Painting Wood Trim Molding

painted trim molding

Neatly painted trim can make a big difference in how a room is viewed, and give the impression things are neat, clean and well run. It can be hard to get such neat lines using a brush and painting freehand if you don't do it very often. If you want clean lines along your trim moldings, and you're not steady enough with a paint brush to cut a straight line by hand, you have two options.

You can take the time to practice with the brush, and fix a lot of mistakes along the way, until you're able to paint like a professional, or you can use masking tape to form the clean lines you want.

The problem with taping, in addition to the extra work of applying tape to everything, is the tendency of the paint to bleed, blurring the sharp line between colors. To prevent bleeding and get sharper lines, paint the trim first, mask, and then paint the walls using the methods on this page.


Trim molding is usually done with an enamel finish paint. Enamels are available in both latex and oil-based formulas and come in shiny finishes like semi-gloss and high-gloss. Because it dries to a hard, durable finish, enamel paint provides lasting protection for trim surfaces that tend to see a lot of wear and tear. And because it is so durable, enamel can be washed to remove dirt and stains, and still maintain its shine and beauty.

Prepare your wood trim whether it's bare wood or previously painted, so it's primed, clean, and has no holes or gaps. "Primed" simply means the trim has a good base coat foundation, whether that's because it's been painted before or you've just applied primer, it amounts to the same thing.

If your new color will be much darker than it is now, tint your under coat primer to more closely match the final color before applying it. For a durable finish that will last, under coat with an oil-based product and let it dry for 12 to 24 hours. Lightly sand the dry primer and remove the dust with a vacuum or tack cloth before applying the finish enamel.

painting trim molding first

Paint the Trim First

Paint the trim with the finish paint and as you work, let it overlap onto the walls a bit. Cover the corner between the surfaces completely, but avoid leaving a very thick coat in the crease. If the paint is too thick, it may crack as it dries and the cracks will catch the wall paint, and ruin the straight line effect.

If your trim will take more than one coat to cover, do as many as necessary and let the final coat dry completely before proceeding with the next step. If you're using an oil paint, it should dry sufficiently overnight. If you're using latex, let it dry for several days or up to a week if the weather is humid.

masking trim molding

Tape the Trim

Mask the trim using short strips of tape, overlapping the ends of each piece a bit. Press it tightly to the molding using a clean putty knife. Make sure each piece of tape is flat with no bubbles or gaps between it and the molding, before moving to the next.

using a brush to paint over masking tape on molding

Paint the Walls

If you need to do more than one coat on the walls for good coverage, brush near the tape, but avoid touching it as much as possible until you're ready to do the last coat. On the last coat, paint along the tape using a lightly filled brush, overlapping it slightly. Avoid applying a heavy coat of paint that would bleed under the tape. If necessary, let the brush work set up a bit and apply another thin coat to get complete coverage.

removing the masking tape from the molding

Pull the Tape

Before the wall paint can dry, pull the tape slowly and at a sharp angle. To minimize the chance of peeling, it's a good idea to do the final coat on one wall at a time so you can remove the tape immediately, this is especially true if you're using a shiny paint on the walls. Watch for peelings and if the paint starts to come away with the tape, run the point of a putty knife lightly along the edge to break the film.

raised-panel door diagram

How to Paint a Door

Doors between rooms are either completely flat surfaces or they have one or more raised-panel. Modern doors with faux panels pressed into the MDF and old doors with multiple panels built in can be hard to paint without leaving brush and drag marks in the finish. These marks occur when the brush touches partially dry paint as you try to blend the different parts of the door together. Use the technique here to get a smooth paint finish on raised-panel doors.

The parts of a raised-panel door are pictured here and include the rails, stiles and panels. The door rails are the cross members, including the top and bottom as well as the cross pieces dividing the middle. The stiles are the pieces that run vertically, including the small pieces between the panels and the two long pieces on the sides. They run from top to bottom of the door to tie the rails, center stiles and panels together. The panels are the inset squares or rectangles. In old doors the panels are separate pieces of wood that fit into a groove cut along the edge of the rails and stiles.

These door panels are designed to float in the frame as the wood expands and contracts with the moisture and temperature changes in the surrounding atmosphere. Over time this movement can cause the paint film to crack along the border of the panel. Many people make the mistake of caulking these cracks, but the best way to fix this problem it to fill the gap with more paint, not caulk. Caulking the crack will only create a cracking caulk problem that will be more unsightly than cracking paint. If you have cracking caulk around the panels in your raised-panel door, you should scrape it off before repainting.

Prep the Door

Remove the door handle to make painting easier. Prep the door for painting by sanding with 120 sandpaper. Start at the top and sand each segment of the door. If you're repainting over latex paint, sand very lightly, being too rough with the surface will cause the paint will curl up, not flake off. Brush or vacuum the dust off the door, use a tack cloth to thoroughly wipe the surface for the best finish. This is a particularly good idea if you're using an oil, alkyd or high-gloss paint because these will show any dust in the dried finish.

Paint the Door

Start at the top when painting raised-panel doors and paint all of each part, i.e. all panels then all rails and then all stiles, before moving to the next. Work quickly to finish each part so the paint doesn't dry before you can do the adjoining parts.

Start with the panels then do the rails and small inner stiles together. Finish by painting the long, outer stiles. Along with the outer stiles also do the edge of the door. If you are only painting one side of the door, paint the edge that shows from the side when the door is open. For example, if you're painting the outside of a door that opens into a room, paint the edge with the hinges.

Painting the Panels

Brush the panels, pushing the paint into the corners and edges around the edge. Let the paint overlap onto the surrounding rails, stiles and the center of the panel. Next do the center of the panel, applying the paint with back and forth strokes to cover it completely and then smooth the coat out by stroking up and down with a semi-dry brush. Let the paint overlap along the edge and finish the panel by brushing along the border several times with a semi-dry brush to pick up all the excess paint. Runs will develop at the corners of the panels if all the excess paint is not removed.

Paint the Rails and Stiles

Do all the panels and then go back to the top and paint the rails and short, center stiles. Blend these two parts together by painting the short stile first with vertical strokes smoothing out the lap marks from the panel while overlapping onto the rail. Paint the rail next with horizontal strokes and blend the lap marks from the stiles and panels into the horizontal strokes on the rail.

Move down the door painting these interior pieces until all the rails and small inner stiles are done. Return to the top and paint the edge and down the two side stiles to finish the door. Blend all the overlap-marks from the rails, panels and edge into the vertical strokes on the outer stiles.

diagram of  an exterior window on a house

How to Paint a Window

Paint windows starting at the top, inner most parts, and work out. For the window pictured here that would be the mullion molding around the glass in the upper sash. From there work out to the sash frame, then the case molding and finally, the sill and apron.

Work each facet of the window, applying the paint first to completely coat it and then immediately brushing it out along lengthwise to smooth the coat. Let the paint from each part overlap onto the adjoining part a little and then paint it next. Blend the parts together like this, painting each to overlap onto the next and then brushing that section along its length.