How to Paint Trim for Pro-Worthy Results

Follow these steps, and your space will look straight out of a magazine 

Becca Stokes
Written by Becca Stokes
Updated September 23, 2022
Man’s hand painting window trim white
Photo: ungvar / Shutterstock
Difficulty

Simple

Flex your DIY muscles.

Time to complete

4 hours

This project can take a whole weekend, depending on the amount of trim.

Cost

$50–$100

You’ll wonder why everyone doesn’t do this themselves.

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What you'll need:

TOOLS

  • Drop cloths
  • Paintbrushes

SUPPLIES

  • Sandpaper
  • Paint
  • Primer
  • Painter’s tape
  • Caulk

The perfect coat of paint can take a room from drab to wow-worthy. And when you add fresh paint to the trim, your space is elevated even further. Plus, a beautiful trim can improve your home’s resale value.  

When trim is painted the right way, it adds texture, color, and life to your home. But when painting trim goes wrong, it doesn’t just leave a mess—it creates a headache for the DIYer. Luckily, this guide to painting trim will help you get professional results in no time flat. 

  1. Move the Furniture

    Before you ever pull out your paintbrush, move everything you don’t want painted out of the way. To play it safe, try to remove as much as you can from the space (this includes furniture, decor, and that stack of unread books). 

    Ideally, you should move everything to another space, but placing everything in the center of your room will be OK too.

  2. Cover Your Surroundings

    Once you’ve meticulously stacked everything together into a Tetris-esque pile, drape your belongings with plastic covers. You can find these at most hardware stores, and they’ll make sure whatever is left in the room is protected. 

    Don’t stop at furniture—you’ll also want to keep your floors paint-free. Cover the entire floor with drop cloths to save yourself some desperate paint-scraping later.

  3. Sand

    Man sanding trim before painting
    Photo: Brett Taylor Photography / Shutterstock

    While sanding is a step you can be tempted to skip (you’ve already done so much prep work and just want to get painting!), it’s an important task you shouldn’t overlook. Sandpaper is inexpensive (you’ll need 60-80 grit sandpaper, and about $10 will cover it) and so much of the finished result depends on the paint’s smooth finish—something only achievable through sanding. 

  4. Patch Any Holes

    While we usually associate patching with fixing up accidental dings and dents in the wall, your trim can benefit from patching too. Check the wood for spots or nicks, then use spackle to fill them in. Don’t worry if you use too much—the next step will take care of that for you. 

  5. Sand (Again)

    Once your spackle is dry (usually after one or two hours), break that sandpaper back out. Focus on those spackle patches, sanding until they’re smooth and even. The smoother they are, the better your paint will look.

  6. Caulk the Seams

    Over time the trim’s seams—places where the boards meet, usually in the corners—can bend and warp, creating gaps. Sure, you ignore this and paint around it, but it’s best to take the time to caulk that gap. Wait until the caulk is completely dry before moving on.

  7. Tape the Trim

    Woman taping wall to paint trim
    Photo: kurhan / Shutterstock

    Tape is the secret weapon for painting trim. Without it, your edges will be … less-than-neat. 

    Box in your trim by applying painter’s top at the top, on the bottoms, and at the sides, where applicable. Even seasoned pros have a hard time painting a perfectly straight line, so it’s crucial that you don’t skip this step.

  8. Grab Your Brush

    Now it’s time to paint! If you’re redoing your whole room, always paint the walls first, working from the top down. Painting trim takes a little more time than covering your walls and requires a good amount of focus. 

    Start with a coat of primer for a uniform, glossy finish. You’ll want to apply at least two coats of paint on your trim. If you decide to use a primer, this means three coats in total. 

    Be careful about how you’re using your brush: Only dip the first inch into the paint and make sure you’re wiping off any would-be drips. And don’t remove the tape until your trim is completely dry; if you take it down too early, you can cause dribbles and drips that will mess up that perfect, crisp line. 

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Get quotes from top-rated pros.