How to paint a wall for streak-free, professional results

How to paint a wall properly using a roller and a brush for a professional finish – fast. Plus, how to not get paint anywhere else...

Couple painting a wall lemon yellow with rollers
(Image credit: Getty Images)

When you're painting a wall yourself, it's crucial to carefully prep your surroundings and know exactly what you're doing to get the professional finish that you want. 

Streak-free walls, an even coat of paint and a space that's free from unwanted splashes elsewhere other than the walls themselves (think small blobs of forest green on those nice floorboards or on the ceiling) are what makes the difference between a sloppy DIY job, and one that's tackled like an expert decorator. When you know how to paint a wall properly, you'll realise that it's an easy task and in no time at all, you'll be able to upgrade your skillset to create ombre and other types of feature wall effects too. As one of the most essential parts of painting a room entirely – we're going to show you the best way to do it.

1. Think about the overall finish you want to achieve

Deciding on the paint ideas you like is vital to help you choose a color scheme and the best wall painting technique in the first place. Either you want one block color, or something more adventurous, say if you're upgrading your kids' bedroom or going maximalist.

If you want to paint an ombre wall or a feature wall you'll need two/+ different shades and a few additional tools also.

pink toned ombre effect wallpaper by graham & brown

(Image credit: Graham & Brown)

2. Choose the right wall paint for the job

There's more to choosing paint colors than meets the eye. And this will come down to personal preference and as we just mentioned, your project.

It's time to make the call on all those color swatches or to go into your local hardware store to color match a paint to a soft furnishing or other detail you love and that will be present in the room – as Laura did in our how to video above. You'll then want to consider paint finishes. As a rule, you will either use: matt, flat matt or silk emulsion on walls.

The paint you use for walls is emulsion paint. This is water-based but may have vinyl or acrylic resin added for durability. This can affect the breathability of a wall, so if this is important (for example if you live in a very old property with potential damp problems) choose a claypaint that allows the walls to breathe and water vapour to escape. Many claypaint manufacturers now offer special hard-wearing, washable paint options that can be used in kitchens and bathrooms too.

Matt and flat matt: As the name suggests, these offer a matt finish with no shine. It is the perfect choice for disguising imperfections in the wall's surface and offers a very uniform finish for color. You'll find many of these are the best paints for kitchens in particular.

Silk: Silk emulsion creates a mid-sheen finish that reflects some light for a polished look. It can be wiped down easily making it a good finish for high-traffic areas such as hallways and the stairs.

3. Gather the rest of your materials 

This is a list of must-have tools when painting a wall yourself. Of course, you might need to add in more materials if you're going after a different effect.

4. Prep and protect

You want to either remove or cover any furniture in the room with dust sheets. Use dust sheets again or newspaper to protect the floor around the area also. Anything hanging, picture frames, plants and the like should be removed. Then, carefully cover skirting boards and any moulding, windows, switches and sockets with masking tape.

Preparing a wall for painting with dust sheets and masking tape

(Image credit: Future)

5. Clean your walls

This is a vital step to ensure a professional finish when painting walls yourself. It's likely that you're painting over old paint, which is fine, you simply need to gently sand the wall to smooth it, then clean it with a sugar soap solution. Next, use filler to smooth any cracks and bumps on the walls. Sand over any areas you've filled when dry and give those spots a final wipe down.

Cleaning a wall with sugar soap solution for painting

(Image credit: Future)

6. Prime the walls for a professional finish

Priming is not essential if you're making a gradual color change. However, if you are going from a very dark color to a very light one, then it's best to prime walls with a mist coat or two of basic white paint for a professional finish.

Fresh plaster will need priming with a mist coat because standard emulsion is too thick to adhere to the surface properly. When you water down the paint, the water is absorbed into the surface which allows the paint to bond. 

If you do decide on priming then this will need a couple of hours to dry before you move on.

7. Start in the right place

If you are right handed, you will want to start in the top left corner of a wall and work to the right. If you are left handed, go in the opposite direction. This means you avoid brushing against the painted wall.

Pouring mustard paint into a tray for painting a wall

(Image credit: Future)

8. Cut in

Cutting in paint is just the process of using your paint brush to start at the and corners of walls for a really neat finish. You can then fill in the majority of the wall with a roller.

Cutting in to paint a wall

(Image credit: Future)

9. Paint in a V 

Once you've cut in, you can start to fill in the rest of the wall using a roller. For the best coverage, roll in a V-shape then infill.

Top tip: Never overload your paint brush or roller. This will lead to drips or a bobbly paint texture. If you do get too much paint on the roller, keep rolling to spread it out evenly.

Painting a wall in color match

(Image credit: Future)

10. Clean your rollers and brushes

This last step is vital if you plan on tackling other rooms in the house and therefore need to keep your tools in top condition. You can use white spirit or soapy water and our guide on how to clean paint brushes and rollers will even help you tackle dried on paint...

Expert tips on painting walls yourself

Zoe Warren, interior expert at PriceYourJob.co.uk recommends 'When painting an entire room, you should mix together several cans of paint in a large bucket  instead of opening and using one at a time. This will ensure that color is consistent on every wall. For larger rooms, you should try to use a roller screen rather than a roller tray, as this will speed up  the painting process.'

Paint away! 

Lindsey Davis
Lindsey Davis

Lindsey is Editor in Chief for Homes Ecommerce at Future meaning she spends her waking hours helping you find the best products – everything from soft furnishings to refrigerators – for your home. She started her journalism career in children's publishing before joining the Homebuilding & Renovating team in 2013. When she isn't reviewing products for our buying guides, or searching for the best bargains, she can be found rearranging her furniture in a vain attempt to make space, or cooking something new. She aspires to build her own home, but for now is busy tackling the ever-growing list of projects in her Victorian cottage.

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