Painting Tips by a Professional

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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 watery paint, this rule will not apply. (The watery stuff 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.
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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, thin coats (not struggling to make it cover).

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

  • Repainting a wall: one coat if same color using a quality paint:  .
  • New walls: one coat of primer ( ), 2 coats of paint.
  • Ceiling: one coat if you use the  .
  • Most other situations will need 2 coats of paint, see below each case.
  • To speed the drying time, we use the 

A (good) brush ( —not expensive and really last) lays paint much thicker than a roller. Those rollers that come in kits? They shed lint so your wall, leaving a rough surface. It’s a no-brainer:   and quality   are not expensive. Read how to clean rollers easily and the same about brushes.

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

But what do you paint first: walls or trim? Our 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 apply 2 more coats of finish paint.   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, the new wall will soak up your expensive paint and not only that, it will ‘flash’ (show flat/shiny spots).

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

♦ Same color as existing color? One coat probably. One coat paint could be useful here. 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.

  • 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 is slow) and needless to say, looks 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? Nope.

♦ 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. Do a sample spot (with a roller, not brush) to see if you need 3 coats. (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. 
  • When doing 3 coats, we  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 above.

Ceilings? Finally a true one coat paint. Ah,  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. We have a post just on ceilings.


♦ Textured walls/ceilings? Do the same number of coats as for smooth, but you’ll need perhaps twice the paint. One gallon covers 400 square feet of a smooth wall, in general. That is one coat of paint per 400 sq. ft. Stucco walls, for example, might cover 200 sq. ft. Ask the paint store folks.

  • Remember: rollers apply thinner coats of paint than brushes.   spread evenly, not the dollar-store brushes you get in roller kits. Plastic bristles made in China do not ‘cut it’, pun intended bra. 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!

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

The problem: Wet paint looks great wet, 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 below about how many coats of paint on floors, ceilings, plus links to choosing the right primer, and when you’ll need it.


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

Tools for quality, speedy work:

Two tools are the key—You can easily afford  (you will not wear them out if you try) They simply cover better. They turn a 3 coat nightmare into a normal 2 coat job.

  and quality   are worth it. Good tools do not cost more in the end.

Crappy tools 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. No fixing bad tools.   and see how easy it is to clean them. Pair it with  You’ll be turning pro.

  • All painters carry something like   or some kind    

Temperature matters: we use    

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 gray(er).

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. 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:

Summary: How Many Coats of Paint Do I Need?

The answer is almost never one. Sorry to tell you this, but the ads you have seen about ‘paint and primer in one’ and ‘one coat paint’ are just very good marketing. 

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.

We were asked to write about the number of coats of paint a quality paint job takes. Comment below if you want more info or an opinion: this is just a very general list.

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

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


Kilz sheen guide:

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