Most Important Tip for Painting a Ceiling: use the best ceiling paint to cut your work and stress
Even if my customers are on a budget, they understand that it saves money to use the somewhat pricey Waterborne Ceiling Paint Ultra Flat from Benjamin Moore. It is without a doubt the very best ceiling paint on the market and it’s zero VOC (the toxins in most paints).
On a budget?
What is the best ceiling paint to use?
If you want to save money in the long run, you don’t want to be buying paint every 5 or even 10 years: you want your paint job to last. The paint you see above is a high-quality, ultra-flat white latex paint that does not yellow, and that covers the old paint in one coat.
Flat latex paint can be used on any interior ceiling, even if they are textured. We would recommend spraying textured ceilings and rolling flat ceilings. Another reason to use very flat white ceiling paint is that the small imperfections are well-hidden (higher gloss paints show imperfections). Here is a short article on the best sprayers for homeowners.
Benjamin Moore’s Ceiling Paint costs a little more but it’s designed to COVER IN ONE COAT. It will hide and cover most yellowing, aging, and the stray puck mark from when you were playing hockey inside. (Well, puck marks need 2 coats!) This great paint covers all in one coat if the old ceiling is off-white or white. (Non-white surfaces will need a primer first, or two coats of ceiling paint: a hard-fast rule when changing colors). You can also read more about what makes the best interior paint in our other post. It’s a no-brainer: we recommend Benjamin Moore paints (company site). They spend a lot of time researching longevity and durability.
The second most important tip after choosing the best ceiling paint is to use a quality roller cover: budget rollers and brushes shed lint and bristles. Guess where the lint ends up? Every feel a wall that is rough like sandpaper? Lint from the roller cover.
Also a strong roller frame (they are not expensive). Pros know how to use force to push a roller into the corners instead of a brush (video below explains). We also have written about power rollers: yeah, baby.
If you are painting ONLY a ceiling and nothing else, skip to the last paragraph “Just painting the ceiling“.
♦ Read about how rollers are easy to clean and so are the brushes.
♦ How to easily clean a quality brush.
♦ At the very bottom is the chart that links to the affordable tools we use. (Full tool page is here.)
Important Point When Doing Only One Coat on a Ceiling
You have to go slower and cover all well. A quality wool/poly roller ‘cover’ or ‘sleeve’ is essential here (shown above). You don’t want to have to hear the term “flashing”. This is when the old paint has a sheen that is either flatter or glossier than what you are using (almost always), and if you miss a spot, it will ‘flash’. It’s a sore thumb.
Multiple coats of paint build shine (sheen).
Sure, you can touch up skipped spots later and it will be better, but it’s not ideal. Hopefully, you will inspect the job BEFORE you clean up! Normally with walls, when doing a second coat, you can go faster on the 2nd coat. We often do 2 quick coats, but not so for ceilings as much because they are hard work even for us. We always want to just do one coat.
Best Ceiling Paint for Old Painted Ceiling with Discoloration/Stains
If your old painted ceiling has some discoloration you need stain-blocking resins in your mix. Go with the runner-up, Kilz Color-Change Ceiling Paint, shown here. It blocks discolorations better than the Ben Moore above, and it will also act as a primer if you have a new drywall ceiling/walls. This paint may require 2 coats. For real water stains (clearly brown/tan), spot prime water stains, etc., with a primer with power. New drywall ceilings need 2 coats, but you might be able to do one drywall primer and one latex ceiling paint. I would not clean the roller when making the switch from one white to another.
Also doing walls? Here is a big time-saving tip:
Brush? On a ceiling?
No, my friend, don’t work so hard. Don’t work so long.
Our secret Professional Ceiling Painting Tip: Eliminate (Almost) the Brushing
When you are doing both the ceiling and the wall, there is no need for brushing when you use a quality paint roller. A longer nap roller works better than shorter. This Wooster ¾-inch is great…used with a high-quality ceiling paint you’ll be laughing. (The roller cover shown at the top has a choice of nap length also).
In the corners, yes a little brushing is necessary and of course around the lights etc, but not the long sections where walls meet the ceiling. I know painters who have not thought of this: they still waste tons of time dragging a ladder around and brushing the joint where the wall meets the ceiling. Hello? McFly?
What the wha? Here is how (this video is also at the end of the post). Here I’m demonstrating with a silly 3-inch roller, but you will use a 9-inch. Just push your roller into the corner getting ceiling paint all over both surfaces. No cutting the ceiling. Bing. Let dry and then cut walls. It’s good to smooth out any mounds of paint: they might show when dry.
How to paint a ceiling with almost no brushing
- Dip roller with a good deal of ceiling paint (just so it’s not dripping)
- Push paint into the ceiling corner and slide maybe a foot or 2 or 3 to one side
- Lift the roller and rotate the cylinder about 1/3 turn for more paint
- Repeat steps 1-3 until the roller is too dry
- Tip: push harder as the roller get empty of paint (less dipping)
- Be sure to fill all of the corners
- Don’t leave 3-D gobs—they will show when dry
This is nothing wrong with using your roller as a brush!
You don’t have to worry about getting ceiling paint on the wall as you will be painting over it soon anyway! Learn how to not drip at my post about paint walls or trim first.
If using a high-quality latex ceiling paint and a good brush, as shown here, you will probably have to ‘cut’ (brush) only once. Let the paint dry, then with a good brush, lay your wall color right up to the nice fat corner you filled in with white ceiling paint. Brushes with poorly made bristles (cost about 7 bucks) will not give you a nice clean line. The line somewhat makes itself with a good Purdy brush. It will last you a lifetime if you remove 99% of the paint in it each time you clean it.
It may cost 15-20 dollars, but your fustration with the lesser ones makes this one worth it. Plus it will really last.
To make this work at it’s best, long roller nap length is important
The best is a long nap paint roller cover: we like a ¾ inch (or more), in a wool/poly blend. A nap of 1-inch or even 1¼ can work. Longer naps leave a slightly different dimple pattern on the wall, but that is not important to us—if it is to you, go with a short nap “designed” for walls, but they don’t hold as much paint and you have to dip them more often. Yes the stipple pattern is nicer.
We use only Wooster or Purdy paint rollers: the poly gives longevity and the wool sucks up the paint. The Wooster ¾ inch wool blend is only about 7 bucks (sometimes as low as 3!) A better value is to buy a pack of three and not worry about getting more later. This will last a homeowner a lifetime. Learn how to quickly clean paint rollers.
Pros don’t use trays: the screen and bucket etc you see here are all on our tools page. We never kick and spill a tray: once was enough!
Most people say the best ceiling paint is a flat white latex ceiling paint
People want their ceilings to be white because the reflection multiplies your lighting and makes the room feel bigger. True. We always recommend a flat white latex ceiling paint: the flat sheen in most paints will show handprints easily, and is difficult to clean: but how often does someone put hands on a ceiling? Plus, the flat sheen is soft and does not draw attention to itself. We used to say: more sheen, more attention. Glossy-ness makes you look, so flat ceiling latex paint is the norm for good reason.
A tip you might use if you are later painting any other white or off-white: don’t clean your roller and brush after you are done with the ceiling: just use the curve in your multi-tool to scrape most of the flat ceiling paint out of the roller, then just smoosh the brush’s fibers/bristles of old paint and go right into your other white paint. Before applying your new paint, soak up a lot and work it in and out of the roller/brush: you are all set to go. (Don’t tell the boss you do this!—but it won’t matter at all in the end and save time cleaning-whew).
Just painting the ceiling – big tip:
Obviously, be sure to protect your floor and furnishings from drips: tape some light plastic to the walls near the ceiling and remove the art or carefully cover with the plastic. If you use old bedsheets etc to cover things, be sure to wipe any drips as they happen because sheets will allow paint to bleed through onto your things. Tip: use drop cloth that is a different color than your paint, so you can spot your ceiling paint quickly on the cloth.
As with all paint jobs paint the TRIM FIRST. Why? See my post that explains. If doing only one coat, (as discussed above), go carefully making sure not to leave any skips (but if necessary, you can touch up skips later).
After the trim dries, roll the wall as close as you can to the trim without touching (obviously). Then with a good quality brush we like Purdy latex-only brushes shown above. The quality bristles will find the corner for you and you don’t really even need a very steady hand. Get the 3-inch (if you have a strong arm, as it is heavy when wet!) is only about 15 bucks and it will work like new for life (see my post on how easy it is to clean up).
Have a question about the best paint for a ceiling? Please write a comment—I’ll try to reply asap!
Drop cloths: be happy and get canvas for the floors and plastic for the furniture.
The (best value: buy a large and cut it into thinner ‘runners’), but if you can afford it, go for the one that as you walk on it: a constant source of worry for us. Even paint spills are no problem (should you ‘kick the bucket’ while looking up as you paint your ceiling)!
For plastic, we like because it tends to stay put, and we use to hold it in place. If you are only painting a ceiling, this is a must: you simply cover the walls, bringing the edge of the plastic near the top.
We buy quality painting tarps and keep them for many years: they are also useful at home for all kinds of projects.
Large ceiling? and if you have other projects lined up for the future? Spray that puppy. Even if you do not use the best ceiling paint, you will cut your time tremendously.
Spray painting a ceiling is 10 times faster than rolling and painting ceilings is the hardest thing we do, even when using the best ceiling paint.
Two recommendations for two budgets:
- The best non-commercial paint sprayer today is hands down the Graco Magnum. It’s pricey but will last a lifetime with proper care. We have an entire post showing quality sprayers for different budgets.
- The budget version is the Wagner Flexio 590. It has a very reasonable price for what you get. These are slower than airless, but are good all-around units.
- We never spray without a respirator, never ever. I have simplified the complex world of filters etc, but most people tell me they like the big dog full face mask you see below.
There are 2 basic types of paint sprayers: airless which cost an arm and a leg and small home-owner machines which don’t. The two paint sprayers brands you can trust are Graco and Wagner. If and when you need parts, (the tips do wear out) you can find them easily if you go with a major brand.
Some keys to spraying paint
- Use paper and plastic and tape t mask what is not getting painted. Take your time masking–you’ll save a lot more time in the end. Below is the graphic that will take you to all this.
- Practice first: move your hand at a uniform speed, and when you change direction, you make a quick flick of the wrist so you don’t have paint build-up (sags and runs).
- Soak the sprayer nozzle right away when on a break: this is normally going to be water, but if you spay oil, have your cleanup station ready–don’t let your tip get dry.
- Use the best ceiling paint and you should have no problem covering in one coat (not counting black marks from hockey pucks).
- This is all explained further in the sprayers for homeowners post.
- Best drywall primer
- Be sure to select all the painter tools that you need: surprisingly not expensive
How to efficiently apply a good quality ceiling paint: