How to Achieve the Perfect Color Wash

Tap into your creativity to create the desired effect.

By Diane Franklin

One of the most elegant faux finishes that a do-it-yourselfer can create is a color wash. This basic faux technique can add vibrancy, depth and visual interest to an otherwise plain wall. To create the technique, you simply apply a thin layer of glazing over your base coat of paint to give the surface a subtle layered effect. While it may seem easy, taking the time to perfect your technique can allow you to create gorgeous, one-of-a-kind effects for a focal wall, a ceiling or an entire room.

If you’ve never created a color wash before, it’s a good idea practice on sample boards until you are comfortable with your technique and also to test your colors. Color choice for the color wash is critical. Typically, the basecoat is the brighter or darker of the two colors, with the more subtle color on top, but you can reverse that if you want a more dramatic effect.

Choose colors that work well together—either monochromatically or to complement or contrast with one another. If you desire, you can add some pizzazz with a metallic glaze.

The supplies you need to achieve a color wash are available at your local paint store.

Supplies Needed:

Base Coat (Satin or Latex), tinted to the color of your choice

Top Coat or Coats (Satin or Latex), tinted to the color of your choice

Latex Glazing Liquid

9-inch Roller


Painting Tray

2- and 4-inch Paintbrushes

Cotton Rags

Paper Towels

Masking Products


  1. Clean and prep the walls. Lay down drop cloths and mask off surfaces that you do not wish to finish. Prime the walls if necessary to achieve a uniform finish.
  2. Apply the latex paint to the walls. Let dry for at least 4 hours. Remove the paper’s tape.
  3. Now it’s time to create your topcoat. Mix one part of your topcoat paint with five parts glazing liquid. Pour the mixture into a painting tray. Make sure you mask the surface you are painting with a low-tack painter’s tape for easy removal.
  4. There are a variety of ways you can apply your color wash. You can dip your rag into the glazing mixture, dabbing off the extra on paper towels, and then apply the mixture to the walls, using a circular motion. Our you can use a paintbrush, roller or mini-roller. Again, be sure to wipe off the excess and use short overlapping motions to apply the glaze to the wall. The more random your application, the better.
  5. If you desire, you can even add a third layer with another topcoat color mixed with the glazing liquid. This adds more depth and interest to the faux effect you are creating. You also can create interesting effects by using special tools such as brushes, combs or textured rollers. Consult with your local paint store for ideas on achieving the perfect color wash for your home.

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