What is Faux Finish?

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  • Written By: Kathy R
  • Edited By: Michelle Arevalo
  • Last Modified Date: 06 December 2019
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Faux finish is a type of painting people use to make a material, such as wood, look like it is a different one, like marble. This is done for aesthetic reasons, and sometimes to save money as well. It can allow a builder to use only one material but achieve several very different looks.

In one example of faux finish, a person can paint a wooden column with a glaze to make it look smooth and shiny. This process is known as marbleizing. Four other popular faux finish techniques are color wash, graining, rag painting and trompe l’oeil, which is French for fool the eye.

Color wash is a faux finish that requires latex paint, glaze and a cloth or rounded sponge. A decorator uses the latex paint to make a thin base coat. Then he or she applies the glaze in a circular motion, using the sponge or cloth to create a dappled look. This look mimics the texture of a plaster or stucco wall. It is best used for painting indoors.

Graining is a technique a person uses, with either a sponge or a mottler, to make a surface look like a specific type of wood. Using the tool, he or she etches a pattern in the paint that imitates a natural wood grain. This technique can be effective on non-wood surfaces, or a person may use it on a cheaper type of wood to make it appear to be a more expensive type.


Rag painting creates a finish with a mottled texture. It does not mimic any particular building material, but simply makes a flat wall more visually interesting. To create this faux finish, a person moistens a rag with interior paint and wrings it out so it will not drip. Then he or she wads the rag up into a ball and dabs it onto the wall. This way, some areas end up with a lot of paint on them, and some with little to no paint at all. Using a brush in the corners may be necessary, since a rag typically will not fit well in tight areas.

Trompe l’eoil is an interesting faux finish technique that many think of as an optical illusion. The decorator paints on a two dimensional surface in a way that makes it seem three dimensional. For example, he or she may paint a mural of a tunnel that fools passersby into thinking it is real. A smaller scale example involves painting a stone wall pattern onto a wooden wall to make it look like the interior walls of a castle.


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