Even the top-performing paints in Consumer Reports’ tests won’t look good if you don’t apply them properly. Thin spots, rollers marks, and paint runs are just some of the imperfections that will mar the finished result.

With the right tools and technique, however, you can have smooth results in just one coat, even if you’re painting a dark wall with a light-colored paint. That promise is supported by our tough hiding test, in which we paint over stripes that get increasingly darker to see how much coverage each paint delivers. 

We have the luxury of working on clean test panels. To create a similarly stable surface, scrub the area you’ll be painting with a sponge and mild household detergent solution. Do this before you visit the paint store so that the walls will be dry when you return. If you’re working in a finished room, put down drop cloths to protect floors, furnishings, and the like. Then follow these steps to learn how to paint a room and get an A+.

Step One: Prep the Paint

Pour a thick film of paint into the sloped section of the tray until the reservoir is filled about half way; disposable liners will save time with clean up. A plastic paint pourer, which costs a few bucks at hardware stores and home centers, will help prevents spills. Punching a few holes around the rim of the can with an awl or large nail is another way to minimize the mess.

Step Two: Cut in the Edges

Sometimes called trimming in, cutting in is when you paint a couple-inch-wide strip around any borders of a wall where the paint roller can’t easily reach. The process traditionally calls for painters tape to protect adjacent surfaces, but our experts get excellent results in a fraction of the time with a plastic paint edger. The tool, which costs a few bucks anywhere paint is sold, features a woven pad and guide wheels that roll along the trim, ceiling, or corner.

Rather than dipping the edger into the paint tray, load it using a roller. That will help prevent the wheels from catching paint and creating a mess. Then you’re ready to cut in the room by running the tool along its various edges, wheel side facing the edge. Reload the paint using the roller as needed.          

Step Three: Roll on the Walls

Once the entire room is cut in, switch to the roller to fill in the large fields. This is the most satisfying part of the project, as the room fills with new color. But you need to use the correct technique or the finish will have all sorts of imperfections, some of which won’t be apparent until the paint dries.

We like short-nap rollers (1/4-inch deep) for most interior projects, since they tend to result in less splatter while still rolling on a smooth, thick coat—provided you follow what we like to call the four S’s. 

  • Saturate. Load the roller by passing it through the paint several times to force in the paint. Then do a few lighter passes until the paint is just about dripping from the roller. 
  • Smear. In a 2x2-foot section smear the paint in an X, V, or Z pattern.
  • Spread. Spread the paint to cover the 2x2-foot section. It doesn’t matter which way you roll because you’re going to smooth it over.
  • Smooth. Do a series of single roller passes from top to bottom to smooth it out.

Repeat this process in 2x2-foot sections until the room is finished.

Though this technique should deliver perfect results, it’s always a good idea to keep leftover paint for future touch-ups. If you’re using the original container, close the lid tightly, tapping it with a hammer. Write the date you used the paint and the room you painted with a permanent marker. Don’t store it in sunlight or near a heat source or anywhere that it might freeze.

How to Paint

Do you have some painting projects planned for your home? On the 'Consumer 101' TV show, Consumer Reports' expert Rico De Paz shows host Jack Rico how to give walls the perfect coat.How to Paint