How to paint a tray ceiling

A tray ceiling is a false ceiling that creates a raised interior space to make a room feel grander while hiding any functional items (such as the heating and air conditioning) in your room. Tray ceilings are most common in high-ceiling rooms like libraries, ballrooms, or even walk-in closets.

Today we’re going to tell you how to paint a tray ceiling. And best of all, this is a two-in-one tutorial! In part 1, we’ll highlight the dos and don’ts of painting your trays. Then, in part 2, we’ll help paint your trays with chalkboard paint!

How to paint a tray ceiling, Zazzy Home

How to Paint a Tray Ceiling – Part 1: Prep Work

Tray ceilings are fairly easy to prep for, but a few important things need attention before you begin. Here’s what you need to know:

Don’t Strip – If your old paint looks good – no peeling or cracks – don’t strip it off. A new layer of topcoat might bring back some luster. If you strip, you might not get any paint to stick at all!

Don’t Paint ‘In the Breeze’ – You should paint your tray ceiling on a nice, calm day. If you’re painting outside, make sure there’s no wind at all. If you’re painting inside, turn off any fans and don’t open any windows. The breeze can cause drips or bubbles in your finished coat!

Prep for Chalkboard Painting – Part 2 of this tutorial will help you prepare for chalkboard paint by priming your trays with chalkboard primer. However, if you want to skip ahead and try chalkboard paint now (for example, if it’s already partway done), that’s okay too! Just use flat latex paint mixed with watercolor medium (to prevent bubbles) when

Don’t Tape – Although this may seem like the best option, don’t tape your tray ceilings unless they are flawless and need no touch-ups. You’ll take a chance of damaging your ceiling and pulling off some old paint in the process. Besides, if your ceiling isn’t perfect enough to tape off… it’s also probably not perfect enough for a new layer of paint, either.

Do Sand – Any imperfections should be sanded down as much as possible before beginning to paint. This ensures that your topcoat adheres well and that there will be no bumps or irregularities left behind after the painting is finished.

How to paint a tray ceiling, Zazzy Home

Next, we’re going to show you how to paint your trays.

How to Paint a Tray Ceiling – Part 2: Painting

Now that you’ve prepped your tray ceilings, it’s time for the fun part! First, we’ll show you what paint and supplies are needed, then demonstrate each step in the process using chalkboard paint (because this is an awesome combo.)

The tools required will be standard painting materials like brushes and drop cloths, but the key ingredient is chalkboard paint by Krylon. If you don’t want to use black-out or non-permanent chalkboard paint, be sure to check out our tutorial on painting trays with regular semi-gloss enamel.

Just make sure not to seal your trays until they are painted with the chalkboard paint. Otherwise, the tray sealant will prevent your chalk from working.

Supplies Needed: Paint roller with extension pole Chalkboard Paint by Krylon Brushes Drop cloths Paper towels or rags.

Here are some very important rules to follow when painting your trays with chalkboard paint: Chalk is key – We’re using non-permanent black-out chalkboard paint for this tutorial because it works well with tray ceilings and can be easily wiped off.

How to paint a tray ceiling, Zazzy Home

If you use regular semi-gloss enamel to complete the other parts of this project, that’s totally fine! Just don’t seal any part of your trays before you’ve painted them with chalkboard paint. Also, be careful what you touch – When opening the can of chalkboard paint, check for any spills (and wipe them up with a paper towel to avoid drips later on).

Once your tray is painted, you’ll need to use the side of your hand or an old credit card to apply chalk. Using anything else will transfer oils onto the surface, which will prevent your chalk from sticking well. Now it’s time for…

Applying your chalk

Step 1: Pour a small amount of chalkboard paint into a disposable container. You’ll need about one to two tablespoons for each tray.

Step 2: Stir the paint with a popsicle stick or paintbrush. Be sure to get any clumps of chalk off the stick and mix it well; otherwise, your trays may have spots that don’t stick well to your surface.

Step 3: Dip your roller in the paint and roll it across the surface, applying an even coat from top to bottom. Make sure there are no globs left behind on top – they could peel off later on when you apply chalk. Once you’ve applied an initial layer, allow 10 minutes for drying time before applying another coat (you may want more than one coat, depending on the color).

Step 4: Repeat steps 1-3 until you’ve rolled on enough coats to cover any imperfections in your tray ceilings. Make sure not to apply too much paint at once – it may drip down into areas that don’t need coverage (if you’re using semi-gloss enamel, be careful of drips for this step.)

Step 5: Allow 24 hours for dry time before applying a topcoat or doing anything else to the trays. Use this time to make sure no spots are peeling off (the key is prepping well before painting).

To finish your tray ceiling, follow these steps:

Apply a large glob of chalk onto your hand. If it takes more than one full stick to do this, you’ve used too much paint. Your goal is for the chalk to leave an imprint on your palm without breaking apart when you squeeze it together.

Trace around your palm on top of your chalkboard paint, leaving about 1/4 inch around the edges (it’s okay to be off here). If you make a mistake while tracing, wipe it clean and start with a new piece of chalk.

Paint inside the outline left behind by your chalk drawing, again leaving about 1/4 inch around all edges. Wipe off any excess chalk with a paper towel or rag so that only a thin layer remains. You can also use a damp sponge in place of a paper towel if you don’t want to wipe away any chalk residues. It’s important not to have too much at once because then your topcoat won’t stick well.

You’ve finished transforming your tray ceiling! Allow another 24 hours for drying before using anything heavy on top (such as dropping bricks onto them). Have fun decorating!


Meet Jeff. For the last 10 years, he's been repairing and fixing problem homes - from leaky roofs to faulty wiring. He started blogging about his experiences as a way to help others who might be struggling with home repairs, and he's become something of an expert in the field. Jeff is always up for a challenge, and he loves sharing his tips and advice with others. When it comes to home repairs, Jeff knows what he's talking about. So if you're looking for some help and guidance, be sure to check out his latest guide!

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