A paint edger is a specialty tool that is designed (in theory) to make it easy to "cut in" paint along trim moldings and along the joints between walls and ceilings. Paint edgers are typically used for wall painting, such as above baseboards, below the crown molding, around window and door trim, and at the juncture between two walls, such as for accent walls.
Paint edgers are rarely used by pros, who are generally quite skilled at cutting in the paint with a trim brush. But for many DIYers, edging work—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 with a neat tool without the need for painter's tape.
What Is a Paint Edger?
Paint edgers are specialty tools that come in two basic styles: small paint pads or small paint rollers with specially designed handles that run along the adjacent surfaces to prevent paint from encroaching on wood trim or an adjoining ceiling surface. Many types have small rotating wheels designed to run smoothly along the adjoining surface while keeping the paint applicator a tiny distance away from the surface to be protected. These tools offer an alternative to masking off adjoining surfaces with painter's tape or careful freehand "cutting in" with a trim brush.
Two Types of Paint Edgers
No paint edger is perfect. Each paint edger comes with its own set of limitations and advantages, and much of your success with the paint edger is a matter of matching your skills and working style to the paint edger. Paint edgers come in two types: roller-style edgers and pad-style edgers.
Pad-Style Paint Edgers
Cheaper 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 or paint tray. Spreader paint edgers are usually the least expensive type of paint edger; some costing less than $10.
Spreader-style edgers paint quickly, but they can tend to smear the paint. Lines are inevitable, although these lines can be painted over with subsequent runs with the edger or with a brush.
Roller-Type Paint Edgers
Roller-type edgers apply paint with a narrow paint roller cover. Some brands include a metal or plastic shield to prevent the paint from slopping over to the other side. Accubrush MX and XT are two of the most popular roller-style paint edgers. While expensive, Accubrush paint edgers generally do a better job than pad-style edgers. These types have a small edging brush that mounts onto the handle to carefully smooth paint along the edges after the roller does the main application.
Roller-type edgers produce precise results, but they are slower to use and require more meticulous set-up and cleanup.
Paint Edgers vs. Painter's Tape
The other popular technique for cutting in paint is to cover trim moldings or adjoining wall surfaces with painter's tape to protect them against accidentally slopping paint onto them. Many DIYers rely on the painter's tape method, and it can be fairly effective once you master the technique. Some DIYers who experiment with paint edgers give them up and go back to painter's tape. Paint edgers can be somewhat sloppy to use, and some DIYers find them more trouble than they are worth.
But the reality is that many professionals, as well as many skilled DIYers, avoid either method, instead relying on their ability to cut-in by hand. In the hands of a skilled painter, freehand cutting in creates a more professional look than either of the other two methods. But this requires patience and considerable skill with a brush, which not all DIYers can master.
Rarely used by pros
Can be messy
Offers the quickest alternative
Results can be imperfect
Sometimes used by pros
Relatively simple to use, but somewhat time-consuming
Results are not always perfect
How to Use a Paint Edger
The traditional method of painting a room is to do the trim moldings first, then cut in the walls with an edger or trim brush, then do "the field" last.
Many of the basic principles of wall painting also apply to using a paint edger. In particular, it's important to "keep a wet edge"—avoid lapping paint onto a surface where new paint has already dried. Doing so can leave you with visible lap marks that will be glaringly obvious. As you apply paint along a baseboard or other edge. apply the paint from a wet area onto to dry area. This will reduce the risk of lap marks.
Prepare the Edging Tool
Read the tool directions carefully and assemble it as directed. Roller-type edgers are often a bit more complicated, sometimes requiring that you mount a small brush on the handle after attaching the roller cover.
Loading the Paint
As with traditional brush or roller painting, it's important to load the edging pad or roller adequately but to avoid overloading paint, which can lead to a messy, hard-to-control application. Pour the paint into a standard roller tray, and use this to saturate the edging roller or pad. The paint should not drip off the applicator when you lift it away from the tray.
Starting at one edge of the line to be painted, draw the paint edger along the boundary, holding the edge of the tool tight against the molding or adjoining wall surface. It may take a couple of passes with the tool to apply an even coat of paint.
Immediately reload the applicator, then continue the edging line. The best technique is to start subsequent passes in the still-damp paint, drawing the fresh paint from the damp area into the dry area of the wall. This is known as "keeping a wet edge" and it will minimize the visible lap marks on your wall. It's best to complete a full line of work rather than take any breaks while painting.
Inspect and Touch Up
As you complete a line of edging work, inspect the paint application, and if necessary, smooth over any sags, drips, or bare areas with a trim brush. It's quite normal to miss some spots, and even practiced painters find some touch-up work necessary.
Recoat Where Necessary
As with standard roller painting, it's common to need a second coat of paint, especially when a wall color is changing dramatically. It's best to paint the entire wall—including the field—and let the entire coat dry completely before going back and beginning with a second coat on the cut-in lines.
Keeping Your Paint Edger Clean
As with any painting tool, thoroughly cleaning your edger after each use is the key to keeping it functional for a long time. Any amount of dried paint that builds up on the handle or edging surface will quickly spoil your painting results.
Clean your paint edger diligently with soap and water after each use. With roller-type edgers, some people like to clean the roller covers to reuse them, while others prefer to discard the covers and start each new application with a fresh roller cover. Unless you are very thorough when cleaning a roller cover, results are usually best if you use a fresh roller cover each time.