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How to Cut in Interior Trim Paint

Master This Difficult Technique and Save Painting Prep Time


Years ago, I listened in wonder as a friend recounted how professional house painters had painted her condo.  I was astounded to hear that the sharp interior wall lines alongside the trim were not achieved by applying masking tape. They were all done by hand--a technique called "cutting in."

According to Sherwin-Williams' annual DIY Pulse report, nearly 43% of homeowners wish that they could master this challenging painting technique


Do you hate painting prep?  Does putting down floor cloths and removing light switch covers and receptacle covers feels like wasted time?  Is your worst fear applying masking tape alongside window and door trim, above baseboards, and below crown molding?

Cutting in benefits:

  • Getting to painting immediately--minimal prep.
  • Instant gratification--you see the colors right away.
  • Reducing cost because you're not buying expensive painter's tape.
  • No time spent removing tape.

One negative is that an errant move can slop colored paint on white trim, which can be hard to cover up.

What It Is

Cutting-in is the practice of manually drawing straight lines of paint alongside elements that do not get painted.

Let's say you want white trim around your windows and brown walls. You'll probably first paint the trim. Then, when you paint the walls, you need to bring the paint line right up to the edge of the trim. You can mask off the trim with tape. Or, if you have a steady hand, you can "draw" the line freestyle. "Cutting in" doesn't just involve trimwork, but that's the most common place you'll do this.

How to Cut In

  1. Start with a 3 inch brush and a "cut bucket." Pros recommend an angled brush, often called a sash brush. A cut bucket is simply a paint bucket that doesn't have the lip. The lip allows for paint to accumulate, giving you more paint than you want on the brush. Even a plastic bucket will work: just any sturdy bucket with straight sides.
  2. Fill the cut bucket no more than an inch or two. You'll need clear sides of the bucket to wipe paint off. Dab the brush about half an inch into the paint and drag it dry against the lip. Make certain it is very dry. It doesn't take much paint to cover trim.
  3. Grip the brush loosely near the bristles, as you would hold a pencil. The brush handle is largely extraneous for cutting in purposes.
  4. Plant the bristle on the surface, forming a wedge shape. Use the sharp end of the wedge to start the paint line.
  5. Draw the bristles along the line you want to paint. As you begin moving the bristles, try to let them form a fan shape. It's the outermost bristles that are actually drawing the line, not the entire bristle surface.
  6. You'll first want to draw very flat crescents. These crescents will start on the line, track along the line for a few inches, then gradually pull away from the "danger zone" (glass, trim, or whatever you don't want painted) and toward yourself. You can cobble together a long straight line by several of these flat crescents.
  7. As you get more experienced, you'll find the crescents getting fewer and flatter, until you can draw quite a long line.
Practice, too. Find a wall surface that will be painted, create a practice line with a length of masking tape, and practice cutting in toward that line.

Cutting in is very difficult to master.  If you think the only thing you'll ever paint in your life is one or two rooms, then by all means use masking tape. Even if you plan on painting your entire interior, you may not master the technique until you reach the last room.
Related Video
How to Paint Trim

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