7 Drywall Texture Techniques

A man applying texture to a ceiling.
What You'll Need
What You'll Need

Drywall textures are primarily used to add character to ceilings, however, they can be done on walls as well. They cover up blemishes and add flair to otherwise flat, boring drywall. There are many styles to choose from and some are more DIY friendly than others. Most textures can be done using only hand techniques, however, different applications will be done faster with a spray gun and compressor. Choosing which texture suits your needs will depend on the state of your ceiling, whether you want to match an existing style or have a style preference, and, of course, your level of experience. Here are a few common drywall textures and how to achieve them.

1. Popcorn

A “popcorn” ceiling is sometimes referred to as a “cottage cheese” texture and is very good at hiding imperfect or stained walls. It can also help with sound dampening because of the thick application. It was a popular look from the 1960s-80s and is still used for its versatility, though it's considered a bit dated and many homeowners spend more money removing this texture rather than applying it. Also, popcorn ceilings have been known to have asbestos, and can be difficult to paint and clean because they tend to collect dust. For best results, use a texture sprayer and compressor with specific popcorn ceiling texture mix from the hardware store.

2. Orange Peel

An orange peel textured wall.

This is a very common and basic texture, named because of its resemblance to the dimpled skin of an orange. It’s often used to cover imperfections in any drywall without the need for fancy, time-consuming hand techniques. Drywall mud is thinned with water to a consistency like a thick milkshake and applied through a sprayer and compressor or with a special roller with a thick “nap.” Look for a roller with at least ½” fibers and remember that as the size goes up, the greater the texture. Wait for the first coat to dry before applying a second coat.

3. Knockdown

Another DIY-friendly technique is the “knockdown,” also known as the “California knockdown.” This texture adds more warmth and dimension to your ceiling as it resembles a stucco finish with dimples that have been flattened. The application starts as the orange peel technique, but before it completely dries a finishing knife is applied over the mud just enough so that the bumps are partially smoothed over. The downside is you will have more cleanup to deal with than the orange peel, but the end result will be a contemporary style.

4. Skip-Trowel

The term “skip trowel” is sometimes confused with the knockdown, however the difference is in the initial application. A skip trowel texture is applied by hand directly onto the drywall with an 18” curved knife, and mud is applied very thinly in layers. The angle of the knife to the drywall causes the mud to skip across the surface, leaving behind a multi-layered texture. A true skip trowel leaves small round circles spread over one another on a smooth surface.

5. Slap Brush

A textured wall.

The “slap brush” is a general term used to describe ways of adding patterns with brushes pushed up against the mud after it has been rolled or sprayed on. There are many different names for this particular method: “stomp brush,” “crow’s feet,” or “rosebud,” just to name a few. The end result will depend on the type of brush you use and the way it’s applied against the mud, but generally the brush is pushed upwards from a pole so that uniformity can be achieved.

6. Sand Swirl

The “sand swirl” is another stylized pattern that will take time and skill to apply properly. Again, two people are needed: one to roll on a mixture of perlite, which is primer mixed with sand, and a second person to create the arched pattern. Like the comb, the pattern is usually a series of rounded hand motions, but the swirl uses a bristle brush to create a looser pattern than the geometric comb. You can use thinned mud instead of the perlite mix, but it will result in a thicker, less glossy look.

7. Comb

“Comb” textures are highly stylized techniques that create lines of different widths most commonly producing a rainbow shape. Use drywall comb tools specifically made for this application as the trowel must have a series of small teeth to create the strips of lines. A repetitive rainbow arc is the most common look used, however, one can experiment to create different shapes. The comb should be done with two people: a roller (or sprayer) and a comber so that one person can focus on applying the mud while the other person does the pattern. The comb is normally done by an experienced drywaller, but try it out on a spare piece of drywall if you want to test your hand at it.

Drywall textures can be a relatively inexpensive way to add interest to bare ceilings or walls, however, keep in mind that most of the techniques require a certain level of experience with hand trowels and drywall mud application. Any of these methods will go faster with two people. For new DIYers, try out textures on a smaller area first, if possible. And remember that things will get messy, but the end results can be well worth it.