How to Paint Coving – A Complete Guide

Updated Jul 9, 2024 | Posted Jul 3, 2024 | Matt, Product Advice | 0 comments

In this blog, I’m going to explain everything you need to know about how to paint coving, including a few product recommendations.

Coving is one of those decorative features which never really goes out of fashion.  I’ve completely lost count of how many rooms with coving I’ve painted over the course of my career as a professional decorator, and indeed I’ve put coving up in a fair few as well. For me, it finishes the room off, and although there’s nothing wrong with a coving-free look, I personally prefer having coving in most rooms, especially larger ones.


What Is Coving, and is it the same as Cornice?


Coving is a decorative feature that “bridges the gap” between the walls and the ceiling in a room.  It is usually made of plaster, occasionally from polystyrene, and sometimes even from wood.

Personally, I’ve never had to paint wooden coving, and I hate polystyrene coving with a passion; in my view it was developed for the DIY market as a quick and cheap solution for those who don’t know how to install plaster coving, and to me it always looks cheap and nasty! Earlier this year I finally got round to replacing the polystyrene coving in our bedroom, and I sleep a lot better now that I can look up at the real thing!

Coving is usually quite simple in design – a smooth arc or “C” profile, or occasionally a “wave” shape.  Different sizes are available, and in my opinion, smaller coving looks better in a smaller room, while larger rooms look better with large coving.

How would you paint the coving in this room?

The term “cornice” refers to the more elaborately decorative styles of coving which, while perhaps not as much in fashion now, can certainly still be found in plenty of properties, especially older ones.


How to Paint Coving








Prepare The Area

Remove as much furniture etc as you can from the room. Anything that can’t be removed is best moved into the centre of the room (away from the coving).  Cover the floor (and any remaining furniture) with dust sheets.


Inspect the Coving for Damage

If there are small gaps between the coving and the wall or ceiling, fill these with decorator’s caulk (which is flexible and so less likely to crack if there is any minor movement).  Cracks in the coving itself (or at any joints) should be raked out and filled with a suitable filler such as Gyproc EasiFill – leave the filler as flush as possible, so that you don’t need to do a lot of sanding once it has cured.  Remember that the surface of plaster coving is made of paper which won’t stand up to rigorous sanding with course sandpaper.


Finish Your Prep

Once your filler has cured and been sanded smooth (or if there were no cracks that needed filling in the first place), clean it.  In most cases a quick wipe with a damp cloth is sufficient, or a dust-off with a dusting brush.  In rooms where nicotine staining has occurred, or in kitchens where there could be greasy deposits, more thorough cleaning with sugar soap or a degreaser (such as Zinsser’s Universal Degreaser and Cleaner) may be needed, possibly followed by a suitable stain-blocking paint.  Click here for more advice on how to deal with nicotine stains or grease.


Paint Your Coving

For coving that is already painted, two coats will usually suffice (unless you are going for a dramatic colour change).  New coving will need an extra coat first.  Remember to follow the paint manufacturer’s instructions when it comes to how much time to leave between coats.


Does New Coving Need Priming?


There doesn’t seem to be a simple answer to this one, on which all decorators agree.  In my mind, coving that has never been painted should be primed to even out the porosity and to help subsequent coats of paint to adhere properly.  New coving is basically the same as new plasterboard, which is highly absorbent; priming it properly gives the plaster something to soak up and helps form a proper bond between the paint and the substrate.


However, there are two schools of thought as to what the best material is to prime new coving with:

  • Some use a specialist water-based primer such as Zinsser Bulls Eye 1-2-3; this does kind of make sense to me, a Zinsser recommend 1-2-3 as a primer for new plasterboard. Click here to see online prices.
  • Others prefer a simple “mist coat” – a watered-down coat of whatever emulsion you will be using to paint the coving with; I’ve used this approach for years and never had any problems. Most trade emulsions will state on the tin how much water should be added when painting porous surfaces.

You will also find plenty of arguments online from people saying you don’t need to prime or mist-coat coving at all.  Personally, I’d rather be safe than sorry, and I’ll carry on doing what has always worked for me (at least until someone proves me wrong!).


What is the Best Paint for Coving?


The best paint for coving is a water-based emulsion paint.  I have seen coving painted with oil-based gloss, and for me that’s just wrong! If you think that plaster coving is basically like plasterboard in how it’s made, logically you should therefore use a paint that you would use on walls or ceilings – an emulsion.  Oil-based paints aren’t really designed for painting onto plasterboard.  Additionally, white oil-based paints will turn yellow over time, and who wants off-yellow coving next to their nice white ceiling?


So, emulsion is the way to go, meaning that you have a choice of finish:

  • Matt
  • Acrylic Eggshell
  • Soft Sheen (or mid-sheen)
  • Vinyl Silk

In my experience, ninety-nine times out of a hundred, the coving is painted the same colour as the ceiling, in which case I would simply use the same paint.  The choice of finish is largely down to fashion and personal taste, and matt is definitely the most popular choice these days in most rooms.

Acrylic Eggshell or Soft Sheen are both popular for bathrooms and kitchens.

Vinyl Silk has the advantage that it is very wipeable, but that very shiny finish really isn’t very in vogue now.  Besides, if wipeable is an important factor for you, then there are some excellent hard-wearing matt and acrylic eggshell paints available these days which are scrubbable.

Talking to other decorators, the two most popular matt emulsions for ceilings (especially in white) seem to be Johnstone’s Covaplus Vinyl Matt, and Tikkurila Anti-Reflex.  I use a lot of both; I tend to use Johnstone’s for smaller rooms, and Anti-Reflex for larger ceilings or where there are lots of windows – the light highlights any imperfections on the ceiling, and Anti-Reflex (being a very “flat” matt) helps hide these.  Bedec “Spray Daylight” (which can be applied with a brush or roller, you don’t have to spray it) is another good option.

You can read more advice on the best white emulsions for ceilings here.


What Colour Should You Paint Coving?


As I said earlier, in the vast majority of cases, the coving will be painted the same colour as the ceiling.  Occasionally people paint their coving (and sometimes the skirting too) the same colour as the walls, especially in a small room with a low ceiling – this approach can help make the room feel larger and less claustrophobic.

“Colour drenching” is also a popular trend now, in which the walls, ceiling, coving and all the woodwork are painted the same colour.  Alternatively, you could go the opposite route and paint the coving a different colour to everything else, to turn it into a feature.  The choice of colour for your coving really is up to you and the look you want to create (and your ability to cut in neatly!).


What is the Best Brush for Painting Coving?


Choose a good quality synthetic brush.  Some people recommend using an oval brush for coving. However, if I’m painting the coving the same colour as the ceiling, I just use the same brush as I use for the ceiling, typically a 3” ProDec Ice Fusion.

If the coving is a different colour, I’ll choose something smaller for accurate cutting in.  Make sure you thoroughly coat the edges as well as the main face of the coving.  Some people use a mini-roller to do the main face of the coving, but I prefer to use a brush for this task.


How To Paint Intricate Cornice

Cornice can be very intricate (the one shown in this picture is not that ornate compared to many!) which creates more of a challenge.  Getting all the dust out of the nooks and crannies at the cleaning stage requires good attention to detail, as does making any repairs if cracks have appeared.  Painting cornice with a brush is a time-consuming and painstaking job.  Recently I was able to borrow a Wagner FC5500 XVLP spray machine to paint some cornice, which got the job done in a fraction of the time and with a near-perfect finish. This is the route I’ll be following on future jobs of this nature.

Showing how to paint intricate cornice



What kind of paint do you use on coving?

Most people use normal emulsion on coving, and it’s usually the same as they use on the ceiling. The most common finish is matt.


Do you paint coving with a brush or roller?

You will have far more control when painting coving if you use a brush. However, if you can afford it, an airless or HVLP sprayer is far superior.


Do you need to prime coving before painting?

There are mixed opinions on this amongst trade decorators. Some say you should prime; others say you should deal with coving as you would bare plaster. I have never used a specialist primer on coving, and I have never had an issue.


Should you paint the underside of coving?

The underside of the coving should be painted with the coving. Then you should strike a straight line with the wall colour where the wall meets the coving.


Should coving be gloss or matt?

It used to be fashionable to paint coving with gloss. Now, not so much. If your coving is the same colour as the ceiling, then you should use the same paint on both. Matt or eggshell are far better than gloss.


What is the best paint remover for coving?

There’s a product called Barrettine PeelAway that is designed for this type of work. You apply it to the coving as a jell, cover it with plastic film, and then after a period, the paint just wipes away. There are a couple of different types of PeelAway, so get a testing kit to work out which one is best. Click here to see online prices.


Final Thoughts


Painting coving isn’t complicated. Be thorough with your prep, and with you planning – if the coving isn’t going to be the same colour as the ceiling, think about what order you are painting things and what will work best when it comes to cutting in.  For intricate cornice I would recommend looking at spraying – it will save you so much time and give a great finish.

Updated Jul 9, 2024 | Posted Jul 3, 2024 | 0 comments

About the Author

About the Author

With years of decorating experience, Robin set up his own business – Wokingham Decorating Services – in 2007, carrying out mainly domestic work. He enjoys trying out new products and learning as much as he can about the decorating industry
Fleetwood Metal Shield Review

Fleetwood Metal Shield Review

Professional Decorator Robin Gofton writes a full and honest Fleetwood Metal Shield review based on his own experience.


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