Should You Paint Trim Or Walls First? (According To A Pro)

It’s easy to create extra work for yourself when you’re painting a room. You’ll spend more time laying down painter’s tape starting with the walls or you might have to redo the trim if you begin there and make a mistake.  

What order do you paint a room? Factors like color choice, skill level, and available time all factor into the decision. 

Read on to find out whether to paint trim or walls first based on the specifics of your project. 

Do You Paint Trim Or Walls First? It Depends...

When you paint a room, your two main concerns are avoiding spills and getting an even coat on every surface. That’s why some people paint the trim and tape it off before moving on to the walls. If you ask a professional, they’re likely to prefer this order: trim, ceiling, then walls.  

This is largely because starting with the trim requires less taping off and allows the painter to cover more surface area in less time.

But if you’re new to painting and haven’t acquired the steady hand of a professional, you’re likely to have to do touch-ups. If you start with the trim, you might have to go back to the trim - if your wall is already painted, that means you have to tape it off again.  

Using oil-based paint or primer also means you have to be more careful with the details because any spills will be harder to clean and correct.  

As you can see, there are some times when you should start with the trim and others when you should start with the walls. We’ll go into greater detail in the sections to come. 

Do You Paint Trim Or Walls First? Correct Order To Paint A Room

When Should You Paint Trims First? 

When You Are Cutting In 

In painting, cutting in is the part of painting where you have to take a brush and get into the harder-to-reach areas like the lines along the ceiling and corners. These areas are awkward to get into with a roller and prone to overspray build-up if you’re using an airless paint sprayer.  

If you paint the trims first, you can tape them off and then cut in without having to worry. Another reason to paint the trim first when you’re cutting in is that it’s easier to follow the distinct edge of the trim. 

When You Are Taping Off 

Trim is also easier to tape off because you can simply follow the edge. Paint the trim, let it dry, then remove your tape and move on to the walls and ceilings.  

Masking the whole room means you have to go along the walls and corners. Getting the trim out of the way first requires only one line of painter's tape, and if you line it up correctly, you can leave the tape in place while you paint the ceiling. Less unproductive time spent waiting for paint to dry means you can accomplish the whole project sooner. 

In An Unfinished Room

If you’re remodeling or building a house from the ground up, you can go ahead and get the trim finished before starting on the walls. 

It’s also easier to avoid hitting or scratching trim if you’re moving in building materials or permanent structures like shelving. You should also consider painting your trim before installing new carpet since you won't have to be as careful about splatter on the floor. You can always quickly touch up any damage done during carpet installation if the trim is already painted and cured. 


When Should You Paint Walls First?

On A Tight Schedule

The majority of the surface area that needs to be painted is on the walls and ceiling. If you’re pressed for time, you can attack the largest areas first just to get them out of the way.  

Cutting in after the walls are already painted can be done if you make sure to spread out your paint layers. It needs to be really thin in and near the areas that will be painted later when you cut in.  

When You’re Just Testing The Color

Sometimes the swatches can’t illustrate the true look and feel of the finished paint job. If you need to find out how the room will look, getting paint up on most of the walls will help. You can see how it matches with existing furniture and accents like drapes and wood flooring.  

You can also test out your trim color on a piece of throwaway material so you can see how the two will pair without having to risk repainting both the walls and the trim if you don’t like the colors. 

When You Have Somebody Helping You

The kindest friends and family members (or the people who owe you one) will offer to help you on big DIY projects like painting a room. But most of the time, they have their own busy lives and can only stop by to help for a few hours. In that case, you might want to use the time wisely and get the majority of the walls done. 

You can concentrate on the finer details once the extra hands are gone. Remember that even if you can only jump in to paint a section of trim at a time, you can usually do that much easier than you could start up your paint sprayer and hit an entire wall. Plus, you can get rid of most of your drop cloth once the walls are mostly done. 

person holding a paint roller

Painting The Trim First: Tips & Techniques 

Before you get started painting your trim, you need to know what it's made of. That will help you determine what kind of sanding you can do and predict how the painted trim will look. For standard wood trim, you can simply sand most of the existing paint away, vacuum the trim, tape it off, lay out your drop cloths, and get to work.  

Should you paint trim with a brush or a roller? That depends on whether you have a uniform, flat surface, or a textured trim. If you have a lip or recess, the brush will help you get paint in the cracks better. Flat trim can be painted faster with a roller. There are also smaller rollers that help you get a detailed paint job with the convenience of a roller. 

The most important tip is to get a latex-only brush and high quality roller (if you’re using latex paint) that won’t leave lint and other particles behind to ruin your paint job. Overlap the walls when you paint the trim, and don't worry about getting wall paint on your trim later - it's bound to happen, but it's totally correctable. 


Painting The Walls First: Tips & Techniques

If you’re painting the walls first, roll or spray the widest expanse of the wall and leave a thin strip of blank space near the borders that you can hit with your paintbrush when you cut in. If you do it the other way around, you’re going to naturally cover more area than you need to with a paintbrush, which is needlessly time-consuming. 

Push the roller into the corners, and you'll have the perfect amount of space left for cutting in with a brush. When you cut in, fill your brush with paint, and don't let it drip off or scrape the brush against the side of the can. You want to cover about three feet of wall with the paint in one dip of the brush.  

Learn to tape off correctly if you’re going to use a paint sprayer. The only real difference is that you’ll have to cover more area with tape if you aren’t adept enough with the sprayer yet to use it without lots of overspray.  

painter doing walls

Correct Order To Paint A Whole Room

Before you get started painting your room, you should prepare by removing all the furniture and other items from the room. Trust me; it's going to save tons of time and worry later on. 

Next, paint your room in the following order: 

1. Trim  

When painting a room, you should usually start with the trim. The wood runner around your windows and other wall accents is what we call trim. Baseboards are the trim that covers the joint between the wall and the floor.

You want to prime these and then tape them off because a little trim primer will be covered by regular primer when you get to the walls.  

2. Ceiling 

Next move to the ceiling, assuming it's been cleaned first. The main reason for this order is because you can cover the ceiling while the paint on the trim is drying. Make sure you have old bedsheets or drop cloth to cover the floor and spread the paint evenly so it doesn’t drip. 

Don’t cut in on your ceiling just yet! Get everything thinned out and the edges and then cut in on the tops of the walls and the ceilings at once later on. 

3. Walls 

Finally, you’re ready for the main event. Once your trim and ceiling are covered, you can remove the tape from the trim and start covering the main part of your walls.  

Remember, the best cutting-in tip is to get your roller right up against the ceiling and walls. Then, when you're ready, cut in on the top of the walls and the ceiling at the same time. When that's nice and even, let it dry while you cover the remainder at the baseboards and around the other trim and wall features in the room. 


Painting Trim Or Walls First FAQ

Should you paint trim before installing them?

Many people switching to new carpeting prefer to paint the trim before the carpet because they don't have to worry about paint getting on their carpet. This is a great idea; just remember that you might have to do some touching up if you cause any damage in the carpet installation process. 


Can you paint trim without sanding?

You certainly can paint trim without sanding, but removing old paint and other unwanted textures is the only way to be absolutely sure you’re going to get the flat, even paint job you’re aiming for. 


Do you cut in before or after rolling?

Cut in after you roll. If you roll correctly, you’ll leave yourself a small area to cut in on. Painting in the opposite order means you have to overpaint with the brush - you’ll be painting over that intermediate area with the roller anyway.  


Is it ok to cut in one day and paint the next?

It’s fine if you feather out your paint and then come back, but you won’t get as complete a result as if you did everything on the same day. You should also be painting and then cutting in. You should be able to paint a room with 3 windows and a door in about a day. 

couple ready to paint

Conclusion

When you paint a room, you can save lots of time and effort by painting the trim first and then moving to the ceilings and walls. Of course, there are some situations where you might want to paint the walls first.

Think about how you want to cut in. If you cover most of the walls first, you have to cut in and then potentially re-roll paint. If you’re using a paint sprayer properly, you can cover most of the wall and leave a more defined area to cut in on later with a paintbrush.