Skip to main content

Tips for Painting Walls Red

  • Author:
  • Updated date:

Deep Decorations

Red is a bold and daring color, typically chosen by people who have a thirst for adventure and a strong sense of creativity. Red is fearless, creating striking distinction and a fierce contrast to the standard neutrals of a basic living space.

Red paint, however, is a whole other world. It looks pink when it's wet, and the amount of color required to obtain such a strong tint creates a translucent mixture. Many people who experience red paint for the first time find themselves uneasy, unsure, and wondering what on earth the teenager at the paint counter had given them. Fear not, my bold friend, it's the nature of the beast, and I will tell you all that I know to set your mind at ease.

Think Ahead

First, you need a good base when starting out with light colored walls. This is especially important when you're painting on new construction. There are a lot of different theories and advice when it comes to choosing a base, but I'll give you the real deal - from experience.

If you're working with new construction - and that doesn't mean unpainted drywall, that means construction grade painted drywall (they use the thinnest, cheapest stuff they can get. Hey, they're getting paid more to keep their costs down, who can blame them?) - best thing to do is find the cheapest can of 'Oops Paint' in a flat finish or tinted primer. You may ask, "What is 'Oops Paint'?" Well, from time to time, a can of paint will get tinted and it won't quite match the color that it was intended. There are many variables associated with this, but that's a whole other story. Long story short, a color was incorrect, so it can't be sold for full price. Therefore, the home improvement store will mark it down to about 25% of the original sale cost. Last time I checked at The Home Depot, they were selling 'Oops Paint' for $5 a gallon, no matter what the brand was. That's awesome for you, because you can get some high quality Behr Paint for really cheap! And you're going to cover it up anyway, so who cares what color it is? But, the darker the better, because it will save you some time in the next step.

The Base Coat

Next step - and by this time you should have already chosen your color. If you've painted the new construction, or if you have walls that have been painted over several times, the best thing to do is to use a tinted primer as a base coat. Tinted primer is different from paint because it tends to be thicker, so it gets better coverage, but it usually doesn't go as far as paint, and it doesn't have the "stain blocking" capabilities of paint. You basically have five choices when it comes to the tinted primer.
First - you could get lucky and find some 'Oops Primer' (it's rare, but I've seen it before).
Second - you could use the store rep recommended gray primer (I do NOT recommend this! Gray will alter the color of the finish coat).
Third - you could use a flat finish paint of the color you have chosen for the final finish (this will still require a few coats, so it's not ideal).
Fourth - you could use the same brand of paint and tint the primer as much as it will hold (I do not recommend this, either. Most primers, unless they specifically state that they are deep tint primers, will not provide the base that you need for adequate coverage).
Fifth and most highly recommended - use a deep tint primer, preferably the Ralph Lauren brand. You're probably thinking, "What? Are you kidding me? Use a designer brand primer? You're out of your mind." I might be out of my mind, but I am right about this primer. It's really not expensive, and it does the best job. The cost is about the same as Behr primer, but it can get the deepest tint, closest to the color that you want to end up with. It also is very smooth, covers very nicely, so you don't have to use more than one coat (unless you have very porous walls, as with new construction).

Choosing the Right Applicators

So, you've got your primer, now you can avoid the biggest mistake that people make when painting ANY color - using the wrong nap roller. The thickness of the roller cover is referred to as "nap", which is available in 1/4" to over 1". There is a purpose for this, and some people think that it's just to give you more paint in the roller so you don't have to keep going back to the paint pan. Not entirely true (but an interesting thought). The truth of the matter is that the different naps are designed for different surface textures and paint thicknesses. You don't want to use a 1/4" nap for painting a thick coat on a concrete block wall, nor do you want to use a 1" nap for painting a watery thin coat on drywall. Here's a good rule of thumb - the smoother the surface, and the thinner the material being applied, the thinner the nap.

So, in this case, you'll be using a fairly thin material - the deep base primer - on a smooth surface - drywall. I know, drywall is not perfectly smooth, especially compared to plaster, but for the purpose of which roller to use, it is considered a "smooth surface". For this application, I would recommend either a 1/4" or 3/8" nap roller, depending on how smooth your wall surface is, and which primer you decide to use. You can usually tell by looking at the primer, and if you go to the counter to pick it up after they mix it, just ask them to open it up so you can see how thin it is. If it looks like tinted water, then use the 1/4" nap. But, if your walls have a lot of imperfections, patched areas, nicks and such, then maybe you should consider a 3/8" nap.

Plan Ahead

Now, in preparation for painting the walls, keep in mind that you will need to do a few coats in order to complete this. One problem with latex paint is that it is just that - it's latex. It's liquid when it's wet and it's like a stretchy sheet when it dries. This is important to know because another common mistake that people make is that the think they can tape up the baseboards and trim once and paint all of their coats with the same tape. This is not a good idea, because it has happened where people have gone to remove the tape after several coats of paint have dried, and it peels the paint right off the wall. That's never fun, and it's not the prettiest thing, but maybe you can convince your house guests that you are an artist and this is just another creative venture for you.

I have a neat little trick that I've only shared with a few people, but I'm feeling generous today, so here it is: Tape up your trim and baseboards with at least 4 layers of tape

The reason for this is that when you finish one coat, before it dries you can remove one layer of tape and you don't have to re-tape every time. Just make sure that you remove the layer of tape while the current coat is still wet to avoid "latex tearing".

Trimming Out

Those have got to be the most dreaded words spoken when it comes to painting, but fact is, it must be done. Now it's time for another one of my tricks: When you're brushing in the corners and edges, keep a small, dry "mini" roller in the other hand, and as you brush in, roll over the brushed areas to smooth them out.

One complaint that I've heard from people is that the corners look lighter than the rest of the wall. Again, you could fool people into believing that you have this insane creative side, but they'll probably believe only the insane part. Fact is, the brush will cause a different look because it is a different texture, and it is applied differently than the roller. It almost sounds like common sense, but honestly, most people don't realize this. Avoid the strange glares, and try my tip for using the dry roller. Another thing you can do to make it easier on yourself is, once you get all of the corners and edges done and dry-rolled, use that small roller to cut in a little further into the wall. By working your way in from the edges, it will give you a much more uniform look. Plus, you really shouldn't re-use the roller from primer coat to finish coat, so you might as well get a good use out of it.

After that, go nuts! The primer coat really won't be seen, so it doesn't matter how smoothly you roll it out. I would also suggest that you buy the primer and apply that before purchasing the paint. There are two main reasons for this. First, to make sure that you really like the bold red look (some people paint the whole room then realize that it is totally not for them - don't be that person!). Maybe you would rather have a deep blue, or a sunset orange. Find out sooner rather than later, because this is the point where you can change your mind without losing your mind. Second, because there is a long waiting period between applying the primer and applying each finish coat. The primer, while it may be dry to the touch within an hour, really should sit for at least 6 hours before applying the paint. This is the "curing time", where it actually continues to darken slightly (although it's mostly there after about an hour) and it sets into the wall. When you paint the finish coat on a primed wall that has not cured, it will peel the primer off. It's not fun, so better be safe than sorry. On humid or rainy days it could take even longer.

Choosing The Paint Sheen

So many choices, what to do, what to do? Well, first, consider where this is going. If it's going to be in a bathroom, then semigloss or high gloss are the way to go. If it's in a kitchen, then satin or semigloss are good - depending on how close it's going to be to the cooking and cleaning areas. If you're going to paint this behind your counter tops, then you should use a semigloss because it's less likely to fade with being splashed or wiped down more often. If it's a kid's room or play room, then consider satin finish. For dining rooms, hallways or foyers, eggshell finish is usually the best. Living rooms or adult bedrooms are typically okay using flat finish.

Keep in mind that the finish affects several things. While high gloss and semigloss have a harder finish and are more resistant to staining, fading and moisture penetration, they will show imperfections more clearly and will be more likely to streak when applying the final coat. If your walls are littered with dings and dents, then you may want to consider the lowest sheen that you can get away with, or maybe even consider a "faux finish" to cover up the imperfections (this is a neat trick that I have done on every room of my house - which I'll tell you about later). Flat or eggshell finishes have a softer finish and are not very resistant to staining, fade more easily when wiped down, are not moisture resistant, and can even rub off more easily if bumped, but they hide imperfections more than the shiny finishes. This is because the shiny finish will reflect light across the surface, so every time that reflection is altered, it causes a shadow or change in reflection. The flat surface does not reflect as much, so the imperfections are less noticeable.

Applying The Finish Coat

The finish coat is the one that you have to be the most meticulous about. One thing that you might notice is that the paint will start to dry as you apply it. This is especially the case with Behr Paint, although it is the highest quality that I have had the pleasure of using, it will dry as it's being applied, so you have to be mindful of how you are applying it. You can't zig-zag across the wall then come back and fill it in, because you'll be able to see streaks from where you applied the first zig-zag. Instead, use a technique that is suggested by Behr and other paint companies, which I like to call the "Large 'V'". If you're starting on the far right side of the wall, position your paint roller in the top right corner of the wall. bring it down and slightly left so that when you stop, you have gone about 1/2 of the width of the roller toward the left, and you have moved downward to a reachable, comfortable location. Then bring the roller up and to the left so that your ending point barely overlaps the left edge of where you started. Then move the roller straight down to the comfortable, reachable level, and bring it back up and slightly right, so that it ends centered between the starting location and the ending location of the original "V". Continue to go across the original "V" until you have smoothed out the roller lines, then move over to the next section.

Scroll to Continue

Don't Get Discouraged

When you're finished with the first coat, you may look back at the wall and say, "Dear God, what have I done?" Normal reaction, but don't worry, because if you walk away and come back in four hours, it will look completely different. Then in four more hours it will look even more different. The fact is, red paint has a curing time just like the primer does, only the paint will look more streaky and more pink for a longer time than the primer. Most applications require at least two coats of paint with the proper primer, or seven coats without the correct primer. Realize also that the paint will take much longer to cure than the primer, so although you may have hoped to get this done in a weekend, you may have some extra work to do Monday night after work, unless you got started on Friday night, in which case, you have a very good chance of finishing up on Sunday. I always suggest to wait 12-24 hours before applying another coat on top of the paint. You could do a test area after 12 hours, somewhere in the corner where you'll have an end table or something in the way. You just lightly touch the paint. If it feels dry, then touch it a little bit harder. Keep doing this until you either feel that it's sticky, or when you press your finger into the finish, it leaves an imprint. If you get the imprint, or if it's still sticky, then it has not finished curing. Or, you could just skip the test area, and wait 24 hours from the previous coat. I can't stress how important this is. This paint will peel very easily if you try to move too quickly. No matter how impatient you get, it's better not to cause more work for yourself.

So, if I have not completely turned you off from painting your room red, I certainly hope that you enjoy your bold new room. It really is a classic look, and given the right setting, it can give you the designer room that you see in home improvement magazines. Hey, maybe you can even submit your room pictures to one of those subscriptions! Just don't forget to tell them who advised you. ;)


Beware on April 21, 2016:

this is a terrible article full of misguided information - please read with caution!

JT on October 22, 2010:

Painting two accent walls in my living room. Used no primer. Painted two coats over an off white color paint on the walls. The first coat looked awful. The second looks better but you can still see different colorations. Will try a third coat in a day or two when I have some more free time... Hope it looks better!

Nicolas Simons from San Francisco on August 21, 2010:

Excellent hub! Red is a tricky color to paint with. Nice job discussing all of the issues that usually come up.

Related Articles