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How to Texture a Ceiling

Pro Referral > Home Guides > Drywall > How to Texture a Ceiling
How to Texture a Ceiling

On This Page:

  1. Tools & Materials
  2. Options
  3. Pre-Paint Textures
  4. In-Paint Textures
  5. Most Common Texture Techniques
  6. Prep and Protect
  7. Mixing and Applying Texture
  8. Conclusion

Adding build-up texture to interior surfaces goes back to the dawn of walls and ceilings. Often a choice over a plain white finish, applying a texture is one way to give a ceiling a little extra pop. While your thoughts might fall quickly to the notorious popcorn ceiling (gaining wide popularity in the 70s and 80s), this texture type is really only one in a large group of specialty finishes.


Sometimes seen as a method for hiding inferior craftsmanship, the reality is--texture is a great option if your project requires the mitigation of minor imperfections. Don't be fooled, however, using a texture does not free you from the duties of providing a sound and finished surface.


While it is true that texture is great at masking shortfalls in a ceiling finish, it should not be used solely to mask blemishes. Instead, texturing yields literally limitless options for personalization.


The details involved with achieving various textures differ, and you’ll want to explore some of the available finishes before diving in. This article will provide an overview of products, tools, and techniques available to those who choose to texture a ceiling.

Tools Materials Skill Level Estimated Time
• Ladder • Drop Cloth(s) Beginner Less than 24 hours
• Low-speed mixer • Masking tape
• Paint mixer • Texture (pre-mixed or paint-added)
• Drywall knives and sponge • Lightweight Drywall Joint Compound
• Drywall hopper (with air compressor) • Buckets of clean water
• Paint brushes and tray
• Stipple brush
• Texturing roller cover and sponges
• Disposable gloves
• Eye protection


At its most basic level, interior texture can be broken down into two main categories: Texture that is applied immediately after drywall finishing but before final painting, and texture that is applied with or during final painting.


Apart from the largest applications (multiple rooms or an entire floor), either type of textured ceiling can be achieved with not much more than a standard suite of products and tools.


Pre-Paint Textures

Numerous types of texture can be created with nothing more than lightweight drywall joint compound. In fact, joint compound thinned with water is often an option for those that are both frugal and creative in their ways.


These textures applied immediately after drywall finishing can be further broken down into two categories: those that are applied by hand, and those that are sprayed on.


Specialty texturing effects like knockdown (big in the 90s) are applied as an additional drywall finish before paint. In the trades, these textures are sprayed onto a surface using an airless sprayer, known as a hopper, which in turn is connected to an air compressor.


Final textures can be accomplished with and without “tooling,” meaning that, once applied, material may or may not require additional attention from drywall knives or other tools. Along with knockdown, some of the other textures realized with a hopper are orange peel, splatter, and acoustic. Hopper manufacturers provide specialty tips for each, and each yields a subtle variation.


The above textures can be created with equal efficiency whether using standard joint compound or a specialty dry-mix texturing product. Other textures, like a popcorn finish, require the use of a specifically designed product, often an oil-based mix including either polystyrene or paper-derived particles. Popcorn requires no attentional tooling, which of course lends itself to ease of application and perhaps a widespread adoption with builders.


In-Paint Textures

Available both in pre-mixed latex formulations and as a dry-powder additive for paint, this category of texture is applied while you paint. Pre-mixed products typically lend themselves to lighter effects, where the powder-based products are more common for heavy stucco and hatched or stipple effects.


The easiest texture of all can be achieved by simply rolling out texture-added paint with a long nap roller. Not exactly “popcorn,” this method produces not only traditional treatments, like the orange peel or a sandy effect, but also unique variations based solely on the amount of texture additive used and the amount of pressure applied during application. It is fair to say that in-paint applications are the most approachable option for homeowners.


Most Common Texture Techniques

A myriad of specialty brushes, rollers, and sponges can significantly ease a texturing project. Either while painting or before painting, a little thought paired with these tools can yield a pretty big wow.


Orange Peel

Cheater versions of textures like orange peel can be achieved with a modest amount of thinned joint compound. These can be quickly applied with nothing more than a long napped roller (1/2 inch or greater). When working in this manner, start with a half-full bucket of drywall compound. Add water in a little bit at a time while using a low-speed mixer and continue until your texture mix is just slightly thicker than paint.


To check your consistency, apply it to a piece of upright scrap drywall. Once applied, your mixture should be thick enough so that it does not sag down the scrap. Add water or compound until the mixture is just right.


To add variation to the hand-applied orange peel, consider knocking down with a 12-inch drywall knife, 15-inch finishing trowel, or with a long metal straightedge.


Hatched, Brocade, or Extra-Large Swirl

A drywall or concrete trowel turned on its long side can create a parallel hatch or crisscross pattern. The same trowel turned on its end can create a brocade effect. Additionally, notched tiling trowels can yield extra-large swirls. In general, the more dramatic of an effect you to try to create, the more material you’ll need to do so.


Mixing for these types of textures will roughly follow the mixing process described above for orange peel.


Important! Because the application of texture in these methods can actually add significant downward weight to a ceiling, it is best to ensure that your ceiling is structurally sound and can handle the added compound. Be especially careful when working over porous surfaces such as those made of plaster. If you have concerns, it may be better to opt for orange peel, less dramatic effects, or those achieved with in-paint textures.



The most time-tested and widely-used ceiling texturing technique is known as stipple. A stippled ceiling can be easily identified by its distinct star-shaped ridges.These ridges are created using a brush designed specifically for this type of application. A stipple brush can be identified by its broad-set, fanning brittles.


While applied with a brush, a stipple application most commonly occurs before paint is applied. Stippling uses a technique sometimes called “pouncing.” Instead of brushing side to side as you would with a standard paintbrush, a moistened stipple brush is pressed firmly into the ceiling, coated first with a thinned layer of joint compound. By pressing into the “mud” and by pulling away, this technique creates the distinct peaks and texture of a stipple finish.


Tip: If you don’t use enough pressure when stippling, the stipple brush will load with joint compound and ultimately produce an uneven surface. If you press too hard, you risk damaging the integrity of the finished drywall.


The handles of most stipple brushes are fitted with a socket that allows for the attachment of an extension pole or broom handle. This makes working overhead easier.


Swirls, Crowsfoot, and Dab and Drags

While swirls of various sizes and depths can be created easily before painting with a joint compound, a simple, small-scoop swirl is well within reach of in-paint textures.


If you opt for paint additive, a drill set at low speed, fitted with a paint mixer, can make fast and effective work of mixing texture into paint. Beyond that, and apart from some very specific finishes, you’ll find little need for specialty tools. A whisk broom, a drywall sponge, or even a standard paint brush will often allow you to execute many widely popular textures, including swirls, twists, and dab and drags.


Some dramatic effects can be achieved with not much more than a standard 3-inch paintbrush and a little practice. A standard paintbrush conveniently lends itself to smaller swirls, and also more aggressive crowsfoot patterns. Crowsfoot can be achieved by first rolling on textured paint (similar to pre-mudding in pre-paint applications) and addressing the surface with the long side of a paintbrush. This look mimics that of a baby stipple. (Optionally, even more unique looks can be created by alternating between the brush’s tip and the brush's side or by employing multiple brushes of differing sizes.)


Larger swirls can be attained using whisk or masonry brooms. Specialty sponges can be utilized to create subtle small-pattern textures. A technique called the dab and drag yields a highly irregular finish that’s perfect if you are going for a look that lacks uniformity.


Getting even more creative, a Spanish-style stucco-look finish can be achieved using a paint-graining comb or even a standard hair comb. A heavy-sanded texture or a lumpy texture can be created by adding any number of materials to your paint, including among other things, sanded tile grout.


Important! Whichever method you select (pre-paint or in-paint) always plan to practice before you apply. A handy board or 2x2 scrap piece of drywall can make for the perfect practice canvas. It will allow your muscles to build the memory they will need to fine-tune your technique.


Because the smallest inconsistencies will most certainly show through in the finished product, plan to address the entire expanse of the ceiling in a single pass. In other words, plan to start your texturing project on a day when you have the time to finish it.


Prep and Protect

It’s probably fair to say that gravity is a factor when texturing a ceiling. While accounting for your ability to move easily throughout the space, remove as many fixtures (i.e. furniture and valuables) as reasonably possible. By doing so, you will also remove them from harm’s way, minimizing what you’ll need to mask or tarp.


Ideally, cover floors with surface-protecting products like Ram Board or Carpet Shield. Plan to fit the room with sturdy drop cloths, or plastic no thinner than 2 millimeters at a minimum. Protect fixtures, like fans or wall hangings, as well as any other item that cannot be removed as you would with any other painting project.


Remember to protect yourself! Wear eye protection, a cap, and disposable gloves throughout the application process. Dress yourself appropriately for the project--coveralls with a hood is a great choice. If you don’t have a painter’s cap, a plastic shopping bag will work well as an impromptu cap.


Even with great care, the nature of texturing can made it a little messier than traditional painting. Arm yourself with ample rags and keep two buckets nearby. One will be filled with clean water, the other with warm soapy water.


Important! Because the production of many types of textured pre-paint finishes requires keeping the texture moist throughout application, it is often best to apply texture over drywall only after the drywall has been sealed (i.e. painted with flat paint or, at minimum, primer).


Mixing and Applying Texture

When mixing texture into paint, follow manufacturer recommendations. For heavier effects, typically more texture can be added. Aim not to add so much that your intended texture cannot be obtained.


Textures like stipple are best achieved by first applying a coat of thinned joint compound to the ceiling surface. The thickness of this canvas layer, as well as the amount of material consequently identified for budgeting, will be dictated in part by the look you are trying to achieve.


Aim to work in sections of the ceiling around four feet square, and always overlap the edges of patterns to avoid any untextured spots in the ceiling. Choose to work with water-based products so that retouches can be artfully blended.



Texturing a ceiling is a fun, easy, beginner DIY project. Limited only by your imagination, a myriad of textures can be created without the need for specialty products or specialized tools.


Though not covered in this article, a few standard textures are available in “upshot” spray-can form. Marketed in most cases as repair products, these may in fact be an option for smaller projects (i.e. projects limited to a single room). If you choose this as a tactic, plan to buy more than you need because, as advertised, coverage does not always match actual output. As always, be sure to follow manufacturer instructions closely.


If you need a helping hand for your project, don't hesitate to contact a qualified ceiling texturing pro.

Related Guides: How to Texture Walls

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