Everyone who’s ever painted a wall agrees that visible brush strokes are the enemy. Still, using brushes gives us the best results in particular areas. For example, you can’t use a roller on the wooden trim around the doors, the baseboards, and for the edges of the walls and ceilings. Well, if you want to know how the pros manage to avoid streaks when painting with a brush, you’re in luck.
Many people actually believe that achieving a streakless result with anything other than a paint sprayer is impossible. Now, even though I can’t complain about the results a paint sprayer can get me, I personally prefer to use brushes and rollers to paint my walls.
In fact, avoiding streaks is a big part of the reason we now paint most of our walls with big fiber rollers. However, even the rollers aren’t foolproof. In order to achieve a streakless result with a roller, you have to know how to use them.
But really, all it takes to get a spray-like finish is a bit of commitment. OK, you also need to have the right tools, as you’ll see in this article. Still, a paint sprayer is certainly not a requirement. So let’s see which painting tools you need to get perfectly smooth walls.
Why Do Brush Strokes Appear?
Before you can solve this problem entirely, let’s take a moment to talk about why some people get streaky results while others don’t. There are several things that may be causing the underlying issue:
- You may be working on uneven or dirty walls. If that’s the case, the solution to that problem is fairly simple. You’ll just need to thoroughly sand and clean the walls before painting them.
- You could be using the wrong paint or brushes. Later on, I’ll talk about the types of paint that exist and the appropriate brushes you should be using with them. Usually, thicker paint is to blame for brush marks, so you may also need to use a paint additive. Or, since latex paint tends to dry fast, the paint may not have the time to settle in properly.
- It may be a technique issue. Believe it or not, paint can’t just be slapped on. Fortunately, learning how to apply it with a brush isn’t that complicated. And your life will absolutely change when you discover the art of the tip-off.
Now that I’ve told you about the most common problems that may be causing your streaky finish, let’s talk about how you can resolve them.
How to Avoid Streaks When Painting With a Brush
As you’ve seen, there are several things that factor into how much streaking you’re going to get when you apply your paint with a brush. So here’s how I would go about painting my walls (or the wooden trim) if I wanted to avoid brush marks.
Prepare the Walls
The first thing you need to worry about is ensuring that you’re working on a smooth surface. I’ve written about how you can prepare your walls for paint before, so you can basically refer back to that article. However, I don’t believe I’ve mentioned how to deal with streak marks if they’re set in the primer.
You may already know the drill: repair the holes in the walls, sand everything, wash the area with a damp sponge, then prime. But what you may not know is that you can also lightly sand the primer as well. For example, a white primer is supposed to even out the tone of the wall underneath. It’s very pigmented and thick as well, which doesn’t bode well for people who are looking to avoid brush streaks.
Fortunately, you can simply go over your primed walls with 220-grit sandpaper. Then, you can clean off the resulting dust with either a dry clean rag or a damp one. Removing the dust is especially important for ensuring a smooth finish since any little particles under the paint can cause imperfections.
Protect the Surrounding Area
After you ensure that the surface you’ll be painting is clean, you need to deal with the surrounding areas. If you’re painting the wooden trim around the door or the baseboards, you need to put painter’s tape on the walls. But you can paint your trim without tape as well — even if you don’t plan on painting the walls afterward anyway.
Of course, protecting everything else from splatter doesn’t really help in ensuring a smooth finish. However, it does allow you to focus on the painting itself instead of worrying about the surrounding area, which is always a plus.
Decide on the Type of Paint You Want to Use
With the ever-growing amount of latex and acrylic-based paint on the market nowadays, most people have actually forgotten that oil paint also exists. In my list of wall painting equipment, I mentioned the difference between oil and latex paint only in passing. So allow me to explain further here.
Latex paint is by far the most popular type of paint for walls. Its main selling point is that it dries quickly, and it also comes in many different finishes. However, a quick-drying paint isn’t necessarily what we want if we’re trying to get the smoothest results.
On the other hand, oil paint is a more classic choice for woodwork. Because it actually sinks into the porous materials you apply it on, it’s much more long-lasting than latex paint, which sits on top of the painted surface. Oil paint also takes much longer to dry, which allows it the time to settle into the brush stroke grooves.
But oil paint only comes in a glossy finish, which makes it more appropriate for detail work like trim or furniture than whole walls. Another thing that’s a big drawback to using oil paint is that it emits fumes that are harmful to humans, so you’ll have to wear a mask and air out the room you’re working in.
Buy the Right Paint Conditioner or Extender
Most of the latex wall paints that are on the market today are advertised as being the fastest-drying ones of them all. However, that’s not necessarily a good thing.
Your paint needs to be able to settle into the little lines your brush makes when you apply it. The only way that can happen is if the paint is liquid and slow-drying enough to shift after you apply it with a brush.
So that’s exactly what latex paint extenders are supposed to do. For example, adding 8 ounces of Floetrol per gallon of latex paint will make it dry much slower than it would have, and it’ll make it more fluid as well.
When I’m painting the edges of the wall, I start by transferring the paint into another container. Rather than just popping the Floetrol in right away, I like to shake up the bottle and strain it in. Before I go in with my brush, I give it a good stir to make sure everything is combined.
The same manufacturer also makes one of the best oil paint conditioners I’ve ever tried. If you don’t take my word for it, here’s a video explaining how Penetrol works. As the presenter says, this additive basically takes the drag out of your brush to allow for that smooth glass-like finish.
Get the Best Brushes for Your Paint
If you’re painting the edges of the wall before you use a roller on it, I suggest that you go for a 2 or a 3 inch wide angled brush. The angle will help you get a sharp line when you’re painting the corners of the room or the door. And, since you need to cover about 4 or 5 inches all around and feather the paint inward, the 2-inch width would be perfect.
Of course, there are other factors to consider when picking the best paint brush for a smooth finish. The way you’re using it is particularly important. So let’s see how you can improve your technique.
Apply the Paint
When you dip your brush into your paint, only reach about a third of the way down the bristles. After you load the paint, tap the brush against the paint container to get the excess off. Just don’t drag the bristles against the rim. The brush still needs to have enough paint in it to cut a smooth line.
If you add the right amount of paint additive, the mixture should be fairly liquid as well. When you transfer the paint onto the wall, it should begin to settle into the grooves almost instantly. Of course, if you’re painting with a quality brush, you’ll hardly see any brush marks at all.
After you apply and smear the paint over the target area, you can “tip it off” or smooth it out. In my article about avoiding streaks when painting with a roller, I mentioned a similar term. However, tipping off is actually a different process from laying off.
Just dip the very tip of the brush into the paint again and tap off the excess against the rim. Then, you’re going to slide the tip of your brush over the paint you just applied. That encourages all of the paint to settle into the grooves properly.
Final Thoughts on Achieving a Streak-Free Finish With a Brush
As you can see, you don’t need a paint sprayer to get the seamless results you’re looking for. All it takes are good tools and some preparation. Really, all of us are perfectly capable of painting our own walls. We only need to read up on the correct painting techniques.
Hopefully, I can be a little piece in that process. All of these tips will ensure a smooth, streak-free finish, whether you’re painting your walls, trim, or even your furniture.