Adding texture to interior walls is one way to give them a little extra pizzazz. While numerous, unique styles jockeyed for prominence towards the end of the last century, the history of these practices stretches back much further. Many texturing techniques migrated from the old world with the craftsmen who applied them to the plaster walls of the early modern American home.
While some forms are classical and sophisticated, others were born, perhaps, as time-savers during production building booms. Because of the latter, texturing is sometimes seen only as a method for hiding inferior craftsmanship. Don't be misled, these techniques are highly evolved and require advanced knowledge, skill and practice.
Using a texture does not free you from providing a sound and finished surface first. While texture is great at masking some shortfalls in a wall system, it should not be considered a “cover up.” Wall texture yields literally limitless options for custom style, and because of this, has experienced a strong resurgence in recent years.
The details involved with achieving textures vary and you’ll first want to explore some of the finishes that can be obtained before diving in. This article provides an overview of products, tools and techniques available for those choosing to go beyond the basic painted wall.
|Tools||Materials||Skill Level||Estimated Time|
|• Ladders, stepstools, or scaffold||• Drop Cloth(s)||Intermediate||Less than a weekend|
|• Low speed mixer||• Texture|
|• Paint mixer||• Lightweight Drywall Joint Compound|
|• Drywall knives and sponge||• Acrylic glaze|
|• Drywall hopper (with air compressor)||• Buckets of clean water|
|• Paint brushes and tray|
|• Stipple brush|
|• Texturing roller cover and sponges|
|• Glazing Tools|
|• Drywall sponge|
|• Painter’s gear|
|• Disposable gloves|
|• Eye protection|
Subtle or even more formal textures were integrated into the final stages of plaster wall installation in the early parts of the last century. Some styles developed from the repeating of a regular pattern. Others were more freeform, even artistic - where the components used helped dictate how a wall should finish. Most of the texturing techniques still in use today find roots here.
The tools used in the application of texture can vary widely based on desired effect. Some textures are applied with a trowel or a specialty applicator. Others utilize more common tools - a thick-nap roller, a sponge, a stiff-bristled brush, and so on. Balled wax paper or aluminum foil can be grabbed from the kitchen and can sub, in some cases, to create many of the same effects produced with specialty tools.
A whisk broom can be run lightly over a surface to create not only straight and wavy lines, but also more pronounced arches and swirls. With others, a combination of the tools and techniques listed above (and below) can be utilized. As for a travertine finish, a tool (often a trowel or a stiff brush) is first pressed at a regular interval into a "loaded" surface. Later as this texture begins to harden, a moistened concrete float is run flat across the entire application.
Wall Texture Options
Wall texture can be broken down into three main categories:
- Texture that is applied immediately after wall finishing, but before final painting.
- Texture that is applied with or during final painting.
- Texture that is applied after final wall painting.
Apart from the largest applications (multiple rooms and/or an entire floor), these texture types can be achieved in a weekend of free time with not much more than a few standard products and tools.
Countless “built-up” textures can be created using standard drywall joint compound. In fact, pre-mixed joint compound, thinned with water, is often not only a relatively frugal option, but also supplants plasters or even specialty dry-mix texturing products for both convenience and workability.
These textures that are applied immediately after the completion of a wall system can be further broken down into two categories:
- Those that are applied by hand;
- Those that are sprayed onto the wall surface.
Texturing effects like knockdown (big in the 90s) are applied as an additional wall finish, again before paint. In the trades, these textures are sprayed onto a surface using an airless sprayer, known as a hopper.
Final textures can be accomplished with and without “tooling”. That is – once applied, material may or may not require additional attention from (drywall) knives or other tools. Along with knockdown, an orange peel and/or a splatter can be sprayed onto a wall. Hopper manufacturers provide specialty tips for each application type, and each yields a subtle variation in finish.
The above textures can be created with equal efficiency whether using standard joint compound or a specialty texturing product. Some textures, however, require the use of specially designed texturing additives.
For a spiral sand effect, for example, two parts silica sand is added to joint compound (or traditional gauging plaster). Combined with water, it is mixed much like the base coat in a plaster installation. When attacked pre-paint, a spiral sand finish is applied with a grout float; the mix is swirled in a circular pattern onto the surface. Circles overlap, and at intersections, they are spritzed with water. Edges are then feathered out with a drywall or a grout sponge.
Available both in pre-mixed latex formulations and as a dry-powder additive, 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, hatched or stipple effects.
The easiest textures can be achieved by simply rolling out texture-added paint with a long nap roller. This approach produces not only traditional treatments, like the orange peel, but also unique variations based solely on the amount of texture added and the amount of pressure applied during application.
For a more traditional feel, “sand paint" has been employed extensively since the early part of last century. With sand paint, modified natural, or synthetic sand-like granules (or dry mortar) are added to paint, and are then similarly rolled or brushed on.
If opting for paint additive, a variable speed drill set on low, and 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 for the execution of many widely popular textures - from swirls to twists and dab & drags.
It is fair to say that in-paint applications are the most approachable option for homeowners. A myriad of specialty brushes, rollers and sponges can significantly ease, as well as in some cases, elevate a texturing project.
Before we continue, it should be pointed out that virtually every wall has a texture. The absence of texture can in itself be seen as a texture – smooth. Beyond that, all painted surfaces, and as discrete as they are, have a distinct texture. If you look closely, you can identify a subtle orange peel or a subtle graining, each tied to the respective paint tool employed during painting.
Faux finishes, moreover, have gained in popularity in recent decades. These decorative painting techniques typically employ one of an array of specialty finishing products, called glazes. A resin-rich liquid is applied either with or after paint to coax out either a understated variation in color or a more dramatic, yet still relatively subdued, texture.
Simple decorative textures are realized by swapping out a standard roller cover. Popular glazing rollers include the floppy roller, the bag roller and the rag roller, each yielding a unique textured finish. A linen effect is achieved by whisking a soft-bristled brush vertically through a tinted glaze. An even more striking treatment can be achieved by combing through a mix of paint and glaze with a paint comb, an integral part of any graining kit.
Others rely less on specific tools and rather more on the composition of the glazes themselves to produce an antique look, on woods or wallboard, and/or more randomized crackling effects. While most are rolled on, still others mimic traditional plaster and are often troweled on.
Wall Texturing Techniques
Orange Peel: Cheater versions of textures like the 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, alternating with 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 scrap drywall standing upright. Once applied, your mixture should be thick enough such that is 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 and/or with a long metal straight edge.
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 work to create a brocade effect. Notched tiling trowels can yield extra-large swirls, but in general the deeper the effect you are trying to achieve, the more material required to do so. Mixing for these types of textures will roughly follow the mixing process described above for orange peel.
Tip: It is wise to acquaint yourself with the techniques required in creating a classic stipple. While stippling, in the formal sense, is typically reserved for ceilings, the actions used in creating this traditional effect can be utilized in any number of the textures described below. Swirling is a far more common texture for walls, but pairing this approach with a light stippling motion can yield uncommon, one-of-a-kind results.
Swirls, Dab & Drags and Nonrepeating Patterns: A stipple or "dash" brush can be used to create dynamic swirls. Coat a three-foot square area with roughly 1/16" of either drywall joint compound or veneer plaster. Employing a hawk, load the brush and using a technique called "dib and daub" transfer the mix to the wall. Space daubs to create a regular pattern, utilizing either stationary twists or a dragging motion to create a desired look. While swirls of various sizes and depths can be created pre-paint in joint compound, a simple, small-scoop swirl is well within reach also of in-paint textures.
Some dramatic effects can be achieved with not much more than a standard 3-inch paint brush and a little practice. A standard paintbrush lends itself conveniently to not only smaller swirls but also more aggressive patterns. A crowfoot pattern, for one, can be attained by first rolling on textured paint (similar to pre-mudding in pre-paint applications) and addressing the surface with the long side of the paint brush. Pulling off the surface, this look mimics that of a baby stipple.
Larger swirls can be realized using whisk or masonry brooms. Specialty sponges can be employed to create subtle small-pattern textures. A technique called the dab and drag yields a highly irregular finish, perfect if you are going for a look that lacks uniformity.
Getting even more creative, a stucco-look finish can be achieved using a paint-graining comb, or even a standard hair comb. Heavy sanded or a clumpy texture can be created by adding any number of materials to your paint, including among other things, sanded tile grout.
Mixing and Applying Build-Up Texture
In a generic application, start by apply a thin or “canvas” layer of joint compound to about a 4x4 square. Being conscious of the working time of your mix, quickly apply the needed pattern.
Always overlap the edges of patterns to avoid any untextured spots in the application. Choose to work with water-based products so that re-touches can be artfully blended. In pre-paint applications, spritz edges of the working area for a water bottle and feather together with a sponge.
Mixing Pre-Paint Textures
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.
Working with Glazes
While faux glazing types have surged in recent decades, you might be surprised to learn that some techniques have roots reaching even further back than the pre-paint options described throughout this article. Backed by solid tech, but based on these traditions, modern manufacturers have designed a range of glazes that can mimic not only aged plaster or antique wood, but also now metal, fabric and even leather. Dubbed “faux”, these products by nature work to achieve a look that imitates that of another material.
Tip: On selecting a specialty glaze, manufacturers support these products with rich product info, and it is best to thoroughly follow application recommendations. Glazes are most commonly clear and translucent, but can often also be tinted.
General purpose acrylic glazing can be used alone or is mixed with paint itself to create decorative textures, like damask, shimmer or faux graining. For a simple, high impact texture, tape off a feature wall either vertically or horizontally and roll on alternating stripes of high-gloss glaze for tone-on-tone effect. (Note: A similar, but perhaps less poignant result can be accomplished using contrasting degrees of sheen in a single paint color.)
Faux Graining: One widely-used and time-tested glazing project creates faux wood graining. It can be easily achieved using acrylic glaze, latex paint and a $10 wood-graining kit, which itself includes both a "rocker" and "combs" of various sizes.
Over an already painted surface:
- Mix equal parts clear glaze and white latex paint.
- Working in two- to three- foot strips running the length of the area, apply your mixed glazing with a roller. (Note: For a more convincing wood look, select browns or tans as the project's under-coating and base.)
- Holding one of the kit's paint combs at a 45 degree angle, pull the selected tool in long passes through the glaze.
- To begin creating the "planks", including wood's signature knottiness, place the rocker at the far end of the already combed project area.
- Setting the heel of the rocker onto the surface, pull the tool toward you to drag the tool’s stamped pattern into the glaze. (Note: Because glazing is somewhat slow-drying, feel free to rework any section you are not fully happy with. Reapply glazing and repeat to fix larger issues.)
- To vary the grain (as would be expected with natural wood), alternate your use of the kit's combs and the rocker. Twist and turn the tools to create a more natural pattern.
- Repeat until the entire surface area is grained.
Important! Whichever method you select (pre-paint, in-paint or after-paint) always plan to practice before you apply. A handy board or 2x2 piece of scrap 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.
Prep and Protect
While accounting for your ability to move easily throughout the space, remove as many fixtures (i.e. furniture and/or valuables) as reasonably possible. By doing so, you will not only remove them from harm’s way, but also minimize 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 at minimum - plastic no thinner than 2mil. Protect fixtures, like fans or wall hangings, as well as any other item that cannot be removed.
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. Fill one 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 practice, when applying texture over drywall, to do so only after the drywall has been sealed – i.e. painted with flat paint or, at minimum, is primed.
Texturing a wall is a fun, relatively easy entry-level DIY project. Limited only by your imagination, a myriad of textures can be created without the need for specialty products or specialized tools. Many of the texture types described within this article have rich histories, spanning back more than a century.
Modern glazing, too, has roots in tradition and can add character and depth - texture to a wall. Most traditional textures can be created by hand. For more modern and professional applications, over larger areas, one might need to consider renting a drywall hopper from a local rental center.
Regardless of the treatment and method selected, practice is the key. With patience and practice, a wall texturing project can be completed with precision within a weekend.
If you need a helping hand for your project, don't hesitate to contact a qualified wall texturing pro.