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Tips for rolling paint on ceilings

Paint the ceiling before painting walls

Working from the top down is a general rule in house painting. If the ceiling is going to be painted, then start with the ceiling before painting walls. Painting walls before the ceiling will often result in paint roller spray and drips from the ceiling marring freshly painted walls.

Cut-in around the perimeter of the ceiling before rolling paint

Use a paintbrush to cut-in the perimeter of the ceiling. A two or three-inch cut-in is sufficient. If the walls will be painted after the ceiling, then extend the cut-in approximately a half-inch below the ceiling down on to the wall surface. Extending the cut-in down the wall in this manner will make it easier to cut-in the wall up to the ceiling (with wall paint) later to produce a straight wall-to-ceiling cut-in line. If the ceiling and wall will be painted with the same paint, (both color and sheen) then extend the cut-in three or four-inches down from the ceiling.

Apply paint in small sections

Use your roller to apply paint in sections approximately three-feet by three-feet on the ceiling. Apply paint using an “N” or “W” pattern. Work from left-to-right across the width (or smallest dimension) of the room. Apply paint evenly. Apply additional paint if the section is not covered completely, or thin in areas. If excess paint is applied, use roller strokes to apply excess into the next section. Once paint is evenly applied, it is time to start the finishing strokes.
Note: Avoid exerting forceful pressure on the roller cover when applying paint on the wall. A light rolling motion is best. Apply paint until you hear a “sticky” or “suction.” This type of sound indicates that loaded paint has been applied and that the roller is now technically “dry.” (with only the amount needed to prime the roller cover) Applying paint beyond what is needed to prime the cover results in extra paint loading time during the next dip into the five-gallon bucket or reservoir of the rolling pan.


When the roller cover is “dry,” it is ready for long, light finishing strokes

When paint has been applied and the roller cover is technically dry, (see note above) with only enough paint for priming, it is time for finishing strokes. Finishing strokes are long, light passes of the roller cover over one or more rolling sections. (You do not have to finish stroke each section by itself) These are designed to even and unify the paint coat applied in each rolled section. The purpose is also to unify the rolled coat in adjoining sections. If you finish stroke each section, then make sure that you finish stroke the newer sections into the previously completed sections.

Keep a wet edge

Keeping a wet edge on the border of your last paint section will help to blend it into the area of you next applied section. Paint sections that have wet edges blend more successfully together and look uniform when dry. Working in small sections will help you to keep wet edges.

Reposition your halogen work light to keep angled light on the work surface

As you move from section to section, move your halogen work light so that you have correct surface lighting. It is much easier to apply paint evenly with correct lighting. You will also be more effective in finding and correcting application mistakes.

Check your work and make any corrections before moving on to the next section

With proper lighting, check your work on each section before moving to the next section. Mistakes that are left to dry will take more time to repair.



Occasionally roll out the accumulated paint on the ends of the roller cover to avoid cover end tracking lines

Roller tracking lines are often caused by accumulated paint in the ends of the roller cover. To prevent these lines, exert light pressure on the left and then right ends of the roller cover. You will see the accumulated paint form lines on the surface. Roll this paint into the section, spreading it evenly into the applied paint. Done every few sections, this technique will help to prevent prevent roller cover end tracking lines.

Do not stop work in the “middle” of the ceiling

Paint should be applied until the coat being rolled on the ceiling is completely finished. Stopping paint application and allowing paint to dry in the middle of a wall surface can cause a noticeable line where one paint application stopped, and then a new application began.

Detailed information about interior house painting surface preparation is available in the book:

The Homeowner's Guide to Surface Preparation for Interior House Painting

All content copyright Steve Broujos LLC