Painting Stripes – An Easy and Attractive Decorative Effect

Painting stripes on your walls is an attractive way to enhance your room. In many cases, this method mimics the look of wallpaper with considerably less mess.

Choosing paint to create this look has other advantages as well. Painting is faster than wallpaper; there is no need to worry that the finish will bubble or peel, or that the pattern won’t match. When it’s time for a change, a new look is as simple as another layer of paint; no stripping required.

Depending on the method you choose, striped walls can be subtle or dramatic. There are two variations on the theme: tone-on-tone and gloss-on-flat.

Painting Tone on Tone Stripes

This option has the potential for the greatest drama, but it can still look sophisticated. You can work with contrasting colors or complementary colors.

  • If you use strongly contrasting colors such as black and white, navy and white, or red and white, the look will make a dramatic and bold statement.
  • If you choose monochrome colors, you control the level of impact by the difference between the two colors you choose. For example, brown with cream would still be quite bold, but tan with cream would be more subtle. You can use a paint chip with several intensities of the same color to create a subtle tone on tone stripe.
  • If you choose complimentary shades in similar intensities the results will be more subdued in general, unless you choose vibrant colors. For example, teal against fuchsia is attractive, yet very dramatic. Turquoise against soft pink is more subtle.

Feel free to use two different sheens as well for even more visual interest.

Painting Gloss on Flat Stripes

The gloss on flat version of this technique uses the same color in different sheens to create subtle stripes. Typically, the base coat is flat and the stripes are shinier—either semi-gloss or gloss. This is a very understated look and a great way to maximize your decorative paint dollar, especially if you’re already happy with the room’s basic color.


  • Paint Roller
  • Paint – either two of the same for the flat/glossy method or two complimentary colors for the tone on tone.
  • A two inch paint brush – the poly/nylon type is best.
  • Blue painter’s tape – 1-1/2 or 2 inches wide
  • Tape measure
  • Pencil
  • Chalk line

Getting Started Painting Stripes

As with any painting project, the key to good results is in the preparation. Make sure the walls are clean, and mask off trim, windows and doors, and appliances.

Apply the base color if you are changing the color of the room. Let the paint cure for at least two days so the painter’s tape you use in the next step doesn’t pull the paint up.

Now comes the most difficult part—the math. Measure both the width and the length of the room, and try to decide on a measurement that will divide evenly. For example, if your room is 12 feet (144 inches) by 9 feet (108 inches). Stripes 2″, 3″, 6″, 9″, 12″, or 18″ wide would all work. You’ll have to play around a bit and do some basic math to determine a width that will work in your room, but it’s worth the effort.

For a different look, you can create stripes in varying widths. Combining a narrow 6″ band of black with a wider (12″ or 18″) expanse of color, for example, is a good way to add drama without overdoing the dark colors. Or, try a three-color project, combining 2″, 3″, and 6″ stripes in different colors.

This less-regimented look is a good idea if your room is off-square, or if dividing the room into equal segments is impossible for some reason. Just make sure that all your narrow stripes are the same width and the large ones are at least close.

Remember that uneven bands of color will be very noticeable, especially if contrasting colors are used. Trying to camouflage that last half-stripe because your design doesn’t quite fit on the wall is a hassle.

Once you’ve decided on the size of the stripes, you need to settle on placement. In some rooms, your stripes can start anywhere. In spaces with a definite focal point, like a fireplace or picture window, try to center one stripe in the middle of that feature. Then use it as a guideline for marking the rest.

Mark the top edge of the wall with pencil to indicate where your tape will go. Use a plumb line to get a true straight line, though if your walls are off square, you may want to ignore true vertical. Mark the bottom of the stripe. Now, use a chalk line to snap a true straight line from the first mark to the bottom mark. If, despite your best efforts, off-square walls are interfering with your ability to create uniform stripes, make adjustments in inconspicuous areas, like the corners of the room. (This is where using wide stripes versus narrow stripes can be helpful. Position your stripes so the wide stripes fit into the corners.)

Stretch a length of low-tack, blue painter’s tape from the mark at the top of the wall to the corresponding mark at the bottom of the wall. Take care to smooth the tape perfectly flat against the wall. Gaps or bubbles will let paint in and ruin the effect. Repeat until all the stripes are masked off.

Paint the masked areas using a roller or paintbrush. You may need two or more coats. When the final coat is completely dry, remove the blue tape. Because the adhesive isn’t strong, it should come away cleanly without leaving sticky residue or pulling up the base coat.

That’s it! Although painting stripes is simple, all the taping can be time consuming. Make sure you allow yourself enough time to complete the project. You’ll want to complete painting within a day of applying the tape. Even though painter’s tape doesn’t adhere as tenaciously as masking tape, it is harder to remove without damaging the base coat if it remains in place too long.

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