Helping You Understand the Meanings of Different Decorating Terms and Painting Techniques

After reading the brief explanations below you will have a clearer understanding of what these commonly used decorating terms mean when you next page through a DIY magazine looking for inspiration.


Colour washing – this painting technique uses diluted paint, resulting in a semi-transparent finish. This is especially effective when used on a wooden surface where the grain still shows through even after applying colour.

Anaglypta – originally a trade mark in the wallpaper industry, this term is now used to describe any wallpaper that has a thick, embossed surface pattern that is designed to be painted over. This wallpaper is very effective in hiding even the most glaring of plastering faults. A wide variety of very attractive textures and patterns is available.

Bleed through – this painting fault is usually caused by a contaminant under the area being painted, showing up as stains in the final painted surface. Proper surface preparation and a high-hiding undercoat will eliminate this problem.

“Flexible” filler – this kind of filler is usually a water based surface filler that is used on surfaces such as wood or plaster where there is a degree of movement and therefore a likelihood of cracking. It is particularly useful for ceiling cracks and joins between plaster and wood. Once dry, any repairs done using this kind of filler can easily be painted over.

Size – before hanging wallpaper a diluted adhesive referred to as “size” is painted onto walls to seal the surface.

Brushing out – also sometimes referred to as “laying off”. In order to get an evenly painted surface finish, paint needs to be thoroughly distributed or “brushed out” using light brush strokes, generally in the same direction to produce a smooth finish with no drip lines or visible brush marks. This painting technique can be used for both interior and exterior paint jobs.

Liming – also often referred to as “whitewashing “, this is a technique used for treating wood, resulting in a pale, bleached appearance. This technique is popular when a clean, light look is required.

Primer – different types of primer are necessary for different surfaces and are a kind of paint used to seal and stabilise a surface before any further painting is done.

Ageing – this technique is also sometimes referred to as antiquing or distressing. Various techniques are used to give a relatively new object an aged appearance.

Combing – also referred to as “graining”, this paint effect uses a specially designed decorator’s comb that is swivelled and dragged through a glaze in order to produce fine lines and knots that give a realistic hardwood effect to surfaces.

Dragging – a paint effect that is achieved by dragging a long-haired paintbrush – sometimes referred to as a “flogger “- across a glaze to create a series of irregular, fine lines.

Primary colours – this refers to any one of the three ‘pure’ colours – red, blue, and yellow. All other colours are mixed using any number of combinations of these three colours together with the addition of black and/or white.

Lining Paper – this paper is a kind of wall covering used to hide imperfections prior to applying paint or wallpaper. The lining paper is generally put on at right angles to the final paper if it is to be covered with wallpaper to ensure a smooth effect.

Sponging –a natural sea sponge is usually used to produce an impression in a glaze or emulsion. The sponge may also first be dipped in paint and then applied to the surface. Although very similar in appearance, these two different techniques result in a subtle difference in the end effect that is achieved.

Frieze – a band of decoration applied along a surface, such as along a wall or around architectural features like windows and doors using wallpaper borders, stencils or free-hand decorations.

Blocking – this is an easy technique used to apply an original design of your choice to a wall, floor, or any other surface you may wish to decorate. A cut-out or shaped object that is first dipped in paint before application is used to achieve a variety of different effects and patterns.

Grinning – this term refers to a painting fault that comes about when paint has been applied too thinly over a darker surface. The colour of the surface below may show or “grin” through. The best painting advice that we can provide you with? Make sure that you use an adequate primer before applying the paint and you will be able to prevent this problem entirely .

Grout – this refers to a waterproof paste used to fill the gaps between tiles and mosaics. This paste can be coloured to suit the tile or mosaic being used.

Low-tac – this is a term used to describe types of masking tape that have a low level of grip so that the tape can be removed without damaging the surface that it has been applied to.

Nibbler – this hand tool resembles a pair of pliers and is used to cut away tiny portions of ceramic tiles in order to achieve a specific shape or size.

Notched spreader – this tool is used to spread tile adhesive over a wall before positioning tiles. It comes with different shapes and sizes of notches that are used for different types of tiles and/or situations.

Inset tile – usually a smaller, highly decorative tile used for adding additional design detail to surrounding tiles.

Stencilling – this decorative effect is used to produce a design on any number of surfaces by applying paint on to the cut-out areas of a paper, cardboard or acetate template. By adding layers of colour and shading detail, a highly realistic effect can be achieved. Don’t forget to read our article about lace stencilling for extra painting advice that you can count on when trying your hand at DIY.

Vinyl (wallpaper) – this wallpaper has a front surface of vinyl and is therefore reasonably water resistant and is most suited for use in areas such as kitchens and bathrooms.

Make good – a quaint, rather old fashioned term used to refer to the process of preparing a surface for decorating by filling in holes, smoothing, sanding etc. If you are new to the DIY world, be sure to read our article about using sandpaper like a pro.

Wood stain – this wood finish is available in a multitude of glorious shades and is absorbed into the outer surface of the wooden article so as to provide a richer colour, as well as a greater amount of protection from the elements.

Rag rolling – this paint effect is similar to ragging, but instead of bunching up the rag before dabbing it onto a surface, the rag is made into a sausage-like shape and then rolled down a glaze or emulsion in order to produce a more even, directional pattern.

Ragging – this paint effect is a used to achieve a more random result by crumpling a rag that is then dabbed onto emulsion or a glaze.

Soaking time – this term is used when decorating with wallpaper and refers to the time that the wallpaper is left after pasting but before hanging, allowing the adhesive to soak in. This is an important step in order to minimise the formation of bubbles and varies according to each manufacturer.

Verdigris – this greenish coloured patina forms naturally on copper, bronze, or brass as a result of being exposed to the atmosphere. This effect is often copied using different paint techniques to lend an extra air of authenticity to the object that is being painted.

Stippling – a finely textured paint effect achieved by using only the extreme tips of the bristles of a lightly loaded brush. Stippling is the technique most often used when using stencils as there is less chance of excess paint “bleeding” under the stencilled pattern.

Marbling – this clever paint technique is used to create the impression of a surface being made from marble. It is one of the more difficult paint techniques to master.

Stripper (paint) – this is a chemical solution to removing old layers of paint or varnish from a surface in preparation for redecorating. Manufacturer’s’ instructions must be closely followed due to the fact that paint strippers are highly caustic.

Tile gauge – a piece of wood with markings made on it to indicate the width of a tile, used to mark off the positions that tiles will occupy on a wall or floor.

Wet-and-dry paper – a waterproof, sandpaper used wet in order to give a very smooth finish to a project.

Stripper (wallpaper) – this clever piece of equipment allows wallpaper to be more easily removed by using steam to soften the backing adhesive. A flat plate held against the wallpaper produces a consistent flow of steam, thereby evenly and effectively aiding the stripping of wallpaper.

For more painting advice and all the paint and hardware you could need for your next project, head down to your nearest Jack’s Paint & Hardware store.