Best Paint for Trim and Cabinets: Two Great Paints We Love

In 35+ years, I have painted many miles of trim, with many to go. The two types of the best trim paint we use…and why…is explained here. It’s a no brainer. Save money.

When it comes to picking a trim paint, in every case, you save money in the long run by using quality paint: Quality paint looks better, holds its color longer, goes on without spitting…and you can really scrub it clean. Always get the best paint for trim that you can afford.

  • Choose the brand and line of paint: we describe the two we use most, we love and recommend Advance from Ben Moore: it looks incredible like oil paint…but it takes experience to apply.
  • Choose your sheen: most folks like semi-gloss.
  • Choose your color: an off-white is standard.
  • Latex or oil? Unlike what you might be reading, oil is long dead. RIP. We explain.
  • We list the basic tools and refer you to the ‘how-to’ steps.

If you need to block stains, read our post about stain blocking primer.

If you just want the bottom line: there are 2 trim paints that we use over and over, and both are excellent. More follows this summary:

  • Benjamin Moore’s Advance shown above; self-levels just like oil paint and looks amazing. This ships pure white unless you email the seller. This is the best seller of this paint: very responsive. Explained more below.
  • Regal Semi-Gloss, also from Ben Moore. This is the standard latex trim paint which holds color, is very cleanable but not quite as tough as Advance.
  • These are both somewhat pricey and we have other budget choices below, but remember that these paints last much longer.
  • You simply email the seller with your color choice.

Want to spray? Read about sprayers. We are production painters: we spray the trim, then mask it, then spray ceilings and walls!

The Best Paint for Trim:

The #1 rule in painting: you save money by using quality. You can really see the quality of good paint, and they are tougher so they last longer and won’t yellow or fade like some budget brands.


Top Two Excellent Choices

— After these: a budget paint choice and a link to basic tools and some primers. —

1. The Very Best Choice

ADVANCE Waterborne Interior Alkyd Paint – Semi-Gloss Finish(793)The best of all the best paint for trim is Benjamin Moore’s Advance this link is the semi-gloss, what people put on trim most of the time. But here is the satin finish. Both are perfectly fine as your trim paint or cabinet paint.

The label says you can use it without a primer, and yes, you can if you are going over an old latex surface or even an old-well-sanded-oil-based paint. But if you have ‘raw’ wood, use a good primer, discussed below.

Read about how to prepare stained wood trim for this paint.

Our customers love the oil-based paint look, without the oily toxins and mess. They did not name it Advance because you need to be an advanced painter, but some experience is helpful.

It behaves like oil in that it is slow drying and that can cause sags and drips. This won’t happen if you apply thin coats: we almost always do more than one. Don’t try to for one-and-done. If you need to be quick, use the Regal. But the Advance look is really, really nice. You’ll quickly get the hang of how to apply it. Do some, wait, check for drips.

Man Painting Trim with Quality PaintMore about this product: Dries to the touch in 5 hours (with normal conditions). This slow ‘open’ time is what lets the paint enamelize, or even out like oil-based paints and look so beautiful. Latex paints don’t do this and so you have brush strokes, which is ok too. Fully let dry then further coats can be applied only after 16-24 hours. Unlike latex, this paint is easy to sand when dry, even though it dries so hard. So if you get some bad spots you want to re-do, just hit with some 220 grit sandpaper and bingo.

Kicker: Another reason this is the best paint for trim is that you can roll this paint on trim: you don’t have to use a brush to ‘tip out’ as you do with latex. Wha?

We always paint trim with a roller, and with a normal latex trim paint, we tip it out so the brush strokes are parallel. With Advance, we don’t do that: it’s going to all even out anyway, so there’s no need.

You do need a brush for where the roller cannot reach.

I contacted Purdy, owned by Sherwin Williams (company website) and asked what brush is best for Advance (a Ben Moore product!). They replied that the XL Elite Glide (shown here) would be best, but that the Nylox which is our go-to brush is also fine. Nylox cannot be used for oil, and it’s better than combo brushes for latex. Really, it’s better for Advance in my opinion.

Finally, Advance trim paint, like all paints, takes 30 days to cure, so treat it gently for a month or more. If you took off cabinet doors or any door/drawer etc, to make it easier to paint (always best), wait a while to put them back on.

Kitchen cabinet trim paint takes a beating but Advance is the single best kitchen cabinet paint, as well as the best paint for trim around the house (interior trim).

2. Tradition…Tradition!

A very good latex trim paint that we have used literally thousands of times is Benjamin Moore’s Regal and it comes in satin and semi-gloss.

It is available in any color: this seller has a very good price and free shipping: you first choose your color from the Ben Moore website. Get the paint number and name, and email the seller through the product page when you buy.

Just click on the seller’s name in the product page right-hand column under the yellow Add to Cart button.

Tip: For trim or kitchen cabs, try the color “Cloud White” (number = OC130); many of our customers choose it before we ever talk for the first time. A really nice white.

Oil-based paints are no longer the best paint for trim
Oil-based paints are no longer the best paint for trim
3. Low-Budget Trim Paint Option

Just looking for a basic low-cost trim paint? You could do a lot worse than Zinsser (by Rust-Oleum). It’s nothing like the big boys above, but the price: wow.

Want to use real oil? You’ll have a hard time finding it, and when you do, you probably have to buy it in small cans (quarts, etc).

Oil is on the way out and for good reason (it makes us all sick), and when you have so many water-based acrylics to choose from, it’s for the best. Oil was once considered to be the best paint for trim: no more.

How Shiny?

Sheen: Generally these days, designers put eggshell on all walls (including kitchen/bath) and semi-gloss on all trim.

 Trim paint options: People still use semi-gloss on all trim. Rarely, some folks will go with satin (less shiny than semi-gloss), and some like the high gloss. Generally, designers feel that semi-gloss is still the best paint for trim.

Basic tools you need for painting trim

We have combined all the basic painting tools all into one place for you, but the very minimum you need is a brush, roller frame (aka cage), roller cover, drop cloths, tape. You can always write to me in the comments below for questions. Main tip: budget roller covers and brushes shed lint and bristles: guess where that junk ends up? Yep.

We have another post that describes how different painting tools are used.

A quick primer on primer

When do you need a primer for trim?

The two main issues are bonding and blocking.

  • If it’s greasy, dirty, etc, you need to clean as best you can (best to wipe with TSP or detergent cleaner. This kind of thing is all on the supplies page under “Painting Prep Tools”
  • If stained (by water, wood knots, etc.), use a primer to create a strong bond AND block tannins/resins/tree sap: Prime Lock, by Benjamin Moore is best. Read our post on blocking stains with primer. Prime Lock from Benjamin Moore is oil-based and worth every penny. Buy a throw-away brush…don’t try to clean oily brushes!
  • If not stained: go with the water-based Aqua-Lock: it also blocks most stains and is not as messy.

Big color change? If you are changing colors radically: dark to light or vice versa, use a low-power (inexpensive) primer as a first coat: why paint 3 coats of expensive paint when you can save money on the first coat? What primer here? We use Kilz General Purpose (shown here) if we do not need to block any stains (wood knots, water stains, etc). It just covers all bases and is less expensive than the lowest level primers. With other low-level primers, we cannot be sure will give us the bonding we need on pre-painted walls.

You already have primer? Ok, it in test spots, and do one or two topcoats over it. Then when very dry, see if you can scratch it off easily with your fingernail.

Paint and Primer in One? We don’t love them, but since they broke onto the market they have really improved with tiny particles that form a seal and can take the place of a primer, but not a stain blocker. We like Kilz. Here is the semi-gloss paint-and-primer-in-one for trim.

Use this for unpainted wood, but know that tree knots, sap, etc may bleed through every coat.

The reason I don’t use this unless requested is that very often there will be stains of some sort that will bleed through to the top. Latex paint does not block stains! Only “stain-blocking” primers do that. Stains make me look bad; I have to do coats of touch-ups and that’s a drag.

However, it’s also a fast way to go—landladies and lords love it for that reason. Some folks are selling and are painting trim white, and just “slap this on” with no primer or prep: very bad idea. Bad karma, Buddha say.

FAQ:

How much trim will a gallon of paint cover?
Calculate how much paint you need like this: A gallon of the best trim paint will put 2 coats on 3-4 average rooms (with some shelves, doors, windows, baseboards).

Can I trim without sanding?
Yes, unless you have oil-based paint or varnish. To test, simply rub some acetone (often in nail polish remover) or rubbing alcohol on some paint/varnish. If it gets gooey, it’s latex. No sanding.

What trim paint do you mostly use on kitchen cabinets?
We feel confident saying that the Advance shown above is the best paint finish for kitchen cabinets white, off-white or other. The pure white, or Cloud White, is the most common.


Related posts:

  • Pick your primer in our post about the best primer to block stains—Stain Blocking Primer (Cover Any Stained Wood, Walls, etc)
  • If you are converting from the wood look to paint, read the essential extra steps you must take to not have a disaster. Painting Stained Trim (Making Stained Wood Look Modern)
  • Learn how to paint your trim or cabinets whether you are just repainting or converting from stain.

That’s our view on the best paint for trim. If you have any additions or comments, please let us all know in the comments. Thanks!

Here is a short video discussing the best paint for trim:

 

21 thoughts on “Best Paint for Trim and Cabinets: Two Great Paints We Love”

  1. I am repainting the doors in my house they were painted it with water-based paint don’t know what type of primer came on doors from factory the doors were painted with a water base paint there are 19 years old when I used a water-based paint with primer it took the original primer from factory all the way down to the door was told to sand it down and use a primer the primer I was told to use was a oil based primer The primer was fresh start enamel under body can I use a paint and primer for finish coat Thanks

    • Painting over oil PRIMER is fine. Over oil paint is no-go with latex. Or oil without much sanding of the old oil. YOu see set to paint. Do a test section let dry, and see if you can scratch it off in a couple of days…blow dry to harden for faster testing.
      Good luck.
      b

    • It’s supposed to be a formula that does not crack or yellow/discolor. If true, it’s definitely better…but I have not used them yet. I’ll look into it and write here again. The best I can do for you is to encourage you to learn all you can. Always good to buy a test product and really test it: how hard is it? What does it take to crack it? I wish I could be of more help. Good luck!

  2. Hi Brad,
    Do you have any experience with BM Advance yellowing?

    My contractor just did a beautiful job painting our doors and trim (pre-move-in-spraying) with BM Advance in Chantilly Lace (very bright white). I am worried about yellowing.

    Thanks!
    Rick

    • It’s an interesting question. Oil-based paints yellow and latex does not. But Advance is both a water-based and alkyd. It’s like a combination of the two. I’ll check with my BM rep about this and if there is any question, add to this reply. If I don’t add to it, you can be sure there is no yellowing issue with Advance. Thanks for the good Q.
      B

  3. Thanks for your article! I just began a project painting the trim in my house. I’m using BM Advance and a 2.5″ Nylox Glide brush per your recommendation. I spent 3 hours today painting trim. At first, it was great! After about 2 hours, though, the brush really began to lose its stiffness. Instead of a nice chisel shape like it had at the beginning, it took on more of a ‘sweep’ shape. Therefore it wasn’t getting into the trim detail well because the bristles were laying down. It became very hard to work with. I have a photo of the brush I can send you if you like. Any idea why this might be happening? Thank you!

    • Thanks and great question.
      Yes a Purdy will indeed get soft as will any and every brush after a few hours.
      I would always do all the rolling I could (I roll before cut almost always) then dip the dry brush for the first time.
      If I had to brush all day long, I’d pull out a 2nd brush after lunch or when the first one got soggy.

      The great thing about Purdy I would never notice in lower quality brushes is that when clean and dry (I’d put near a furnace in winter to make sure it would get bone dry overnight), the Purdy would be as stiff and controllable as new, every day, day in and out for years of use. Actually, if you do this every day for about 6 months, it’s usually so worn out and has accumulated a daily small amount of dried paint in the heel, that the brush becomes a duster, or an emergency priming brush.

      Thanks very much for this question: I should have mentioned this somewhere on this site. I will now!
      b

      • Thank you, Brad.

        Can you explain a little how you roll the trim? I rolled some wider parts of trim, such as window sill/frame and the baseboard (I have 8″ baseboard). But I don’t see how a roller would help or even be possible with chair rail or crown. I’m using a 4 1/2″ mini roller.

        If it matters: I’m not painting the wall – only trim, so I’m cutting the trim in against the wall (which I know is more difficult than going the other way around, but it is what it is).

        • Yes, it matters that you don’t want to paint on the walls. When you are painting the walls, you just blast away with any size roller, getting all the chair rail or crown or whatever, not worrying about the wall. Later you paint over that on the wall being careful not to splatter on your new trim.
          In your case, maybe just brush. It has worked for decades! YOu might get away with some rolling slowly in the fat parts away from the wall…just to quickly get the paint onto the trim…then tip with the brush. It’s way faster.
          Even if you had a 9-inch roller you could roll a chair rail if the roller has a short nap. YOu’d just be very careful not to hit the wall…carry a damp rag or be ready to touch up the wall after your mistakes dry. It’s worth the saved time to clean a roller…usually. For us, it almost always is, but if you are doing one room, maybe just brush it.
          Good luck.

  4. Hi Brad, we are getting ready to install new trim in an existing house with already painted walls. I am so glad to have found this post. I have two questions…
    1. How do you feel about painting trim before install with only final touch up coat after install?
    2. What is the best caulk to use for joints and nail holes when using BM Advanced?

    • Hi. I always try to get all but the last coat on trim before it goes up. Best to do a full coat after going up, but you could just touch up. Problem is that it gets handprints and scuffs during install, not just small touch-ups.
      Use Dap Painter’s caulk without silicone for joints, but for nail holes use spackle. Just use fingertip for spackle, not a knife and try to leave no spackle outside hole. Then touch up is quick. Another reason to do a final coat. Spackle will ‘flash’ if it does not get the same number of coats as the rest of the trim. 2 coats is usually good enough if the hole is very small.
      Advance or any other trim paint: this all applies for all paints.
      b

  5. Question 3…
    How would you paint over a stained lacquered door? How much sanding is needed and do you need to prime? Once again per your post I intended to use BM Advanced.

  6. Thank you for all of your advice! At your recommendation, I am using Benjamin Moore Advance semi gloss to do all the trim in my house. It is working great with a trim brush, but when I use a roller (Purdy 1/4″) to do doors, I’m getting a lot of tiny bubbles that are annoying to deal with… I have been either going over the rollered paint with a brush (tedious) or waiting a few minutes and popping the bubbles by rolling again, lightly with a pretty dry roller (also tedious). Do you have any ideas for me? Thank you!

    • Yes, depending on your roller composition, it will leave different patterns and bubbles. I can’t tell from what you wrote if you are saying the bubbles are not popping. They do for me. There is, of course, no harm at all in smoothing the rolled paint out with a brush. But the final look should not be different: the paint (if shaken well and new…nothiing wrong with it) will smooth out to leave a look just like oil paints would.
      So roll back and forth to get your coverage, brush in the corners and watch for it to flatten out.
      Did I understand? If not, please reply here. Good luck,
      Brad

      • Thank you for your thoughts. The bubbles are not popping on their own. I either have to go over them with a brush or a dry roller after waiting a few minutes. The paint I’m using is about 5 years old…. maybe that is the culprit?!

  7. Please give advice on the best process for painting latex over oil based. All the trim in my home has Benjamin Moore impervo oil based paint. I want to change to latex..

    • This is the one thing that you have to be very careful or the paint will come off with a fingernail later.
      I wrote the entire procedure on this post.
      It’s about latex over stain, but most stain has a gloss varnish of some sort that must be de-glossed. Oil is the same, even if it’s not gloss: you must sand or hit with liquid sandpaper.
      Please read that article and when you read ‘varnish’, think ‘oil based paint’.
      Remember the key points: degloss every square inch, and use a very good bonding primer like Stix, or if you have water stains or wood knot stains, use PrimeLock, which also is a great bonding primer.
      But these primers cannot make promises if you don’t de-gloss!
      B

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