icon Painting Trim vs Painting Walls First

Painting Trim vs Painting Walls First

Painting Trim vs Painting Walls First

With a few helpful tips, you can finish your interior trim off like a pro.

Unfortunately, many people have the wrong idea about DIY projects, such as painting trim. If you’ve ever seen a DIY television show, they make it look easy.

Empty room with wood floors, drop cloth and ladder as if someone is prepping for painting.

For example, painting your trim might look as simple as grabbing a paint brush, a roller, some paint, and you’re ready to go. However, that’s not quite how it works in real life.

It’s easy to do this kind of project poorly. However, it takes a bit more work to follow the proper steps and do the job right.

Keep reading to learn more about how to paint trim after your walls are painted.

How to Paint Trim: What Comes First—the Trim or the Walls?

Firstly, let’s clear up an issue when it comes to painting trim. There’s quite a divide when it comes to deciding whether to paint the trim or walls first. In truth, choosing whether to paint the walls or trim first is much like the chicken and the egg debate.

For example, you may consider painting the baseboards and trim first. Of course, you could splatter paint on the trim as you paint the walls, and you’d have to touch it up again.


White wall with nothing but a white door, hardwood floors.  Entire room is empty

Alternatively, you may decide to paint the walls first. In this case, however, the paint could bleed as you paint the trim, then you have to cut in the walls again. As you can see, it’s tough providing a clear answer for this debate.

Ultimately, it’s a matter of choice whether to paint the walls or trim first. Some people do paint the walls first, then complete the trim.

This group figures that they won’t have to worry about paint splattering on the trim. They can cover up any mistakes when they paint that part of the interior.

Other people prefer to do the trim first. People in this group usually figure that painters tape will protect most of their completed work.

If not, they can simply touch it up later. No matter what method you use, there are pros and cons for both.

Trim Painting Tips

Freshly painted surfaces make walls and trim look phenomenal. When painting trim, however, you’ll need to do prep work to create a nice finish—more on that in a moment.

Open paint can with black paint, large paint brush, smaller paint brush and screwdriver.

Before you start painting, however, you’ll need to gather your supplies. For this job, you need:

• A 2-inch angle trim brush

• Drop cloths

• Paint

• Painters tape

It’s a good idea to choose a quality painters tape. Paint can bleed through cheap painters tape easily. For example, FrogTape often works well for this kind of job.

Getting Started with the Job

Before you paint a room, you’ll need to prep the room. You can start by clearing everything out of the room and getting everything off your floor.

If you have carpeted floors, tear off 1-foot to 3-foot strips of painters tape. Now, tuck the inside edge of the tape under the trim and over the carpet. Tearing the tape into sections makes this task easier.

This step will ensure that you create a clean separation up to your carpet. However, you’ll want to add a second row of tape about one and a half inches wide around the room. The extra coverage will make it easier for you to lineup drop cloths to your work area.

Alternatively, you may have solid wood, linoleum or tile floors. In that case, you’ll run a strip of painters tape along where the floor meets the trim.

Here, you’ll want to take your time. A perfect line will save you a lot of after-project cleanup.

Again, you can run a second strip of painters tape along the baseboard. This strip will bring the covered area of the tape out 2-inches to 3-inches.

However, you can also run a 36-inch-wide roll of rosin paper around the edge of the room. The rosin paper will keep you from needing to drag around a drop cloth.

Preparing the Trim

You’ll need to clean the surface of the trim well to create a quality paint job. If the trim is relatively clean, you can go over it with a vacuum.

However, if you’re painting in a kitchen with grease buildup, you’ll need to apply some elbow grease. Use a mixture of warm soapy water to wash your trim.

There’s no need to scrub your trim for hours. Ten minutes or so wiping down all the trim should get it clean enough for painting.

Now, you’ll want to seal the nail holes. Any holes, cracks or gaps will show through your paint job.

They’ll turn up as a contrasting black disparity that looks horrible. Accordingly, you’ll want to fill in these areas with spackling paste.

It’s easy to work with spackling paste. Also, it sands to a smooth finish nicely. It shouldn’t take you more than five or 10 minutes to fill in all the nail holes and gaps.

However, make sure not to fill gaps between the wall and the trim with spackle. The spackle will crack when used in these areas easily.

Instead, you’ll want to use a flexible caulk between trim and walls. We’ll go over caulking in detail shortly.

Wait! There’s More

Now, you’ll need to sand the trim. There are a few reasons why you want to perform this step.

Sanding your trim will smooth out the nail holes that you filled with spackling paste. It will also smooth down the surface, resulting in a final product that looks and feels better.

Furthermore, sanding will break down any surfaces that aren’t smooth enough to bond with primer. For this round of sanding (yes, there’s another round), medium grit sanding sponges work well.

Sponges form nicely around the trim. They also keep your hand away from the surface.

Accordingly, you’re less likely to end up with a splinter embedded in your hand. Still, sponges are rough enough to prepare your trim for painting quickly.

After sanding, you’ll want to go over your trim with a vacuum once again. You’ll need to keep the work area clean to prevent dust and debris from damaging the finish.

While you’re at it, it’s a good idea to vacuum the entire room. In this way, you can prevent excess dust from finding its way to your brand-new trim paint.

Priming the Trim

Finally, you’re ready to start painting. You’ll begin by coating the trim with primer.

There are many kinds of primers that work well for preparing trim. However, there are two basic categories of primer—oil and water based.

If you use an oil-based top coat, you’ll want to use an oil-based primer. Likewise, you should use a water based primer if you’re going to use a water based top coat.

Water-based paints are more ideal for use in your home. Oil-based paints often have many VOCs.

VOC stands for “volatile organic compound.” These compounds can cause short-term and long-term health effects.

What’s more, they smell. For this reason, oil-based paints will often create a horrible, lingering odor in your home.

It’s also harder to work with oil-based paints. In most instances, you’ll need paint thinner to fix mistakes. Alternatively, you can clean fresh water based paint easily with water.

Rounding the Bend: Finishing up the Job

Now, you can caulk the gap between your walls and the trim and baseboards. The caulk will improve the final appearance of your trim paint job.

Again, any gaps will show up as a stark, black contrast. Caulk will make your paint job look perfect. It will also enable you to create a razor-sharp, straight line when you paint the walls.

Some painters will suggest caulking before priming. Once again, there are pros and cons when it comes to this point. As for the walls or trim debate, the order of this task is a matter of personal preference.

Once you’ve finished caulking, you can paint the first top coat. As you apply the paint, use long, even smooth brush strokes.

Once the paint dries, you’ll want to sand, then vacuum the top coat. This time, however, you’ll use extra-fine sanding sponges. You can vacuum and clean up the room as you’re waiting for the paint to dry,

Outdoor mural of 2 people painting a window on the side of a building.

Now, you’ve done most of the hard work. You’ve prepped, primed, caulked and applied the first coat. The final coat is the easiest part of the job.

Again, you want to use smooth, even brush strokes. You also want to make sure that dust and debris doesn’t land on the finish.

Now, make sure the paint has dried completely. Depending on the paint, drying can take anywhere from 30 minutes to three hours. Once it does, you can pull away the masking tape.

Save Money, Save Time and Create the Perfect Space

Now you know more about how to paint trim after your walls are painted. However, you may have trouble choosing the right colors or making other interior design decisions. Luckily, you’ve come to the perfect place to find help.

Mama Llama Originals has helped home and business owners create perfect rooms for more than 15 years. We can help you create functional, beautiful spaces.

We believe that your space is a reflection of your personality and the things that matter most. We’ll help you create a powerful narrative in every detail and color.

Whether you need help choosing the right wall color or coming up with a fix for a room that doesn’t feel quite right, please feel free to give us a call at (336) 480-7013 or connect with us online.

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