Painting Trim (Wood Trim, MDF, etc.) with a Trick

Thinking of painting your trim with a brush? Sit down, my friend. Let me show you the way of the Force. We FLY when we’re painting wood trim, or when we’re painting trim of any kind.

Whether you are painting wood trim that real wood or a budget material called MDF etc, or anything else, painting trim inside your home is very straight-forward, and the tricks…oh, the tricks.

Here are the 3 basic steps, then we expand them all below.

  1. The tool arsenal: not what you might expect
  2. The method for painting trim like us pros
  3. Clean up: we show how easy it really can be

If you already have experience and just want to know what we use:

Primer: For stained/varnished wood or unpainted wood, we don’t want to go back and find stains bleeding through our weak primers. After sanding, we use the very best wood primer, Prime Lock Plus, as it blocks all stains (including wood knots that may take a year to bleed through) and creates the bonding that keeps the paint from flaking off. Read more about primer to block stains in our post.

Paint: After the prep on the trim is done, we use either of 2 paints.

First, the very best in trim paint, Benjamin Moore’s Advance. Advance which is water-based, but behaves and looks just like oil-based paints always did.

However most customers want to spend a little less and Regal Semi-Gloss, also from Ben Moore costs about half as much as Advance, looks good, holds its color ‘forever’, and can be scrubbed clean. It’s a little faster to apply than Advance: it’s my high-quality money-saving choice. I’ve applied hundreds and hundreds of gallons of Regal in my 40 years of painting.

Here we go with how to paint trim: I gathered all the tools/supplies you will need on one tools page.

Read details about high-quality paint for trim here.

Jump to your section:

Painting wood trim as fast as a pro:

People are shocked at how fast we go: well, the truth is, it’s magic…NOT.

There are 2 big tips coming up, but here is the main thing: we use a roller cover (that does not shed lint) and a good brush (that doesn’t shed bristles).

Ever see paint on walls with tiny little hairs? That is from the budget rollers that come in a kit—you’ve seen them…with the tray, all wrapped in plastic.

There are more tools to know about in #1 below. I only recommend ones that are reasonably priced and that get you through many jobs efficiently. I buy these very same tools and keep them for a long time.

1. The tool set-up makes all the difference:

A basic professional trim painting set-up consists of a roller and brush, a bucket and a screen (grid). We don’t use pans/trays for rollers—ever! Pans spill and you can step in them—delightful. This roller frame, a.k.a. ‘cage’ can accept most broomsticks, but for now and forever grab the telescoping pole that can snap in and out of this same roller.

All these are gathered these tools and more (like plastic, tape, drop cloths, etc) — on the painting tools page. You will like that they are not that expensive and will last a homeowner a lifetime. We have links below on how to easily and quickly clean them.

Why a roller? As you will see below in my short video, we get 100% of the needed paint from the bucket to the workpiece with the roller and then just tip it out with a quality brush. This also explains the

At the very least you will need: sandpaper, drop cloths, a good light, and more. A fan helps, and keep your spackle handy. Of course knee pads: I would never paint trim or even doing house cleaning, without them. It’s all on that page.

If you buy the ‘dollar-store-type’ roller cover and brush, you’ll wish you didn’t: the roller covers will shed lint and the brushes loose bristles. Ours never do.


2. The method: This is at least 3x faster than you go now
  1. Before you paint, prep is key: jump to the prep info below for painting wood trim or painting trim in any condition.
  2. If the surface of the trim is greasy/oily like handprints around doorknobs, etc, you can just wipe with a damp cloth to remove the dust and then paint. Often you must sand down some spots like dust in the old paint. If you do, that dust from the sanding should be wiped off. Otherwise, get painting. Often we do not do any other prep if the surface is clean.
  3. Masking? We pros only use masking tape in tight corners because Purdy brushes can be controlled so well, but you should still feel free to mask. The green painter’s tape has special glue: when the tape is removed, this glue will not pull off even fresh paint. The old type of tan masking tape can pull off even old cured paint.
  4. Here is the biggest tip I can give anyone—don’t brush trim paint! Roll out a section of your workpiece with a normal short-nap roller cover (seen above) you might also use for walls. We prefer the wool/poly blend: wool absorbs and poly gives long life.
  5. With the rolled, still wet paint on the trim, just use the tip of the brush to smooth out the rolled paint. This removes the ‘nap marks’ and with the paint on the brush, without dipping, do what you cannot touch with the roller.
  6. With Benjamin Moore’s Advance paint, you can just roll. No brush needed except where the roller cannot reach.
  7. That’s it. Easy cleanup info is just below.

Not only is this method far faster than just brushing, but because it goes so fast, you don’t see ‘lap marks’ where the new wetter section overlaps the last now drying section. When brushing you are going slower and you see more overlap marks. When dry, these lap marks can be seen: not the method for painting wood trim.

Picking your finish trim paint:

With Benjamin Moore’s Advance, or the now ‘old-fashioned’ oil-based paints, you don’t need to ‘tip-out’ the brush marks. Latex, however, dries much faster and the roller and brush marks will always be visible. Do your best to make it flat.

If you want to use the traditional latex paint, like our 2nd fav Regal Semi-Gloss, also from Ben Moore. If you want to minimize brushstrokes, add Floetrol to your water-based paint: it ‘flows’ and increases the drying time. This gives the brushmarks a chance to even out more. Great invention.

If you are painting the walls as well as the trim

Paint the trim first. There someone finally said it. This is fully explained in our post about painting the trim first, but the key point is that cutting the line between trim and wall is MUCH easier when the last cut is on the wall, not the trim.

The steps:

  1. Paint the trim and don’t worry about getting trim paint on the soon-to-be-painted wall.
  2. Then paint the wall and don’t be afraid to get a little wall paint on your new trim.
  3. Then if needed, go back and touch up trim. Easy and fast.

The basics of prep for painting wood trim:

  • Pre-painted trim needs a quick sanding with 150 grit sandpaper and a wipe down with a damp cloth (and allowed to dry). You are ready to paint. A shortcut here is using a toxic but effective de-glosser, but it’s very toxic. Gives the same effect as sanding, but no dust. Please, please, please open the windows even in the winter, and wear a respirator. A respiratory is handy in many situations.  I simplified the complex world of respirators and filters.
  • Starting out with stained/varnished wood trim? We explained that case in our post about painting stained trim: it’s not what you would call simple, but anyone can do it.
  • Untreated wood of any type, the best primer is Prime Lock Plus by Benjamin Moore. It’s oil-based so buy an oil-compatible brush: the Purdy XL Elite can be used with latex as well, but we find that once it touches oil, it’s never like new again. Oil paint is one time we buy throw-away brushes. If you want, clean your brush with mineral spirits, however… We just don’t: it’s not worth the brush you get to keep.
  • For faux wood or MDF etc, that has never been coated, use the same primer above, Prime Lock Plus. Especially for MDF, this primer will not raise the soft grain more than the hard which creates the bumpy look. Also, it totally blocks wood knots and other stains. These stains can take a year to bleed through into your top-coats.

For painting wood trim outside the home

You will be using some different products, but the basic method of the roller/brush combo above is exactly the same. What’s the best paint for house trim? Most of our customers like low-luster or satin on a house body and semi-gloss on the trim.

3. Clean up: it’s really not that messy and goes quick.

Here is the basic quick way to clean a roller and a brush, but we have a full post showing how easy it is to clean roller covers and one just for cleaning brushes. Bingo.

For rollers covers, there are two ways: easy and fast. This is for quality roller covers as mentioned above.

The easy way is to fill a large bucket with water (latex paints, obviously) and set the cover on its end overnight. 90% of the paint will fall to the bottom of the bucket.

Either repeat again for some hours, maybe overnight, or just squeeze with your hands or even better with the curve in your multi-tool or brush comb.

The fast way is to use a spinner. Slide the cover on the end, dunk in water, and hold in an empty (large) bucket. Pump the piston and the roller spins dry. Repeat. It’s quick.

Watch me do it. (YouTube)

For quality brushes, after you wire brush off any dried paint from the heel of the brush. just submerge in water or solvent and pound the bristles about 20 times. Change your solvent and repeat. With a good brush like Purdy, you only need to get about 95% of the paint out. More is better, as dried paint will slowly turn it into a club. Before allowing to dry, comb with even a regular hair comb so the bristles are good to go next time. If you don’t have the cover, wrap with paper and tape.

Watch me do it. (YouTube)

Tip: we also put hair conditioner from the shower as a final rinse every few cleanings. This replaces what the bristles lose. Be sure to rinse it well.

Man Painting Trim

That’s our method of painting wood trim  (really painting trim of any type) and painting wood trim or any material. So many people have asked us how to paint trim and how to paint baseboards with carpet (just use cardboard as a shield). Painting trim could be done with just a brush, but there is not a difference when you use a roller and a brush.

Let us know your thoughts and how you paint trim in the comments below.

Related posts:

  • Pick your primer in our post on when you need a stain blocking primer: it’s the essential step before painting trim
  • Pick the best paint for trim and for your cabinets or trim
  • If you are converting from the wood look to paint, read the essential extra steps you must take to not have a disaster while painting your trims.

Here is a professional painter’s set up for painting trim:

6 thoughts on “Painting Trim (Wood Trim, MDF, etc.) with a Trick”

  1. Thank you so much for putting all this information together!
    Dumb question: should trim be washed with TSP first? Is TSP a de-glosser?
    Thank you in advance.

    • Hi again. I’ll add this to the post above: I should have mentioned it I guess. Unless the trim is greasy/oily like handprints around doorknobs and light switches, etc, you just need to make it dust free and paint. You will likely sand down some old imperfections so that sanding dust needs to be wiped off. Otherwise, just paint. We often do no prep if the surface is clean already.

  2. Hello. Another question. I will be painting crown molding currently painted white. It looks as though the last time walls were painted they painted the little lower lip that is perpendicular to the wall, the wall color, which is a gold color. I question whether that should be painted the wall color. It gives it an odd floating sense like it isn’t attached. Anyway, will the primer I am using (since the color is gold) work for that little lip too? Guess i might have to use a brush. ugg.
    Thank you, again, in advance.

  3. Hello. I think I figured out that I can use your ceiling roller technique with the primer on that little lip?
    I have partial day off from work tomorrow and will be picking up my first round of supplies : joint compound, caulk & gun, sandpaper. Stopping off at only Ben Moore dealer 40min away for some paint samples. Thanks again.

  4. Thanks for the tips, Brad; I’m about to paint white trim adjacent to our wood floors and carpets. Do you typically tape off the floor trim adjacent to the floor prior to rolling?

    • I would not, but I have 40 years and a great Purdy brush. But my advice is yes, get some wide green ‘painters’ tape. That will take all your time getting it just under the baseboard etc. DOn’t use the old tan tape: the glue from it will stick to the floor in only hours and you’ll be scraping it off with paint thinner.
      Good luck


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