Trim Paint Basics and Buying Guide

Even though interior trim doesn't cover much space compared to walls or ceilings, it's a small thing that really calls big attention to itself.  Window sills are where you place your morning cup of coffee; door casing you pass a million times a day as you go from room to room.  It's usually close-up and closely examined, and that's just the visual aspect of it.  It also has to perform.  Have a dog?  Then you'll know that they love to stand on hind legs--front paws on the...MORE sill--to check outside activity.  If you have kids, you'll know that door trim gets bumped all the time.

Painting trim with regular flat interior wall paint, then, would be a disaster.  That's why there are special paints you should buy for these critical surfaces. 

  • 01 of 05

    What Is Trim Paint?

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    Sometimes paint companies helpfully title it "trim paint," but usually not.  That's because, like so many other types of niche products like ceiling paint, it's a formulation that, due to its properties, could work in a number of places.  The only reason why it might be labeled "trim paint" is to make it easier for consumers to identify.

    Trim paint falls within the category of interior paint, with a gloss of satin, semi-gloss, gloss or high gloss.  In the paint's...MORE specifications, companies may say that the paint is suitable for trim, cabinets, doors, furniture, and windows.

    Trim paint usually comes pre-tinted in bright white and in base colors that can be custom-tinted.

  • 02 of 05

    Its Top Properties

    1. Brush Marks:  Nobody likes seeing brush marks on their trim.  By its very nature, oil-based paint helps to level out brush strokes (it's longer drying times help the paint settle). 
    2. Gloss:  Gloss is an important feature in the trim paint.  Glossier paints have a tighter molecular structure, meaning smaller pores for dirt and other debris to work into it.  Thus, there is no flat or matte trim paint.  Trim paint finish glosses are:  satin, semi-gloss, gloss and high gloss.
    3. Sag Resistance...MORE Paint sags don't happen as readily when the paint is thinner and can be rolled on.  But the brush-painting--your method of paint application for trim--means that big globs of paint may develop and sag before drying.  Thicker consistencies of paint help prevent sagging.
    4. Non-Yellowing:  Most trim gets painted white.  Window trim, in particular, gets blasted with the sun, which can yellow the paint.  That's why many paint companies advertise non-yellowing properties with their pre-tinted white trim paint.
  • 03 of 05

    Types: Oil and Acrylic/Latex

    Trim paint comes in two main varieties:

    1. Alkyd/Oil Based: Oil-based trim paint gives superior, glass-like finishes, with minimal-to-zero brush marks, but at the cost of slow drying times, fumes, and solvent-based clean-up requirements.  Because of its thick consistency, it's good at filling in minor holes.  Due to laws passed beginning around 2000, many localities now ban oil-based paints in sizes above quarts.  Only use a brush with natural bristles, as the oil formula will affect synthetic...MORE bristles.
    2. Acrylic Latex or Enamel: Water-based paint with a good finish and minimal brush marks, but not nearly as good as oil-based paint's properties.  Easy clean up with soap and water.  Use synthetic or natural bristle brush.
  • 04 of 05


    • Behr:  Premium Plus Ultra Interior Semi-Gloss.  Enamel.  Soap and water clean-up.
    • Benjamin Moore:  Regal Classic Premium Interior Paint - Semi-Gloss Finish.  100% acrylic resin.  Soap and water clean up.
    • Dutch Boy:  Cabinet & Trim Interior Gloss Paint.  Enamel. 
    • Glidden:  Trim and Door Paint.  High Gloss.  Oil-based.  Solvent clean-up.
    • Olympic:  ICON Interior/Exterior.  High Gloss.  Soap and water clean up.
    • Sherwin-Williams:  ProClassic Acrylic Latex.  Soap and water clean-up.
    • Valspar:  Ultra...MORE Paint + Primer.  Acrylic latex.  Soap and water clean up.
    Continue to 5 of 5 below.
  • 05 of 05


    Q:  Which is better--the water-soluble or oil-based paints?

    When you want the absolutely best-looking finish, even at the cost of time and your convenience, I'd say to go with the oil-based paint.  If you have any aversion to the painting process, then go for the water-soluble paints.

    Q:  How much should I buy?

    While it depends on whether you're painting just a room's worth of trim or the whole house, it's likely less than you think.  Most people buy just a quart or a gallon of trim...MORE paint, rather than the many gallons required when painting room walls.  One quart will cover two doors, 150 feet of long/narrow trim such as crown molding or baseboards, or 50 feet of stair railings.

    Q:  Which type of gloss to buy?

    Many homeowners are averse to the idea of glossy items in their home.  This is one area where you might want to compromise a bit because you're only making more work for yourself as you go for the flatter finishes. Semi-gloss is the classic trim finish, and it works in a variety of applications.