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How to Texture a Ceiling

If you’re tired of the same old flat surface or dealing with a ceiling full of imperfections, repairs, or uneven surfaces, a textured ceiling may be the way to go. Texture can add character and depth to the room, making it an excellent final touch on a renovation project.

Texture Ceiling iStock

Most folks are thankful that the heyday of the popcorn ceiling is behind them. But despite that once-popular-now-taboo trend’s absence, some rooms can still benefit from a bit of texture from swirls, grooves, or anything other than flat ceilings and popcorn. Whether it’s for a bit of style or to hide the imperfections that lie below (or above) the finish, texturing a ceiling may be the answer.

Luckily, learning how to texture a ceiling isn’t difficult. The following tips will explain how to bring a bit of character to any blank ceiling.

This guide will explain two ways to apply a textured look to a ceiling, as well as the materials (hint: joint compound is your friend!) and tools necessary to get the job done.

How to Texture a Ceiling

While the finished product might make a dramatic difference in the room, texturing a ceiling is easy with the right tools, materials, and techniques. Keep in mind that it’s best to start in a small, inconspicuous area in the room, like the darkest corner or above an interior door. Camouflaging repairs in these spots will be less noticeable if the texture doesn’t quite meet expectations.

Note: There are two methods listed below. One includes rolling the textured material onto the ceiling, while the other involves troweling and sponging. Rolling creates a flatter texture (but still a texture), while sponging creates more depth and build. If rolling is the desired method, following steps 1 through 5. If the sponge technique is the method of choice, follow steps 1 through 3, 4a, and then 5.

Step 1: Prepare the Room

Move as many items out of the room as possible and protect the floor with drop cloths. For any items that are too large to move, cover them well with plastic sheeting. Also, if there are any light fixtures, tape around the bases with painter’s tape and/or remove their canopies if they get in the way.

It’s also worth running painter’s tape along the walls’ edges where they meet the ceiling and any skylights or tray ceilings.

Step 2: Prime the Ceiling

The layer of textured joint compound might appear to stick to anything, but it won’t adhere as well to a painted surface as it will a freshly primed ceiling. Stir the primer and pour some into a lined paint tray, cut bucket, or empty paint can.

Use the ladder and paintbrush to cut along the edges of the ceiling where they meet the walls and around any light fixtures. Use the roller and roller handle to apply primer to the rest of the ceiling. Allow the primer to dry completely.

Step 3: Mix the Textured Paint

The trick to making textured paint is the formula. Use one part joint compound to 10 parts ceiling paint (without primer). This formula boils down to roughly 1.5 cups of compound per gallon of paint.

Pour the compound and paint into a 5-gallon bucket and use the paddle mixer and drill to combine it until the two ingredients are fully integrated and the texture is similar to pancake batter.

Pour the paint-compound mix into a clean paint tray liner for Step 4, or leave it in the bucket for Step 4a.

Step 4: Apply the Paint-Compound Mix

Use the paintbrush to cut in along the edges of the ceiling, around light fixtures, and around any other ceiling protrusions like skylights or vaulted ceilings. With the thicker roller cover (3/4-inch) on the roller handle, dip the roller into the paint tray, and roll the paint onto the ceiling. Be sure to roll as close to the edges of the ceiling as possible without accidentally painting the walls. This will provide the best-appearing finish.

Typically, one good coat is all that is necessary for this thick paint. Also, this technique will provide a semi-smooth texture. If it still appears too rough, thin out the paint mix with a little more paint and apply a second coat.

Step 4a: Trowel on the Finish

Consider troweling the paint-compound mix onto the ceiling if you’d prefer a slightly more pronounced, stucco-like texture. This will take longer than rolling, and the paint-compound mix may require thickening with a bit more compound if it begins to splatter or drip, but the finished product may be worth it.

Use a margin trowel to scoop the paint-compound mix onto a large mason’s trowel. Working slowly, use the brick trowel to apply a layer of the mix (roughly 1/8-inch thick) to the ceiling in small sections (think: a 2 by 2-foot or 3 by 3-foot area). Use the sponge to dab the wet paint compound on the ceiling and build texture, being careful not to miss any spots as the change in texture will be noticeable.

Don’t be afraid to drag the sponge across the paint in small 1- or 2-inch-long motions to mimic the look provided by a stucco application. You can also adjust the pressure and pull the sponge away from the ceiling occasionally to provide the appearance of layers and depth and change directions and angles randomly.

Step 5: Let the Ceiling Dry

Regardless of the application method chosen, be sure let the ceiling dry before removing the drop cloths and moving items back into the room. Drips and globs will be a possibility until everything cures, so give the room several hours (overnight, if possible) for everything to completely set before removing the tape and reattaching ceiling lights and other fixtures.

Once dry, the ceiling should have a fresh new textured look. This ceiling treatment will reflect light differently, create more contrast with the walls, and give the room an entirely different look. Move the furniture back in, relax, and enjoy that stylish new touch.