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DIY – Paint Like a Pro - How To Paint Interior Window and Door Trim

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Nothing refreshes a room better than a new coat of paint!

One of the easiest ways to give a room a fresh new look is to update the color of the window and door trim. No matter the age of your home or the style of your windows, providing contrast between wall and trim will accentuate the room’s architectural quality and showcase the woodwork. Like any Do It Yourself Project, this will require time and tools, but if you take your time you will be rewarded with a professional-looking result for a fraction of the cost of hiring a pro.

In my case, I wanted to accentuate the lovely, wide, 1952 trim moldings and remove wallpaper throughout the house I recently bought, replacing the ugly wallpaper with bright, painted walls. I used the guest bath to set the color palette for the downstairs, picking up the wonderful deep maroon of the vintage tiles for all the window and door trim: maroon, along with pink and gray, was a signature color in the early ‘50s. I used a creamy white paint for the walls and started painting trim with the generous bay windows in the living and dining rooms. Let’s go through it, step by step:

Before: When I bought the house the living room had beige wallpaper with beige trim, beige carpeting and beige furniture, accented by the bold splash of beige t


1. If you will be painting the walls as well as the trim, finish the walls and ceiling before you begin on the trim.

2. Clean the trim well, using a solution of dish detergent dissolved in water and a damp sponge. Be sure to wash the top edges of the trim, something often overlooked.

3. Repair any damage to the wood, filling holes or dents with wood filler, then sanding lightly when completely dry with fine sandpaper. If the damage to the wood is minor you can save time by using spackling compound for the repairs because it dries faster and can painted sooner than wood filler.

Repair any damage to the trim with wood filler


You will need good brushes and a p[aint pail:

4. Decide if you will need to prime the entire trim, or only the repaired areas. Prime if you are covering gloss or semi-gloss paint, dark over a light color or trim that has been heavily repaired. If the new paint is similar in tone to the old paint (a light color over a light color, or dark over dark) and the old paint is in good condition, you may be able to save a lot of time by using a one-coat coverage paint that is primer and finish coat in one. If you are painting a dark, saturated color over a lighter existing paint, use a primer with pigment added to minimize the number of finish coats will you will need to apply. This makes economic sense since primer is cheaper than finish paint. When buying the primer, ask that pigment be added to it if needed.

From the good folks at Lowe's, a very helpful video:

Use Frogtape to mask the wall


5. Use Frogtape to mask the wall where it meets the trim. No other masking tape works as well as Frogtape, so use the best. If you are also painting the window sashes, you may choose to mask the glass, as well. If you don’t mask the glass, you will need to scrape any paint that ends up on the glass with a razor blade tool after the paint is dry. In my experience, masking the glass takes about the same amount of time and is an easier task, but you may disagree, as this seems to be a highly personal choice.

Use small pieces of Frogtape to confirm to irregular shapes


6. If you are not painting the widow sashes, run tape slightly under the trim where it meets the sash and open the bottom sash slightly in order to avoid getting paint it. Adjust the sashes while painting—opening and closing them slightly—to avoid having the paint glue the window shut.

7. Open the primer—or the paint, if you are not using primer—and stir thoroughly.


Use a ladle to fill the paint pail


8. Using an inexpensive kitchen ladle, fill a small paint pail with a disposable plastic liner no more than ¼ full with paint. Paint dries quickly and if you put too much in the pail it may start congealing—getting sticky—while you are still painting.

9. Use a brush to scrape extra paint off the ladle and then wash it. The best way to wash up is in a utility sink, but if you do not have one use a bucket or shallow dish inside your sink to protect it and be sure to rinse the sink and faucet thoroughly as you work. Use dish detergent to clean your tools and brushes and lay them on newspaper to dry.

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Apply the primer


10. Apply primer (if primer is needed) using a stiff, angled bristle cutting brush slightly narrower than the width of the trim you are painting. Load your brush by dipping only the first ¼ of the bristles into the paint. Load only enough paint onto the brush that the bristles can retain if you hold the brush over the paint pail. If a lot of paint drips off the brush, wipe some of it off on the edge of the pail and do not load as much paint the next time.

11. Allow the primer to dry—the best adhesion between coats takes place when you paint over a coat that is dry but still fresh, so if possible paint the second coat as soon as the first one is dry.

Allow the primer to dry


Apply the first coat of finish paint


12. Paint your first coat of finish paint. Resist the urge to apply too much paint in order to cover the trim with one coat—if the paint forms drips and sags they will be visible, and really ugly, when dry. Accept that if you will need to put on a second coat, you will n need to put on a second coat. Apply the paint as carefully as you did the primer, being mindful not to overload your brush with paint. Feather your strokes by lifting the brush as each stroke ends and paint with the grain of the wood. Work quickly but carefully, painting all sides of each part of the trim as you progress around the window or door. The goal is to work wet paint into wet paint, and you should try to avoid painting into an area that is partially dry. This will result in visible brush strokes when the paint dries or noticeable differences in the glossiness of patches of paint.

Allow the first coat to dry

It looks a bit purple in these photos, but I used a rich maroon for the trim as it was one of the signature colors of the early 50's, when my house was built

It looks a bit purple in these photos, but I used a rich maroon for the trim as it was one of the signature colors of the early 50's, when my house was built

13. Allow the finish coat to dry thoroughly, overnight if possible.

14. Apply the second coat, feathering your brush strokes the same way you did the first coat.

15. Allow the finish coat to dry thoroughly, overnight if possible.

Apply the second coat


16. Remove the masking tape.

Remove the masking tape


Use a small brush for touchup


17. Using a small artist’s brush, touchup the project as needed. Even if you use the best tape—which means Frogtape—there will still be some touchup needed.

18. Enjoy what you have accomplished. Painting is an art, and each time you take on a new painting project you will learn how to do it better and develop more confidence.

(I am an artist and the author of the Suburban Sprawl series of novels as well as two nonfiction books. Find out more about my work at

Copyright © Roberta Lee 2012. All rights reserved.

Enjoy your finished project!


You WILL need Frogtape!


CherylsArt on September 13, 2014:

Looks nice; beautiful job. Good tip for adding pigment to the primer.

Laura Ross on August 07, 2012:

Wow, beautiful results. Love the room you painted!

I'm in the middle of taking wallpaper off a master bathroom vanity area and looking forward to painting it soon. I like your idea of using a ladle to add paint to a paint bucket. Also your detailed masking ideas will come in handy too.

Great hub and one I will come back to when I need to. Voted Up and Useful!

DIYmyOmy (author) from Philadelphia, PA on April 18, 2012:

Tireless - I couldn't agree more! It really is all about the details; it's what can give you that painted-by-a-pro finish!

Judy Specht from California on April 17, 2012:

I learned so much about painting when I painted my bedroom with friends. Amazing how much little tricks make for a beautiful finish.

DIYmyOmy (author) from Philadelphia, PA on February 24, 2012:

The dark maroon trim color looks great with creamy-white walls and is true to the 1952 vintage of the house. Maroon, pink and gray were the hot colors in 1952. Thanks for the comment!

HomeDIY on February 23, 2012:

Those are great tips. The trim color is really out there but the result was great.

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