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).
- 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.
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.
- All painters carry something like this powerful fan.
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:
- Buy quality tools. We have listed the essential tools on this page.
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.)
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.