Is Paint Taping or Cutting in the Best Way to Paint Edges?

Painter Cutting In Wall

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Painting alongside an edge that doesn't need paint can be a nerve-wracking experience. If you happen to slop paint onto the other side, cleaning up the paint with no evidence left behind is tough to do. The best thing is to meticulously create a paint line while avoiding even as much as a single smear of paint. But how do you do this?

In the absence of miracle solutions, do-it-yourselfers have two methods that have been around for ages: either painting by hand, a practice known as cutting in, or taping off those excluded areas with painter's masking tape. Which one takes longer to do? And which one gives you the best results?

Painter's Tape vs. Cutting In

  • Painter's Tape: Low-tack painter's tape removes with no sticky residue and is the only kind of tape you should use. Apply painter's tape to the excluded area, with one edge of the tape positioned exactly on the dividing line. Paint lightly on top of the tape. Remove the tape after the paint has thoroughly dried.
  • Cutting In: Favored by professional painters, the cut in method is pure freehand painting. No tape is used. Metal masking guards are not used, either. Using a 3-inch sash brush and a special cut bucket, a small paint can without a lip, you draw wide sweeps of paint close to but not touching the excluded area. 

Which Method Is Best?

On the whole, it is recommended that most do-it-yourselfers use painter's masking tape over cutting in. The masking tape method loads you up with more work on the front end, but less aggravation and mess on the back end. Just make sure that when you apply the tape, you press it firmly down onto the surface with your fingernail to prevent paint seepage.

As an added benefit to the masking method, when you use 2-inch or wider painter's tape, you protect excluded areas from paint rollers, as well. Two inches is approximately the width of the zone where your paint roller might accidentally touch.

The best type of tape to use for masking off walls is low-tack painter's tape, usually identified by a brand-specific color: blue for Scotch Brand and green for Frog Tape, for example. Do not use tan or buff colored masking tape, as this type is difficult to remove.

When to Use the Cut-In Method

As long as the wall is flat, there are some spots where cutting in may yield results comparable to the painter's tape method:

  • Anything that is 3 inches or less can be cut in relatively cleanly, even by amateur painters. This is just a quick swipe, and shaky hand-work typically will not show up.
  • If the excluded area is glossy and will not stain from the paint pigment, you can accidentally slop over into that area and still wipe it relatively clean. In fact, one technique for painting mullioned windows is to paint the mullion, not even trying to avoid the glass on either side. Then, with a rag, you can wipe the glass clean. Even if the paint dries, it will peel off with a fingernail or razor. Sealed hardwood flooring can tolerate a minimal amount of paint slop, too. Paint can be removed from vinyl window frames if allowed to dry into thick puddles or specks.

How Efficient Are Paint Edgers?

Paint edging tools rarely are the ultimate solution that many do-it-yourselfers believe they will be. Paint pads, a rudimentary and inexpensive type of paint edger, only smear the paint. More costly edgers like the Accubrush are better in the sense that the smear line is thinner than with pads. In the end, you may find that you get cleaner results and sharper lines with either the masking method or the cutting in method.

Areas to Exclude From Painting

Use either the masking or cutting in method in conjunction with any anything in a room that is not easily removable and which does not get painted. Typically, this is the trim around doors and windows, ceilings, and baseboards. Whenever painting an accent wall, adjoining walls will be excluded from painting.

It is always best to remove items rather than masking them off or cutting around them. Some items that can be removed with moderate ease: sconce lights, thermostat boxes, curtain fixtures, light switch plates, and outlet plates. Take doors off their hinges by knocking out the pins. Unscrew hinges from the door frames rather than trying to paint around them.