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.
More 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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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: