I Was Skeptical of This Paint Touch-Up Hack — But the Results Surprised Me

published May 19, 2023
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paint scattered on a canvas with paint can, paint roller and tray, and brushes around
Credit: Photo: Alpha Smoot; Prop Styling: Ed Gallagher

One of the fastest, easiest ways to make your home look just a little more put-together? Touching up all the little spots on your walls where there are holes, dings, nicks, or discolored paint. They’re easy to acquire over the years — maybe you have some wayward holes from putting up and taking down artwork, or some scuffs from dragging heavy suitcases in and out, or dings from moving around heavy furniture. And while they often don’t seem all that noticeable in the moment, it’s shocking how making these little fixes can transform the look and feel of your home.

Of course, Instagram Reels is full of hacks for just this purpose. These paint touch-up pens, which come in a pack of five for $29.99 on Amazon, made a big splash on my social media feeds with their promise to touch up any area of your home without needing to reopen a paint can, set out the drop cloth, and clean brushes every time you see a spot. It was a simple-enough premise that immediately got backlash for its relatively expensive price. After all, the alternative is paying $0 and using the supplies you already have. Critics also wondered how different could it really be from just having a small paintbrush on hand.

Credit: Cat Meschia

It’s a fair question, and I wanted to put it to the test. Luckily, I am always working on at least one home project so I had the perfect space to experiment: my son’s room, which I recently refreshed. The project had left behind a lot of nail and screw holes I wanted gone, which meant lots of spots I’d need to touch up, too. I ordered a pack of pens and got started with my experiment.

Credit: Cat Meschia

First, I filled the holes with joint compound and let them dry for the recommended 24 hours. Usually, you have to prime joint compound or any kind of hole repair material to prevent a difference in paint sheens (also called “flashing”) that would make the patch obvious. To give these pens a fair shake, I used one to apply primer to some of the spots and left others unprimed to compare how the touch-ups looked afterward.

I filled one pen with primer and one with paint for this project, and unsurprisingly, I found both times to be slightly messier than depicted on Instagram. That said, it wasn’t anything a towel couldn’t fix. The syringes are sized such that if you top them off at the fill line, you’ll have the perfect amount to inject into the pen.

Once full, it took longer than expected to get the paint to move from the cartridge to the brush. At first, I wasn’t sure if the paint was even getting pushed to the brush tip, but with some patience, I was able to get it flowing. If you order these pens yourself, keep this in mind — just because you don’t see the paint in the brush tips right away doesn’t mean it’s a lost cause.

Credit: Cat Meschia

When it came time to test the actual application, I was most curious to see if the pen would leave noticeable brushstrokes behind. I’ve done lots of touch-up painting over the years and keep a library of bagged mini paint rollers on standby because I’ve always assumed that rollers were necessary to prevent brushstrokes and flashing.

Using the paint pen really was as easy as using a pen, and I particularly liked that the small brush tip let me get into the textures of the wall easily. After letting the paint fully dry, I came back to check for brush marks and flashing. I was pleasantly surprised to see that there was no flashing apparent in either the primed or unprimed patches. And, most shockingly, I saw no brush strokes — although I’m mostly chalking this up to using high-quality paint, as most modern interior paints have some degree of self-leveling and I was able to see brushstrokes in my first coat of paint. Nevertheless, it was pretty satisfying.

Credit: Cat Meschia
You can’t even tell where the patches were.

I’ll note here that if you are trying to touch up over a mark, it’s still a good idea to try to remove as much of the stain as possible with cleaning first; then, prime before using the touch-up pen. I don’t think you’ll get a seamless finish without these steps.

While you might think these pens look like a cleaning nightmare, the cleanup was actually a breeze. The manufacturer recommends rinsing the brush with water before storing (the paint can remain inside the barrel). Washing the brush took only seconds — remarkably faster than cleaning a full-size paintbrush and putting the usual paint accouterments away. After blotting the brush dry, I simply capped it, wrote the paint name on the pen, then tossed it into my cleaning cart. Slob Proof doesn’t make any specific recommendations on how to store the pens, but claims the vacuum-sealed pen will keep the paint contained within it fresh for more than seven years “in a kitchen drawer.” After a few days of rolling around in the cart, some paint worked its way up the tip but the cap stayed secured and I have zero concerns about it leaking. (Unfortunately I did not have seven years with which to test the longevity claim, so that’s still up in the air.)

The final verdict? These paint pens are absolutely amazing for touch-ups, and the fact that they’re refillable helps justify the cost to me. I love knowing that after an easy initial setup, I’ll always have the exact paint match on hand to take care of spots right when I see them instead of having to haul out all the paint supplies and prep the area. For me, this was $30 well spent. Hack approved!