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Ceiling paint is typically the cheapest and lowest tech coating we apply. Not by choice, mind you – the market has decided since ceilings are low maintenance surfaces, white ceiling paints should be cheaper than wall and trim coatings. Reasonable logic, I suppose. Interestingly, ceilings are the most challenging surface for us to paint well. And no, it’s not our incompetent skills…..as persnickety painters, we seek to deliver superlative finishes. This means they are smooth to the touch, consistent in their sheen and holdout, and of course completely opaque (no holidays or thin areas). Ceilings on the other hand present unique challenges.

Typically large surface areas, located at the highest point of a room, and being white, brightly lit by natural daylight. One challenge is height – during the heating season the ceiling is the warmest and driest surface we paint – coatings must be applied evenly and quickly to avoid lapping of wet paint over drying paint and so leaving stripes or strokes in the finish. Thinning the paint with water, cooling the room, adding extenders to slow the dry time are all tricks we use to manage this challenge. But for the truly persnickety painter, one more challenge remains – the well lit ceiling invites scrutiny from many perspectives and so surface texture becomes an issue.

I’m not referring to the substrate texture, but the paint texture. For example, brush application of paint leaves a different texture when compared to roller or spray application. Cutting in a ceiling, along the wall, around fixtures and lights, reveals a flatter ceiling paint finish that is easily visible when looked for. We’ve addressed this by using mini-rollers to cut in, or by masking edges and taping over openings and applying coatings without any brushing.

In conversation with a Benjamin Moore paint chemist who presented at the PDCA conference in Florida last month, we discussed these challenges and I asked him his frank opinion of which paint performed best on ceilings. He frankly admitted that all paints ultimately behave the same way because ceilings present a unique challenge to the dispersant chemistry of coatings – that challenge being gravity. Under the pull of gravity, pigments tend to travel to the surface of the paint as they dry, affecting the finish appearance and enhancing the potential for the finish to ‘flash’; i.e. highlight touch ups.

Alas – until the solution to this problem can be found in a gallon container, we’ll just keep messing around with techniques and tricks for the best way to paint a ceiling.

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