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How to paint plaster walls with emulsion

Listed under Blog, Mirka, Mythic paint, paint, Painting, Toupret Posted Nov 12 2012

If you watch a consummate professional painter like Jack Pauhl in action, you would be forgiven for thinking that emulsioning walls is easy. It is, if you know as much as he does. Read on for a few tips on how to paint plaster walls with emulsion.

To get it right, you need to constantly analyse, practice and re-visit every aspect of the task of painting, over and over and over.

It is true that even without an insight to all the finer points, acceptable results are within most people’s reach. However, nobody can achieve a stunning finish by slapping product on walls willy nilly, making do with any old roller, or not preparing surfaces thoroughly.

The video shows how to paint plasterboard / dry wall surfaces. The paint has a sheen. Below is what I consider one truly madly professional way to emulsion paint the plaster walls found in most UK properties, leaving a flat matt finish.

In a nutshell
Prepare and use the right consistency emulsion paint for the surface in question
On new plaster, the conventional approach is to apply a wash coat plus 2 top coats. Or on existing painted walls, after various degrees of filling and sanding and priming, apply 2 top coats.

Use professional painting equipment
I would just go buy a full set of Wooster emulsioning kit. Once you have taken that kit to its limits, you will be your own painting guru. (I wrote this originally in 2010 and still stand by this, with one caveat – the range of brushes we now have access to are very interesting and Wooster brushes aren’t the only gig in town.)

Thoughtful and accurate and consistent painting technique
In general, if you cut the edges in tight with a steady hand, remove the brush marks with a dry roller, and roll in the whole wall as per the above video, you will produce a job worth good money and it will happen fast. You need to adapt that approach to the situation, but in principle, this approach ensures no obvious roller marks and nice sharp lines, with all the paint in the right place – and with high quality paint, you will QUICKLY achieve a surface that is matt, flat and deep in colour – the sort of finish you should see as standard on plastered walls in most UK properties – but don’t.

Kit for rolling walls

The equipment listed below will set you back about £130 retail, but it will be the best investment of your painting life. (Full explanation of Wooster brushes and rollers for emulsioning like a champ)

Wooster poles Look fr the Sherlock pole which is quick release, all working parts are replaceable. It comes in all different sizes. It lasts a life time.

Wooster roller frames are tough, rigid and roll well. They are also quick release, so to get the sleeve off you just bang the frame and the sleeve will pop off into a bag. No dirty painty hands!

Wooster roller sleeves There are loads of specs for every paint and surface combination. The first thing to do is bevel the ends with a pair of scissors. Before using a sleeve, soak it in water, roll it semi dry, load the paint, leave it to soak for a couple of minutes, then start rolling.

Roller trays are more ergonomic than skuttles and buckets, in my opinion, when painting medium to large rooms. If you are in corridors or on stairs, where space is more limited, a skuttle may be a better option.

If you get the Big Ben trays, they are big enough not to tip over accidentally, unless you try very hard to be clumsy. Also, on corridors or stairs, think about the different length poles available. One size doesnt fit all scenarios .

2.5″ Wooster Ultra Pro soft brush are skinny, light and old their shape really well. (They have been discontinued. Look at best paint brushes for alternatives) Wooster offer revolutionary performance, as do Proform, Corona… see, all American made!

Pelican bucket has a magnetic holder for your brush and doubles as a hand-held tray for the mini Jumbo Koter roller set up. Why it wasnt invented 30 years ago I will never know!

Jumbo Koter roller frame is an exact copy of the big rollers, just mini. One frame takes 4.5″ and 6.5″ sleeves and clips into the roller poles too. Sweet.

Mini pro doo-z sleevesWith a 3/8″ pile mini sleeve, paint in the fiddly bits and then use the big roller with a 3/8″ pile for the main sections, and the look of the overall finish will be uniform with minimal / zero brush marks around the edges. (That is the biggest step forward you will probably make compared to usual bog standard painting practice.)

Emulsion paint selection

The best quality flat paints with the best coverage and the least issues are acrylic matt or Ultimatt emulsion from companies like Little Greene, Mythic, Tikkurila. Diamond matt from Dulux seems to promise much, but is not quite there. Pure acrylics just work.

If using dark colours, I wouldn’t care if I never used vinyl matt from any company ever again, and ask your local decorator what they really think about the coverage of Farrow and Ball emulsions! Some say they are excellent, others that they aren’t.

The flat matt paint field is littered with red herrings, but just check the sheen levels to understand what you are getting. The flattest “chalkiest” paint is Leyland Flat emulsion (1% sheen), then you have Paint Library 2%, then Farrow and Ball Estate or Little greene acrylic matt are 3% sheen. Up to this point you are in chalky paint land. Thereafter, you have 5% sheen with Ultimatt from Little Greene or Dulux Heritage emulsions. 7% is the standard sheen for vinyl matt emulsion, or Farrow and ball Modern emulsion. The flattest give a traditional feel and adds a dimension to a room that high sheen paint can’t.

The lower the sheen of a paint, the less durable it tends to be. That isn’t the case though with US and continental premium matt acrylics which seem to be scrubbable. They lay flat, so there are no points to rub off and leave a different sheen.

Preparing bare plaster

The regular approach is to dilute cheap trade matt emulsion up to 50/50 with water, stir thoroughly and apply using a roller with a 1/2″ sleeve. This ensures a sound base for further coatings. Covering bare plaster in one solid coat is not a good plan. Adhesion is the key, and thin paint sticks better than thick to new plaster.

After a wash coat, to ensure the final finish looks solid, fill any cracks with polyfilla, and sand the whole surface smooth. Use a Wooster Dust Eater or a vacuum to remove all dust. Put flexible caulk in hairline cracks around ceiling line and around frames joints.

Newly primed or previously painted plaster

The walls will probably look smooth from a distance, but if you run your hand over the surface, there will probably be bobbles and flecks of dust or bits of plaster under the paint, or previous painting is heavily or unevenly textured.

For a uniform finish, before the first top coat goes on, you need to sand the walls thoroughly.

Dustless sanding I prefer using a Mirka CEROS random orbital sander or a sanding block with Abranet attached to a vacuum extractor. I get good results with 180 or even a worn 80 grade paper. Best to do a sample section, using a rotational action rather than up and down / sideways.) Either way, you want the abrasives to flatten down all nibs and specks without leaving scratches, and leave a hard smooth surface for the next coats. Abranet is the best abrasive for this.

First coat of emulsion
For traditional flat finishes, I am a big fan of Little Greene Paint acrylic matt emulsion, Mythic flat. Coverage and touch up seems to be very consistent with stronger colours. Unlike normal vinyl matt, where I had a pin-prick mark that showed through white on the dark green Dulux vinyl matt – and I had to repaint the whole wall! 2 coats of darker colours covers fine, and a big consideration – marks on darker colours can be touched up without leaving a telltale colour difference if they are done before the paint has cured ie within a couple of days.

I would dilute the first coat 5%-10% to give flow without compromising coverage. (If I have primed bare plaster with Classidur Primer or Mythic Primer, I would not dilute the first coat of finishing emulsion.)

I am also completely won over by the finish possible with a Wooster Doo-z 3/8″ roller sleeve, cutting in around edges with a discontinued 2.5″ Wooster Ultra Pro Soft Picasso or Wooster FTP are outstanding, as are Corona Kingstons.

After the first coat has dried, for a top job, you should lightly but thoroughly sand all the surfaces again. A power sander / extractor makes this a viable option. Little Greene Matt dries superfast and I have had no issues preparing for re-coating after 1 hour. I would leave vinyl matt paint to dry for at least 4 hours so it can harden up.

Apply second coat as above.

This is teaching your granny to suck eggs

It sounds basic, emulsion a wall in a professional manner, but there are surprisingly few tradesmen following even this basic spec. (The sanding part is usually overlooked, or the texture is uneven because of oversights with technique, or there are excessive brush marks on a rollered finish wall.)

There are lots of things going on as you roll out a wall, but you can focus on two principle things to get a pro finish – lay off the paint from top to bottom in one swipe and keep the roller facing in the same direction all the time…

Taking it even further, use paint conditioner, Floetrol is an additive to increase flow, drying time and makes the paint lay flat. Laid on with a 3/8 or 1/2″ roller for speed and then rolled over with a Micro plush (3mm) pile roller, you can achieve the ultimate flat finish.

The best finishing relies on best base. Forget conventional gypsum type skimmed plaster. Take the French approach of sprayed fine surface filler buffed up with a 320 abrasive. That is the base for a blotting paper quality emulsion painted finish.

Never stop learning

The above description is a skeleton, an outline of a process with endless nuances and tricks going into the overall job. How you apply the paint, how you hold the roller, how to deal with edges, how to make the paint flow… Someone like Jack Pauhl has pages and pages of tips on painting walls. It is quite the art.

I have always managed good results in the past, but in recent times my game has gone up a level, and continues to improve, I think because I better understand what is going on behind the technique of rollering. With good kit and good knowledge, and perpetually questioning your approach, you get better and much more efficient. It is a win-win to be able to produce a high quality paint finish in minutes per wall. It means pro decorators offer much better value and yet be more competitive than slap dasher worker firms.

Optional specifications for emulsioning walls

A tip I heard and liked is to prime standard walls with problem-solving Zinsser Bullseye 123 tinted to the colour of the top coats, then over paint with emulsion in the normal way. Try that with Mythic primer or Classidur primer, or Zinsser All Coat even (solvent based) for a uniform and hard finish which brings many benefits. Try it and see the improved finish, and the reduction in paint used.

Paint conditioner is a useful tool to have around to improve flow. Floetrol creates more paint – ie add 1 litre of Floetrol creates an extra litre of paint, so not a luxury, as reported by some decorators.

To be safe with 2 coats straight on bare or chalky surfaces, add Owatrol Emulsa-Bond to the first coat only, to create a very high adhesion, penetrated coat, and then apply the topcoat as usual, diluted a little with water or Floetrol.

2 coats of Classidur Superclassic on any surface leaves a matt flat even deep finish too.

To avoid crazing on caulk, avoid vinyl matt and contract matt emulsion. (I avoid those paints period, in my world!) Acrylic matt, zero tension paints, acrylic eggshells and Dulux Diamond matt are superior quality products that don’t seem to interact with caulk. (Thanks to professional decorators in Scotland, Carte Blanche for that insightful observation.) If you do have to use vinyl matt, remember to touch over caulk with oil-based undercoat or Dulux Diamond acrylic eggshell has been quoted as a safe bet. But vinyl matt emulsions and acrylic caulk, in the main is trouble.

For a different result, try polishing the first coat with 180 grade paper and a soft padded sander or sanding block. Or apply a light green, say, over a darker green and polish it up so the base shows through. It could look good!

See, wall painting can be interesting.

TP Associate supplierIf you like the Traditional Painter approach to general decorating, please contact a TP Associate Painter and Decorator. Please bear in mind, they are all about the quality, and will not take shortcuts to meet a low ball budget.

However their prices will be competitive with the normal decorator rates charged by established companies in your area.

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12 comments to “How to paint plaster walls with emulsion”

  1. acmasterpainter

    [watch out!] How to paint plaster walls with emulsion – via #twitoaster https://traditionalpainter.com/how-to-pai

  2. JGDecorator

    @acmasterpainter morning Andy. Thanks for the blog post reference

  3. acmasterpainter

    @JGDecorator and thank you for the tips too, as you said, wooster kit takes emulsioning to a new level

  4. Bob

    Just a quick thank you – from an amateur – for all the incredible advice on your site . I’ve decorated many times in my 40 years of married life – but after a major refurb of our current house, I wanted the best finish possible. Your site has truly helped me improve the quality of finish I get. I had always used B&Q for materials/paint etc and never knew just what a difference high quality paint/equipment makes. Thanks

  5. Avatar photo Andy Crichton

    Thanks for the update Bob, you sound pleased! And thanks especially for taking the time to read the information and acting on it. It is our experience of what works for us. I’m sure you found plenty of useful tips elsewhere online to add to the mix. If you ever need any help or there were elements of the project that didnt go as you had expected, I’d be interested to know.

    kind regards


  6. Orbital floor sanders

    You ought to be a part of a contest for one of
    the greatest sites on the net. I will highly
    recommend this blog!

  7. Steve

    You make using the wide roller on a wall look really easy there, but I’ve never been able to get a good finish with a roller!
    Should the roller have lots of paint on it or only a little when it leaves the tray please?
    Is it dip the roller in the paint in the “trough” of the tray and then use the slope to even it out, or is there some method to loading the roller please?

  8. chris montague

    How do you stop farrow and ball estate emulsion crazing on caulking

  9. Avatar photo Andy Crichton

    This is from the horse’s mouth, Farrow and Ball gave me permission to re-post this newsletter info as compiled by their in-house decorator.

    Using Interior Caulks & Sealants
    Where small gaps and cracks require filling or sealing, we found the best results were achieved with acrylic based decorators’ caulk which is a water-based, flexible filler. Follow the manufacturer’s application instructions and drying times (typically 2 – 3 hours) before applying your chosen Farrow & Ball finish as follows:

    Estate® Eggshell, Full Gloss and Dead Flat – 2 coats may be applied directly (allowing a minimum of 4 hours drying time between coats).

    Estate® Emulsion and Modern Emulsion – Apply an undiluted coat of Wall & Ceiling Primer & Undercoat in the correct colour tone for your top coat (allowing a minimum of 4 hours drying time between coats) followed by 2 coats of your chosen top coat (once again allowing a minimum of 4 hours drying time between coats).

    Use the minimum of caulk necessary as a smaller bead will dry quicker and will be less prone to cracking.

  10. chris montague

    Thanks andy how long should you realistically leave caulk to dry before over painting I was led to believe it was 24hrs,thanks

  11. Avatar photo Andy Crichton

    I asked the king of sealants Alistair at UK Sealants about recognised drying times for caulk.

    If it’s a good one. 3-4mm per 24 hrs. But because it is usually thinner than this, much quicker!

    Have you read the crazing caulk article?

  12. good mobile phone under 10000

    I’d like to find out more? I’d care to find out some additional information.

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