“The trim” is the answer to the question “Paint walls or trim first?” Why? It’s harder to cut a line on the woodwork. It just is. We always paint the trim before the walls: it saves us a lot of time. Here you’ll see that baseboards, window/door frames, etc., are easy to touch-up at the end! For our technique to work well, you need a very good brush to cut a straight line, see my favorite brush.
Why paint trim first?
It’s harder to cut a line when painting the woodwork: the wall cut is faster. We (almost) always do this. Walls are 2nd because when you goof and hit the freshly painted trim, it is easy to touch-up at the end! Ray Charles could do it. Would he paint the walls or trim first? What’d I Say?
Some painters have a different take on this that I’ll explain at the bottom: they paint trim last and if done carefully is very good too, but that system has a flaw.
Without good tools, you get low quality and slow, frustrating work. For the roller pole etc., read our post on good painting tools: we point you to tools that last.
3 Simple Steps—Why Paint Trim First
1. Paint the Trim (completely finish it—it’s ok to get paint on the walls):
- Paint trim overlapping on walls that you will paint later: do all the number of coats you need. Don’t fear that you will get wall paint on it later! You will!
- This also fills small cracks (use caulk to fill big ones).
- Tip: How we paint trim quickly: use a roller cover with a medium nap (these are very quick to clean and we don’t clean when going from white semi-gloss to white wall/ceiling paint—we scrape with the curve of our 5-in-1 tool, heaven’s gift to painters). So many pros don’t even know this: what are they thinking?
- Let dry well.
Key point: This requires a quality brush and roller set up.
Brush: We use a 'latex-only' Purdy which cuts a straight line almost by itself and which will last the home-owner a lifetime). Needless to say, quality paint is also a big key: better coverage, longer lasting color, and washable. We recommend Kilz Tribute if you are shopping online. We do not get money from these manufacturers.
Roller: A low-cost roller leaves lint in your wall and it feels like sandpaper. Ick. But for only a little more, you get a lifetime tool that’s easy to clean (read how). What do we use? This roller frame, (a.k.a. roller cage), used with this roller cover, We like 1/2″ or 3/4″ for trim, (same or even longer nap for walls). They last and they fast!
We have a post on how to paint wood trim the way we do: and you thought we used a brush. It has a few tricks.
Optional: You won’t need to use tape with this method, but if you want to, use the green painters' tape (special glue on tape does not pull off paint later and tape is water-resistant) But as you’ll see it’s not necessary, even for beginners. See tip on tape, below.
2. Paint the Walls (don’t worry about getting a little wall paint on the fresh trim)
By rolling first, you leave no doubt about what area you need to brush later. If you brush first, you’ll brush way more surface than you had to the other way around. Plus, brushing wall is far faster than brushing trim. Two compelling reasons.
- Start rolling your walls and when you come to the baseboard or window/door frame that you already painted, allow your roller to almost touch (ok to goof and touch) the trim. Don’t worry about mistakes.
- Roll into all the corners of the room as well—less cutting there too. (Assumes one color walls).
- Let the paint wall paint dry.
- Cut the wall paint at the trim boundary. A Purdy brush will cut a straight line even if you wiggle your hand a little. Later, you will touch up where you hit the trim.
- Fully soak up a load of paint in your brush: Key to this: Purdy brushes (company website) can hold a lot more than dollar-store brushes (with the crappy thick bristles). We only buy latex-paint-only brushes (order online). We rarely need brushes for oil and brushes that can do both are inferior for latex paint. A Purdy is for life (we get no money from Purdy or any other manufacturer.)
- Big tip to ‘cut’ the wall paint faster: gently shake the brush low in the can to flick off the excess, then hold the brush over the can. How long does it take to drip? That’s how long you have to get it to the trim w/o dripping (don’t fling it hard!) And certainly don’t scrape the brush on the side of the can: you lose your heavy load!
- Spread 80% of the paint that is in the brush over about a yard (a yard? yes) but don’t try to get the paint very close to the new trim just yet.
- When the paint is laid out, push and spread it into the edge/corner onto both the wall and trim. Fast right?
- Let the trim paint dry.
3. Touch up the Trim
- Where you goofed, just hit the spots and make a nice line: Purdy brushes make this easy. We don’t need no stinking painter’s tape!
- Even if we did not paint the trim if we have the old trim color, we touch-up the trim. It sharpens the line for the ‘wow’ factor. Careful, because old trim can be faded.
Why you need a good brush when painting trim
Quality bristles magically find the corner. You don’t really need a super steady hand using a Purdy. Why “latex only” brushes? They last longer, hold more paint and cut better than bristles that also accept oil paints. If you might use oil later, there are other options.
Advanced Professional Painter Tips
People are amazed by how fast we are at painting the trim. Secret: we use a short nap roller just a regular 9” roller everywhere we can. In fact, if I just finished a flat-paint ceiling in white (read about ceiling paint), and now I need to move to semi-gloss white, I won’t even clean the roller—just squeegee with my 6-in-1. Try it and you’ll see! This is another reason why we answer “trim first” when asked if we paint walls or trim first. Read our post on what is the quality paint for walls.
Last Tip If You Used Tape:
Peel off the tape if you used it while the paint is still tacky, not fully dried, to avoid accidentally removing any good paint along with it (paint is a plastic film!). But…let it dry enough to firm up or it will ‘spit’ as you pull the tape.
Summary of Paint Trim or Walls First:
- Paint the trim first—no need for tape
- Painter’s trick: we use a roller (the same 9-inch medium nap) and roll the paint onto walls to be painted and tip it smooth with a good brush
- Let dry, roll walls very close to trim and let that dry. This is a good time to caulk.
- Cut walls.
- We list all the painting tools you could need.
FAQ: Do You Paint trim or walls first?
— Which has easier clean-up: painting walls or trim first?
Surprise: you don’t have to clean the brush twice depending on color changes. If you do a white ceiling (flat) go right to the gloss with no cleaning (roller too). Just squeeze ’em out.
— What looks better: paint walls or trim first?
Same result. Even if we did not use this method, at the end of every interior room, we always hit the top of the baseboards (at least) with trim paint (whether we painted it or not (assuming it’s white) as it brings out the fresh white-ness and the clean line with the wall. People like it. “Wow”. Meh. Secrets.
Alternate Method: Paint Trim or Walls First? Answer: Walls.
I just bleu your mind, right?
Some painters will paint all walls first with the roller—no brushing, coming very close to the trim. Then they paint the trim while intentionally getting trim paint in the corners and on the freshly painted walls.
Then they just need to cut the wall paint at the end.
Good job, fast. Again, as with my way, it’s faster and easier to cut the wall paint, not the trim.
A flaw in this method:
But what if the trim paint splatters on the freshly rolled walls? Will you see all the spots? Our way above is better and we’ve tried both many many times! Good luck!
Let us know in the comments if you are unclear about your situation.