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How to paint your walls- A first time guide

This beginners guide will tell you everything you need to know about painting your walls as a first timer!

How to paint your walls - A first time guide

So, you have decided to give your walls some TLC with a fresh coat of paint or a new colour…and now you need to actually paint your walls. Are you going to paint one wall? A full Room? Or are you painting prior to wallpapering?

This guide has been produced to help you prepare and paint your room as a first timer DIY’er. We all have to start somewhere so take it easy on yourself, take as long as you need to get your first painting project done right the first time. If you’ve had any DIY disasters in the past then this little guide will point you in the right direction to avoid any painting problems.

We want to help you avoid any distress calls to mum and dad and aid you in being able to show your friends and family what you have achieved!

So, let’s get started…


Preparation is the key to success

Like many other situations in day-to-day life, when it comes to painting and decorating preparation is key and you’ll be rewarded in the long term for every minute you spend getting the foundations right . Correct preparation can help you save time, solve problems that may have been unseen and offer solutions that’ll keep your project on track.

How do I prepare my room for painting?

Make some space to work in..

  • Clear out what furniture and belongings you can.
  • Take down mirrors, picture frames, artwork and the TV (should this be wall mounted), don’t forget to remove the nails/hooks/screws or brackets that you don't want to get covered in your new colour too).
  • Rearrange what's left to give you the most practical space initially, (this can then be moved again for better access later).
  • Cover your remaining furniture with cotton or polythene dust sheets and protect any floor surfaces that cannot be wiped clean again with dust sheets. Important: If you’ve covered anything electrical that you cannot move, remember to unplug these to reduce any risk of fire.

Prepare your walls

So you’ve made space to move around your room freely...now you can use it to prepare the walls surface and any trim, beading or coving. You always want to achieve the best final appearance for your walls so if your walls are wallpapered already, this needs to be removed (unless it’s a textured pattern that's intended to be overpainted, then you can jump ahead to preparing the paint). Our guide to stripping wallpaper will help you here.

Once stripped, your walls should be free of any paper and any remaining paste should be washed off thoroughly. Use a gentile detergent diluted into warm water, a cloth or sponge to wipe the walls down, you may need to change this solution a few times until your happy all adhesive is removed. Whilst you’ve got your soapy water solution to hand, you can wipe over any other painted surfaces such as skirting boards, chair rails or picture rails to remove any dust or debris from stripping the wallpaper. This will ensure the best surface to paint any of these if they need refreshing too.

Walls already painted?

If you’re not removing wallpaper and are preparing to paint an already painted wall then you’ll need to give your walls a clean. Using a diluted sugar soap solution dispersed into warm water, make sure you wear some rubber gloves for this job. Starting at the bottom of the wall and work your way upwards, again with a sponge or cloth and once you’ve finished, you’ll need to repeat this process again but this time with clean water and a soft cloth.

You can also use the Sugar Soap solution on your painted wood and trim areas prior to painting, just wipe them afterwards with clean water as you would the walls. Important: Now with both methods above, do be careful when cleaning or stripping around any electrical switches or sockets. Be sparing with moisture around these areas, to be extra careful, turn off the electric at the fuse box for the room you're decorating (including the lighting fuse).

Walls cleaned, what’s next?

Now that the walls are clean your next focus is restoring them to their best, this means inspecting them for nail and screw holes (use a piece of chalk to highlight these on natural plaster surfaces as they can be hard to spot later), checking for any surface cracks, dents or other damage that’s present.

How do I repair my walls?

What have you found? It’s now time to repair them…

What you’ll need:

  • Screwdriver (flat and/or crossed)
  • Filling Knife/Scraper Ready made filler (all purpose/fine)
  • Small Paint Brush Cup of clean Water Sandpaper Hammer (possibly)

Pin/Nail holes: Any of the above holes in the wall that you won’t be using again should now be filled in so they are erased by your overpainting. Small drawing pin and nail holes are an easy fix with some ready made filler or a fine surface filler. Make the surface of the hole bigger, it may seem backwards but we want to increase the surface area for the filler to bond to. Using a screwdriver or similar, turn this gently in the small holes to increase the diameter of them at the surface level, don’t go too deep.

Brush away any debris with the small paint brush, then dampen the brush in the clean water and apply this around / into the hole (this stops the dry plaster wall drawing out all the moisture from the ready made filler making it stiffer, drier and more difficult to work with).

Using the corner of the Filling Knife, pull out some ready made filler from the tub and press this into the hole.

Your aim here is to apply enough pressure in combination with enough filler for this to go into the empty cavity of the nail hole and for the expanded surface hole to be filled. With a fine surface filler, sweep your cleaned filling knife over this hole with the flat edge to smooth over the filled hole.

This product is only meant for small pin holes and surface scars, because such small areas are being filled, shrinkage and cracking should not be a problem and by smoothing over, no sanding should be needed afterwards.

Using an all purpose filler? Sweep over as above but leave a little excess on the surface where the hole was and come back to this once the filler is dry (sometimes the filler can shrink during drying, especially with larger and deeper holes. By leaving the repair raised a little when wet, this may dry almost flat rather than with a depression if this was smoothed flat during application).

Any surplus filler or bumps that remain after the filler has dried should be sanded smooth. Screw holes/plugs: If you’ve removed any lonely screws or screws within plugs that you won’t be using again when you put your room back together, you’ll need to tackle these in a slightly different way. Start by removing the screw and the plug, a lonely screw should turn out with the appropriate screwdriver.

If it's in a plug and your walls are not plasterboard, unscrew the screw half way out of the plug with your screwdriver, next grab some pliers and pull on the screwhead until the complete pair are removed. If your walls are made from plasterboard, pulling the whole thing out may cause a problem.

If the plug seems loose, this should be ok but if the plug is well seated, then it could prove better to push the plug in further into the wall. Do this by hitting the half out screw head with a hammer, start off lighter and hit harder if necessary to push it further in (you don’t need to push it all the way so it drops into the wall cavity, just enough so the plug is beneath the surface), once beyond the surface you can remove the screw from the plug.

Cracks, dents & scrapes: Have you found any surface cracks, dents or scrapes? We will use some techniques from above to repair your walls. Any scars/scrapes or indentations can be filled with a fine surface filler. Wet the affected area with a small paint brush, use your filling knife to scoop out some filler and use the flat end of the knife to spread, fill and smooth away your filler in one complete sweep over the affected area.

Applying pressure as you work to press in the filler where necessary and to skim over areas that don't, leaving a clean finnish behind. With cracks on the wall surface you’ll need to increase the surface area again, raking out these imperfections with a hard flat object, a small flat ended screwdriver will work here.

Draw the screwdriver along the centre of the crack, applying pressure to each side of the crack in separate passes. This will remove some of the plaster surface on each side forming a gentle V shaped groove into the wall surface. Make sure this is done along the full length of the crack easing off the pressure as the crack ends. As mentioned above, clean this enlarged groove from any debris or dust and moisten the surface affected with some clean water using a small bush.

Using your filling knife, take some all purpose ready mixed filler (not fine surface) from the container using the flat end and press this down into the groove - ensure an even pressure so the filler sits in the groove, remains within it and any excess is drawn over the surface adjacent to the crack. It may be worthwhile leaving an amount of excess filler on the filled area to compensate for any shrinkage as the filler dries. This can then be sanded smooth once fully dry to complete this repair.

Note: If you return to your repair and this has shrunk a little, a small sweep of a fine surface filler over the area after dampening it will complete the job, should the depth be greater than 1-2mm then an all purpose filler should be used to finish off.

Gaps:You may have spotted some gaps at the ceiling line or between the wooden skirting boards and the plastered wall, these are most simply filled by using a flexible filler such as a decorators caulk. This water based filler remains flexible once “dried” and can normally be overpainted in around an hour after application.

Apply this product into the gap found by directly following the instructions on the packaging*, if the bead of filler remains proud of the surface this can be smoothed flat with a damp finger whilst pressing the filler further into the gap as you go.

Any excess that is left behind can be cleaned away on a tissue, then any final smears can be wiped away with a clean damp cloth.Wash out your cloth once your finished cleaning to avoid spoiling this for future use. *product available in a squeezy tube or in a solid cartridge (skeleton gun required, offers accurate application).

What else do I need to protect before painting?

Any permanent fixture or fitting that you cannot practically remove should now be protected from being painted or splashed with paint. These are things such as: light switches & plug sockets. If you are not painting your trim areas such as skirting boards or picture rails, they will also need protecting. These areas can be taped over with a masking tape, this comes in various sizes to cover smaller and larger items. This paper based adhesive tape should be pressed down firmly and cut neatly where the fixture/fitting stops so a clean edge will be revealed when you’re finished painting.

TIP: If you’ve turned off the power, you can partly unscrew your sockets and switches away from the walls so the ends of your masking tape can neatly tuck behind them.

Worried about getting paint onto adjacent surfaces such as other walls or the ceiling? These areas can also be taped, the strength of the adhesive can be reduced by applying a length onto your decorating clothes and peeling off again or by sourcing a low-tack masking tape.

To prime or not to prime?

Certain wall paints may offer a better finish if the additional step of a wall primer is used. Heritage and niche brands will often suggest this additional coating to make sure the top coat performs as expected.

Our Johnstone’s range of wall paints do not require this step for recoating or simply changing your wall colour, however, if you are changing the wall finish from a higher sheen product such as Silk Emulsion then an Acrylic Primer Undercoat will stop any chance of splitting and crazing of your newly chosen finish (although not essential).

New Plaster? New plaster is very porous after application, once the area has fully dried prepare your walls with a contract emulsion, this product has a lower vinyl content allowing the plaster to “breathe” whilst it continues to cure. You’ll notice this is why new builds always come in white or magnolia walls.

If you’ve just moved into a new build? You’ll need to wait a couple of months before you get your chosen colours on the wall.

Bare Plaster? If you’ve found some repaired patches on the walls you have stripped wallpaper off or have had an area of wall skimmed then you can paint directly onto this.

Full coverage of your new colour may require an additional coat and we would suggest you paint the bare plaster areas first, allow this to dry and return to paint the whole wall later.

Note: Using a primer on these small areas and then trying to cover these with your new colour will most likely still take a 3rd coat of colour to achieve full and even coverage.

If you are repainting a wall and using a paint and primer combined, you shouldn’t need to purchase a separate primer. But if you are painting a large section of a wall that hasn't been painted before, always prime first

You will need to allow time for the primer to dry, this can roughly take about four hours to set. When touching the wall it should be dry before you apply any paint.

How do I mix the paint?

OK, so your walls are all prepared, your sockets are taped up and all your furniture/floorings are safely covered. Now it’s time to look at your new wall paint and prepare this for use. Whether you are using just one small can or multiple large ones, you need to stir your paint* prior to application.

This ensures all the base ingredients, pigments, stabilisers and additives are evenly mixed throughout to give you the best results.

For good access to the paint we suggest you pour your paint into a larger container, a paint kettle is a good choice for a small volume 1L-2.5L or a scuttle bucket (roller bucket) is a better option for larger volumes of 2.5L-10L (when you’re painting a whole room).

This larger area allows you to stir and blend the emulsion fully by hand with a paint stirrer or with a powered alternative such as a stirring attachment for a drill.

If you’ve multiple cans of the same paint colour/finish these should be combined in your paint scuttle before stirring, this will ensure consistency and evenness for the whole paint job you are about to tackle!

*Some paints should not be stirred, such as one coat paints, this will be made clear on the can so always read the label for any specific instructions. You can view our collection of paint here

Let’s bring those walls to life!

Now the time we have all been waiting for, it’s time to transform your living space into a home… Let’s get some paint on those walls.

Where to start? Firstly start by using your paintbrush to paint along the skirting boards, around the ceiling and wall corners plus around any sockets/switches. This is known as “cutting in” and should be done in all the places that can not be painted easily with your roller.

What size paint brush should I use? Well, try to use a brush that will hold a good volume of paint. A 50mm (2 inch) brush is a great starting point. The larger the brush = the greater the volume of paint held. As such this means fewer times to reload and allows you to make a more continuous and controlled line of paint. A small brush will more likely give you a wobbly result due to the frequent reloads and less controlled application.

Loading your brush. If you’ve got yourself a new brush then a quick wash in soapy water before it’s first use will allow any loose bristles to come away here rather than in your new paint. Rinse the brush in clean water and shake out as much water as possible, make Bob Ross proud! Your clean brush can now be dipped into your new colour, try to keep the paint 2/3rds of the way up the bristles and gently press the bristles face against the side of your paint kettle/scuttle working the colour through to the centre.

Rotate your brush from front side to back side and keep topping up the colour that runs out as you press the bristles against the flat surface with a quick dip. You are not trying to stamp the brush here just, some pressure to coat each bristle. A final dip then a tap off of any excess paint onto the walls of the paint kettle/bucket makes your brush ready to use...get cutting in!

View our collection of rollers and brushes here

Once you’ve finished your cutting in, you can clean your brush in warm soapy water or keep this ready for use on a second coat by wrapping the brush in cling film to keep the air out (just remove as much paint as you can before wrapping or washing).

Just roll with it…

It’s time to pick up your paint roller and start adding some colour to those walls. What size roller do i use?

Rollers come in many shapes and sizes, different width heads, various types and depths of pile, extendable, long or short handled all of which have a use. For your average smooth wall, a 7” or 9” medium pile roller sleeve and cage (handle) will work for you, these can then be used with a roller tray or bucket. Loading your roller.

Again, like your brush before this, the applicator will need loading with paint prior to placing it on your walls, if you’re using a scuttle bucket or aroller tray then the technique is the same, you will just be working horizontally or vertically..so here’s how:

  1. Holding the roller cages handle, roll the sleeve (the fluffy cylinder) forward/down along the ridges in the tray/scuttle into the paint reservoir so the sleeve gets a shallow dip into your colour.
  2. Draw this back up the ridges and you will see the paint only sits on a small area of the sleeve, if you raise this off the wall of the tray/scuttle you will notice the sleeve will turn and the now heavy part with your paint on will spin to the bottom position.
  3. You should now roll the sleeve forward/down the ridges to press the paint into the sleeve. Repeat the dipping and rolling until the entire sleeve is covered in paint, it will become heavier and fuller as this progresses and a good indicator that the roller is evenly loaded will be when the sleeve does not rotate on its own when you lift it off the tray/scuttle wall.
  4. As you move forward whilst you are painting keep loading your roller sleeve as you go, don’t try to cover too far in between reloads as this can lead to a flattened empty sleeve that will need to be loaded again from scratch.

Here comes the colour…

Rolling on paint is a life skill you’re about to learn, as with all skills they take practice and patience to perfect. So start slowly, be cautious and enjoy the process, you may just learn to love it...some of us find it quite therapeutic.

Where to start?

So give yourself some space from a corner or end of a wall that you’ve cut in from, perhaps 20-30cm (up to a foot), then place your roller onto the wall and start rolling the sleeve against the plaster in an up and down sweeping motions. Try to use long strokes and maintain a gentle pressure and you continue to paint.

You are looking to spread a thin layer of emulsion over your wall, if you are seeing tram lines (a pair of raised lines, one from each end of the roller) then try applying a little less pressure or check the ends of the roller sleeve are not saturated in surplus paint (clean any excessive paint with a tissue if necessary).

Now you have had a few goes at rolling, proceed to roll towards your cutting in without taking the roller off the wall, using a “W” shaped motion will allow you to get to the destination. This simply means painting the letter W on your wall, you’ll continue to use this action as you continue later.

When you get close to your cutting in try to overcoat this area as much as possible without the roller making contact with another surface (or you’ll defeat the objective of cutting in by accident).

Reload your roller when you see the paint transfer becoming fainter or finer, you’ll begin removing paint should you continue working over the same area for too long and risk this peeling back.

You want to be efficient with your painting technique but you may overwork the area, paint will only spread so far so reload enough and try not to overload the wall or skimp. Knowing the difference will come from experience and that’s what you’re gaining now.

TIP: Make sure you've got a ladder or step if you’ll need one to get close to the ceiling. You’ll probably need to rotate the roller 90 degrees to paint up to the cutting in you’ve done at the ceiling level, feel free to do this whilst making sure you don't make contact with the ceiling as you go. Once you’ve covered the area you're working on, up to the cutting in, then you can work away from this towards the centre of the wall and on to the opposite cutting in area.

Continue using your “W” motion as you move across the wall, work at a steady pace, rolling on at a slower pace will reduce splashing and speckling the paint over your hands and up your arm.

Tip- Got tall walls? Get to the highest points efficiently with the use of an extendable paint roller pole. Most walls and colours will require two full coats to obtain an even tone, finish and full saturation of colour.

Extreme colour changes will require further coats to achieve full coverage. You’ll be able to gauge the depth of colour by comparing your cutting in areas against where these meet the rollered surface.

If you can see a definite area of colour change? You should continue to apply an additional coat using the same method as above without the need to cut in again.

Your painted wall will need time to dry inbetween coats, Emulsion paints are water based and will be touch dry within 1-2 hours but you need to wait for the paint to cure, a delay of 4-6 hours would be ideal between coats. Painting a kitchen/bathroom or utility room?

These spaces are often filled with cupboards, tiled areas and extraction points. Using a 10cm (4”) roller can be advantageous for these smaller areas and won't slow you down! These smaller rollers are a really efficient choice for awkward areas, seek them out if you’re working in one of these spaces.

Finished painting? Time for a reveal!

If you are happy with your new walls, the colour is even and the walls are now dry, you’re ready to start putting your room back together.

  • Start by putting your decorating tools away, cleaning out brushes and rollers before you uncover your new room.
  • Next carefully remove your masking tape from any sockets, switches or areas this was applied to prior to painting.
  • Peel slowly and carefully to minimise any risk of the new coat of paint lifting with your tape. Tighten any screws if you have loosened any of these to make them stand proud of the wall.
  • Pick up any dust sheets you have used to cover any furniture or items that could not leave the room. Lift these from the corners inwards on to themselves so any debris from decorating doesn't drop onto the items you were protecting.

Covered your floors too? Lift these sheets in the same way to ensure they retain anything dropped onto them. You can shake out your sheets outside to free them of dust and debris, cotton sheets can be washed if necessary and polythene ones folded and stored until next time.

If you’re now clear of protective equipment and tools you can put your space back together, TV back on the wall, mirrors & pictures back up on any saved hooks or nails, rugs down, plants rehomed and furniture back in place... or in a new layout to enhance your new room.

Put your feet up, you deserve it! You’ve done it! Well done on your first paint job!

Take a bow and enjoy a rest in your newly repaired and refreshed space. Make a brew and look upon your new walls...why not invite a friend or family member around to show off your hard work and newly gained skills! Show us your finished project #houseproud

We hope you found this guide useful and don’t forget to share photos of your DIY projects, professionally painted walls, and interior design makeover with us. Email- info@homeflairdecor.co.uk or share your images on Instagram - tag us and use the hashtag #dressyourwalls