Color Washing Paint Technique

Color washing is one of the most popular faux techniques, due to its wide range of color choices as well as its relative ease of application.

Color washing

Color washing has an alluring worn look, giving it a charm that works with a wide range of decorating styles, from modern to classical. Its visible, overlapping brush strokes look almost like weathered stucco.

This technique is also ideal for use over imperfect or slightly damaged walls, as the subtly textured finish draws the eye and helps to hide imperfections.

I have always found that this technique works extremely well with brighter colors, particularly yellows, oranges, and reds. Color washing with a white base coat and bright golden glaze can reproduce something of a sunny Tuscan or Provencal stucco finish.

This is also a fun technique to experiment with metallic and pearlescent glazes.

As with all faux finishes, I recommend perfecting your technique on a practice board before beginning on the walls.

Stop! Very Important! Before beginning, be sure your walls are properly prepared. Not sure? Take a look at our paint preparation instructions (opens in a new window).

Here is what you’ll need:

Necessary Paint Products

  • Latex Semi-Gloss or Satin Paint (in desired base color)

  • Faux Technique Glaze (in complimenting or contrasting color)

Necessary Paint Supplies and Applicators

  • 3/8” Nap Roller Cover

  • Roller Frame

  • 2” Angled Nylon/Poly Brush

  • 3” Nylon/Poly Trim Brush (not angled)

  • 2” Painter’s Tape

  • Lint-Free Rags


Painting the Base Coat

Begin by taping around the ceiling, windows, doors, floor trim, and any other woodwork or trim that is present. Use a high-quality nylon-polyester brush to “cut in” around the ceiling and trim work.

Using a moderately-loaded 3/8” roller, roll on the semi-gloss base coat. When rolling, finish each section with a smooth ceiling-to-floor stroke to help eliminate roller marks.

Per paint manufacturer’s instructions, wait at least four, and preferably six, hours before applying the necessary second coat. Wait at least 24 hours for the second coat to dry before beginning the faux technique.


Brushing on the Second Coat

color washing
color wash paint
soften color wash
Using a 3” Nylon/Poly Trim Brush, dip the bristles very lightly into the faux technique glaze, wetting just the bristle tips.

Apply the faux technique glaze to the walls in a random crossing pattern of overlapping X’s. Allow some of the base color to show through. Your X’s should be approximately 6” in length and should blend seamlessly together.

It is important to work in diagonal sections and not directly up and down. This will help avoid visible lines or “dark spots” where more than one coat of glaze overlaps.

Be sure to complete the entire wall before stopping.


Softening the Look

Once a wall is complete, return to the beginning and dab lightly at the still-damp glaze with a slightly damp rag, to soften the appearance of the brushstrokes.

If the glaze has begun to dry or get tacky, a light mist of water from a spray bottle can help with the softening step. After softening, allow the surface 24 hours to dry.

If desired, apply a second coat or second color glaze over the first, using the same random crossing pattern. Lighter and darker areas will appear as the glaze dries, giving the surface a textured, dappled appearance.


Removing the Tape

Remove the tape from the trimwork, ceiling, and any adjoining sections while the glaze is still wet. Take care not to mar your beautiful new color washed finish.

For more texture and depth, feel free to experiment by washing a second glaze color over the first. Just be sure to do any “experimenting” on a sample board before splashing new colors on your walls.

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