Let’s get one thing straight first: I love to see dark colors on my walls. In fact, I recently reapplied a medium grayish blue color on the accent wall in my bedroom. Still, many people avoid using dark colors on their walls because they worry about not being able to cover them with a lighter shade. So today, I’m going to clear up this misconception once and for all and show you exactly what you need to do in order to get full coverage with a light paint over a dark base.
If you’re concerned about covering dark walls, I understand. That was the main thing that prevented me from trying the colored ceiling trend when it hit the scene. But now that I have my pearly white living room ceiling hiding two layers of blood-red paint, I’m much more comfortable with committing to a vibrant wall color.
And, if the blue wall in my bedroom ever bores me, I know that the tips in this article will help me cover it up. So I’m not really worried about deciding to paint the whole room white and having a bluish hue peeking out under a single wall. That being said, let’s talk about what you need to do to effectively paint over dark colors.
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How to Cover Dark Paint With a Lighter Color
The process of painting over dark or vibrant colors is pretty much the same as painting over light ones. You’ll need to start by preparing the room you’re working on and getting your painting supplies. Most importantly, you’ll have to prime the walls using the appropriate primer. However, when it comes to painting over dark colors, the devil’s in the details — so pay attention to those.
1. Gather the Supplies
The key to a successful cover-up of dark wall paint is getting the best tools for the job. Most of the supplies you’ll need are part of the basic painting equipment I’ve listed before. You can start with the basics by getting your measuring instruments and your toolbox, as well as the items you’ll need to prepare the walls.
However, the most important thing you’ll need, aside from the paint itself, is actually your paint primer. I’ll give you a more in-depth explanation of what exactly primer does and why you need it a bit later on. For now, you should just know that primer shouldn’t be used only when you’re painting over dark walls. Ideally, you’d use primer on all of your walls.
But if you, like me, have several white or very light walls and a dark accent wall, you may be able to get away with just priming the one wall. In addition to a good primer, you’ll also need:
- A canvas drop guard and/or plastic tarp
- A ladder
- Spackle or caulk (and a caulking gun or a scraper)
- A sanding block
- Brushes and rollers
Obviously, some brushes are better than others — just like some rollers are more appropriate for certain walls. For example, textured walls require rollers with thicker naps. Conversely, rollers with a thin nap would allow for a smoother application on flat walls.
The short list of items I presented above is only a partial shopping list. If you want to see everything you’ll need to paint your walls, I’ll once again refer you to my list of basic painting tools I’ve linked to at the beginning of this section.
2. Do Some Basic Prep Work
If you implement all of the tips in this guide, you’ll find that most of your job will consist of getting the right tools and setting up the room you want to paint. Once you dip your rollers in the paint, everything else will fall into place. But before you get too excited, there are some things you need to do to prepare a room for painting:
- Do the preliminary wall measurements to figure out how much paint (and primer) you’ll need
- Get the furniture out or push it to the middle of the room
- Cover everything with a tarp and painter’s tape
- Use spackle or caulk on the walls if you need to
- Sand the walls to get an even surface
- Wash the walls with a damp sponge dipped into warm water with a drop of dish soap
You should make sure that your walls are good and ready for the paint. I say this from experience — the last time I had professionals paint my home, they botched it.
They did absolutely no wall prep at all! All of the nail holes were just painted over, rather than being spackled. At the time, I also had two colors on the wall, with one of them creating geometric shapes on top of the other. Of course, those areas were supposed to be sanded before they could apply a new coat of paint.
Instead, the new paint clearly showed where the geometric shapes had been. And they even got paint on the shelves that were nailed to the walls. That could have been prevented with a roll of tape.
We all have stories like these — but that’s exactly why we’re here, trying to learn how to do all of this ourselves.
3. Use the Right Primer
One of the worst mistakes anyone can make when trying to paint over a dark or vibrant-colored wall is not to use a primer. As I have already mentioned, you should really use a primer every time you want to apply a new color to your walls. But getting the best primer for the job is especially important for projects like these.
There is one main rule you have to follow when you’re picking out primers. Oil-based paint needs to go on top of an oil-based primer, while other paints can go on top of any primer. As long as you remember that, you should be in the clear.
Still, you should pay attention to the color of the primer as well. If you’re trying to cancel out dark paint, you can go for a white primer. Conversely, if you were trying to go from a lighter shade to a darker one, I’d recommend using a darker primer, like a gray one.
Nowadays, they also make tinted primers, so you can get a good base for whatever color you’re planning to use on top. However, you don’t really need to get one of those products. Instead, you can just add some of the paint you’ve chosen into your white primer to give it a slight tint.
Finally, let’s talk about the application process. Essentially, it’s the same as with paint:
- Get the extra lint off your rollers
- Dip them into the primer
- Roll off the excess in a paint tray
- Apply evenly onto the wall
- Add another layer if you see any inconsistencies after the primer dries
About 5 hours later, the primer should be completely dry. However, I actually like to let it dry overnight.
4. Apply Two Coats of Paint
Once the primer is completely dry, the real fun can begin. It doesn’t matter if you’ve chosen to cover your dark walls with a really light color or a completely contrasting hue. If you have followed the instructions I’ve just explained, it should be pretty easy to get an even application.
From here on out, it’s smooth sailing. You’ll start by opening the paint cans and mixing them up. If you’re working on a huge surface, you can pour all of the individual paint cans into a clean 5-gallon bucket. Mixing them all up with a stirrer should get rid of any minor differences in tone.
As always, you can start by painting the trim, the outer areas of the wall, with a brush. After all, most rollers aren’t able to get into the corners, so doing this should contain the possible mess. Just cover about 3 inches from the corners with a brush — you’ll be able to get the rest with a roller.
Speaking of which, your next move is basically to use a wide roller for the middle section of the wall. Remember — you need to cover everything evenly. The best way to do that is to use wide “M” movements in a particular area until it’s dry, and then move on to the next section.
When dipping your roller into the paint, remember to rub off any excess in the paint tray. That should eliminate the possibility of drips and give the walls a streak-free appearance.
If necessary, you can also apply several layers of paint, as long as you let each coat dry for a few hours. However, if you do that, you should make sure that you’re applying the coat on the whole wall so that you can avoid leaving bumps and seams.
Final Thoughts on Using Light Paint on Dark Walls
As you can see, painting your dark walls into a lighter shade doesn’t need to be overly complicated. In fact, you can basically use the same methods you would use for a regular paint job. If you do it right, the prep and drying times will take longer than the painting itself.
Setting everything up and getting your gear together should take about a day, and that includes the time needed for the spackle to dry. Then you would spend another day applying the primer and making sure it’s completely dry. From there, applying a light color on top of the formerly dark wall should be easy. Just don’t forget to let the paint completely set before you move all of your stuff back into the room.
Hopefully, you’ve learned something new about how dark paint behaves under lighter hues. Even though I personally love dark walls, I can see how having a strong color on your walls can get annoying — or maybe just boring. And hey, if all else fails, you can always use wallpaper. Removable ones are a great option for indecisive homeowners like myself!