How to Apply Drywall Texture to Walls and Ceilings

How to Apply Drywall Texture to Walls and Ceilings

Once you’ve hung your sheetrock, taped and mudded the joints, and sanded the mud smooth, there’s still an important finishing step before your drywall project is complete. You’ll need to decide on a surface treatment in order for it to look complete – no one wants to see the mudded joint lines and bare sheets of drywall in their living room. There are perhaps dozens of different ways to apply texture to walls and ceilings. Some are easier than others, some require special tools, and still others are only suitable for certain kinds of environments or surfaces. In this post, we’ll look at a few of the most common techniques that are appropriate for DIYers and outline some general principles for finishing your drywall project as professionally as possible.

Before You Start: Choosing a Texture and Practicing It

Different drywall textures can give your room a totally a different look, so take some time to decide what statement you want to make. Totally smooth texturing is a timeless look and especially appropriate for modern homes, since its lack of internal shadows matches the bright, open trend in home design of the last few years. The downside is that a smooth finish is both difficult and labor-intensive to achieve. Any mistakes in a smooth finish, however small, will be obvious, so it is often best to leave smooth finishes to the pros. Most other texture techniques are more forgiving for beginners. Some textures provide a strong aesthetic choice that is associated with a certain era or style, so consider what will match your home best. Thicker, heavier textures can also save you a lot of time because you won’t need to skim coat the wall, effectively saving you an entire step and that may be an important consideration as well.

Many drywall textures are simple to apply but will be difficult or time-consuming to correct once the mud dries. Depending on the technique you pick and the products you use to achieve the look, that time to dry can be quite short, so it’s important to practice a bit before you start the project. Any of these techniques can be easily practiced on a large piece of cardboard until you get the hang of it.

One last note about practicing textures: the consistency of the mud will make a big difference in how the final texture looks. In addition to practicing to learn the technique, try out a few different consistencies of mud to see which you like best. You should know whether you want thinner or thicker mud and what the final product will look like before you commit to doing a whole wall or room.

First Steps: Setting Up

Make no mistake: drywall texturing will be a bit messy regardless of what technique you choose. Before you start any kind of texturing work, it’s important to set up your space. Lay out drop cloths to cover the whole floor around the work area. If you’re doing a ceiling, consider protecting the whole floor of the room (seriously!). Remove anything that can be removed (furniture, etc.) and mask any fixtures, wall sconces, or other items that can’t be moved out of the room to protect them from the mess. 

Once the room is protected from the splash, prepare your tools. Some techniques require only hand tools, while others (indicated below with a *) will require some sort of spraying tool to apply the texture. These sprayers can be powered by compressed air or an electric motor. Some textures are even available in disposable cans, similar to spray paint, for those who don’t want to rent a sprayer.

Next Steps: Applying the Texture

  • Stucco Effect – One of the simplest techniques is to thin drywall mud to the consistency of thick pancake batter then apply it with a sponge, trowel, or a deep-nap roller. This will create a lightly stippled look reminiscent of stucco and is one of the most forgiving techniques because it doesn’t have a clearly defined pattern. Typically, though, stucco look isn’t great for walls that have been patched heavily because it isn’t deep enough to adequately cover the lines left by the repairs.

Each common drywall texture is achieved through a different combination of tool and technique. Some of the most common are:

  • Comb This technique is a great way to dress up ceilings in more elegant environments. Lay down a layer of mud and use a toothed trowel to create tidy ridges in the mud before it dries. Most commonly applied in a “half-fan” motif that gives an almost art deco-like style to the surface.
(c) Home Depot
  • Stomp Brush and Crows Feet – Both of these are basically the same technique and differ only in the tool used to achieve the finish. In both cases, you’ll use a large brush loaded with mud, press it against the ceiling and pull down sharply to pull away dramatic ridges in the mud in a random pattern. The stomp brush style uses a special, single brush while the “crow’s feet” technique uses a double brush to create pairs of focus points for the pattern. Because of the depth of the ridges and the visually “busy” pattern, this is a great choice to cover heavily patched ceilings as it easily hides irregularities.
  • Skip Trowel Another dramatic technique that can be used to cover surfaces (walls as well as ceilings) that have seen lots of repair is skip trowel. It is also great for beginners with a creative eye because it requires more aesthetic sense than difficult technique. Simply apply a smooth layer of mud on top of your sheetrock. Then, place your trowel almost flat (but not quite flat!) against the wall or ceiling and swirl it to create random, raised patterns in the mud. The height of the pattern will depend on how much mud you put on in the first layer and the angle and pressure you apply with the trowel. When working in pairs or on a team, only one person should apply the final texture to ensure consistency throughout. Heavier patterns are great for ceilings but lighter texture should be used on walls, where very deep or pronounced ridges can catch on clothes or wear down unevenly.
  • Knockdown Not a technique unto itself, knockdown can be applied to other textures to create a more subtle effect. In this style, you apply a pronounced texture (like stomp brush or either of the spray techniques below) and then smooth it partway with your trowel using gentle pressure. This creates a subtle version of the original pattern with much less shadowing on the surface. If you decide on a knockdown finish, you’ll need to use a thicker mud than you would otherwise use for the texture you’re knocking down. Make sure to let it set before you knock it down: it shouldn’t be hard but it needs to be partially dry so you don’t just wipe the texture away.
(c) iStockPhoto
  • Popcorn* – Less common in modern homebuilding but once very popular, the popcorn texture is an aggressive, heavy texture of rounded lumps applied to the surface. This effect is achieved by the addition of small pieces of Styrofoam to the mud. The advantages of this style are that it can cover very obvious mistakes and patches and that it provides light acoustical insulation (it was actually developed to dampen sound in restaurants but eventually made its way into homebuilding). The downsides are that it is a very strong look that may or may not go with your home and that it creates a heavy shadowing that can visually darken the space and make paint colors pop less. Requires a compound sprayer. For bigger projects, consider renting a refillable sprayer while for smaller projects you can purchase spray cans of popcorn finish that are ready to go. Typically used only for ceilings because the heavy texture can catch on clothes or even scratch the skin if you rub against it.
(c) iStockPhoto
  • Orange Peel* – In some ways visually similar to the popcorn finish above but much less aggressive, orange peel has a dimpled, wrinkled appearance (much like an orange peel). Unlike popcorn, however, it just uses thin mud to achieve the texture with no added foam. It also requires a sprayer with the appropriate nozzles, so consult your local hardware store to discuss the project (there are different spray angles for walls and ceilings, for instance). Though used primarily for ceilings, its softer look and gentle curved surfaces make it better suited to walls than popcorn texture.
(c) Home Depot


The last step of any drywall installation project is to create an attractive finished surface on top of the drywall panels. The easiest and least expensive way to do this, especially for anyone new to drywall, is to use hand tools and joint compound to apply a texture on top of the sheetrock. A perfectly smooth surface is possible but difficult and best left to professionals. Easy-to-apply textures vary from a lightly stippled stucco effect to dramatic ridges and swirls that can hide imperfections in the drywall finishing beneath. For even more options, drywall sprayers allow you to deliver a range of textures using a power tool. Any of the heavier textures can then be “knocked down” to create a subtler version of the same pattern. This is especially useful for walls, where aggressive texturing can create problems later on – catching on clothes or even scratching the skin if end users aren’t careful. On the other hand, the deeper the texture and more random the pattern, the better the textured finish can hide imperfections from earlier phases of work.


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