Painting Trim - Tips and Tricks

Painting trim is the absolute worst.  I think I've said that about ceilings but now that I'm past the ceilings and onto the trim, I can whole-heartedly shift my opinion.  It's tedious and time-consuming and...the worst.

But, I've picked up a few tips along the way (this is my second time painting alllll the trim in the house after all) that I'll pass on to you in case you're ever staring down the miles of *insert ugly color* trim.

First, a picture of the current sitch in our entry.
Feast your eyes on that painted trim!!  The crown molding is hard to spot in pictures but in real life, it shines against the matte ceiling.  I can't tell you how happy I am to be done with trim in here and moving on to painting the walls!  It's like the icing on the cake!

Back to those tips and tricks though...

One:  Paint trim first if walls are getting painted too.
If you're painting trim and walls in a space, then paint the trim first.  Why?  Because you can get all the paint you want on those walls and it doesn't matter because they're going to get painted after.  See how much paint I got on the wall?
You can slop on the paint and make sure the trim gets totally covered, not having to worry about staying in lines/off the wall.
However, if you're not painting the walls too, tape them off.  Normally, I'm all for just grabbing a good angle brush (this one is fantastic) and using that to carefully paint a straight line around trim but that's only for edging walls.  When you're painting trim, the edge that's closest to the wall is usually such a small surface, that it's hard to cover it well with an angled brush on top of keeping paint off the wall.  So, save yourself the frustration and just roll out the tape quick.  

Two:  Before you start painting, remove things like door stops and strike plates...basically anything in the paint's way that is fairly easy to remove.
It's a bear to paint around those things so just unscrewing them before you paint will free yourself from the tedious work of edging around them.

Three:  Use a good brush.
I've used cheap brushes and I've bit the bullet and bought a few good ones (which, when you're on a tight budget, is a tough thing to do) and the difference in how the paint goes on is huge.  Painting with a cheap brush will give you brush lines as you paint (and because of that possibly require you to then paint multiple coats) whereas a quality brush will give you a smoother finish.
For example, here are two brushes we have.  One was a cheapie (bottom) and one is my favorite Wooster brush (top).
It's easier to see in person but the bristles on the good brush taper to a fine end whereas the bristles on the cheap brush are the same length the entire brush.  Those fine hair ends are what give you such a smooth finish.  I treat my brushes like babes and make sure they get washed out real good post-painting so most of my more expensive brushes are several years old - worth every penny.

Four:  Prime first.
I hate that I have to tell you this because having to prime, then paint is like adding insult to injury.  Painting trim is already bad enough and priming ensures you have to do two coats.  Argh.  BUT, let me tell you, in our second house, I painted over our previously painted trim without priming and anytime one of the kids ran into it hard enough, the paint would chip off and then peel.  Chipping can be fixed but peeling, that's a whole 'nother problem.  I'm not making the same mistake in this house. As far as primers go, I have been using this Zinsser primer* with great results.  I painted it over the super glossy doors in our house and then scratched it with my nail just to test it and it would not budge.  Good stuff.  Kilz 2* is also in our paint cabinet currently and I'll use it when I run out of the Zinsser.  It also passed the glossy paint/nail scratch test.  Sanding painted trim is also an option.  But just a light sanding just to scuff things up.  Either way - priming or sanding - it's not the most fun dive into painting trim but it's an important step to ensure you won't have to repaint or deal with peeling paint.  (Note:  I've also seen people use a deglosser on trim before painting but I haven't tried it personally to know if it really takes the place of a good primer.  Have you?)

Five:  Use a semi-shiny paint for scrubbing's sake.
Trim gets touched a lot in this house and, I would imagine, most houses.  It catches you when you're running too fast and need something to grab onto lest you crash (hi Sebastian fingerprints) but it also catches all the dust (baseboards).  So, occasionally, it needs to be wiped down.  But, you can't wipe down anything with flat paint because you'll just end up taking paint off and then you'll want to cry because that means painting trim...again.  We are big Valspar fans over here and are currently using their Simplicity paint in a semi-gloss finish, tinted to Pure White by Sherwin-Williams on all of the trim.

Six:  Use a paint guide* around carpeted floors.
You could tape off your carpet somehow...but that would be a total waste of time and tape when you could just buy a paint guide.  Our guide has obviously has seen lots and lots of paint.  :)  If you have super smooth walls, you could also use this when you're edging walls and vertical trim.  But if you have any texture whatsoever, paint could seep under the guide so I wouldn't recommend it.

Seven:  Paint with the grain for a professional-looking paint job.
Not only does painting with the grain look better, but it helps you get paint into all of the ridges and valleys trim can have.  

That's all I've got.  If you have any other pearls of trim-painting wisdom to share, please do so!  And once again, let's just sigh a collective sigh of relief that the trim in our entry way is finally a fresh white!  Bring on the wall paint...and then the decorating!

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  1. Painting trim is so tedious -- definitely agree it's worse than ceilings. I like to use a paint+primer combo, so at least it *feels* like it's less work than painting primer and then the top coat, even if you have to do the same number of coats either way. And totally agree that a good paintbrush is worth its weight in gold! :)

    1. I love the paint + primer idea but I haven't found a paint brand that I really feel can hold it's weight in the primer area. What's your go-to paint Hannah?

  2. As a professional painter I can honestly say these are some great tips that every DIY painter needs to know when painting trim. The biggest mistake is typically not priming and you explained exactly why you should! Also, here's another idea for painting the baseboards, you can use a thin drywall spackling blade to slide under the baseboard and protect the floor/carpet if you don't want to buy a paint guide.