How to Paint Trim Like a Pro

Painting the trim in your home takes patience and practice. It can be difficult to paint woodwork without leaving brushstrokes behind. However, you don’t need to be a professional painter to achieve a smooth paint finish; you just need to learn the tricks of the trade! In this step-by-step guide, we’ll answer the all-important question: How do professional painters paint trim?

Read on for in-depth instructions on how to prep, prime, and repaint your interior trim work for professional results—including the type of paint that will give your trim the best results!

Supplies You’ll Need for Painting Trim

  • Sand paper: 120 and 320 grit sandpaper for finish sanding
  • Wood filler or spackling to repair damage
  • Cleaning sponge and bucket
  • Mild detergent
  • Paintable Caulk
  • Angled brush – 2.5″ soft bristle paint brush
  • Primer
  • Paint
  • Drop cloths
  • Painter’s Tape (optional)

Five-Step Process for Painting Trim

The key to a professional trim paint job is careful preparation. If you’re painting both walls and trim, paint the trim first! Let the trim paint overlap onto the wall by about a half inch; it’s much easier to cut wall paint up to the edge of the trim. You’ll also save a lot of time by not taping around the entire room.

Step 1: Clean the trim

Trim collects lots of dust and dirt; don’t skip this step! Wash all trim surfaces thoroughly to remove dirt, dust, or debris using a sponge and a mixture of water and mild soap. Be sure to clean the ledges above doors and windows too. Rinse with clean water and let it dry completely.

Step 2: Prep the trim

Check your trim for rough spots, scratches, or bumps and use 120 grit sandpaper to smooth any damaged areas. Use a putty knife to fill nail holes and cracks with a wood filler. Allow the filler to dry completely, then use 320 grit sandpaper until you have a smooth, even surface. 

Also be sure to inspect it for any gaps between the wall and trim—now is the time for fresh caulk before new coats of paint go on. Apply a bead of paintable caulk along the corner where the trim meets the wall. Smooth the caulk with a damp rag or a caulking tool and let it dry completely. 

Don’t forget to clean again when you’re done! Use a tack cloth or a damp rag to wipe off the dust from sanding and any caulk residue. 

Step 3: Prime the trim (if needed)

In many cases, you can skip right to painting. However, if your trim is damaged or stained, or if you are making a significant color change, we recommend priming first. If you are painting your trim a dark color, ask a Ring's End sales team to have it tinted for the most even color. Using a 2.5″ angled soft bristle paint brush brush, apply a thin coat of primer to every trim surface, starting at the top of the room—molding, windows, doors—and working your way down. Long, smooth strokes in the direction of the grain will help to avoid brush marks. The primer may not completely hide what’s underneath – this is fine! Let the primer dry completely before moving on to the next step.

Step 4: Apply the first coat of paint in 2-3 foot sections

Start with a clean paint brush; dip it into the paint about an inch, and then tap it firmly on the edge of the can (don’t wipe off excess paint). This ensures the bristles stay loaded with paint; don’t overload the brush because this will cause drips.

Working in 2-3 foot sections, apply the paint the same way you applied the primer, with long, even strokes in the direction of the grain. When you finish a section, start another section two feet away and work back towards your first section, then feather the edges together. Where the trim meets the walls, overlap the trim paint onto the wall (or the masking tape) about a half inch; this makes it easier to create a crisp edge.

Pro Painter’s Tip: Never pass the brush across wet paint, because it will leave a mark. Always start two feet away and feather the painted sections together for a professional finish without brush marks.

Step 5: Apply a second coat of paint and let it cure

Make sure the first coat of paint is dry before applying a second coat. Check the instructions on your paint can for the “drying time to recoat”. This may take several hours depending on the temperature and humidity. Once the second coat is finished, allow plenty of time for the paint to dry. Be gentle with the trim and avoid scrubbing it until the paint has fully cured – this can take up to two weeks.

Painting interior trim with professional techniques takes time, but it’s well worth the effort to achieve a smooth, lasting finish. Choose high-quality paint, spend some time practicing your technique, and you’ll be amazed at the results.

The Best Trim Paint and Primer

Painted woodwork takes a beating in most homes; if you want a paint job that lasts, be sure to pick the right paint and primer for your particular home.

Benjamin Moore ADVANCE interior paint can

Most Premium Trim Paint: ADVANCE Interior Paint

ADVANCE is a premium water-based paint that’s made with alkyd resins, which replicate the flow and feel of oil paint. Created with cabinets and wood trim in mind, ADVANCE forms a durable, scrubbable surface. Benjamin Moore ADVANCE offers a lot of bang for your buck, with smooth application and a hard finish that holds up over time and makes it our number one choice for trim paint. 

Benjamin Moore Scuff-X paint can

Great for High Traffic Areas: Scuff-X

Scuff-X is an acrylic paint specially formulated to be one Benjamin Moore's most durable paint products. It is stain-resistant, scrubbable, and washable, making it an excellent choice for trim. Scuff-X is a wide variety of finishes. Its protective coating adds natural gloss, so we recommend leveling down one step from your typical sheen selection when choosing a finish. Scuff-X's eggshell finish is a popular choice for trim and hides brush strokes very well. 

Benjamin Moore AURA Exterior Low Lustre Exterior Paint

Trim Primers

If you're painting new, pre-primed trim or your painted trim is in good condition, no primer is needed. 

If you're making a significant color change, such as painting dark trim white, or vice versa, we recommend Fresh Start High-Hiding All Purpose Primer.

If your trim has damage that has been repaired or significant staining such as grease stains, crayon marks, or water stains we recommend Fresh Start All-Purpose Primer.

Buy Trim Paint Online at Ring’s End

Ring’s End carries a wide selection of Benjamin Moore paints in-store and online, shipping anywhere in the U.S. For more helpful tips on selecting paint products, check out our Interior Paint Guide. Our paint professionals are ready and waiting to answer any questions you have about your paint project. Chat with us online or text us at (203) PRO-HELP.

Trim Painting FAQs

Is it better to paint trim with a roller or brush?

What brush should I use to paint trim?

What is the best paint for trim?

How many coats of paint should you put on trim?

Do I need to prime trim before painting?