Interior Painting Step 2: Painting the Ceiling

Go to Step 3: Painting the Walls

Time required:

2 hours for an average size bedroom

Equipment list:


  • One gallon high quality latex “ceiling paint,” flat sheen, for an average size bedroom; use eggshell wall paint if you want a slightly shiny ceiling that can be cleaned.

Ready to paint your ceiling? The first step is to make sure everything is out of your way so you don’t trip on it while looking up at the ceiling! Then it’s just a matter of cutting in (edging) and rolling. You can achieve excellent results if you follow these instructions.


First, open your gallon of paint and pour 3/4 of it into a 5-gallon bucket with a roller grid in it. I recommend against using a roller pan because they are easy to step on, and roller pans just don’t hold enough paint to get the job done without stopping to refill, something you’d rather not do because you don’t want to give the ceiling any time to start drying before you’re done rolling—in other words, it’s important to keep a “wet edge” as you roll the ceiling. So roll out of a 5-gallon bucket with a roller grid.

NOTE: Spills and big drips can leak through canvas drop cloths. Wipe them up immediately with a rag.

You should be left with about 1/4-gallon in the paint can. Take that and your paint brush and cut in the edge of the ceiling all the way around the room. Cut your swath about 4 inches out onto the ceiling—that’s enough for you to get in close with the roller. If the walls are going to be a different color, you only need to bring the ceiling paint about 1 inch down onto the wall. But make sure you do that. Don’t leave any part of the ceiling unpainted. Of course, if the walls will be the same color as the ceiling, you’ll need to brush down onto the wall about the same distance as you are on the ceiling—about 4 inches.

As you move along, be careful to always “lay off” your final brush stroke back into your wet edge before moving to the next section. This helps your brush strokes always blend together and prevents your brush from making “start marks,” which are streaky and ugly. See the video for more information on laying off back into your wet edge.

Once you’re done going around the length of the ceiling,  brush around any light fixtures or anything else on the ceiling. Again, just paint about 4 inches out and don’t leave any start or stop marks with the brush.

Now it’s time to roll. You’ll need a roller cover on a roller handle. You’ll also want a stout extendable roller pole. A 1/2-inch roller cover will work on most textured ceilings, but popcorn ceilings are far easier if you use a 1 1/4-inch cover.

The first thing you need to decide is what direction you are going to roll. You want to keep it consistent on the entire ceiling. Most people agree that the best strategy is to roll toward (parallel with) the prevailing source of natural light, such as a big window. This prevents any roller lines from showing up. If you roll perpendicular to the prevailing light source, the roller lines can create a slight shadow. All that said, roller lines are really only an issue on smooth ceilings. Textured ceilings are unlikely to show any lines, especially if you are using flat ceiling paint.

In any case, pick a direction, then go to the leftmost forward corner in the room. It’s difficult to describe how best to roll the paint on—see the video for that—but the bottom line is that it consists of two steps: rolling the paint on (I call this “laying it on”) and then smoothing it out with a final roll (I call this “laying it off”). You need to lay it on and lay it off in sections as you go so that nothing has time to dry. In other words, you keep a “wet edge” the entire time. This means you are never rolling against any paint that has had time to dry, because if you are, then essentially that’s like rolling on a second coat of paint, and you might end up with overlap marks.

If possible, it is best to do your roller strokes the entire width of the ceiling. However, often the ceiling is too wide to do that without “walking” the roller along, a practice I don’t recommend because it’s difficult to keep steady pressure on the roller while walking. In the video I show how to divide the room into a left side and a right side and do half at a time, always laying off the final strokes toward the middle so they blend together. I like to do this on any ceiling wider than 10 or 12 feet because I always like to roll from a stationary position.

Okay! Once you’ve rolled the ceiling, you need to let it dry at least an hour before you can start step 3: painting the walls. Two hours is better. You don’t want the wall paint to “reactivate” the ceiling paint when you are cutting in (edging) against the ceiling. Better to wait until the ceiling is fully dry.

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