How to Paint a Stippled Ceiling


A stippled ceiling is one that has been treated with a slap brush or a similar tool to produce a high-relief texture similar to, but not as overbearing as, a popcorn texture. Because the texture includes high ridges, deep valleys and hard-to-reach crevices, it can be difficult to paint, and an airless sprayer is the best tool for the job. It doesn't have to be an industrial-sized one; a hand-held plug-in or battery-powered model is more manageable and will do a knock-down job.

If you're painting a newly textured ceiling that hasn't yet been painted, it's important to prime first with PVA primer. You can usually omit the primer when painting over existing paint, as long as you're painting latex over latex. If the ceiling is old enough to have a coat of oil paint, it will need some scuffing and a coat of primer before you coat it with latex.

Painting Preparations

Things You'll Need

  • Canvas dropcloths
  • Plastic bags
  • Painter's tape
  • Trisodium phosphate
  • Sponge
  • Abrasive pad
  • Masking paper

Step 1

Move all the furniture out of the room and cover the floor with canvas dropcloths. Canvas dropcloths are more absorbent than plastic ones, and because they are less slippery, they stay in place better.

Step 2

Turn off the breakers that control the circuits in the room, and take down the ceiling light fixtures. If you have a large fixture or ceiling fan that you can't easily take down, cover it with a plastic bag and tape the bag to the base with painter's tape.

Step 3

Make a cleaning solution by mixing 1/2 cup of trisodium phosphate per gallon of warm water, and wash the ceiling with a sponge. TSP is a strong detergent that removes grease and dirt while etching the paint to ensure better paint adhesion. If any paint is peeling, use an abrasive pad to scrub it off. Don't scrape the old paint, or you'll damage the texture. Wipe the ceiling down with clear water when you're done washing.


    • TSP can damage your eyes and cause skin burns. Wear goggles, gloves and protective clothing when washing the ceiling.
    • If the ceiling predates 1978, it may have a coat of lead-based paint. If any of this is peeling, consult with a remediation expert to determine the best course of action. Don't just scrub it off -- lead is toxic.

Step 4

Wait for the ceiling to dry, then cover the walls around the perimeter of the ceiling with masking paper and painter's tape.

Painting Procedure

Whether you use a conventional airless sprayer or a handheld one, test the spray before committing to spraying the ceiling. The paint may spatter, which means it needs to be thinned with water. The spraying technique is not difficult to master.

Things You'll Need

  • Extension cord
  • Work light
  • Paint sprayer
  • PVA primer

Step 1

Run an extension cord from a live outlet and plug in a work light to help you see what you're doing. You can also use the cord to plug in the sprayer.

Step 2

Apply a coat of drywall primer -- also known as PVA primer -- to new texturing or to a ceiling coated with oil-based paint. A single coat will do. Let the primer dry as directed.

Step 3

Add paint to the cup of your handheld sprayer, thin it if necessary, and begin spraying at one end of the ceiling. Use long strokes that extend from one wall to the next -- this requires walking under the ceiling as you spray. This technique provides more even coverage and prevents blotching.

Step 4

Spray the entire ceiling in the same way, then wait for the paint to dry to the touch, which shouldn't take more than two hours. Apply a second coat, moving in the perpendicular direction.

Step 5

Shine the work light on the ceiling from various angles and examine it closely for voids or holidays -- which are fancy words for spots you missed. Touch up any you find.


  • There is no way to avoid being showered with paint overspray. Wear protective clothing, goggles and a hoodie.

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