A good paintbrush is key to a professional-looking finish. "A quality brush costs $15 to $25, but you'll discover that pros aren't as talented as you thought," says Doherty. "The equipment has a lot to do with their success." Most of our pros prefer natural-bristle brushes for oil-based paints, but they recommend synthetics for all-around use. When choosing a brush, pay attention to the bristles. Synthetic brushes are made of nylon or polyester, or a combination of the two. Poly bristles are stiffer, which makes them good for exterior or textured work, but for fine interior work, Doherty uses softer nylon brushes. Look also for tapered bristles, which can help you work to an edge, and flagged tips, which help spread the finish smoothly and evenly. Brushes are available in 1- to 4-inch widths. Most painters keep an arsenal on hand to match the job. "Use common sense," says Maceyunas. "A smaller brush gives you more control, but no one wants to paint a door with a 1-inch-wide brush." Doherty recommends starting with a 2- or 2-1/2-inch sash brush. The angled brush makes it easier to cut to a line and puts more bristles on the work than a square-tipped brush.
Prep. For new work the painter accepts the finish done by the drywall or plaster and once he accepts the work and starts painting he owns any wall repairs. Existing work is a different thing. I take a high intensity light and circle the kinds of defects with chalk so we are all in agreement before they start. Sometimes this results in a higher price and we have to compromise on how much to do...
Painters with bad reputations can avoid the problem of reference checks by giving their customers lists of relatives and friends. The people will say great things, and the customer won’t be the wiser. The best way to avoid this smoke and mirror trick is to ask specific questions about the project. If the reference seems hesitant, doesn’t know the details, or gives sketchy responses, be skeptical.
"Modern paints dry too quickly, and are difficult to brush out," says Dixon, who uses paint additives, such as Floetrol for latex paints and Penetrol for alkyds. "Adding a few ounces per gallon slows drying time and makes the paint more workable," he says. Another problem is bridging. "Latex paints form a skin," says Dixon. "Removing painted tape can tear the skin, resulting in a ragged rather than a sharp line." Lastly, taping takes time. "Learning how to cut in with a brush takes practice, but if you can do it, you'll leave most tapers in the dust," Dixon says. (Cutting in is painting just the surface you want, not the surface adjacent to it — for example, where a wall meets the ceiling.) Although there are mildewcide additives, our pros prefer using bathroom and kitchen paints that have built-in mildew fighters. "These paints will prevent mildew from forming, but they won't kill mildew that's already there," Dixon points out. Because leftover mold spores can live beneath the paint and eventually work their way through to the surface, you should also prep bath and kitchen surfaces. First, wash down the walls with a bleach solution (3/4 cup of bleach per gallon of water) then seal with a stain-blocking primer, such as Zinsser's Bulls Eye 1-2-3 or Kilz's Total One.
When painting the trim, you don’t have to be neat. Just concentrate on getting a smooth finish on the wood. Don’t worry if the trim paint gets onto the walls. You’ll cover it later when painting the walls. Once the trim is completely painted and dry (at least 24 hours), tape it off (using an “easy release” painter’s tape), then paint the ceiling, then the walls.
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Even if you go it alone, specialize to keep your initial investment low. If you do only interior painting, for example, you might get by with one ladder, a few brushes, rollers, basic hand tools and such, for an investment of less than $300. Again, you can add to your tools as you need to (every job is a bit different), and parlay profits into the equipment necessary for exterior painting or working on large commercial properties.