How to Paint Trim

Painting the trim in your home can completely transform the look and feel of a room. With a fresh coat of paint, outdated trim can look bright and new again. Painting trim may seem daunting, but it’s actually a relatively easy DIY project. With proper preparation, high-quality paint, and attention to detail, you can achieve professional results. This comprehensive guide covers everything you need to know to successfully paint trim in your home.

What Type of Paint to Use on Trim

Choosing the right type of paint is critical for getting great results when painting trim. Here are the best options:

Alkyd/Oil-Based Paint – Alkyd paints are very durable and adhere well to surfaces. They are especially recommended for painting trim because they create a hard, glossy finish. The downside is they contain solvents and have a strong odor.

Acrylic Latex Paint – Water-based acrylic paints are easy to apply and clean up. They are not as hard and glossy as alkyds but provide good durability. 100% acrylic paint is best for trim.

Enamel Paint – Enamels provide a super durable, glossy finish similar to alkyd paints but with less odor. Many quality trim paints are enamel-based.

Epoxy Paint – Two-part epoxy paints offer extremely durable, chemical-resistant finishes. They are ideal for heavily used trim in commercial settings. Epoxies require careful application.

For most DIY home projects, a high-quality alkyd or 100% acrylic enamel paint specifically formulated for trim will provide the best results. Semi-gloss sheens give trim a bright, subtle shine.

How to Prepare Trim for Painting

Proper prep work ensures the new paint adheres well and provides a smooth finish. Here are the key steps:

1. Clean the Trim

Wash trim with a TSP substitute cleaner to remove grease and dirt. Rinse thoroughly and let dry completely before painting. Wipe down with tack cloth before painting.

2. Scrape Off Loose Paint

Use a paint scraper to remove any loose, cracked, or peeling sections of old paint. Smooth edges by sanding.

3. Sand Glossy Surfaces

For maximum paint adhesion, scuff sand trim with 220 grit sandpaper if the existing paint has a glossy finish.

4. Caulk Gaps and Cracks

Carefully apply paintable caulk to fill any cracks, gaps, or seams in the trim. Let the caulk dry completely before painting.

5. Prime Bare Wood

For new or stripped trim, apply a high-quality alkyd or acrylic primer to seal the wood and prepare it for topcoats.

6. Use Painter’s Tape

Apply painter’s tape around the edges of the trim to protect adjacent surfaces from drips and splatters. Remove tape immediately after painting before the paint dries.

Thorough prep removes potential paint problems and allows the new color to look its best.

How to Paint Trim by Hand

With prep work complete, follow these steps to apply trim paint smoothly and evenly:

1. Work Top to Bottom

Paint upper trim areas first, then work your way down. This prevents drips marring freshly painted surfaces below.

2. Choose a High-Quality Brush

Invest in a good nylon/polyester brush made for trim painting. It will hold more paint and apply it more smoothly than a cheap brush.

3. Dip Brush and Tap Off Excess

Dip just the tip of the brush in paint, then gently tap it against the side of the can to remove excess. This prevents drips.

4. Cut a Straight Edge First

Use the brush to cut in a straight line where the trim meets the ceiling, wall, etc. Steady your hand against a firm surface as you paint for maximum control.

5. Apply Paint in Thin, Even Coats

Apply the paint in smooth, thin coats, brushing in the same direction. Going back and forth creates unwanted brush marks. Allow each coat to dry before adding another.

6. Paint All Sides of Molding

Don’t forget to paint the tops, bottoms, and sides of trim pieces to cover completely. Use a small angled brush for hard-to-reach areas.

7. Blend Paint into Edges

Gently brush the new paint into the edges of adjacent surfaces to blend it for a seamless look.

8. Remove Tape Promptly

Peel off painter’s tape immediately after painting before the paint has a chance to dry.

With patience and attention to detail, you can achieve professional trim painting results.

How to Use a Paint Sprayer on Trim

While painting trim by hand can yield quality results, using an airless paint sprayer speeds up the process considerably. Follow these tips:

1. Choose the Right Tip

A narrow spray tip in the .011-.015″ range allows you to adjust the spray for trim. Tips around .013″ work well for most trim painting.

2. Thin the Paint If Needed

Thin very thick paint up to 10% with water so it flows easily through the sprayer hose and tip. Check the paint can label for thinning recommendations.

3. Adjust the Pressure

Set the sprayer pressure between 1500-2000 PSI for trim painting. Higher pressures can lead to paint blow-back.

4. Backbrush After Spraying

After spraying a section, use a high-quality nylon/polyester brush to backbrush and even out the paint. This ensures proper adhesion and a smooth coat.

5. Apply Multiple Thin Coats

Spray 2-3 thin, even coats for the best results, allowing proper drying time between coats. Thick coats can drip or become runny.

6. Practice Your Technique

It takes practice to get a feel for properly controlling the sprayer. Test your settings and technique on cardboard before spraying trim.

When sprayed and backbrushed properly, trim paint can look flawless.

Trim Painting Tips and Tricks

Follow these additional tips to further ensure you get professional looking results painting trim:

  • When painting window trim, paint the sash (movable part) and frame separately for best results.
  • Wrap painter’s tape around window and door glass to protect it from drips and overspray.
  • Use an angled trim brush to cut in tight to edges and corners. Maintain a steady arm.
  • When painting baseboards, use a high quality trim guard that attaches to the roller to prevent bumping the wall.
  • Working in the direction of the wood grain helps minimize obvious brush marks on stained trim.
  • Painted trim looks best when the sheen matches adjacent walls. Use semi-gloss on trim against flat walls.
  • Extend the trim paint 2-4 inches onto wall surfaces so edges blend seamlessly. Feather out the paint.
  • Apply quick-drying enamel paint to bathroom or kitchen trim exposed to moisture.
  • For a perfectly smooth finish on intricate trim, spray paint and then backbrush when dry.
  • Clean brushes thoroughly after each use with the appropriate solvent so they last.

Employing helpful tricks and techniques will take your trim painting skills to the next level.

Common Problems When Painting Trim

Here are some common trim painting problems and how to avoid them:

Brush Marks and Streaks – Caused by poor quality brushes, improper brushing technique, or applying paint too thickly. Use high-quality brushes, brush in smooth strokes going in one direction, and apply multiple thin coats of paint.

Drips and Runs – Typically happens when too much paint is applied, coats are too thick, or the paint isn’t formulated correctly. Don’t overload the brush, apply thinner coats, and use paint designed for trim for best flow.

Flaking or Peeling – Results from inadequate surface prep or bond between paint layers. Properly clean, sand, prime, and caulk trim first. Allow proper drying time between coats.

Bubbling – Occurs when applying latex paint over alkyd paint without proper primer in between. Use an oil-based primer before switching paint types.

Paneling and Lap Marks – Visible overlap marks caused by poor technique. Maintain a wet edge when painting and evenly blend from section to section.

Bleeding – Dark underlying colors showing through the new paint. Use a stain-blocking primer on tannin-rich woods or over stains to prevent bleeding.

Proper prep work, technique, patience, and using the right paint products prevents most common trim paint problems.

How Long Does Trim Paint Take to Dry?

Drying times vary based on paint type, environmental conditions, number of coats applied, and thickness of each coat:

  • Oil-based/alkyd paints form a skin to the touch in 6-8 hours and are typically ready to recoat within 24 hours. They fully cure and reach maximum hardness in about 7 days.
  • Latex/acrylic paints dry to the touch more quickly than alkyds, in just 1-2 hours. They can usually be recoated after 4-6 hours. Full curing takes approximately 30 days.
  • Quick-drying enamels designed for trim dry very fast, within just 30-60 minutes between coats. This varies by brand.
  • Lower temperatures or higher humidity can significantly lengthen paint drying times. Ideal conditions are between 50-90°F with lower humidity.
  • Thicker paint coats take longer to dry than thin coats. Keep coats thin for faster drying.

The number of coats also impacts total painting time. Allow proper drying time between coats for best durability. Rushing the process can ruin the paint job. Patience leads to great results.

How Much Does It Cost to Paint Trim?

For DIYers, the primary costs for painting trim are paint, supplies, and possibly rental of a paint sprayer:

  • Paint – Quality trim paint costs $25-$50 per gallon. One gallon covers 350-400 sq. ft. Multiple coats may be needed.
  • Brushes/rollers – Trim painting brushes cost $10-$25 each. Mini rollers and trim guards add $5-$15.
  • Paint sprayer rental – Renting a sprayer costs $40-$100 per day. This can speed up the painting process considerably.
  • Painter’s tape, drop cloths – About $10-$30 for disposable supplies.
  • Primer, caulk – Approximately $5-$15 per tube.

For a typical room, expect to spend $50-$200 to paint the trim depending on square footage and materials needed. Hiring a professional painter often costs $4-$8 per linear foot for labor, or $200-$800 to paint all the trim in an average room.

Painting Trim White – Things to Know

Painting over stained wood or dark trim with crisp, clean white paint can brighten up dreary rooms. But there are some important considerations:

  • White shows imperfections – Every little nick, scratch, or uneven spot will be amplified once painted white. Proper prep and smoothing old trim is essential.
  • Multiple coats are required – For best coverage on previously stained or painted dark trim, apply a stain-blocking primer followed by 2-3 coats of quality white paint.
  • Thin multiple coats – Apply very thin coats of paint to avoid drips and runs which are highly visible on white trim.
  • Choose the right sheen – A semi-gloss or high-gloss white trim paint shows off the full brightness of the color and allows for frequent cleaning.
  • Brighten surrounding colors – White painted trim pops more when paired with darker, saturated wall colors.

Take extra prep steps for the cleanest results when painting trim white. The fresh, bright look is worth the effort.

Painting Oak Trim

Oak is a common choice for interior wood trim. Its open grain and tannins can cause challenges when painting, but proper prep prevents issues:

  • Fill the wood grain – Use a grain filler primer or thin wood putty to fill the porous oak grain before painting. This creates a smoother finish.
  • Block stains – Oak contains tannins that can bleed through paint. A stain-blocking primer prevents this.
  • Scuff sand – Lightly sand to rough up the surface for paint adhesion. Oak’s natural gloss needs dulled.
  • Prime all sides – Don’t forget to prime and paint both sides of trim pieces for protection.
  • Apply thinner coats – Build thin, even coats of paint for a smooth look over the variable grain.

With extra preparation, oak trim readily accepts paint for a durable, refreshed appearance.

How Often Should You Repaint Trim?

How frequently trim needs repainting depends on several factors:

  • Paint type – Higher quality alkyd and 100% acrylic enamel paints last longer than cheap latex paints.
  • Environment – Trim in rooms with higher humidity, grease exposure, or direct sunlight may need painting more often.
  • Wear and tear – Wood trim in high traffic areas like hallways and staircases wears faster than trim in sparely used rooms.
  • Color choice – Super light and dark colors show accumulated grime and wear sooner than medium tones.
  • Number of coats – The more coats of paint initially applied, the longer the job will last.

Typically interior trim paint lasts 2-5 years before needing renewal. Exterior trim often needs repainting every 3-7 years. When the paint becomes dulled, dingy, or starts cracking and peeling, it’s definitely time for a fresh coat.

Painting Interior Window Trim

Painting the trim around windows comes with some unique considerations:

  • Remove window sashes to paint separately for easiest access to jambs and sills.
  • Scrape and re-caulk windows thoroughly to prevent future moisture issues behind the paint.
  • Use painter’s tape to protect glass from drips during painting. Keep a wet edge.
  • For easiest brush access, paint horizontal sills first, then vertical jambs, then sashes last.
  • Use a small angled sash brush for cutting in tight to corners and woodwork profiles.
  • Consider spray painting windows. Backbrush sprayed paint to ensure adhesion and a smooth coat.
  • Allow extra drying time for paint to fully cure before reinstalling freshly painted sash windows.

Taking your time leads to professional looking results on intricate window trim.

How to Paint Exterior Trim

Outdoor trim takes more abuse from the elements. Follow these tips for long-lasting results:

  • Only paint exterior trim when air and surface temperatures are 50-90°F. Avoid high humidity.
  • Use 100% acrylic latex exterior paint or alkyd paint specially formulated for outdoor use.
  • Scuff sand glossy finishes on old trim so new paint adheres well.
  • Caulk gaps and prime bare wood before painting for weatherproofing.
  • Apply paint generously to edges, connections, and end grains for protection.
  • Consider using a sprayer for fast coverage on siding, shutters, eaves, and similar large exterior trim.
  • Plan your paint job to avoid rain or dew for at least 48 hours while paint fully cures.

With the right prep and paints, exterior trim will maintain its freshly painted look for years.

Painting vs. Staining Trim

Both paint and stain have benefits when finishing trim:


  • Creates bright, bold colors not easily achieved with stain.
  • Provides thicker, more protective coating to wood.
  • Easier to touch up over time compared to stain.
  • Glossy sheens stand up to frequent cleaning.


  • Highlights the natural wood grain.
  • Allows using transparent tints to change color subtly.
  • Lower maintenance than paint which can chip or peel.
  • No primer or layering of coats needed like paint.

The choice often comes down to personal preference on the style desired. Both paint and stain can look amazing when properly applied.

Achieving a Professional Painted Finish

Here are some final tips for achieving truly professional trim painting results:

  • Take your time and don’t rush the process. Patience pays off.
  • Sand trimmed areas smooth so the new paint looks seamless.
  • Maintain a wet edge and work systematically from one end of trim sections to the other for consistent results.
  • Keep paint thickness consistent, applying multiple thin coats rather than thick single coats.
  • Use high-end natural bristle brushes and microfiber mini-rollers designed for smooth trim application.
  • Always backbrush sprayed paint coats to ensure proper adhesion and an even look.
  • Carefully wipe drips as they occur to prevent marring the paint job.
  • Apply caulk and paintable putty perfectly smooth with surrounding surfaces for invisible touch-ups.
  • Allow proper drying times between coats and before use or replacing items.

With care and practice, you can achieve results on par with the top professional painters. Have patience and enjoy the satisfying process of transforming your trim.

Frequently Asked Questions About Painting Trim

What sheen of paint should I use on trim?

Semi-gloss is the most popular choice for trim. It provides a nice subtle sheen that enhances the crisp painted edges of trim without appearing too glossy. Satin or eggshell finishes are also suitable if you prefer less shine. Flat paint does not highlight trim well.

Should I remove doors and drawer fronts before painting?

Yes, remove cabinet doors, drawer fronts, and door trim for easiest painting access. Lay them on a flat surface and paint separately, then reinstall after the paint has fully cured for a professionallooking finish.

What is the best way to paint baseboards?