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How to Texture Drywall: Perlite, Swirl, and Spanish Methods

I am a serious DIY addict and frugal-living master. I have practiced green and frugal living my entire life and love sharing my tips.

There are three categories of drywall texturing: light, medium, and heavy. These categories are based on the size of the texturing in the mix with light having the smallest pieces and heavy having the largest. Each of these categories are further divided into a set of simple or complex drywall texture methods. A simple method includes only one application step, while complex methods require more.

Each of the individual methods requires a basic set of drywall tools. These tools should include at least two 5-gallon buckets, a drill with a fan mixing blade, a large mudding knife, a trowel, and drop cloths. Some of the more advanced complex textures use a drywall comb or pressing block. There are also optional texture sprayers with hoppers and nozzles for different texture compounds.

These step-by-step instructions will give you a basic understanding of drywall texture methods, but as with any artistic endeavor, the more you practice it, the better your results will look. I suggest trying these methods on a practice piece of thick cardboard.

The Knockdown Method

The knockdown method works well with any type of drywall mix. It requires a sprayer with at least 20 Psi (60 Psi is recommended). If you don’t have a sprayer, the mix may be applied with a short napped roller brush.

  1. Mix the drywall mixture into the liquid consistency recommended on the packaging, it will be thin for this application.
  2. Load it into the hopper and spray it on the wall.
  3. The pattern of spray doesn’t matter much, as you will be taking a mudding knife and running it across the surface at a low angle to “knock down” the peaks from the spray.

This method works well on both ceilings and walls, but if a repair needs to be done, it may be hard to match the original texture.

The Basic Swirl

The basic swirl method is a simple one-step application process. The drywall compound needs to be thick for this method to work correctly.

  1. Once the mix has been made, you can add white quartz to the mix to give it a sand-like appearance. Although it isn’t necessary, this is a very common practice.
  2. The drywall mud is applied with a trowel and then the toothed edge of the trowel is used to create a swirl on the wall.
  3. Once a swirl is made, the excess mud can be used on the next swirl. It is important to start near the top of the wall for this texture to look good.

The swirls should overlap leaving the upper half of the swirl untouched.

The Brush Swirl

The brush swirl looks almost the same as the basic swirl, but the swirls are brushed on with a large dry texture brush. This drywall texture method is best preformed by two people and is often seen on ceilings. The drywall mud should be a thick consistency (especially if used on a ceiling). The first person applies the mud with a trowel or roller while the second comes in behind, while the mud is still wet, and creates the uniform swirls.

The Slap Brush Method

The slap brush drywall texture method is one of the messiest to produce, but is well worth the effort. A slightly runny drywall mud is needed as well as a very thick napped roller. Also necessary is a “slap brush,” which is basically a large paintbrush that has been smashed into the ground so that the bristles are frayed (if you don’t want to make one yourself you can purchase them at most home improvement stores). This is almost always done as a ceiling texture so you will also need two telescoping extension poles.

  1. Apply the drywall texture to the ceiling with the roller brush. Be sure to use a light touch so that as much of the texture stays on the ceiling as possible, being too forceful will leave too thin a layer of compound to work with.
  2. Once the compound is on the ceiling, jam the “slap brush” into the ceiling once.
  3. Make a one quarter turn with the slap brush and jam it again. Work in five-foot sections so that the compound doesn’t dry out before the texture is made.

The Popcorn Method

The popcorn ceiling is one of the most recognized drywall textures around. It is used as an acoustical covering that both diffuses sound and covers up imperfections in the drywall.

Using a medium thickness mix of mudding compound, this texture is usually applied with a sprayer. The size of the Styrofoam pieces in your drywall mix will determine the size nozzle you need to use, larger Styrofoam equals larger nozzle. This is also a very, very messy process. It is suggested that you cover not only the floor around the area you are texturing, but the walls as well. If you don’t cover the walls, keep a wet rag on hand to wipe off any of the texture that gets on the wall, because once it dries it’ll take more than a little elbow grease to remove it.

Basic Perlite (Orange Peel)

One of the most common drywall texture methods is the basic Perlite, sometimes called the orange peel for its resemblance to the skin of the fruit. To apply this texture to your wall, the drywall compound needs to be almost watery thin. The texture will depend on your distance from the wall and the speed at which you apply it to the wall. The closer you are and quicker you move the more pitted your results will be.

It is best to practice this method on a large piece of cardboard until you are comfortable with the results. This process takes at least two applications, in some cases three. It is vital that the first coat is dry before spraying on the second. Once it is fully dried, it can be painted any color you wish with opal white being the industry standard.

The Spanish Knife Method

This technique mimics Venetian plaster at a much lower cost.

  1. Mix a thick batch of drywall mud and add a coloring to it (tans and deep reds are often used for this).
  2. Apply the mud with a two inch palette knife dragging the mud in one direction until there is no mud left on the knife.
  3. Repeat this step starting an inch or two away from the start of the first drag. Pull this one at a different angle.
  4. Continue doing this until you have covered the entire wall.
  5. Once the texture has dried apply a gloss coat over the top of the colored texture to add depth and create warmth.

Other Methods

There are hundreds of other textures you can put into drywall mud. Some of them include stamping a pattern into the mud and then doing a knockdown over it. Some very thick applications can be scraped with a hair pick to leave a deep primitive look. There are crosshatch methods that leave the surface looking like linen and any number of abstract methods that leave asymmetrical patterns. Once you feel confident using the basic drywall texture methods you can unleash your creative side and truly make your house your own work of art.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.


red mermaid on January 21, 2013:

An interesting hub, my father worked with drywall texture art many years ago and I have always had an interest in new and old patterns. My recent favourite being those by Dale Ovenstone in the uk. Thankyou for sharing your knowledge.