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How to Create Special Paint Effects in the Home

Skill Level: Intermediate


We all know how much a coat of new paint can brighten up a room. Every home needs a make over now and again to keep it looking fresh – our homes reflect our taste – character – personality, so you don’t always have to go for a plain colour simply rolled or brushed over your walls and doors, every time.

Paint special effects in the home are not difficult to achieve, most can be created with just a few basic decorating tools, and a little practise (and a little patience).

There are many types of paint special effects, two of which are: Broken Colour, and Imitation.

Stippled Effect

A very simple, but effective “special effect” is stippling. To do this just apply a thick top coat over your base coat and using a stipple brush, dab the brush hard onto the wet applied paint, working your way over the whole of the surface. Make sure to clean the brush bristles frequently.

Special Paint Effects

Broken Colour Special Paint Effects are created by employing a variety of techniques using two different paint colours: A top coat being applied to a base coat where the base coat will show through when dry and worked, giving a very effective two tone aged appearance.

Imitation paint effects are where we use paint to re-create the appearance of organic materials such as wood, or marble, for example. But the possibilities are endless!

Surface Preparation

As with any painting job, preparation is the starting point. Generally, we will be painting over wooden surfaces, but it could also be plaster, or even metal. Each of these substrates may have been previously painted, or otherwise coated: therefore, before we can begin letting our artistic flair run wild, we’ll need to do a little surface preparation first. For two reasons – one to achieve the desired results and finish, and two, to ensure the new paint bonds with the surface, and doesn’t simply peel off after a few weeks. Often, particularly in kitchens, you will have to deal with hard, shiny surfaces, where this is the case, at the very least you’ll need to “rough up” or key the existing surface layer first.

Knots and Bare Wood

If the wood is new, bare, and has knots then it must be treat first with knotting solution, to seal in wood saps and oils. Knots in bare wood should always be treated with knotting - this is a shellac based solution which helps prevent the sap in the knots from bleeding through paint coatings, which will result in brown stains, these will show through your new paintwork. Miss this stage out, and all your efforts will be in vain. Then, depending on the paint you plan to use, prime with one or two coats of a suitable primer.

Painted Wood Surfaces

With previously painted surfaces: wash down and degrease (especially important with kitchen surfaces) then lightly sand to provide a good “key” for the new paint. Then, prime with either water based or solvent based primer, depending on your choice of top coat.

Bare and Painted Plaster Surfaces

In the case of bare plaster surfaces use water based primer and apply a couple of coats of water based undercoat, followed by the top coat. For solvent based paints prime with a coat of PVA adhesive, and apply a couple of coats of solvent based undercoat: and finish with the top coat.

Different Special Effects

There are quite a few attractive special effect finishes to choose from.  Below you will find a couple of the more popular ones, but there are no hard and fast rules, experiment - if it doesn’t work out, its not the end of the world - take a deep breath, and start again. Practise makes perfect.


If you think the “distressed, antique look” is attractive, then this is easily achieved.

Start by preparing the surfaces, cleaning, priming, and undercoat: then apply two or three base coats of your chosen colour, but allow each coat to fully dry before applying the next.

Then, using sandpaper or wire wool, randomly rub down various areas of the base coat to create that aged, worn and distressed look.

Sponging Effect

Sponging involves dabbing random patches of your desired top coat of paint onto your base coat, using two or more different colours: but make sure you use a sea sponge for this purpose. Give the sponge a thorough soaking in water before commencing sponging, to allow the sponge to swell to its full size - squeeze out –dip the sponge in the paint, and dab on the surface, lightly, overlapping in an irregular manner. Allow to dry, and then go over it again: by doing so you create contrasting shades, and an attractive finish.

Rag Rolling

Rag rolling is another two tone effect finish, which involves brushing a diluted second colour coat over the base coat, then, using a rolled up rag, removing some of the second coat before it has dried. This technique is particularly effective when using an eggshell paint as the base layer, and a coat of diluted eggshell (white spirit, not water) paint on top.

Colour Washing

This is perhaps the simplest of special effect painting techniques.  To create an attractive wash finish

To achieve a washed finish just apply a base colour of your choice – allow to dry – then cover over with your top, or, glaze coat. The better the contrast between these two coats, the more effective the finished appearance will be.

Once you have the top coat on, take a soft bristled brush, and create a series of long, random brush strokes in different directions, adding a third toning topcoat for an even more attractive finish.

Marbling effect

Marbling is another popular choice of special paint effects, but is not the easiest. This technique will take a bit of practise. Best results will be achieved by using a solvent based glaze or top coat over an eggshell base coat. That is the easy bit - the marbling, veined effect is created with artists oil paints, a fine artists brush, and your artistic flair. When finished it is recommended you seal the whole painted surface with a clear satin varnish, and buffed when dry to produce a realistic and attractive finish.

Tools you will need:

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