Interior Painting Step 3: Painting the Walls

Go to Step 4: Painting the Trim

Time required:

4 to 6 hours for an average size bedroom

Equipment list:


  • One or two gallons high quality latex paint in eggshell or satin sheen for an average room. Measure square footage and divide by 275 to determine quantity. Remember you may need to apply a second coat for optimal coverage.

Ready to paint your walls? Then you have the color picked out, and that’s probably the hardest part of the whole thing! With the room already prepped and the ceiling painted, it’s just a matter of cutting in (edging) the walls with a brush and then rolling out the main areas. You can achieve excellent results if you follow these instructions!


Open a gallon of paint and pour 2/3 of it into the 5-gallon bucket. If you have two gallons or more of paint, pour the remaining cans into the 5-gallon bucket and “box” (mix) them all together with a stir stick, just in case there is any variation in color between the cans (even a slight difference could show up if you switch cans in the middle of a wall).

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

Once you’ve got your paint set up, it’s time to cut in the room (some people call this “edging”). You can work out of the paint can if you want. I prefer to work out of a separate 1-gallon bucket, or “cutting pot.”

The most likely scenario is where the walls are a different color than the ceiling, and you will need to cut a straight line where they meet. The 3-inch angled tip brush is perfect for this. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that a smaller brush will cut straighter lines, because it won’t. A larger brush holds more paint, is more solid, and doesn’t waver as much. You only use the very tip of a few brush hairs to cut the line anyway, no matter what size brush you are using.

Pick a corner of the room and start brushing. As you go, always smooth out your brush strokes by doing your final stroke back into your wet edge (see video). This helps your brush strokes all blend together and avoids creating streaky “start marks.” Dip your brush frequently and use a good amount of paint to get good coverage and avoid streaking. Cut down about 4 or 5 inches from the ceiling onto the wall, and make sure you feather out the bottom edge.

A lot of people have a hard time cutting (edging) a straight line against the ceiling. It can be tough if you have textured walls because the inside corner where the wall and ceiling meet isn’t straight, it’s usually kind of bumpy. Those irregularities are the primary reason that trying to tape off the ceiling with blue tape won’t work. The paint will bleed and make a ragged line. Plus the tape doesn’t stick well to the ceiling because it has been freshly painted.

Here’s the secret to cutting a straight line–or one that looks straight–between the wall and ceiling: Always cut the paint just a tiny bit up onto the ceiling, rather than letting the line waver down onto the wall. A person standing in the room won’t be able to notice if the paint runs a hair onto the ceiling because they won’t be looking directly up at it. From the middle of the room it will look perfectly straight. However, if the line wavers even slightly down onto the wall, it will stand out.

When I say a “tiny bit,” I mean like 1/32 of an inch. That’s all it takes to perform this trick. Run it any more than that onto the ceiling and it only gets more noticeable, and you’ll need to come back with the ceiling paint later and fix it.

When you reach each corner, you might as well cut in the corners too. Brush the inside corner on each wall about 4 inches out. Remember to always do your last stroke back into your wet edge to avoid streaking and start marks. Use a good amount of paint. These corners tend to soak it up for some reason.

Finish going around the room like that, cutting in the ceiling and then cutting in the corners as you reach them.

You will also want to brush lightly along the top of the baseboards. Don’t use as much paint because you don’t want it leaking through the masking onto the baseboard. Just “dry brush” an inch or two along the tops of the baseboards to get a light first coat on there. The roller will be able to get down there and finish the job.

You’ll also need to cut in around any objects on the walls such as thermostats, etc. You should have these taped off with blue tape (see Step 1) so it won’t take long to cut in around them.

Now it’s time to roll. Screw the roller handle onto the extendable roller pole. Put the roller grid in the 5-gallon bucket and get the roller cover good and soaked. Start on the far side of the first wall and start rolling the paint on in long strokes. I call this “laying on” the paint, and it’s the first step in rolling a wall. You’ll need to keep dipping frequently when you start out because the roller is not wet yet. Don’t be afraid to roll a good amount of paint on this first pass. Be neat with your roller strokes, but you don’t need to worry about being super precise yet. Just get a good coat of paint rolled onto the entire wall from end to end.

Now it’s time to “lay off” the paint. This basically means you go back to the side where you started and do a series of final, even roller strokes to smooth out the paint and make it look uniform. Make these final strokes straight up and down, from the ceiling down to the baseboard (which you should gently bump against). Lay off the paint like this all the way across the wall. Now you have a smooth, uniform finish with a tight “stipple” rather than paint that looks smeared and loose.

When you’re done, go to the next wall and repeat this two-step process. Lay it on, lay it off. If you feel the paint setting up before you are able to lay it off, you might need to divide larger walls into sections and lay on/lay off one section at a time, but always try to keep a wet edge across the wall. Obviously, textured walls will be more forgiving than smooth walls. It’s even possible to do the lay on/lay off in very small sections as you go if you feel the paint is setting up on you too quickly. Do what works, and don’t allow the paint to dry before you do your lay off.

If you don’t get good coverage, you might need to do a second coat. Cut in (edge) the walls again. You can stay about a quarter-inch down from the ceiling since you already cut that line straight—keep the brush bristles a little below the line so you can move quickly. Cutting in again around windows and doors should also go fairly quickly since you don’t need to use as much paint on the second coat. In general the second coat goes quicker than the first coat—especially if you did a really good job on the first coat—but take your time and do it right!

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