Painting Unfinished Ceilings

One of the great things about painting an unfinished ceiling is knowing you are starting with something akin to a clean artist canvas. You can do anything you want! If the ceiling is that of a young childs room, you can go with a starry night sky, a wake-up shade of yellow (or a calm-down shade of blue), have fun with a neutral background and add hand-drawn (and painted, of course) balloons, kites, or airplanes.

Adults bedrooms can be painted any color that is a shade or two lighter than what is on the walls. Living areas can have ceilings shaded to coordinate or contrast with walls, rugs, or furniture. The choices are limited only by the imagination!


Painting unfinished ceilings does not differ much from painting any other unfinished surface. That means certain steps must be taken before you ever apply the very first paintbrush or roller stroke. The surface needs to be dust, dirt, and grease-free, and all unfinished surfaces must be primed before painting.

By first applying a coat of primer, the actual paint then goes on with more uniform coverage and adheres better to the surface you are painting. A high-quality primer also blocks staining from tobacco smoke, grease, and/or water that can potentially bleed through the top coat of paint.

And if you use primer, you will use lots less paint. For ceilings, you will most probably need to use a latex-based primer. Oil-based primers raise the grain on drywall, what many ceilings are, and cause an uneven-looking finish.

Drop Cloth Differences

But even before priming, knowing how painting unfinished ceilings without making a terrible mess comes first. This means getting a drop cloth to catch all the drips, globs, smears, and streaks inevitable during a painting project.

Go ahead and spend the extra money to buy a canvas drop cloth, the kind professional painters use. Plastic drop cloths are slippery, tear easily, and can only be used once. Canvas drop cloths absorb the paint, stay in place while you work, and can be used over and over again.

Brushes & Rollers

When painting unfinished ceilings with both primer and paint, first use a three-inch brush to cut in the corners and any other areas, like around light fixtures or ceiling fans, for instance, that can not be reached with a roller. Buy good quality rollers for large paint jobs; they last longer and do a better job of applying paint.

And unless you buy an extension (telescoping rollers are best) for your roller, you will be going up and down a ladder, so leave room in the budget for that, as well. You will also find a lot less paint winding up on your face and in your eyes when you use an extension-equipped roller as opposed to standing on a ladder working up close and personal to the ceiling with a roller only.

Buy Quality Paint

Painting unfinished ceilings to get good coverage usually takes two to three coats, depending on the quality of paint you use. Paint is one of those things for which you truly get what you pay for, so always purchase the highest quality you can afford. Not only does it take less paint to cover something, it also lasts longer and provides protection cheap paint just does not offer.

By following these few simple steps, painting unfinished ceilings may not be a snap, but the job does become a lot easier (and less mess). So do yourself a favor and take the time to do the job right.