How to Paint Moldings

diy home molding paint tips

Most of the moldings you see on TJOM I painted by hand. Just like this. You can do it too!

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.

Painting Disclaimer

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.

Do Not:

  1. Paint moldings before you install them — especially crown molding — ever!
  2. 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.

  1. Paint the crown two coats
  2. Cut in the ceiling
  3. Roll the ceiling
  4. Repeat steps 2 and 3 for second coat
  5. Paint two coats on the feature pieces like door surrounds and wainscoting
  6. Paint two coats on the baseboards
  7. Cut in the walls (sometimes I’ll add an extra cut in coat to cover the trim overpaint really well)
  8. Roll the walls
  9. Repeat steps 7 and 8 for second coat


Quick Tips

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

7.  Vacuum the moldings

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


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]

white paint on moldings

From Our Kitchen Molding Makeover

how to sand moldings

Don’t forget a can of elbow grease.

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.

diy moldings plinth block

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.

diy door trim fill nail holes

Fill them all.

diy door trim moldings spackling

Put a manageable dab of spackling on your finger.

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.

diy white painted moldings

Scrape away the extra spackling that won’t affect the nail hole you’re filling — the less to sand the better.

diy white painted moldings

diy painted moldings

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.

finish carpenter preparing moldings for paint

In a perfect world there are no gaps in my miter joints, but….

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.

miter joint in door trim moldings

Stuff and smear the spackling and then carefully scrape and wipe it away.

diy door trim moldings easy

These little metal scales only cost a few bucks at the hardware store, buy several.

diy mdf door trim moldings pre primed

diy mdf classical moldings painting

paint moldings tips

diy pre primed classical moldings

diy mdf classical painted moldings

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.

how to paint white moldings

It may be an ugly gap now, but when I’m finished you’ll never notice.

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.

how to paint classical door trim moldings

Another option would be to take the entire door and jamb assembly apart and rebuild it true.

diy paint moldins

One more skim coat of spacklign, prime, sand then paint. It will look perfect.

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.

sanding pre primed moldings

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.

diy classical painted moldings

Feel for any rough spots with your finger tips.

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.

diy interior home painted moldings

Those nail holes will not show through the paint at all.

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.

diy mdf classical moldings painting

French maid outfit optional.

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.

priming mdf moldings

Start on one side and then work your way around.

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.

how to paint moldings white yourself

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

diy painted moldings for the home

I like to use a fine grit sanding sponge for this part.

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.

diy interior home moldings

Vacuuming your moldings is well worth the time invested.

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.

painted moldings

crown molding primed and ready for paint

I’m often temped to leave my moldings in their primer coat because they look sooo good!

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.

how to paint a room blue

Go ahead and throw some test colors on the wall and live with them for a while.

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.

diy caulk moldings

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

best paint for interior home moldings

This is the best latex paint for interior home moldings. Period. Not a paid endorsement.

cut-in paint tray for moldins

Tip #1: Use a small paint tray and refill often to keep the paint fresh and flowing.

aluminium benches for painting crown moldings

Tip #2: Use some sort of scaffold system like this for painting crown moldings. They help make such easy work of the task at hand.

how to paint a victorian door surround header

Tip #3: I like to start at the top of complex door surrounds and then work my way down.

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.

how to paint a door surround

Plan the direction you will paint your moldings and then stick to that plan.

3. Overpaint

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.

white painted moldings

Tip #4: Feather the overpaint you get on the wall. It will be covered by the two coats of wall paint.

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.

blue masking tape for painting moldings

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.

how to paint a room

When you are finished cutting in next to crown moldings and the high corners, move down to the lower details like this door surround.

paint a room with moldings

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.

painting walls around moldings

Tip #6: Feather out the wall paint away from the moldings so there are no hard paint lines.

Below  Here’s the room with its first coat of cut-in paint.

walls painted around front door with lots of moldings

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.

room painted in benjamin moore regal paint

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.

diy interior home painting tutorial

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.


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