How to Choose Paint for Ceiling Tile and How to Apply?


Painting a ceiling can be intimidating. Especially when you are at the hardware store trying to pick out the right paint, brushes, and other supplies. Then you get home, and it’s time to paint, but you have no idea where to begin. Not to worry, I’m here to help.

How to choose paint for ceiling tile and how to apply? There is a difference between ceiling paint and interior paint. Typically, for ceiling tiles, you will use spray paint or flat-latex paint. Except for wood tiles. It is also easier to apply your paint with a sprayer rather than a brush or roller. However, a good brush and roller are great options too. 

If you’re new when it comes to rollers in general, don’t worry, we have two articles to help. Go here for getting the best use out of microfiber rollers and here for foam rollers.

There is a lot of preparation that goes into applying your paint. If you are doing a whole room, it is best to start with your ceiling. Before you begin, though, you will need to make sure you have the proper:

  • Equipment
  • Room temperature
  • Floor protection
  • Cleaned ceiling with any damages repaired beforehand
  • Paint and primer (unless your ceiling paint has primer in it)

Painting a suspended ceiling is also a little different than most other ceilings.

What Kind of Paint Do You Use on Ceiling Tiles?

The paint you choose to paint your ceiling tiles will first depend on what ceiling tiles you have. Ceiling tiles come in a wide variety of materials:

  • Different types of metal like tin
  • Faux-tin tiles are made of thermoplastic such as PVC
  • Plastic
  • Wood
  • Fiberglass which is typically not painted over
  • Mineral Fibers usually used for Noise Reduction Coefficient (NRC)

There is a wide variety of ceiling tiles, but mostly you will always see a matte finish style paint for a ceiling. The only time you will see a glaze or sheer finish on a ceiling is usually with tin ceiling tiles.

Paint for Tin/Faux-Tin Tiles

If you are painting over tin or faux-tin, you can get away with spray paint. 

Most tiles will need a coat of primer before starting. For the tin and faux-tin tiles, you can find a can of primer spray paint. Spray paint typically works the best for these tiles because they usually have a lot of grooves to get around. Not only this, but the paint goes on thin which is what you want for this material. You don’t want thick paint for tin tiles.

Painting faux-tin tiles can get complicated quick, though. Specifically, the old 19th-century style ceiling tiles. A lot of the time, when you only use one color to paint these tiles, it will end up looking flat to the eye. You can run into this problem with tin tiles as well.

This is because the tiles have very intricate designs in them. An easy way to get away with only using one color for these types of ceilings is by using a sheer style paint. One that does not have a matte finish. If you decide to pick a paint with a matte finish, you will come to find out that you’ll need to compensate for highlights and shadows with similar shades of the same paint.

You will quickly turn an easy project into a more artistic project by going this route. However, if it is done correctly and with a lot of patience, it could very well be worth it in the end.

Paint for Drop Ceiling or Acoustic Tiles

Acoustic or drop ceiling tiles are great for hiding an eyesore like old pipes and wiring. However, they are a big investment and can start to look dingy after a few years. This is why painting these tiles is usually a go-to.

Painting an acoustic ceiling with regular ceiling paint will cause some of the sound-absorbing qualities of the tile to decrease. If you want to conserve the NRC qualities then you will have to use a specific kind of paint.

Acousti-Coat is a water-based, flat-latex paint that is formulated with sound-absorbing fillers and ceramic microspheres.

Acousti-Coat is the ideal paint for painting acoustical tiles when you do not want to compromise the noise reduction qualities. This paint will actually help block the noise even further.

Some things to note:

  • Really thin, watery paint is not recommended for ceiling tiles of any kind. It is cheaper, but you will end up using more of it in the long run. The finish of this paint is not the best either.
  • Wood, plastic and even tin and faux-tin tiles will most likely need to be sanded down before you apply the paint
  • Primer paint is also a critical part of choosing your tile paint

Paint for Plastic Tiles

When it comes to painting plastic ceiling tiles, this will take some prep work. It is not super tricky to accomplish, and you will be glad you did it. Aside from cleaning the ceiling and prepping the room, which I will get into more later, you will also need to sandpaper your plastic. This isn’t something you need to spend a lot of time on, just roughing up the surface a bit, so it’ll hold your paint better.

A 180-grit sandpaper or sanding sponge will do. You may need a few of them, depending on your ceiling size. 

Plastic ceiling tiles call for an oil-based primer. The problem with this type of primer is it contains chemicals that aren’t necessarily good to breathe in for long periods at a time. Be sure to be in a well-ventilated area. It also takes upwards of 8 hours to dry. When this has dried, you can now paint the plastic tiles using oil-based paint or latex-based paint.

* More on the application process at the bottom.

Oil-based paint poisoning can occur after large amounts of the fumes attack your lungs. This can also happen through your skin pores and eyes. Some symptoms include:

  • Respiratory difficulty (coughing)
  • Confusion
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Skin irritation
  • Blistering/irritated and watery eyes
  • Running sinuses
  • Dizziness
  • Unconsciousness
  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting

Paint for Wood Ceiling Tiles

The paint and primer you use for wood tiles are similar to that of plastic tiles. If you do not use an oil-based primer (and a lot of it), your paint will not stick. Your primer could also end up bleeding through your paint and discoloring it.

You also want to make sure to sand the wood tiles down before you start as well, or the paint will not stick. 

What Is the Difference Between Wall Paint and Ceiling Paint?

When you are choosing your ceiling paint, you want to make sure you choose the right one. There are specially formulated paints made specifically for painting ceilings. This is because wall paint is made thinner. It is also meant to be more durable and can be scrubbed with soap and water if need be.

Ceiling paint does not require such durability and also is thicker to hide any irregularities in the ceiling, hopefully. It is meant to cover well and stick well, and usually only comes in a matte finish. While wall paint has a number of different finishes. These rules do not apply for spray paint though.

What Colors are the Best for My Room? 

Most of the time, people paint their ceilings, either black or white. A black ceiling is especially a great choice is you are talking about a ceiling that is located in the kitchen of a restaurant. The dark color will hide all possible smoke stains as well as dust. That being said, you have to make sure you keep up on cleaning these ceilings.

White is usually the go-to for the home because it brings more light into the room. However, if you are painting tin, faux-tin, or vinyl tiles, you may opt for a more fun color. Especially with tin tiles. Having a sheer finish on a tin tile makes it that much more extravagant feeling.

Otherwise, a good rule of thumb to live by is this:

  • Small room:
    • Keep it cozy with matching dark colors across the ceiling and walls
    • Choose to open up space with matching lighter colors across the walls and ceiling
  • Large room:
    • You can bring in that cozy feeling to a larger room by also painting the ceiling and walls a darker color
    • You may want to create a feeling of a wide-open space. To do this, choose lighter colors

Suppose you have ceiling trim. This serves as a great way to accent between the ceiling and wall color. Having this division (usually in white) will really bring out the size of the room. 

How Much Paint Will I Need?

Another tough decision is knowing how much paint you will need to buy. It is usually recommended to put two coats of paint on your ceiling, but in some cases, you can get away with one.

For instance, acoustic or drop ceiling tiles usually only call for one coat of paint. Especially if you are using your acoustic tiles for NRC qualities and not just covering an eyesore. The reason for only one coat is so you can conserve some of the natural sound-absorbing technology from the tile.

On the contrary, though, your drop ceiling tiles might be old and covered in stains. This will cause stains to show through one coat of paint. That is unless you invest in a good primer.

If you choose to buy the cheaper, thinner paint, you will need to buy more. This paint doesn’t go as far as the quality paint brands.

Here is a good rule of thumb for when you are calculating how much paint you need: 

  • One gallon of paint will usually cover 400 square feet on a smooth ceiling
  • One can of spray paint will yield about 20 square feet

How Much Is Too Much for Paint?

There are countless paint companies out there. Finding the right paint for your ceiling can have you crunching numbers and pinching pennies. Here is a chart of the top brands of ceiling paint for the best value: 

Brand/Type Volume Finish Price Special Notes
Rust-Oleum 253536 Metallic Accents Paint 32 Fl oz Metallic $27.77 –          Low odor

–          105 sqft coverage

–          Good for tin tiles

–          Iridescent shimmer

EMR Shielding Solutions EMF Shielding Paint 1.32 Gallons Matte $269.99 –          Environmentally Friendly

–          Radiation Blocker

–          Works as Primer too

Glidden Latex Ceiling Paint

3.78 gallons Matte $22.11 –          Low odor

–          Splatter resistant

–          Minimizes imperfections

Montage Signature Eco-Friendly Paint

1 Gallon Low Sheen $29.99 –          Eco-friendly

–          10-year warranty

–          Protection against mildew and mold

KILZ Color-Change Interior Ceiling Paint

1 Gallon Matte $44.10 –          Stain blocker

–          Splatter resistant

–          Up to 400 sqft coverage

Prestige Paints Interior Paint and Primer

1 Gallon Matte $35.99 –          A paint and a primer in one

–          100% acrylic latex paint

–          Many colors available

Hy-Tech Acousti Coat Sound Deadening Paint

1-5 Gallons Matte $35.95 –          Great for NRC tiles

–          Eco-friendly

–          Non-toxic composition

–          Easily clean up any mess

 How to Get Rid of Old Stains on Tiles?

 Proper prep work is the key to a quality paint job. This starts with cleaning the ceiling tiles. There are a few different ways to clean your ceiling tiles, depending on the material the tiles are made from. It also depends on how long you have had your tiles, and the environment they are living in.

No matter, sometimes you can get away with a simple dusting. You can do this via a cloth or fluffy microfiber duster. Sometimes even a lint roller will work depending on the material. The only thing you don’t want to use is a towel or anything that will leave behind pieces of debris on your tiles.

If you have a handheld vacuum cleaner, this will also work quite well. 

Acoustic/drop ceiling tiles may need some more care spent during the cleaning process. The good thing about these tiles is they come off from the ceiling quite easily. Allowing you to dust the ceiling as well as vacuuming each tile.

Your tiles may be suffering from water or smoke damage though, causing deep-set stains. After you have gotten rid of the standing dust on the tiles. Make up a bleach and water mixture, preferably in a spray bottle. Spray and wipe each tile.

Some of the stains may be too deeply set to come out. This is okay and expected. Mainly, you want to clean your tiles to make sure there is nothing that will show through your paint. Like dust particles, for instance. Any stains that are left behind can be covered up with a coat of primer. 

How Much Is Too Much for Primer?

Just like paint prices, primer prices can get a little confusing. Here is a chart of the top brands of primer for the best value:

 

Brands/Type

 

Volume

 

Price

 

Special Notes

 

Kilz Original Oil Based Primer

 

1 Quart

Or

5 Gallons

 

Starting at

$7.88

–          Excellent Adhesion

–          Blocks water and Smoke stains

–          Fast Dry time

–          Also available in water-based

Zinsser Cover Stain Oil based Primer  

1 Quart

 

$8.97

–          Sticks to all surfaces without sanding

–          Also available in water-based

–          Quick-dry time

 

Zinsser Deep Tint Primer

 

1 Quart

 

$15.07

–          Perfect for drastic color changes

–          Water-based primer

–          Seals and tones

 

BEHR Multi-Surface Primer

 

1 Gallon

Or

5 Gallon

 

$22.98

–          Great for wood primer

–          Blocks old stains

–          Resistant to peel

–          Fast dry time

 

Insl-X Waterborne Bonding Primer

 

1 Gallon

 

$53.99

–          Fast dry time

–          Works great for vinyl and acoustic tiles

–          Easy soap and water clean up

How Long Does It Take to Dry?

Dry time varies between products and brands. It also depends on the amount of airflow in the room or area you are painting. The weather can also play into dry time. If there is a high humidity index outside, drying may take a little longer.

Primer

The typical dry time for primer is one hour. Your primer should feel tacky to the touch within thirty minutes. It is recommended you wait at least three hours before painting, though. It doesn’t necessarily matter if you are using oil-based, water-based, stain blocker or a multi-surface primer.

This is the standard wait time across the board. However, be sure to read the recommendations on the container of primer you purchased. Different brands could still have different recommendations.

Paint

Paint takes a little longer to dry than primer. You also have a curing time to worry about before you can wash your walls. Your paint will typically feel dry within the first hour, but this is a little deceiving. You will want to wait at least four hours before applying another coat; if you are applying another coat. The standard curing time for paint is about two weeks. Try not to have anything in the room that could cause premature staining, such as burning a candle.

As always, make sure you are reading the labels on the paint you choose to purchase. Different companies will recommend different paints. And don’t forget weather permits!

What Is the Ideal Room Temperature?

Believe it or not, weather plays a major part in the painting process. As well as proper ventilation. You could do everything right from start to finish, but if you don’t have a way to regulate the temperature of the room you are working in, all your hard work could end in disaster.

Ideally, the temperature for the area you are working in should stay between 50- and 70-degrees Fahrenheit. 

When it is hotter outside, and you are working in an area without a controlled climate, you can usually bring in some fans to do the trick. Not much will happen to the paint if it gets a little hotter than 70 degrees in the room. It just may take a little longer to dry.

However, during the colder months, you want to be more careful. Working in a room without a controlled climate could really be detrimental to your painting job. If the room hits lower than 50 degrees this could end with cracks in your paint. Something you definitely don’t want.

What Kind of Equipment Will I Need?

Now for the fun part! You have chosen the proper paint for your ceiling tiles as well as primer. You know the standard dry time and weather restrictions. Now, let’s talk about equipment. After all, you can’t paint with your hands. Well, you can, but this won’t be very effective.

Starting with the proper painting attire. You will want old clothes, and most likely an old hat for painting your ceiling tiles. You will also want to cover every square inch of the floor and furniture that is left in the room before you begin. Along with a roll of blue painter’s tape.

Let’s talk brushes. You will need a good brush for cutting. Cutting is what you do around the corners and edges of the ceiling. Now, if you have drop ceiling tiles that are removable, you won’t have to worry about cutting as much. Still though, you may want a good brush to paint your tiles with. A roller might be a little excessive in this case.

Here are some tips for the type of brush you’ll need:

  • Natural-bristle brushes are made with animal hairs. This is best for oil-based paints and primers
  • Blended nylon/polyester brushes are easy to work with all types of latex paints and are easy to clean
  • Polyester brushes are stiff and work well with latex paints 

A 4” brush is what you will want for the large flat surfaces 

The two types of brush end you will need:

  • Chisel trim brush- this is great for cutting in around the edges of the ceiling where it meets the wall
  • Square trim brush- this is the style brush you will want for painting the flat surfaces, like acoustic tiles

The two brush styles you will want to use are:

  • Angle sash- this is the perfect style for cutting in ceilings
  • Flat sash- is the style you will use for the flat areas

This brush kit is a great price and will do the job nicely.

For the flat tiles such as vinyl tiles, you may want to purchase a roller to get the job done a little quicker. 

The best roller to use for this is a Medium 3/8” nap roller cover.

You can find a decently priced six-pack of roller covers here.

A couple brushes and rollers are great for painting ceilings. However, if you can invest in a sprayer, you will find this to be extremely convenient. This will ensure you get an even coat across your entire ceiling. It will also prevent any dripping you could get from using brushes or rollers.

How to Use a Sprayer?

Keep in mind that each sprayer is different. The angle and volume can vary. You will want to choose a sprayer with an angle and volume somewhere in the middle.

Here is where you can get a sprayer for a decent price.

Below are steps on how to set up and use your sprayer:

  1. First, you will want to stir your paint and strain it to remove any debris. If the sprayer gets clogged it will cause the paint to splatter.
  2. You will definitely want to test your sprayer on a piece of cardboard before starting on your ceiling. Make sure you maintain the same distance from your body to the board at all times. Practicing long, straight strokes.
  3. Now begin on your project. Work slowly, spraying in one-foot width spaces. You do not want to rush this, or your paint will be uneven. Sprayers dispense a lot of paint at once.
  4. Once you reach the corners, spray vertically in quick spurts. This will avoid overloading the area.
  5. Take a step back when you’ve finished and check over your work. If there are any light or missed spots, go over them with a brush or roller.
  6. Lastly, thoroughly clean your sprayer every time you use it. If yours comes with a flush feature that lets you connect to your garden hose, this will allow for easy cleanup.

How Do I Apply Paint to Ceiling Tiles?

Using the techniques you have learned from this article, you are ready to apply your paint. The main thing with painting is to make sure you apply it evenly. You also want to be careful not to use too much paint. This could cause dripping and bubbles to form on your ceiling tiles. Be patient with your work; it’s a slow but rewarding process.

If you are applying spray paint, you will first want to make sure you are in a well-ventilated area with a face mask on. You should only need one coat of this, but it is all based on preference. Hold your spray can about 6 inches to a foot away from the tiles and apply in straight sweeps. This will ensure the paint goes on evenly.

Acoustic or drop ceiling tiles can easily be taken down and painted, and then place back on the ceiling. This adds a little convenience to the job. If you are doing this, you won’t need a sprayer. A good brush can get this job done efficiently. However, if you already have a sprayer on hand, you can definitely still use it for this.

Of course, after you are done painting, you will want to make sure you clean your brushes so you can reuse them later.

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