How To Properly Paint a Red Wall

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Estimated Time: 
A few hours depending on how many walls you are painting
Red Alert!

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Like fashion, nothing makes a statement like red. But before you grab a paintbrush and that can of cherry, rust, or ruby, heed the story of this month's Jane-in-training, Jeryl. She was ready to go from plain Jane to bold and impetuous Jane and thought a little color in was the perfect way to pull her family room into focus. It turned out it was, but we learned the hard way that when it comes to red, walls sometimes have a mind of their own.

Painting a white wall with a dark and vibrant color like red isn't any more difficult that most painting jobs but there is a key step that if overlooked, can cost you hours and extra cans of paint. So, if you're looking to change your white walls to red, give this how-to a read.

Project Steps

Step 1

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You're ready to take the bold step; you've picked the perfect shade. But before you dive in to painting the entire room, consider whether every wall is ready for this transformation. A deep color on all four walls of the room, especially one that gets limited daylight can make a room feel claustrophobic or small. Also consider the power of highlighting a single wall, it can draw focus and improve a room's flow simply by catching the eye.

Step 2

Your bright new wall will definitely draw attention to itself, so this is the time to get out the spackle and repair all those accumulated nail holes, dents and divots. Think your wall is smooth as the driven snow? Try this test: take a bright light (like a work light or flashlight) and point it at a sharp angle on your wall to expose every flaw.

Step 3

With everything patched, sanded and smooth, evaluate whether the walls need a full cleaning. Will you be painting over a wall with a glossy finish? Is this a kitchen or bathroom wall that will get more than its share of grime or film? If so, you'll need to wash and rinse the wall and let it dry. New paint needs a clean, non-slick surface to stick to. 

Step 4

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Use painter's tape to mask off any areas you want to protect: adjacent walls that won't be painted, windows, ledges, lighting fixtures, etc. Remove any faceplates on switches, plugs and save them with their screws in plastic bags so you can find them easily when you're done. Move your furniture, lay your drop cloths. You're ready to paint.

Step 5

Now here is the single most important step when painting any wall with a radically different color: use a tinted primer! Also known as a "deep-tint" primer it's simply primer with a tinge of color added in a shade similar to your final coat.

A deep-tint primer is a must in our book because it'll give you the result you want in fewer coats and at less cost. If you simply apply your bright paint directly over a white wall you'll probably end up with a streaky finish with much of the white still poking through. You'll have to apply another coat to even out the coverage and will probably have to apply a third or even a fourth coat before you get the solid look you're after. With designer paint costing up to $40/gallon, the time you spend priming with a deep tint primer will more than pay for itself.

It's important to note that your primer should be mixed at the paint store. This isn't something you should attempt yourself because if you add too much color to your primer you can negatively alter its effectiveness. So, clearly communicate to the paint clerk what you'll be doing: putting a cherry red over eggshell white, for example. Find the most experienced paint specialist and ask them for the optimal tint for your primer base coat. You'll get a deep-tinted primer in a color that's lighter and probably not the same as your finish coat. A pink or grey tinted primer works best with red. You're looking for a foundation that thoroughly covers the old color and creates a workable surface for the new one.

Step 6

Start painting with a brush, applying a narrow swath of paint carefully around window trim, corners, door frames and other nooks that would be tough to get to with a roller. This is called "cutting in."

Jane Tip: Whenever you're painting with a brush make it easy on yourself by pouring a small amount of paint (a pint or so) into a smaller bucket or container. Then you can work your way around the room, moving quickly as you hold the paint in one hand and the brush in the other. Carrying around a gallon of paint will ultimately slow you down.

Developing a smooth, steady stroke that applies paint evenly is a skill worth mastering. Paint pros who have mastered "cutting in" save themselves hours of work on jobs by eliminating the need to use painter's tape in all but the trickiest areas.

Once you've cut in with the primer, go ahead and prime the rest of the wall working from the top down and always moving from a painted area to an unpainted one. Apply the primer evenly, loading the roller with a moderate amount of primer and using gentle, steady pressure.

Step 7

Once the deep-tint primer has dried (usually 2-4 hours), take a good look at the wall under a strong light. Is the old color still bleeding through? Does the primer look transparent, with a whitewashed effect? If so, your wall is being stubborn—and demanding a second coat of primer. This is sometimes a judgment call. In Jeryl's case, we chose to go with a single coat of primer and ended up paying the price by needing two full coats with a third touch up coat. Were we to do it again, we might have taken the extra step of a second primer coat.

Step 8

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Now it's finally time for your color to come to life. Just as with the primer, use a brush to cut in your corners and crannies first, then use a roller for the rest.

Jane Tip: Use a new roller cover for the finish coats. If you try to clean the cover you used for the primer you run the risk of diluting some of the new color, resulting in streaks or spots. Roller covers are fairly inexpensive and when it comes to bright colors, you don't want to take any chances.

When you've finished the first coat let it dry per the paint's instructions (usually 2-4 hours), then give it a good look.

Jane Tip: If it's immediately clear you need a second coat, go ahead and reapply. If it looks good, don't put away the tools just yet. It's best to let the paint dry overnight and then re-evaluate in the morning. It's only after the paint has completely dried can you be absolutely sure.

If it's immediately clear you need a second coat, go ahead and reapply. If it looks good, don't put away the tools just yet. It's best to let the paint dry overnight and then re-evaluate in the morning. It's only after the paint has completely dried can you be absolutely sure.

Step 9

Having second thoughts? Wondering what you've done? Bold changes sometimes take time to get used to. But remember, it's only paint. You can always change your mind (the paint store will be happy to see you again), but before you give in to doubt, give your new room a chance. Perhaps the color is just as you imagined but other parts of the room need updating: window treatments, paintings, furniture. A bold color can make it feel like a whole new room, so let it grow on you.

Either way, give yourself props for going big and bold. You've conquered your fear of color!

Related articles:
All about Paint Brushes
Painting Tips you Can't Live Without
Paint Sheen 101

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4 comments

26
Jan

This is the 1st thing I've read on Be Jane and I think it's really helpful. Just this afternoon I painted a room with similar problems. The walls were yellow with bright blue sponging and I wanted to paint them light pink. Luckily a friend had told me about getting a tinted primer. I'm a new home owner and I'm really looking forward to being able to paint etc. without have to get a landlord's permission. I'm sure I'll be spending alot of time on Be Jane, from now on I'll read the articles before I start the project. Mary
25
Feb

I just painted an alcove in my living room red---I love it Home Depot recommended I use red tinted primer, and I'm glad I did. I got it all done in one day. Be brave! You won't be sorry.
25
Mar

I recently (this past wk) painted my living room walls around my fireplace red. I was told by Home Depot to use a primer first, even though my walls were an off-white. I applied the pink tinted primer, waited a couple of hours and began applying my red. The red did not go on "the true color" or "in less coats", and it did not "save money" as the Home Depot had told me. My red has dried 3 different colors on my wall. A professional painter told me I should only use primer if painting over a dark color. The Behr rep told me to wait 24hrs between coats and that I would "probably need to apply 2-3 more coats for the color to turn out even". My first project in my first home has been awful!! What was supposed to be a one day project is taking me over a wk to complete.
7
Apr

I've painted red a couple of times now. My recommendations are always use good paint. I like Lowe's paint. The first time I used a pink tint and the second time I used gray. I'm not sure if there was much difference. People apply paint differently. I apply my paint slightly heavy but rolling out lines and drips or the like. Three good coats on a good primer should do it. However if your trying to scrimp on the paint you could be at it over and over again. I love my red! Good luck!