Cutting-in, sometimes called trimming in, is a process of painting with a brush next to trim, mouldings or adjacent surfaces usually in preparation of using a roller to fill in the large areas of wall surface. The neatness and quality of the cutting-in can make or break the looks of a painting project. Through the years many gadgets have been invented to make this process simpler. Sometimes tape is used to mask over surfaces to protect them. 99% of painting projects do not require the gadgets or the hours spent masking off surfaces with tape. A neat, nearly perfect job of cutting-in can be done with only a good quality brush, some practice, patience and the following tips and techniques.

The goal is to create a clean, neat transition from one color or type of paint to another. These transitions occur where the moulding meet the wall or ceiling, or where two walls come together when using two or more colors. A crooked, sloppy transition detracts from an otherwise attractive paint job.

Downsides of Masking Tape

Due to lack of experience it is tempting to mask everything with tape, but tape does have its downsides.

  • Time spent masking could be spent painting.
  • Time spent masking could be used to practice using a brush. Speed will come with practice.
  • Paint can bleed or seep under the tape causing uneven, jagged lines.
  • An increase of costs. Low-tack tape is expensive.

NOTE: Masking tape is the tool to use for some decorative faux painting techniques like ragging or sponging. Use tape to create stripes and geometric shapes.

The Paint Brush

The paint brush used to cut-in is the key to producing good results. The most expensive paint in the world cannot be made to look good when applied with a poor quality paint brush. The best paint brush for cutting-in is a medium size premium paint brush. A 2 or 2 1/2 inch wide angle sash brush is wide enough to apply enough paint away from the edge for the roller to roll into. It is narrow enough to easily handle after a little practice. The brush should be the best. Some trusted brands are Purdy, Wooster, Corona Brush and Sherwin-Williams. Within these brands get the best brush available. It will pay off in the long run. For more tips and information about brushes see “Tools”. An angle sash paint brush will paint out a sharper edge. The bristles of an angle sash brush are cut at an angle, hence the name. Hold the paint brush similar to the way a pen or pencil is held. A premium paint brush will last a very long time. Clean it, care for it and it will paint many, many rooms.

The Paint

Any paint can be applied neatly. It should flow out of the brush easily as the brush is dragged across the surface. Thinning the paint is usually required to achieve a consistency for good cutting-in. Thinning the paint does not harm the paint, just do not over do it. Remember most of the cutting-in is covered over by the roller so it recieves additional paint. Add the appropriate thinner (water for acrylics or mineral spirits for alkyds) a little at a time until the paint flows smoothly out of the paint brush when applied to the surface.

The Technique

  • Have enough light in the room. Cutting-in is careful work and seeing well helps.
  • Do not try to apply too much paint, a smooth even coat will look best.
  • Some colors will not cover with one coat. Cutting-in and rolling a second coat is sometimes nearly as fast as trying to make one coat cover. Two coats will always look better.
  • Use masking tape only for inaccessible areas. Some corners will not provide the space to get into with a hand holding a brush.
  • Use a work pot. These have wide openings to make dipping the brush easier and less messy.
  • Use a “dip and touch” method for loading the paint brush. Here’s how. Dip the brush into the paint straight down about 1/2 or 3/4 of inch deep. Pull the brush out just above the level of paint and touch each side of the work pot with the brush almost in a very light slapping motion. This technique loads the brush with paint and removes the excess to help prevent dripping as the brush is drawn away from the work pot. It takes some practice but works very well. The usual method of dipping the brush and then raking it off on the sides of the bucket removes too much paint. Try the “dip and touch” method instead.
  • When approaching the wall with a loaded paint brush start painting an inch or so away from the edge. Then paint up to the edge with longer strokes. in other words do not take a fully loaded brush right up to the edge. Paint up to the edge as the paint flows out of the brush.
  • If cutting-in next to a textured ceiling a straighter edge may be desired. Use a small stiff slot screwdriver tip to scrape away a narrow path from the texture in the corner. Then cut-in up to this edge.
  • Cutting-in does take practice. A good cut-in job greatly improves the look of a painted room. A professional look is possible, just use these tips mixed with some practice and patience.

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