How Many Coats of Paint in Every Situation

Good news: if you are not changing colors you’ll be fine with one coat of quality paint (look up your situation below). If you try to save money on budget paint, this rule will not apply. (These paints have less ‘solids’ and will not get you where you want to be in two coats!) Quality applicators and paint are less expensive and less frustrating than you think and are easy to clean. Here we go.

Once you have paint tinted, it cannot be returned to the store. So knowing how many coats of paint you will need is key: the trick is doing fast, full, thin coats (not struggling to make it thick so it will cover in one).

If you just want the bottom line here at the top:

  • Repainting a wall: one coat if same color using a quality paint: give Kilz Tribute a try.
  • New walls: one coat of primer (I use this drywall primer), followed by 2 coats of paint.
  • Ceiling: Use the best Benjamin Moore ceiling paint: you’ll be glad later. Over any white (like a primer), you only need one coat!
  • Most other situations will need 2 coats of paint,  but see below each case.
  • To speed the drying time, we use the ole standby drying accelerator.

Main tools: A (good) brush (we only use Purdy—not expensive and really last) lays paint much thicker than a roller. That product page lets you choose the size you like. I like 3 inch! Using a latex-only brush is the best: you’ll be amazed at the speed and flow.

Roller: Those rollers that come in kits with the tray etc? They shed lint so your wall, leaving a rough surface. It’s a no-brainer: professional roller cover and quality roller frame are not expensive and last forever. Read how to clean rollers easily and the same for brushes.

Takeaway: the number of coats needed on the ‘cut’ (the brushing) is often one less than the rolling. Brushing lays down more paint.

But what do you paint first: walls or trim? My way is easier and much faster.

How many coats of paint do I need for…

• New walls (or big drywall patches)? One coat of primer, then 2 more coats of finish paint. The drywall primer I linked to at the top is not expensive, and you do not need a very thick coat: just give the new drywall a drink to seal it up. If you use normal paint as a primer, the new wall will soak up your expensive paint and not only that, it will ‘flash’ (show flat/shiny spots). Primer evens out the different surfaces. If you have water stains, use a stain-blocking primer. Look through the same supplies I use on my jobs here.

We have a post all about this: How Many Coats of Primer You Need? Quick answer, almost always one, sometimes zero—but be careful!

• Doing the same color as existing color? One coat probably. Pros put 2 coats on unless the new paint is EXACTLY the same color, and even then, old paint may have faded in the sun and so on. We cannot let that show through so we usually do 2. This covers all stray scuff marks too.

  • Note: two quick coats do not have to be ultra-thick when carefully applied. Just a do uniform layers of paint, a total of two times is actually faster (trying too hard to do one is slow) and needless to say,  2 coats look better (no skips).
  • One coat with “paint and primer in one” is a great marketing idea (looking at you Home Depot), but can you really cover as well as 2 coats? Usually not, but ready how sometimes it’s good.

• Covering dark over light shades? Do at least 2 coats of paint. The ‘one coat paint’ you see on TV is not going to cut it here. Do a sample spot (with a roller, not a brush) to see if you need 3 coats: look closely at 2 with a bright light for coverage. (Use a fan to speed dry—more below). The Kilz paint above is fine for this too.

  • Sorry to shock you…sometimes we need 3 coats. You can see the difference. 
  • When doing 3 coats, we start with a low-cost primer. Why? Because 3 coats of good paint are more expensive than a primer plus 2 coats! Just economics.
  • You say: “What about the extra cleaning of the primer?” Read how easy it is to clean rollers and also brushes. Sometimes we don’t even clean (if it’s all white, it’s all right (thanks Chris Rock)).

• Painting light over dark? Same as dark over light above.

Ceilings? Finally a true one coat paint. Ah, Benjamin Moore Ceiling Paint. It cost a bit more than your basic box-store paint, but it is truly a one coat paint for ceilings (read all about ceiling paint). If your ceiling has stains, learn how to block them before painting.

• Textured walls/ceilings? Do the same number of coats as for smooth, but you’ll need a bit more paint. One gallon covers 400 square feet of a smooth wall, in general. For stucco or ‘knock-down’ or other textured walls, for example, might cover 200-300 sq. ft.

  • Remember: rollers apply thinner coats of paint than brushes. Purdy brushes spread evenly, unlike the dollar-store brushes you get in roller kits. Plastic bristles made in China do not ‘cut it’, pun intended. If you go with low-cost brushes, you’ll not cover nearly as well and wish you had spent the extra 10 bucks on a lifetime tool! And it takes a lot more time. Trust me: get a Purdy Nylox brush (linked above).

All rollers deposit thick—thin—thick paint as it rolls. The second coat covers the thin spots.

This looked fine when wet. When dry, you see the truth.

The problem: Wet paint looks great while wet, like it really covered in one coat. But as it dries, it shrinks up and exposes the old color underneath. We don’t even check for coverage during the first coat: it will not be enough! We just look for gaps—where the roller skipped etc. These will show later and you have to touch them up.

At the bottom, you will find some related posts about how many coats of paint on floors, ceilings, plus links to choosing the right primer, and when you’ll need it.

Tools for quality, speedy work:

In addition to the brush, roller and roller cover I linked to above, here are some helpful if not necessary things.

Budget tools (to say it nicely) are slow to use and don’t let you cover properly. (Also, low-cost rollers and brushes shed lint and shed bristles into your work. There is no fixing bad tools. Use the same ones I use: they all ship for free. You’ll be turning pro.

Temperature matters: we keep the heat on and crack a window to reduce moisture. This is the fastest way to get a coat of paint to dry quickly in the winter. In the summer we laugh.

Quality paints actually cost less…if you count time as money and we do. ‘Low-cost’ paint costs more because it takes longer and turns your hair grayer than the paint.


So you see how we get proper coverage without struggling cover in one coat. We are in the money-making business, and our results have to look 100% right. If skipping a coat was an option, we’d do it, but it’s not. The best was is quick thin coats: time-tested sucess. The number of paint coats is not the issue: the issue is quality!


Please remember, the tools you buy are key to minimize how many of coats of paint you need:


Kilz has a decent collection of colors in all sheens (sheen chart at bottom of this page). (Kilz also has a nice website: they have been around for a long time.)

Related Posts:

How Long to Wait Between Coats of Paint? 

Best Floor Paint: Only 1 Coat!

Room Painting Tips by a Professional: Faster, Better, Cheaper

Best Ceiling Paint and One Awesome Timesaving Tip

How Many Coats of Primer for Any Situation? You’ll Like the Answer.

I was asked to write about the number of coats of paint a quality paint job takes. Comment below if you want more info or to give an opinion.

This is for homeowners looking for a quality paint job, not to landladies/landlords who want a quick, low-cost ‘facelift’ job (what we painters called ‘curbside appeal’). You’ll probably do just one coat, but you should re-think that!

So, the answer to how many coats of paint do I need is almost always two, (after priming if necessary) is done.

8 thoughts on “How Many Coats of Paint in Every Situation”

  1. I am using Benjamin Moore Gray Owl. The painters have done 1 coat primer and 1 coat paint. My husband wants more contrast between it and the cloud gray white on the ceiling. We are going to do the 2nd coat. My question is will a 3rd coat of the paint make it richer?

    Reply
    • Hi. I think you might mean Cloud White on the ceiling? Don’t know of a cloud gray…Anyway, yes the color will probably be fuller, and you should know that the sheen will build. For example, eggshell gets a bit glossier with each coat. Back to color: the primer was white I assume so one coat gray over that will show specs of primer under it. Look with a light and let me know if I’m right. The roller stipple does not cover perfectly evenly. This is why we always do 2 coats unless the primer and paint are the same…usually that means white and white…like a ceiling.
      Should I say more? Let me know!
      b

      Reply
    • No. I looked it up and see it’s ‘made in Wisconson for Wisconson’. Not very compelling.
      In another comment, you mentioned Sherwin Williams also. I’m a fan, but Ben Moore is simply better in my experience.

      Reply
  2. Hey, Brad –

    Looking at viscosity on a brand’s TDS. Why do some show a huge range. For example, both Behr Ultra and Marquee show 50-140. Why such a difference?

    Thanks!

    Reply
  3. Hello Brad, we are getting ready to paint a nursery and bought Benjamin Moore Nursery Pink. It needs to go over a periwinkle blue. My husband seems to think two coats of Kilz and then one of the pink will work but I keep reading two coats of the color is best. Any advice? Is two coats going to make a big difference in the color (make it too pink)?

    Reply
    • Just one coat of a good primer. It does not have to have much stain killing power, but it could. Drywall primer would probably do it. You’ll know when you do a test area or 2.
      Prime a square, dry, put 2 coats with your roller or your method of application and you’ll know for sure.
      Pink, that is, red, is notorious for poor coverage. The blue is not your problem!
      If you have the ability to tint your primer a light gray, that’s helpful in coverage. Just is, I don’t know the chemistry of why.
      But a white primer will probably be fine. Do the testing!!

      Reply

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