The ceiling can be painted the same color as the walls, but it’s a much faster job to paint it white and then hang things on it.
Use an exterior-grade primer or latex primer, whichever you have to use because of local laws. Apply two coats, sanding lightly in between coats, using fine sandpaper (220 grit).
Painting a ceiling is not difficult if you know how to do it. The first thing you have to decide before starting work is whether to paint the ceiling the same shade as your wall color or go for a contrasting scheme by painting the ceilings a different shade from that applied downstairs. Most people prefer to make the entire house look uniform with one color throughout all rooms.
As with any painting job, preparation is the key to a successful finish. The first thing you have to do before tackling the ceiling is to wash and sand off the old paint with a strong cleaner like TSP. It’s important that you remove all loose surface material as well as stains that may be embedded in the wood. Don’t use steel wool for this; instead, look for emery cloth (available at paint stores) or 00 brand sandpaper (available at hardware stores).
Once you’ve washed down your ceiling, lightly scuff it with 60-grit paper and spot prime it if needed. A painter friend of mine suggested feathering out your ceiling primer by applying patches of light and heavy coats rather than trying to cover everything in one application. He also recommended using a paint roller to apply your ceiling primer in order to reduce the chances of sagging later on when it’s time to lay on the finishing coat.
Ceilings are mostly flat surfaces, but they can be tricky in areas where two walls meet at an angle and right above doors or windows. To avoid unsightly brush marks, which will show through even after you’ve applied three coats of paint, cut in around these awkward shapes with your brush as if it were an extended arm-the same way you would along the edges of wallboard joints. By laying out tape first according to your plan (with ¼” spaces), you’ll find that this part of the job goes much more quickly than you thought.
The key to a good ceiling finish is preparation and patience. You can’t hurry the job, and you must allow ample time for drying between coats-even on hot summer days. Since ceilings are large expanses of flat surface that an inexperienced painter has to paint without walls to prop his brushes against, it’s easy to see why some people tend toward impatience when they tackle this kind of project. My father worked as a house painter for years before he taught himself how to build houses from scratch; after so many years in the business, he had learned what was really important (like washing off your brush immediately with turpentine after each coat) and what was just plain old superstition (like keeping your p of the job, or the rain will come and wash off all your work).
If you want to go for a contrasting color scheme with your ceilings, choose the lightest shade you can get away with that contrasts enough with the wall color. Be warned though: Some people think it’s tacky to paint over dirty walls. If you’re not willing to scrub everything down before you start rolling on a coat of ceiling paint, forget about painting anything but your ceiling the same color as all the other rooms in your house.