How to Paint Trim Smoothly and Easily Like a Pro

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As with many things, the beauty is in the details, and painting trim is no exception. It can give any room a polished and refined look when done correctly. 

Today, I’m going to share my expert tips on how to achieve that perfect finish. Let’s dive in!

1. Choose the Right Paint and Brushes

For trim, I recommend using a semi-gloss or high-gloss paint. Not only do these finishes look great against matte or eggshell walls, but they’re also easy to clean — a big plus for high-traffic areas. 

As for brushes, opt for a high-quality, angled brush. This will give you better control and coverage on the trim.

2. Preparation is Key

Before painting anything, always start with a clean surface. Use a damp cloth to wipe down the trim, removing dust or grime. If holes or imperfections exist, now’s the time to fill them in with wood filler. Let it dry, and sand it down until it’s smooth.

3. Tape Off the Surrounding Areas

yellow paint tape

Even the steadiest of hands can have off moments. To avoid getting paint on the walls or floor, apply painter’s tape around the trim. Make sure it’s pressed firmly to prevent paint from seeping underneath.

4. Prime the Trim

If your trim has never been painted, or if you’re making a significant color change, I’d recommend applying a primer first. This will ensure that your paint adheres well and that the color is true to what’s in the can.

5. Painting the Trim

Now for the main event. Dip your brush into the paint, but avoid submerging it entirely. Ideally, you’ll want to load the lower third of the brush. This helps to maintain control and minimize drips.

Start with the innermost corner of the trim and paint with long, smooth strokes, following the grain of the wood. 

I typically paint in 2-3 foot sections, then move on to the next section, always painting ‘wet to wet.’ This technique ensures a seamless look, as you won’t have dried paint edges matching wet ones.

6. Avoiding Brush Strokes

preparing brush for staining

For that truly professional finish, avoiding visible brush strokes is essential. My secret? Maintain a wet edge. 

You reduce the risk of brush marks by overlapping your strokes while the paint is still wet. And if you do notice any strokes, lightly go over the area with your brush to smooth them out.

7. Second Coat

Once the first coat is dry (check the paint can for drying times), assess if you need a second coat. More often than not, I find that a second coat gives that extra depth of color and flawless finish. Just ensure the first coat is dry to prevent any streaks or pulls in the paint.

8. Remove the Painter’s Tape

Remove the painter’s tape after allowing enough drying time for the final coat (I recommend waiting at least 24 hours). If you notice any minor imperfections or areas where paint may have bled through, use a fine-grit sandpaper or a razor blade to clean them up.

9. Finishing Touches

Once you’re satisfied with the trim’s appearance, add any finishing touches. This might include reinstalling outlet covers or putting furniture back in place.

Tools You Shouldn’t Overlook

tools for painting

While paint and brushes are fundamental, several other tools can elevate your trim painting game:

1. Sanding Blocks or Sponges

Before you start with the paint, always sand the trim lightly. This step is crucial, especially if the trim has layers of old paint. A sanding block or sponge can get into the nooks and crannies, providing a smoother surface for the new paint to adhere to.

2. Paint Conditioner

Consider adding a paint conditioner like Floetrol. It slows down the drying time of the paint, helping to eliminate brush strokes. It’s my secret weapon for a smooth finish, especially in warmer conditions where paint tends to dry faster.

3. Quality Drop Cloths

Drop Cloth

Even with the most careful painting, you’d be surprised how many splatters and drips can occur. I always lay down canvas [1] drop cloths. They’re less slippery than plastic ones and absorb the paint better, preventing it from tracking around.

Conclusion

Painting trim may seem like a meticulous task, requiring patience and precision. However, a task can transform a room from ordinary to extraordinary with the right techniques and tips. 

Remember, the beauty truly lies in the details, and with a beautifully painted trim, you can elevate the overall aesthetic of any space. I hope my insights and expertise help you achieve the perfect trim paint job. Happy painting!

robert headshot

Robert Johnson is a passionate furniture maker & carpenter, sought after for his knowledge on the craft.
You’ve probably seen his down-to-earth wisdom in USA Today, Bobvila, Family Handyman, and The Spruce, where he has shared commentary and guidance on various woodworking topics.

Robert is the brain behind Sawinery, where he aims to share tips, tricks, and a passion for all things carpentry.

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