Preparing the Surfaces
Find, then fix, cracks and dents. Use painter's putty or a lightweight spackle for minor patches. Next, do the sanding two-step. Sanding not only feathers out chipped paint but also provides "tooth" for the next coat of paint. For glossy trim, use a sanding sponge rather than sandpaper. Finally, unless you like textured walls, don't paint over dust. Wash the walls with trisodium phosphate (TSP) or a mild cleaner, like Jasco's TSP No-Rinse Substitute. For smoke-stained walls, Toto uses a 50/50 solution of bleach and water.
The pros were split on this tip. Masking tape can be problematic -- paint can bleed behind the tape, or remove the paint it's stuck to. Learning how to cut in with a brush takes practice, but if you can do it, you'll leave most tapers in the dust. (Cutting in is painting just the surface you want, not the surface adjacent to it -- for example, where a wall meets the ceiling.)
On the other hand, if you can't cut in, you can't beat tape. The pros all recommend painter's (blue) tape because it's easier to remove than masking tape.
First off, pick a powerful primer; primers aren't just diluted paint. They're formulated to establish a solid, even base; seal stains; and ensure that the topcoats of paint go on smoothly and bond securely to the surface.
In general, glossier paints are more stain-resistant and scrubbable. But a higher sheen also highlights any imperfections in the wall or in the paint job. The pros also agreed that using two coats of paint will result in the best-looking job. Don't skimp on the coverage.
Modern paints dry too quickly, and are difficult to brush out. Use paint additives, such as Floetrol for latex paints and Penetrol for alkyds. Adding a few ounces per gallon slows drying time and makes the paint more workable.
Most pros prefer 9-inch rollers over 18-inch models -- they are lighter, cheaper, and easier to use. They also prefer 5-gallon buckets with a roller grid to roller pans, as they hold more paint than pans. A painter's rod, or pole, can help you paint ceilings more quickly -- no climbing up and down ladders required. And there's no need to stand directly underneath the area you are painting, so you won't catch every wayward splatter.
A good paintbrush is key to a professional-looking finish. Most of our pros prefer natural-bristle brushes for oil-based paints, but they recommend synthetics for all-around use.
Ideally, you want as much paint on the brush as you can control without making drips or blobs. Dip the brush about 1 inches into the paint, then tap (not wipe) each side of the brush against the side of the can. Tapping knocks off the drips and forces the paint into the bristles.
Cutting in is an acquired skill, but it's something you can't do at all with a ratty brush. When cutting in on a wall, load the brush and spread out the excess paint, then work the brush up to the line between wall and ceiling. A brush stroke that's too wide creates a hatband, or smooth brushed band, on the very top of the wall where it meets the ceiling. To avoid this, roll first and then cut in with a brush.
After painting the ceiling, work from the top down. Start with the crown molding, then do the walls and then paint the casement molding around the windows and doors. Do baseboard molding last. Between coats you'll want to back-prep, or sand off any bumps, before applying the next coat. Use a light to check the surface for drips, roller flecks, or other imperfections.
The best time to tackle windows is in the beginning of the day, when you're fresh. For double-hungs, begin by raising the inner sash and lowering the outer sash until their positions are almost reversed. Paint the lower half of the outer sash first, then the entire inner sash. Once the lower sash is dry, return both to their normal position, but leave them slightly open. Finish painting the outer sash.
Most painters have no problem painting doors in place, but they recommend you lay the door on sawhorses and work horizontally. If you have a paneled door, start with the panels and work from the outside edges in toward the center.
Finally, accidents happen. Keep a cheap sponge brush on hand to blend a patch with the rest of the wall or woodwork. To mimic the look of a roller, simply dab on the paint.