What Kind of Paint Do You Use on Ceiling Tiles?

What Paint to Use on Ceiling Tiles

Painting ceiling tiles on its own can seem daunting, let alone trying to figure out what paint, brushes, and related supplies you’ll need to do the job.

The first thing you need to know is there is a difference between interior wall paint and ceiling tile paint.

Ceiling tiles should be ideally painted with either flat latex paint or spray paint unless the tiles are wood.

It is also easier to apply the paint using a sprayer instead of a roller or brush.

Paint Options for Different Ceiling Tiles

The type of paint you opt for when painting ceiling tiles depends on the type of tile.

They can be made of various materials, including:

Faux tin (manufactured using thermoplastic, like PVC), Fiberglass, Wood, and Mineral fibers.

Mineral fibers are usually used for Noise Reduction Coefficient (NRC).

Typically, on all kinds of ceiling tiles, a matte finish is the look to go for. It is much rarer to see a sheer or glaze finish on ceiling tiles unless they are tin tiles.

1- Tin/Faux-Tin Tiles

If you’re painting over tin or faux tin tile, spray paint can be used.

Some types of tiles will require a coat of primer before you begin.

For these types of tiles, you can just use primer spray paint, which is usually best since they have a lot of grooves to get the paint into.

Furthermore, the paint goes on thinner, which is ideal for this type of application. You want to avoid thick paint on tin tiles.

Painting faux-tin tiles can be tricky. This is especially true of any of the old-fashioned ceiling tiles.

When you use one color to paint 19th-century-style ceiling tile, it will end up looking quite flat.

This can be an issue with tin tiles as well. This is due to the fact that the tiles have intricate designs on them.

Fortunately, you can get away with using a single color on this kind of ceiling by using sheer paint, or paint that doesn’t have a matte finish.

If you choose a paint product with a matte finish, you’ll quickly see that you’ll have to make up for the shadows and highlights with other shades of the same paint.

This will add a lot of extra time and effort to your project that you wouldn’t have to necessarily give otherwise.

2- Drop Ceilings or Acoustic Tiles

Drop or acoustic ceilings are good for hiding away unsightly elements like wiring and pipes.

Still, they are quite the investment and can lose their visual appeal after only a couple of years.

For this reason, painting them is almost always a must.

Painting an acoustic ceiling using standard ceiling paint will diminish some of the tile’s sound-absorbing abilities.

If you want to retain the noise reduction quality, then there is a specific kind of paint you need to use: Acousti-Coat.

Acousti-Coat is a latex, flat water-based paint that is made using ceramic microspheres with sound-absorbing fillers.

It is a great paint for acoustic tiles if you want to limit the reduction in sound absorption.

This paint will help the material block out the noise even more.

Keep in Mind:

  • Paint that is quite watery and thin is recommended for any kind of ceiling tile. It is cheap, but you usually end up using a lot of it at once, so you’ll end up spending more money than you need to.
  • Plastic, wood and tin tiles will usually need to be sanded down before you apply the first coat of paint.
  • Primer paint is a crucial step in painting ceiling tiles – do not skip this step.

3- Plastic Tiles

When you are painting plastic ceiling tiles, it will require some preparation work.

It isn’t difficult to do, and it will always have been worth it.

Besides cleaning the ceiling and preparing the room, you will also want to sandpaper the plastic tiles.

This won’t be anything you need to spend too much time on; you just need to roughen the surface a little bit so it can better hold the paint.

Sandpaper with a grit of 180 or a similar sanding brush will do just fine to complete the job.

Plastic ceilings will also need an oil-based primer. The issue here is that it has chemicals that you don’t want to breathe in for long periods.

When using an oil-based product, be sure the area is well ventilated.

You will also need to keep in mind that it can take as long as eight hours to dry.

Once the primer is dry, you can then paint the plastic tile using latex-based or oil-based paint.

Remember that this oil-based paint can poison you if you inhale too much of it. The irritation can also occur if it gets in your eyes or on your skin.

4- Wood Ceiling Tiles

The primer and paint you’ll use for wood tile are similar to the kind you’d use for the plastic tile.

If you don’t use enough oil-based primer, the paint simply will not stick.

The primer could also bleed through and discolor the wood.

You’ll want to be sure you sand the tile down well before you start, or else the paint won’t stick to the tile.

Painting Ceiling Tiles

Applying the Paint to Your Ceiling Tiles

The biggest thing when it comes to painting is to ensure you evenly apply it.

You’ll also want to be mindful not to use too much of it. This could cause bubbles and dripping to form on the tiles.

It is smart to be patient, as though it is a slow process, it is also one that will be worth it in the end.

If you’re applying spray paint, you’ll need to ensure you’re wearing a face mask in a well-ventilated area.

You will likely only need a single coat, but it could change based on preference.

Keep the spray can six inches to a foot from the tiles and apply it in straight sweeps across. This ensures even application.

Drop or acoustic ceiling tiles can easily be removed for painting and then placed back in the ceiling.

This makes painting them a bit more convenient, and you won’t need a sprayer.

Instead, it may be more efficient and effective to use a brush or roller.

Once you’re done painting with brushes or rollers, it is important to take some time to clean them well so that they can be reused later.

How Much Paint Will You Need?

Another thing to figure out before painting is just how much of the paint you’ll need to purchase.

Typically, it is recommended that you put two coats of paint on the ceiling tiles, though sometimes, all you need is one.

For example, drop or acoustic ceilings usually only need a single coat of paint.

This is especially true if you are using acoustic tiles for their NRC abilities.

The reason for a single coat of paint is so you can cover what you need to cover while still saving some of the natural sound-absorbing components from the original tile.

While drop ceilings may be covered in stains and quite old, the stains might show through the paint if you only apply one coat.

This is something that can be mitigated using a good primer.

If you opt for thinner, cheaper paint, you’ll have to buy more. Cheap paint simply doesn’t go as far as high-quality paints.

Generally speaking, here is a good rule for determining how much paint you’ll need:

  • One can of spray paint usually covers around 20 square feet if a smooth ceiling.
  • One gallon of liquid paint usually covers 400 square feet of a smooth ceiling.

What Colors Are Best to Pick for Ceiling Tiles?

Commonly, people choose to paint their ceilings white or black.

Black is usually used in places like restaurant kitchens, as any possible smoke stains are well hidden.

White is the most common for home use as it makes the room seem brighter.

If you’re painting tin tiles, you can choose a fun, sheer color instead.

Here are some size-based tips for choosing a color:

For a large room:

  • Paint the ceilings and walls of a larger room with a dark color to make it feel cozy.
  • Paint the ceilings and walls in lighter colors if you want to bring the atmosphere of a wide-open space.

For a small room:

  • Open the space up using matching lighter colors on the ceiling and walls.
  • Make it feel cozier using dark colors for walls and ceilings.

If the ceiling is outlined with wood trim at the intersection of the wall and ceiling, this can create an accent to the wall and ceiling colors.

Painting this division area in white better shows the size of the room.

The Bottom Line

Painting ceiling tiles can seem difficult at first, but it doesn’t have to be.

Understanding the size of your space, the materials your tiles are made out of, and how much and what quality of paint to use beforehand can save you a lot of trouble and effort during the project.

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