Save yourself many thousands of dollars and learn how to paint your own moldings.
Don’t worry if you don’t know how. I’ll show you step by step my own method for hand-painting moldings and walls.
The tips I give on this page are for those of us who really love our homes and are going to stay in them for a while.
Consequently, there are no quick and easy tips here.
Some things, like painting beautiful moldings and rooms, just take a little time and effort.
My steps for painting moldings are probably going to be different from what you’ve read on other home improvement or decorating blogs, or from what you’ve read in diy books, or from what the guy at the paint store told you or from what your friend’s uncle’s second-cousin’s hamster suggested.
Not that those other sources are wrong, it’s just that we all have our own techniques. But I love the results I get when I paint moldings using the steps I’ve developed over twenty years of painting these kinds of moldings.
So if you like the paint finish you see on my moldings, then this is where you’ll learn the basic sequence I always follow when painting them.
This is one of those pages I’ll be adding to on a regular basis. Subscribe to our RSS feed or by email to stay updated.
- Paint moldings before you install them — especially crown molding — ever!
- Caulk moldings before you prime them
Overview: How to Paint a Room With Moldings
Two coats of paint on trim, ceiling and walls. Start from the top and then work your way down.
- Paint the crown two coats
- Cut in the ceiling
- Roll the ceiling
- Repeat steps 2 and 3 for second coat
- Paint two coats on the feature pieces like door surrounds and wainscoting
- Paint two coats on the baseboards
- Cut in the walls (sometimes I’ll add an extra cut in coat to cover the trim overpaint really well)
- Roll the walls
- Repeat steps 7 and 8 for second coat
How to Prepare Moldings for Paint
1. Set any exposed nail heads below the moldings surface with a nail punch
2. Fill nail holes with spackling
3. When to Use Spackling and When to Use Caulk on Moldings
4. Fill large gaps with spackling or joint compound
5. Scale Sculpting: How to Shape Spackling in Difficult Molding Corners
6. Sand the nail holes and other rough spots
8. Wipe moldings down with clean, damp rag
9. Prime the moldings (even if they are pre-primed)
10. Sand with medium/fine grain sanding sponge/paper
11. Vacuum the moldings again
12. Wipe the moldings down one last time with damp rag
My Best Painting Tips
Other Paint Related Posts
- How to Paint a Three-Piece Crown Moldings (External link: I wrote this for One Project Closer)
- Large Paint Swatches, a Big Help From Benjamin Moore
Step by Step: How to Prepare Moldings For Paint
I use examples from several different projects to help illustrate how I prepare moldings for paint. These techniques work for all types of patterns: crown molding, wainscoting, door/window trim and everything else you can think of.
Are there a lot of steps? Yep. Is it a lot of work? Yep. Is it really worth it? Yep.
[DOOR TRIM-103 is part of Our Kitchen Molding Makeover]
Things I keep near me for this are:
- Damp rag
- Sand paper of various grits
- Sanding sponges
- Small scale
- Putty knife (preferably one with very square edges)
1. Set Nails With Nail Punch
Plinth blocks are notorious for having nail heads protrude above the surface. Set the nails, but be careful not to knock your moldings loose in the process.
2. Spackle Nail Holes and Other Gaps
I’m not saying this isn’t going to be tedious, because it is.
That’s why I often do the spackling as soon as I’m finished with a pattern, because it can be daunting to look at an entire room full of moldings with nail holes and gaps.
Schedule the time, put on some music, have some snacks at the ready, and prepare to be one with the moldings for a while.
Stuff -‘n-Mound That’s what you do. Stuff the spackling deep into the nail hole and then leave a mound on top.
If you wipe the spackling flush with the molding surface you run the risk of the spackling drying below the molding surface.
The result of that will be a bazillion little divots on your moldings that you’ll just have to do over again.
Scrape away the extra spackling that won’t affect the nail hole you’re filling — the less to sand the better.
While you’re at the nail holes, you’ll want to fill any other gaps that need to be flush with the molding surface or that need to be sculpted to hold a shape, like small gaps in the miter joints of a door surround.
You don’t want to have to sand hard spackling in a joint like this, so it’s best to scrape away the extra before the spackling dries.
Think of this whole process as an ever-increasing level of molding perfection.
Set small goals. Take breaks. Focus. You will be very proud of the finish on your moldings when you’re finished.
Filling Large Gaps I use joint compound on the larger gaps, it seems to dry harder than the spackling for nail holes.
Above & Below Some door jambs are twisted so much that you will have large gaps in some spots between molding and jamb. Not to worry, a little sculpting with joint compound will do the job nicely.
3. Sand the Spackling
After everything is good and dry, sand not just the nail holes, but the whole molding. Run your hands up and down the moldings to find the rough spots.
What Grit Sand Paper to Use? This all depends on what the pre-primed finish on your moldings can handle, since they all have slightly different compositions.
You want to strike a balance between using a large grit that can remove the dry spackling quickly and yet won’t scratch the surface. No, you don’t want to scratch the surface of your moldings.
Get Intimate With Your Moldings Run your finger tips over the entire surface of the moldings.
Your finger tips can feel imperfections that will show through your paint that you may not catch with your eye.
4. Vacuum the Moldings
If your moldings have a lot of nooks and crannies where sanding dust collected, then vacuum them with a nozzle that has a brush-end.
The brush helps reduce the vacuum power down to where, hopefully, you won’t suck the spackling out of your nail holes.
5. Wipe Moldings Damp Rag
The vacuum won’t get all the dust, so just take a clean, damp rag and wipe the whole thing down, often rinsing the rag.
6. Prime the Moldings (even if they are pre-primed!)
This is what I’ve come to call the unifying coat of primer.
Prime the entire molding pattern so that you cover all of the spackled nail holes and gaps.
This step is perhaps the most important on your road to creating an architectural detail that looks like an integral part of your home.
You must, must, must use a primer that is made for unfinished surfaces, because you must be able to sand the primed moldings smooth, and you can’t do that with common primer like Kilz.
I’ve been using Sherwin Williams Premium Wall and Wood Primer throughout Our Molding Makeover, and love the stuff.
Some things to keep in mind when priming:
- Plan ahead what direction you will prime the moldings
- Keep your wet edge in mind at all times
- Work out of a small paint tray so your primer does not get tacky
- Feather out the over-paint you get on the walls
- Work quickly but in control
- Use a light finish stroke on each section to even out the brush strokes
When the primer is dry, move on to the next step.
7. Sand With Fine Grit Sand Paper
8. Vacuum Again
Yes, vacuum one more time all of the nooks and crannies. You’ll wish to (insert deity of choice here) you had vacuumed your moldings when applying your first coat of paint if you find it full of primer dust and other nasties.
9. Wipe Down With Damp Rag
The vacuum does not get everything, so give the moldings a quick but thorough wipe down with a clean, damp rag. Rinse often.
Below: Test Your Paint Colors While you’re doing all this prep for paint work, it’s a good idea to throw some of your test colors on the wall and ceiling.
This way you can live with a good-sized patch of color for a while before you make your final decision.
10. Caulk the Moldings
Most people do this step wrong. Just saying.
So please, if you want your moldings to look spectacular — and they can only look spectacular if you can paint a razor-sharp line of wall paint up to the moldings — then please pay particular attention to this technique.
Note: I will make a demonstration video for this technique and post it as soon as possible. Thanks for being patient.
How to Paint the Moldings
For this section I’ll use mostly DOOR TRIM-114 for my example.
Oil-Based Paints: If you’ve the motivation for the best finish possible, then use oil-based paints. But most folks don’t want to work with the stuff, and few retailers keep it in stock, so the next best thing is Benjamin Moore’s, Satin Impervo molding paint.
1. Use Good Paint
2. Start at The Top
This means start by painting the crown molding first. In the picture below you can see the crown already has two coats of paint.
When painting patterns like fireplace mantels, wainscoting and door surrounds, like in the picture below, start at the top and work you way down.
You must work quickly when painting moldings so that you can maintain your wet edge.
If you try to avoid getting any molding paint on the wall, then chances are you won’t be able to paint fast enough before your paint starts to set up, and that can lead to unsightly drag brush marks on your moldings.
When you do get molding paint on the wall, just brush it out away from the moldings. This is called feathering.
Sometimes I’ll brush a quick coat of primer on my overpaint before I apply the first cut-in coat of wall paint.
How to Paint the Walls Next to Moldings
Don’t use masking tape to keep wall paint off of your moldings. Paint will always seep under the tape and get on the moldings. Instead, use a good angled brush and good paint.
The only time I put masking tape on moldings is to keep the splatter from rolling the walls above details like baseboard and wainscoting from getting on the moldings.
1. Paint the Ceiling first
Cut in around your ceiling and then roll it. Repeat for second coat.
Besides patience and a love for doing something well, a good brush and good paint are your two most important tools.
Then, not too much paint on the brush, but just enough to let it flow off the tip like in picture above.
If there is a small “wave” of paint in front of your brush bristles, then you have too much paint loaded onto your brush.
2. Cut in Around Wall Moldings
Don’t worry about the paint covering the white overpaint on your first cut-in coat of paint. It will look smeary, and that’s OK, the second coat will cover it perfectly.
That’s why you use good-quality paint because two thin coats of good paint are usually enough to cover perfectly.
When you are finished cutting in next to crown moldings and the high corners, move down to the lower details like this door surround.
If you are not confident about the paint covering the molding overpaint, you can cut-in an extra coat after the first is dry.
Is this a lot of work? Yes.
But remember, you are creating an exceptional room that you’ll be happy with for many years to come, and not just throwing up some trendy, quick and dirty decorating trick that will look dated in six months.
Below Here’s the room with its first coat of cut-in paint.
3. Roll the First Coat of Pain on the Walls
After your first coat of wall paint is dry, repeat the whole process of cutting-in and rolling.
If you follow this method you’ll have what I call a High-Resolution paint job.
There is no substitute for the attention to detail and effort you put into a good paint job like this.
Your rooms will have a strength to the them that most other homes will never experience.
Your moldings will look like they are made from fired pocelain and your walls will express the fullest depth of color possible.
Good luck painting your own room full of moldings!
More Reading for You
- DIY Projects & Inventory: This is where I post all of my molding inventory in one spot and the patterns you can make with each molding profile.
- A Kitchen Molding Makeover: Every post showing how I upgraded the moldings in a small kitchen.
Did you ever create the video on how to caulk around the trim for best results? I can’t seem to find a link to it anywhere. I’m really looking forward to learning about that.
I was told that Benjamin Moore has discontinued the waterborne Satin Impervio paint. They still sell the oil-based Satin Impervio, but not the latex version. They recommended ADVANCE® Waterborne Interior Alkyd Paint as a suitable replacement. Do you know if that is any good? I hate dealing with oil-based paints, so I’d love to stick with latex if its good enough.