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How to Paint Edges of Walls Without Tape

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Matt is a professional painter who owns and operates his own painting business, specializing in interior and exterior house painting.


Cutting-in Walls without Tape

Many do-it-yourselfers tape off ceiling lines and molding instead of cutting-in the edges with a free hand. Painters' tape produces sharp paint lines when done right, but using tape exclusively does have a few drawbacks. For one, taping a perfectly straight ceiling line all the way around a room is difficult, especially on textured walls. If the tape job isn't precise, you end up with wavy lines.

Secondly, taping wall edges is expensive because it doubles the amount of tape needed. Taping everything beyond the baseboard is also very time consuming. There is also the risk of paint bleed-through. Another problem with sticking tape all over your walls is it can easily peel paint from the surface when you remove it. Then you end up having to do repair work and touch-ups.

Painters' tape is great for perfecting accent wall lines and for protecting baseboard when rolling paint onto walls, but free-handing your cut-ins is faster and easier than using tape for an entire painting project. In this article, I cover some useful tips to help you cut-in walls like a professional painter.

My favorite paint brush for cutting-in walls.

My favorite paint brush for cutting-in walls.

1. Use a Pro Paint Brush Designed for Cutting-in

The only way to master cutting-in is to use a professional paint brush meant for that purpose. A common mistake people make is cutting-in walls with the wrong type of brush, or a low quality one. Don't buy a cheap paint brush for a few bucks. Buy one that professionals use. The brush should be designed for cutting-in walls and for the type of paint you're using.

Don't use a natural bristle brush for latex paint. These brushes are meant to be used with oil-based coatings, not water-based wall paint. A tried and true brush for water-based interior paints is one with a nylon/polyester blend. Choose an angled brush with stiff bristles. A brush with soft bristles that flex and bend too much is harder to control when cutting-in.

The only brush I use for cutting-in walls is the angled Purdy 3-inch ClearCut Glide. This stiff bristle brush is designed for edging and produces razor sharp lines, with some skill of course. I'm able to get multiple uses out of these brushes before I need to replace them. Purdy is my go-to brand for paint brushes, but I can also vouch for Corona and Wooster brushes as well. All three brands offer excellent brushes that professional painters use.

2. Work the Paint Up to the Edge

The best way to perfect your cut-ins is to work the first coat of paint close to the edge, not directly into it. Work the paint about a 1/2-inch away from the edge. The purpose of the first cut-in is to get the paint close to the edge to create a line that you can perfect with the second coat. The second cut-in works the paint into the edge to fill gaps and perfect the line.

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If you try to get a razor sharp paint line on the first coat, you'll end up with too much paint in the corner and a wavy line. The key is to avoid overloading your brush. Dip only the end of the bristles into your paint, not half the brush.

Use high quality brushes and paint for cutting-in wall edges.

Use high quality brushes and paint for cutting-in wall edges.

3. Use High Quality Paint that Spreads Good

To cut-in walls fast and efficiently, the quality of the wall paint is just as important as the type of brush you choose. Even with a high performance brush, cutting-in walls with low quality paint is harder because the paint usually won't brush on easily. The brush will drag and pull instead of the paint flowing smoothly as it should.

When you switch from cheap paint to premium paint you'll notice a big difference in the cut-in speed. I've used multiple paints in my painting career and the worst one I've ever used was Behr. The paint is very thick and does not spread easily like the paints I use now. High quality paint flows from the brush much easier so you can make longer passes before you need to dip it again.

My two favorite wall paints for cutting-in walls are Duration Home from Sherwin Williams and Regal Select from Benjamin Moore. Both paints spread really nice for cutting-in and also provide excellent coverage. These paints won't gum up your brush or require multiple coats. The paint is the perfect consistency for brush work.

4. Mark a Line for Tricky Ceiling Edges

The most challenging cut-ins by far are corners where walls meet the ceiling. Perfecting ceiling lines is even more of a challenge when the wall and ceiling are both painted white because no line exists, so it's hard to see an exact break between the two.

One trick to get sharp lines along ceiling edges is to mark a line in the corner before you start painting. Simply run a pencil, or the corner end of a putty knife, lightly along the ceiling corner to form a line you can use as a reference point when cutting-in. Make sure you have a good light source for better visibility.

5. Thin Your Paint with Conditioner

Thinning your wall paint makes cutting-in wall edges easier, but too much can do more harm than good. Most people thin their water-based paint with plain old water but doing so breaks down the chemical components and can actually ruin the paint. Paint conditioner on the other hand thins your paint without ruining it as long as you follow the directions and don't add too much.

My recommendation is to simply use high quality paint, such as the paints I mentioned earlier, so you don't have to use thinning agents to begin with. If you're already working with paint you really need to thin for cutting-in, use conditioner like Flood Floetrol and follow the directions. Typically, one tablespoon of conditioner per cup of paint is best. Don't use too much otherwise the paint will drip and sag. Floetrol also works great for thinning door and trim enamel.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Matt G.

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