How to Tape a Room for Painting

Painting taped wall

The Spruce / Margot Cavin

Project Overview
  • Total Time: 1 - 2 hrs
  • Yield: Tape a 15-foot by 10-foot room for painting
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $40 to $60

Taping a room for painting produces razor-sharp divisions between painted surfaces, plus the trim around windows and doors will be immaculate. Though taping a room takes some time, it's definitely worthwhile since it speeds up the painting process and results in a more professional look.

5 Best Tools and Supplies for Paint Taping

  • Painter's tape: Low-stick adhesive multi-surface painter's tape in 1- or 2-inch widths works on a majority of surfaces. Variations for delicate surfaces or heavily textured (bumpy) surfaces are available.
  • Tape applicator: A tape applicator dispenses small rolls of painter's tape. The applicator lays down lines of straight tape by using the opposing surface as a guide.
  • Masking paper: Kraft masking paper in 12-inch-wide rolls protects the floor next to the baseboards.
  • Taped masking film: A strip of masking tape with up to 48 inches of attached clear plastic film, taped masking film unfolds to protect walls and other large surfaces.
  • Masking tape corners: Pre-cut pieces of triangle- or L-shaped masking tape stick to any 90-degree junction, eliminating the need to cut corners from painter's tape.

Safety Considerations

When taping ceilings or crown moldings, be sure to avoid overreaching. Moving the ladder frequently helps you avoid the temptation to reach too far.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Scissors
  • Utility knife
  • Step ladder
  • Drill or screwdriver
  • Hammer

Materials

  • Painter's tape
  • Tape applicator
  • Masking paper, 12-inch width
  • Taped masking film
  • Builder's paper

Instructions

  1. Plan the Paint Taping

    Two distinct surfaces—walls and trim—need to be painted separately with different paints. You may choose to paint the trim first or the walls first. Since you will be taping both surfaces, the order is more a matter of personal preference.

    • Trim first: Painting the trim first gives the paint more time to dry, especially if you're using high-gloss paint or oil-based paint. You also get the painstaking work out of the way at the beginning, when you have the most energy and patience.
    • Walls first: Painting the walls first lets you see the final results right away. And with the wall color established, you can experiment with different trim colors.

    This guide assumes that you'll be painting both walls and trim, and that you'll be painting the trim first.

  2. Remove Items

    Take down every item on the walls and trim that is easily removable. Use a hammer, drill, or screwdriver, to remove:

    • Light switch and outlet plates
    • Ceiling lights
    • Light sconces
    • Pictures, mirrors, and hangers
    • Heating registers
    • Door stops attached to trim or walls

    Tip

    Unless you are extensively remodeling the room, do not remove baseboards and trim. Tape around removable items only when removing that item may cause damage.

    Prepare Room for Taping

    The Spruce / Margot Cavin

  3. Lay Down Coverings

    Tape the 12-inch masking paper directly up to the baseboards. Apply the tape to the floor. Do this for all baseboards around the entire room. If you plan to paint the ceiling, fill in the center area with large dropcloths or with strips of 3-foot-wide builder's paper. If using builder's paper, tape adjacent rows every few feet to prevent them from separating.

    Cover Room Before Painting

    The Spruce / Margot Cavin

  4. Clean and Dry the Surfaces

    Clean any surface to be taped that is dusty or dirty. Painter's tape may not stick to these surfaces. Or, the tape might not stick well enough to prevent paint from seeping underneath.

    Not all surfaces need to be cleaned, so clean only on an as-needed basis. To test, run a clean, light-colored cloth over surfaces. The top edges of baseboards and window and door trim always need to be cleaned.

    Cleaning walls before painting
    Adam Crowley/Getty Images
  5. Gather Taping Supplies

    Have all of the paint-taping supplies in the room with you, so you can work rapidly and efficiently. Make sure that you have enough painter's tape. If you're using a tape applicator, order enough rolls in advance and have them on hand. Ordinary 60-yard rolls of painter's tape do not work in tape applicators. Most applicators use special 20-yard rolls of tape.

  6. Tape Around Trim

    Begin by taping all flat surfaces (walls and ceiling) that border the trim, leaving the trim exposed for painting.

    • Baseboards: Tape the wall above the baseboards, keeping the tape flush with the top edge of the baseboards.
    • Crown molding: Tape the wall below the crown molding and tape the ceiling adjacent to the crown molding.
    • Door trim: Tape the walls above and on both sides of the door trim. Be sure to include rosettes and plinth blocks, if the door has any.
    • Window trim: Tape the walls above, below, and on both sides of the window trim.
  7. Secure the Painter's Tape

    After applying the painter's tape, go over it again with your finger and press the tape firmly in place to prevent seepage. Using a finger is better than using a putty knife or another mechanical device because your finger can conform to the wall texture.

    After the tape is secure, paint the trim. Generally, you can apply up to two coats of satin, eggshell, or semi-gloss paint to taped trim. Tape may not be able to cut through three or more layers of paint, especially when the paint is semi-gloss or high-gloss.

  8. Remove the Painter's Tape

    After the paint has dried to the touch, remove the painter's tape by starting at one end and pulling at a 45- to 90-degree angle. The edge of the tape will cut the paint, leaving a sharp edge behind. Use the utility knife to cut away the tape only as a last resort. Doing so leaves slivers of tape that are difficult to remove, plus it can damage trim and drywall.

    Removing Painter's Tape

    The Spruce / Margot Cavin

  9. Let the Paint Cure

    The trim paint must be fully dried and cured before painting the walls. That's because you'll be applying painter's tape to the trim. Taping the trim prematurely may rip off the paint.

    Water-based paints dry and cure faster than oil-based paints. Usually, 72°F and a humidity level of 40- to 50-percent are the best conditions for the paint to dry.

  10. Tape Walls Adjacent to Ceiling (Optional)

    If you plan to paint the ceiling, you may choose to tape the walls. This prevents the ceiling paint from contacting the walls. The tape applicator works well for these long runs.

    1. Move the ladder to a corner of the room. Start the tape near the corner.
    2. Run the tape the length of the wall, frequently moving the ladder.
    3. Press newly applied tape with a finger to secure it to the wall.
    4. When you reach a corner, cut off the tape, leaving 2 or 3 inches of extra tape.
    5. Press that extra tape tightly into and around the corner.
    6. Start a new piece of tape and continue the next wall run.

    Once the walls are taped, paint the ceiling. After a maximum of two coats of ceiling paint, remove the tape.

  11. Tape Trim

    Before painting the walls, tape off the trim to protect it from the wall paint.

    • Baseboards: Tape the top edge of the baseboards all the way around the room.
    • Crown molding: Tape the bottom edge of the crown molding.
    • Door and window trim: Apply tape to the edge of the trim.
    Apply Painter's Tape

    The Spruce / Margot Cavin

  12. Tape the Ceiling

    If you are using tape corners, apply tape corners to the ceiling at every 90-degree junction. Then, use the tape dispenser to run from one tape corner to the next tape corner.

    If you are not using pre-cut tape corners, tear the tape by hand. Tear one piece of tape at a 45-degree angle. Apply the tape to the ceiling, with the pointed end of the tape in the corner. Next, tear a second piece of tape in an opposite 45-degree angle, also placing the point of that tape in the corner. Press firmly into the corner with your finger.

FAQ
  • Why isn't the painter's tape sticking?

    When painter's tape isn't sticking, it's usually because the surfaces are not clean enough or dry enough. Some surfaces can be stubborn to clean, especially around stoves or in bathrooms. Use tri-sodium phosphate (TSP) or, if your community has a phosphate ban, use a TSP substitute. Bathroom walls may not be fully dry. Let the bathroom air out and turn on the exhaust fan and any available room fans.

  • Is it better to cut in the paint freehand or tape the room?

    Professional painters with steady, experienced hands often will paint edges freehand as it's faster, less expensive, and can produce a straighter line. For do-it-yourselfers, it's usually best to tape the room.

  • How do you tape a room for using a paint sprayer?

    For using a paint sprayer, the taping process is the same. In addition, all surfaces that will not be painted will need to be completely covered with plastic sheeting or masking film as protection from paint overspray.

When to Call a Professional

Do-it-yourselfers may find themselves bogged down in taping, especially for large rooms, high ceilings, whole-house projects, or rooms with complicated angles and detail work. Whether they prefer to tape a room or cut in freehand, most professional painters are experienced at painting walls, ceilings, and trim, and doing so quickly and efficiently.

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