Textured Ceilings
Add Character, Minimize Defects

Textured ceilings are nothing new. They developed out of necessity as a means to hide imperfections. The best drywall contractors realize that a perfectly smooth ceiling is a nearly impossible feat. Since ceilings reflect light, even subtle variations can be noticeable.

There are numerous products on the market available to help the homeowner with their own textured ceiling projects, however many of them can be less than appealing. The dreaded popcorn ceiling is often shunned yet it does its job of hiding the imperfections so we can't "knock it" too much. Despite this fact, it is not a favorable look anymore and sadly makes a room look dated.

I've tried ceiling texture paint before and didn't like it much. It was a bit too runny and didn't create the plaster effect I wanted. Speaking of plastered ceilings, they can get costly. However the various textures achieved through the use of plaster can be replicated with the use of economical joint compound.

Joint Compound and Putty Knives

Joint compound is one of my favorite things to work with. Of course it's easy to say that now, as I'm not amid a textured ceiling project wishing I were done. Yet somehow when I pick up my spackling knife and wipe that first swipe of compound on the ceiling or wall and begin seeing the transformation take place, I can't help but smile. It is such a versatile product to work with and can really create some dramatic finishes. It is also a nice alternative to the traditional plaster ceiling.

The texture I prefer is somewhere between "knock-down" and "Venetian plaster". It consists of random straight swipes of compound with little to no "peaks" but visible depth variations. Here are some examples of textures for visual reference.


Flat Drywall Ceiling Before


Textured Ceiling After


Textured Ceiling

This texture makes a substantial difference in the feel of the room. Not only does it reduce light reflection, assisted through the use of flat paint, but it adds an architectural feel to the space. These types of "upgrades" make a home more customized and increase "cosmetic appeal" which is beneficial if you're trying to sell.

The completion of this project put the other ceilings to shame and made them look even worse. Especially the vaulted ceilings with visible shadows from the drywall screws. Tackling the vaults was not an easy task. They were entirely done by hand using putty knives. People may think I'm crazy to go this route but there is a noticeable difference in the texture and finish when hand-applying compared to spray application. This effort produced the desired result.

Textured Vaulted Ceiling
This was completed over a 3-day weekend. Two days were devoted to texturing and the third to paint.

Spray application is customary with knock-down finishes for walls or ceilings, but it can be messy; not just the spraying, but the "knocking-down" of the peaks. These ceilings were completed in a furnished home so less mess was best. Hand texturing allowed for much more control of the product application.

Create This Textured Ceiling

Use this texture on ceilings and walls to give your rooms more character. The images below will walk you through the steps.

Putty Knives
Look for a set of various sized putty knives made of slightly bendable material. I primarily use the knife size on the far left (3 - 4" wide) for most of the work.

Typical Amount of Compound Per Swipe
This is a workable amount of compound to apply
each time to you start a new swipe.

First Swipe of Compound
Wipe the compound in a straight, diagonal angle.

Appearance of Compound Application
Second Swipe of Compound
Apply your next swipe in the opposite direction.

Blend the Swipes
To add additional texture, hold your putty knife flat against the compound and pick it straight up
rather than swiping it.

Creating Peaks
The resistance of the clinging compound
will create peaks and valleys.

Smoothing the Peaks
Lightly smooth down the formed peaks to create "pockets" (open bubbles) in the compound. This creates depth in the texture. Apply this method every so often as you do your swipes, particularly if your texture begins looking too consistent in pattern.

Creating Texture Depth and Dimension
Additional compound added showing
the development of the texture.

Creating more peaks and valleys by lifting the knife.

Lightly smoothing and blending the peaks
to create depth, dimension and texture.

Keep repeating the steps shown above.

  • Add compound in alternating diagonals. Like an "X"
  • Lightly flatten compound with your stroke while retaining knife marks.
  • Create peaks by pulling the flat portion of the knife away from the compound on the ceiling.
  • Lightly smooth down the peaks to create pockets and blend with surrounding texture.
  • Work in 2' x 2' square sections, blending each subsequent section with the previous one.


  • Scoop joint compound into a smaller container to work from.

  • Use pliable plastic or rubber type putty knives. The hard plastic ones are difficult to work with and may break from repeated pressure placed against the ceiling. Metal ones are too rigid.

  • Cover floors and furniture with drop clothes.

  • Wear safety glasses and use caution when working on ladders

  • Keep a damp cloth nearby for quick clean-ups.

  • Allow the finished textured ceiling to dry overnight (12-15 hours is usually sufficient). More time may be required depending on the thickness of your application. Damp spots will appear darker than surrounding areas that may have dried.

  • You may elect to use a primer on the finished texture before painting. I do not as I typically use flat paint that is very near the color of the dried compound. The dried compound and texture will absorb a lot of paint. Priming will mitigate this.

  • Slowly apply paint with a paint pad or medium-nap roller to fill in the texture.

  • If cracks appear in your finished texture where pieces of drywall meet, fill them with white, paintable caulk, smooth with your finger and touch-up with paint. Additional joint compound will only re-crack in this same spot so use caulk.

This textured finish is great for hiding old finishes and defects.

Covering Old Texture
If you elect to do this, cover the ceiling with an initial flat coat of compound making sure you work it into the old texture well. Allow this initial coat to dry and then apply your texture coat. If you try to do a nice textured ceiling right on top of the old texture, bubbles will form as the compound dries. This is from the air pockets trapped in the peaks of the old texture below.

Other examples of this finish

Textured Bathroom Ceiling
An example of the finished result showing nice detail.

Wall Texture
The same technique of texturing applied to a wall.

Plastered Wainscoting
Texture used to establish a lower wall finish
in place of wainscoting.

Give this a try to add some detail and texture to your boring ceilings and walls. It is a bit involved but the effort is worth the time. Practice on a piece of cardboard to develop your technique or experiment with textures. If you're done texturing and ready to paint, visit Painting A Room for some additional tips and guidance.

Additional information on knock-down ceiling and wall texture applications.

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