A fresh coat of paint is the surest path to making a room look clean and updated. If you’re a homeowner, fresh paint can increase your property’s value and be a cheap way to redecorate. If you’re a renter, fresh paint can help you get back that security deposit—or just make the apartment feel more yours.
You obviously know how to paint, but getting that flawless finish is not as easy as renovation shows make it look. To help you paint like a pro, we spoke to Nicole Gibbons, designer and founder of paint startup Clare, to get her best interior painting tips.
Meet the Expert
Nicole Gibbons is an interior designer and the founder of the direct-to-consumer paint company Clare, which she launched in 2018.
Browse her advice below and learn how simple swaps and proper prep can get you that smooth finish.
Get Off to a Good, Clean Start
“A good paint finish is all in the prep,” says Gibbons. “First make sure your walls are clean and dry!”
Just get a tack cloth—a sheet of lint-free material impregnated with a sticky substance, such as beeswax—to make it capable of picking up fine particles. It will remove any dust, dirt, or stains from whatever you are painting to help you get that flawless finish.
Run the cloth over trims, doors, ceiling, walls, or any other spots you plan to hit on your paint job. If you’ve ever noticed a strand of hair or bumps of dust stuck into the paint (that is to say, if you ever lived in an apartment in your early twenties), that’s because someone skipped this step.
Before you clean, caulk and sand any unwanted nail holes to give yourself a smooth canvas.
Take Your Time with the Painter’s Tape
Putting in the effort with your painter’s tape will save you from future headaches. You can apply it ahead of time, making sure to create a tight seal to prevent drips by dragging a putty knife across the tape. Make sure to remove the tape before the paint fully dries to avoid damaging your hard work.
It’s also a good idea to keep a damp cloth on hand when you’re painting, so you can quickly wipe away slips or drips.
Use a Primer
You’ve probably heard before that you can skip the primer and go straight into painting. You definitely can, but if you want a flawless finish, Gibbons doesn’t recommend it: “It helps create a uniform base, conceal any imperfections and ensure that flawless finish.”
For most surfaces, one coat of high-quality primer will work. If you’re painting a rougher surface, like stucco, or painting over a bright color, you might need to let the first coat dry and hit it again.
Use Two Coats of Paint
Painting is a full-body workout. You might be tempted to call it quits and say "good enough" after one coat, but Gibbons recommends always doing two coats of paint if you want that “picture-perfect finish.”
Let Your First Coat Fully Dry
Painting walls isn’t like painting your nails, and you can’t do coats one after the other. For the best results, you’ll want to wait to add the second coat until the first is completely dry, which can vary depending on your environment and painting methods.
Gibbons says the recommended time between coats for Clare's wall paint and trim paint is two to four hours, and the recommended time between coats for its ceiling paint and primer is one to two hours.
Painting in high humidity or cool temperatures often means longer dry and re-coat times, though. Moisture and heat problems can prevent your topcoat from properly adhering, which can lead to paint bubbles.
Paint your trim and hard-to-reach corners and borders first. This will help you avoid drips or accidentally rolling over your trim.
Use the Right Tools
You’ll make your life easier and your paint finish smoother by using the right applicator materials. If you’re rolling paint on, Gibbons says to use a soft, fine material, like a microfiber roller cover, to get the smoothest finish. If you’re brushing it on, a synthetic brush with soft filaments, like a high-quality poly-nylon brush, will ensure minimal to no brush marks. Cheap rollers can disintegrate and leave fuzz on your walls, which will cause bumps and streaks.
Make Sure Your Tools Are Clean
If your tools have dried paint on them, you’ll have no chance at a smooth finish. Spend a bit more money and start with fresh tools, or thoroughly clean your old brushes before painting. You can use mineral spirits or turpentine to remove oil-based paint, and hot water and a gentle liquid dish soap will take off latex paint.
Immerse your brush in the solvent, work off the paint with your fingers, then rinse. Shake the water off the bristles and allow them to fully dry.