a drop cloth.
  • Remove light fixtures, ceiling fans and any other obstacles attached to the ceiling. Be sure to clean fixtures before replacing them on the newly painted ceiling.

This is a great time to update old fixtures. Vacuum textured ceilings to remove dust and cobwebs. Clean nontextured ceilings with a sponge using mild soap and water.

Step 4: Patch and Prime

Fix any damaged parts of your ceiling before applying paint. Also patch any holes in the ceiling and sand them smooth. (Learn how to patch a ceiling). Sand non-textured ceilings with 100-grit drywall sandpaper to ensure good paint adhesion.

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Use a stain-blocking primer paint to cover patched areas and watermarks.

Photo by: Shutterstock/BaLLLunLa


Step 5: Apply Painter's Tape

Carefully apply painter's tape to protect crown molding or the top of the wall from paint drips and dribbles. Be sure to remove the tape immediately after painting, before the paint dries so that it doesn’t damage the new finish. Be sure to cover furniture and flooring with a drop cloth.

Apply Painter's Tape

Apply Painter's Tape

Apply painter's tape all around the perimeter of the ceiling.

Photo by: Jalynn Baker

Jalynn Baker

Step 6: Cut In With Angled Brush

Using an angled brush, paint the edges around the trim and in the corners, where the roller can’t reach. Extend edge painting inward 3 inches, and fade the inner edge that will be covered by the roller.

Paint the Edges

Paint the Edges

Cut in about 3-4 inches from the tape and apply paint with a paintbrush.

Photo by: Jalynn Baker

Jalynn Baker

Step 7: Paint the Ceiling

Apply paint with a roller. Paint toward yourself, but not directly overhead. Follow these painting tips:

  • Use low-nap roller covers on non textured ceilings and high nap roller covers on textured ceilings.
  • When applying the paint, avoid straight lines. Instead, use elongated v-shapes (without removing the roller from the surface) to apply an even coat of paint.
  • Eliminate streaky areas and lap marks by working quickly and keeping a wet working edge.
Paint the Ceiling

Paint the Ceiling

Pro tip: Avoid painting directly over your head!

Photo by: Jalynn Baker

Jalynn Baker

Step 8: Finish Up

Remove the painter's tape after the ceiling is dry. Then, paint the trim and walls. Once everything is dry, remove the drop cloths and bring the furniture back in.

Watch: How to Paint a Ceiling a Bold Color

Paint Your Ceiling a Bold Color
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