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Rag Painting Techniques for Walls


Rag painting is a neat technique to add texture to your walls. It can create a softer look, which can be of benefit in a compact space like a bathroom. It can also give a room a more dramatic look with its faux finish feel. You can apply this style to a whole room or use it to create an accent wall.

Not sure what rag painting is? It is exactly what it sounds like, except you use paint that is thinned out with glaze. What is truly awesome about this technique is that it will always be unique. You can have the same colours, but the result will differ from person to person, unlike a single colour wall.

Before You Start Rag Painting

Time for the best part – picking your colours! Choose a base coat colour in eggshell or semi-gloss. Your top coat colour will be a few shades lighter or darker than your base coat. If you want a subtler look, choose similar colours. Go for contrasting colours if you want it to be more visible. Flat or glossy will work for your top coat.

If you are not sure about colours, think of your space and apply the same basic rules as you would for a room painted in one colour. Light shades will make small rooms seem larger and darker shades will make larger rooms feel small and cozy.

You can buy pre-mixed top coats, which has the paint and glaze already set. If you plan on doing it yourself, a basic ratio is 1:4 (one part paint to four parts glaze). Just make sure to use matching paint types, like latex paint with latex glaze.

Just like any paint job, there is preparation that will need to be done. Remove any fixtures and covers, clear out the room, and make sure that you have put down tarps or drop cloths. Tape off areas that need it and patch any holes. If you have ever painted before, you know the drill!

Last but not least, paint the base coat and let it dry for at least 24 hours.

Rag On, Rag Off Painting

Just like the Karate Kid, rag painting takes patience, but the end result is worth it. The two most common techniques are ragging on and ragging off. You will need a decent supply of clean lint-free rags, a scrap piece of board, and a bucket with water.

Ragging On

  1. Dampen a rag slightly and then dip it into the top coat mixture. Dab first onto a scrap piece of board to remove any excess paint.
  2. Pick a wall and start in the top right corner. Patting the wall with the rag, work your way across the top from right to left, top to bottom. Switch out the rag when it becomes over saturated with paint. Repeat this process on all the walls in your room. Then let it dry.

Ragging Off

  1. Using a paint roller or brush, paint a small section (2’ x 2’) of top coat on the top left corner of the room.
  2. Dampen a rag slightly and use it to dab the wet top coat paint. Work your way across the section from left to right, top to bottom.
  3. Continue to paint small sections across the top of the wall and repeat the above process. Finish each wall going across the top and then working your way down to the bottom. Switch out your rags when needed.

Other Rag Painting Techniques

  • Antiquing. Use glaze to create an aged look to your wall. You can get this look by gently wiping off the wet glaze which will leave hints of it behind.
  • Colour washing. Apply a watered-down glaze with a rag in small sections and let it dry slightly. Instead of dabbing, make random small strokes with a slight arc. Soften the marks with a dry brush afterwards.
  • Rag rolling. You can create the look of fabric like silk or velvet, or faux leather by using the rags to gently roll the top coat onto the base coat.
  • Stencilling. If you would rather not do an entire room or wall, you can dab with stencils instead to create a design all over or just a border. Rag painting is also often used as the pattern under stencils.

If you aren’t sure what technique you prefer, pick up some sample paint pots and test them out. There really is no wrong technique for any specific room. Play around with the different textures rag painting creates and see what works best for you.

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