6 Pro Tips for Painting Your Crown Molding

Kristin Luna
Written by Kristin Luna
Reviewed by Robert Tschudi
Updated April 13, 2022
A loft studio apartment in a classic style
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Elevate your home reno skills with these pro painting tips

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Painting a wall is a job any homeowner can do, but when you’re getting into the trickier surfaces that frame a wall, things get a little more tricky. Whether you’re working on a new build starting with crown molding installation or renovating an 1800s Victorian and giving your trim a paint refresh, here are some pro tips for how to paint crown molding.

1. Prepare the Trim for Painting

Angular ceiling skirting made of classic white moldings
Photo: Artem Bruk / Adobe Stock

The cost to install crown molding averages $4 to $15 per linear foot, making it an easy and affordable way for homeowners to add a bit of pizazz to an otherwise sterile room. And while some crown molding comes painted, the majority will be raw wood, meaning the very first thing you’ll need to do is prepare trim for painting. After all, any DIY job is only as good as the prep work.

First, caulk every crack along the ceiling and wall to create a seamless edge. You’ll also want to sink the nails with a nail punch and patch the nail holes used to mount the crown molding to the corner. If you’re working with existing molding, give it a once-over to check for blemishes and holes. 

Give the trim a light sand with 150- or 220-grit to create a bit of tooth for the next coat. And, as always, conduct a lead test on any paint before you start sanding if your home was built before 1978. 

Pro Tip: Older crown molding will likely be coated with an oil-based paint. You’ll need to verify its paint type so that you don’t make the grievous common painting mistake of applying latex on top of oil without priming first.

2. Tape Off the Walls and Ceiling

If you’re working with a local professional painter, they probably won’t use blue tape to mask off trim like crown molding. But if you’re launching into a DIY crown molding paint job and are new to handling a brush (or don’t feel comfortable drawing a clean line freehand), take the time to create a clean edge between the wall and ceiling with tape. 

There are various easy-release tape brands available at hardware stores that you can use, but the most important painting tip when using blue tape is to press down the leading edge where you’re lapping on wet paint to make a tight seal. Also, do your best to keep as much paint on the trim—and not on the tape. Both of these tips will help eliminate bleeding and later touch-ups.

"The difference between homeowner painting and pro painting is in the paintbrush," says Bob Tschudi, Angi Expert and Raleigh, NC-based general contractor. "If you go cheap on the brush, the resulting finish will never be good. If you are a DIYer and want pro-looking results, invest in a high- end paintbrush and take very good care of it."

3. Pick the Right Paint and Sheen

What color to paint your crown molding is a personal choice, but choosing the right paint sheen and type is important. A glossy finish is the usual go-to, standing out from the walls and ceiling and creating visual interest in an otherwise boring part of the room. 

There are several different types of crown molding. If you’re going for a French Victorian look, pick a strikingly different color than your standard neutral paint colors. If you want to go with a more modern vibe, pick a subtly different shade than the wall or ceiling. But always use a sheen like semi-gloss or high-gloss to set off the crown molding. 

That said, modern crown molding colors sometimes embrace the subtle excellence of a flat sheen and, instead, utilize a minimalist approach by letting shadows and light play across the surface. Matching, and even using the exact same paint as you’ve used for the ceiling, creates a really subdued sense of drama, particularly if you have a double crown installed. It’s also vastly easier to paint than gloss against flat because you don’t have to cut it all in with a brush. 

4. Paint Deliberately

Crown molding has multiple edges and curved surfaces that can be a challenge to paint, especially if you are working with a large, double-crown situation. Starting from one corner, paint the deeper edges in sections that you can reach between ladder moves first, then go back and lay off the larger, curved surfaces before quickly moving to the next section to complete the span. 

Be careful to avoid lap marks and a shoddy-looking paint job, especially with a fast-drying product like a water-based latex paint. Keep a wet edge from corner to corner on all parts of the crown before setting up to move on to the next section.

5. Apply Two Coats of Paint

One way to help alleviate the stress of painting is to apply two thin coats of paint—or a primer followed by a finish coat—instead of attempting a one-and-done job to save time. Depending on which product you’ve decided to use, thinning the paint with water or solvent will make the job flow much faster and allow for multiple coats that are often smoother than one, thick layer.

The point in painting crown molding is to build up the coloring pigments with multiple coats, so the first layer will look quite unfinished until you’ve had the opportunity to come back with a second (or third, depending on the color you’ve chosen). 

6. Peel the Tape Before the Paint Dries

To help ensure that all your hard work doesn’t chip or peel away, remove the tape while the paint is still drying. You should get an oh-so-satisfying clean edge that’s free of chipping and doesn’t call for later touch-ups. 

"Get the most delicate painter’s tape you can," says Tschudi. "I can’t tell you how many times we’ve seen painters tear off painter’s tape after painting, only to remove layers of paint—which requires gypsum, sanding, matching, and repainting to fix. A painter can easily lose all profitability with a bad tape tear."

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