How to Paint (and Stencil) Terracotta Tile


Since my time at Ktown Château, I struggled with what to do about the terracotta tile on the veranda outside my master bedroom. While this is a beautiful choice for Spanish-style homes, the earthiness just didn’t jive well with the Château’s aesthetics.

Even worse, because the previous owner made no effort to glaze it, no matter how much I scrubbed or cleaned the tile, it ALWAYS looked dirty. Because of this, the veranda was basically neglected, save for the rare times I went out there to glimpse the sunset or take a self portrait.

Possible solutions

1. Throw a rug over the tile. I didn’t like this idea because it gets really dusty on the veranda (city life), I hate sweeping, and thinking of all that dust collecting on a rug makes my inner Danny Tanner ill.

2. Get new tile. As amazing as this sounds, this would have cost hundreds of dollars in materials and hundreds more dollars in labor to remove the existing tile and lay down the new tile. Then allowing workers to traipse back and forth through my bedroom in work boots and making a huge mess? No thanks.

3. Paint the tile. Winner! This was the most palatable solution of the three, and because I’m overly ambitious, I decided to stencil it with a geometric pattern to mimic the Greek key rugs in my house.

I got the look of new tile without spending a fortune.
This DIY project of painting and stenciling the existing tile cost just under $150. 

What is terracotta tile?

One of the oldest tile materials around, pre-dating the birth of Christ (!), terracotta is made from red brown clay and translates from Italian as “baked earth.” Formerly sun-dried centuries ago, it’s now oven-fired and particularly porous (meaning it’s hole-y, like Jesus! #DadJokes). 

How easy is this DIY?

It ranks a 6, on a scale of 1 (hanging a framed art piece) to 10 (building a dresser). Note that while it doesn’t require a lot of technical skill, it’s still exceptionally time and labor intensive.

Note: The veranda is small, just under 100 square feet. This DIY is NOT recommended for anyone with high OCD tendencies. The results will not be 100% perfect, but nobody will notice unless they have their noses pressed up against the floor. If this will drive you completely insane, consider investing in real tile instead.

Sneak peek! You can watch this whole process in my Instagram highlights.


Materials Needed

Liquid TSP cleaner – $12
Valspar Concrete Primer – $22
9” paint roller and brush kit – $15
Valspar Tintable Satin Floor Paint (2 quarts) – $14/each
Small foam roller – $9
Cutting Edge Stencils Linear Tile Stencil (2 stencils) – $17/each
Small artists’ brushes – $6
Miracle Sealants high gloss finish sealer (1 quart) – $15 

Day 1: Clean and prep the tile (1 hour)

Because terracotta tile is porous (hole-y), it’s like a dirt magnet. While I had my window washers on-property, I asked them to power wash the veranda as well. After that, I used a liquid trisodium phosphate (TSP) solution and stiff scrub brush to get it really clean. (You can also use the TSP solution WHILE you’re power washing.)

Note: TSP is a minor skin irritant so be sure to wear rubber gloves while using it. (I also wore goggles/glasses as an extra precaution.)

Removing as much dust and dirt as possible will allow the primer and paint to attach directly onto the tile, preventing chipping and peeling. 

After cleaning, wait until the tile is completely dry before proceeding.

Day 2: Prime the tile (2 hours)

For the paint to be applied evenly, first prime the tile using a masonry or concrete primer. I used two coats of this, using an angled brush for the edges and a 9” roller for the middle. The product dries opaque. 

While the initial coat of primer is still a little tacky, I waited no more than an hour between each coat and allowed the primer to fully dry overnight. 

Day 3 and 4: Paint the tile (2 days)

Now it’s time to start seeing the transformation! I bought a latex-based exterior floor paint by Valspar at Lowe’s and custom tinted it in a black (Noir). Instead of a roller, I used a 2” angled brush to apply the paint onto the entire veranda to ensure adequate coverage between the grout lines. I let the paint dry overnight before applying a second coat, then waited another night for that coat to dry. (Each coat took no more than one hour to apply.)

Day 5 and 6: Stencil the tile (2 excruciating days)

Okay, so this is the part where you realize you might have made a mistake choosing to do this project. Unfortunately, the folks at Cutting Edge Stencils provided MINIMAL instructions on how to make their linear tile into a specific pattern. Luckily for you, I spent two hours figuring this out. 

But first, for the materials, I recommend using a tiny foam roller to best apply the paint onto the stencil. (Don’t bother with their stencil brushes.) I bought another quart of the same latex-based exterior floor paint by Valspar but in white.

How to Use Cutting Edge Stencils’ Linear Tile Like a Pro!

– Every other tile should be identical and facing the same direction (see photos below).

– This will sound strange, but when applying the paint, be sure the foam roller has MINIMAL paint on it to avoid bleeding out of the stencil. (Roll excess paint off the roller using a paper towel or heavy paper.) 

– Apply two to three partial coats of paint per stencil to eventually achieve an even coat without causing the stencil to bleed. 

– After using a stencil, wipe the paint off the back of it with a damp paper towel and allow the back to dry each time. (I purchased two stencils so the process would be a bit faster.)

– Lay down the stencil properly on the floor each time matching the lines and pattern.

– For edges or borders where you can’t set down the whole stencil, use a ¼” artist’s brush to freehand the remaining pattern. (I found this to be easier than trying to cut up the stencil and using the roller in tight corners.)

– For any tiles with excess bleeding, use a ⅛” artist’s brush to clean up the pattern with the black paint. (Again, note that this project won’t be 100% perfect unless you’re a magician. If you get frustrated, take breaks and breathe.

Hallelujah! Now that you’re done stenciling, you’re in the homestretch!

Day 7: Seal the tile (2 hours)

The day has come! Protect the tile and your hard work with a clear, water-based sealant to minimize scratches and damage. I used Miracle Sealants’s High Gloss Finish Sealer and while it’s made for interior use, the veranda is covered and two heavy coats of sealant will hopefully hold up against the rare rains we get in Los Angeles.

I applied the sealant by simply pouring some of it straight out of the bottle onto the tile and then spreading it around evenly using a stiff brush. I waited about an hour between coats, and allowed it to fully dry overnight.

Overall, this project was a literal pain in the ass (I got quite a quad workout from being perchedin a squat for two full work days!), but I’m really happy with the results, especially considering the low cost. Worth it!

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  • Dave Nadkarni

    This was really helpful! I’m not a DIY person but I’ll pay you to do mine! 😀

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