How to Use Paint Edgers

Paint edger

Interior painting is one of those home improvement projects that verges on fun. Slow, lumbering projects like kitchen remodels take a long time before you see results. But painting offers immediate results and dramatic changes. Paint edging, the practice of bringing paint to the edge of ceilings, trim, or wall junctions while keeping it razor-sharp and avoiding drips, can be a nerve-wracking experience that is anything but fun.

Paint edgers offer the tantalizing promise of crisp paint edges rendered not with the cutting-in technique or with paint masking but with a neat tool that does the edge for you. Why are these other edging techniques so frustrating, and how does this all fit into the paint edger puzzle?

Paint Edgers vs. Cutting-In and Masking Techniques

Professional painters typically opt for the freehand cut-in technique when edging a room. Yet few do-it-yourself painters possess the experience to successfully use this technique to paint without slopping onto the other side. Masking off the unpainted side with painter's tape is another alternative. But masking is time-consuming, requiring as long as half an hour to mask a small room with one door and one window. If the room has complexities like crown molding and wall fixtures, taping time increases. Quality painter's tape, which can never be reused, is very expensive.

All paint edgers promise to eliminate the chaos of freehand painting. Paint edgers usually slide or roll and use the unpainted surface as a track to keep them in line. Paint edgers, being a specialty tool, can be expensive. But other than replacement pads or roller covers, this is a cost that remains static for as long as the tool remains in functioning condition. Contrast this with the cost of continuing to buy painter's tape on a never-ending basis. Also, painter's tape is not perfect. Bleed-through under the tape is common, and tape that appears to be straight when you apply it might actually have a slight curve to it.

What Makes a Good Paint Edger?

Paint edgers are standalone tools designed solely for the purpose of drawing straight lines along the edges of field (or main) areas. They completely eliminate cutting-in, painter's tape, and masking tape by allowing you to run paint directly alongside areas that you do not intend to paint.  

Paint edgers are typically used for wall painting, such as above baseboards, below crown molding, around window and door trim, and at the juncture between two walls, such as for accent walls.

Paint edgers come in two types: roller-style or pad-style. Roll-on edgers lay down the majority of the paint with a small flocked paint roller cover. Some include a metal or plastic shield to prevent paint from slopping over to the other side. Spread-on edgers employ a pad that spreads the paint across the surface. In some cases, paint may feed from a tube or the pad may need re-loading from the paint can.

No paint edger is perfect. Each paint edger comes with its own set of limitations and positives. Qualities to keep in mind when shopping for paint edgers:

  • Cost: Expensive paint edgers are especially expensive if you find out that you do not like the tool but it can no longer be returned. 
  • Replenishing: If a paint edger has a special roller or pad that is difficult to find or is very expensive, the overall cost of the edger skyrockets.
  • Leading Edge: What is the paint edger's edge-most point? For some edgers, it may be a small brush. For others, a metal or plastic guard. Other edgers may have no defined edge point other than the edger itself.
  • Movement: Paint edgers need to move. Roller-style edgers move with the least friction, but speed can be difficult to control. Pad-style edgers are easy to control, but the paint tends to smear.