The Sticky Secret to Painting Straight, Even Edges

You’ve spent time looking at paint swatches. You’ve hung your homemade poster board-sized samples on the wall, and then moved them to check your hue from various angles. You’ve spackled, sanded, and repaired. You’re armed with rollers and brushes and you’re ready to give your room new life with a fresh coat of paint. Right? Wait. There’s one more thing you need to do to paint like a pro: Tape. 

Let’s talk about this painter’s staple for a moment. A bit of magic, tape will ensure you get paint where you want it and not where you don’t. If you want clean, straight lines, you need to tape off your borders before you get started. 

The right stuff

Don’t rack your brain trying to figure out what you have at home already that might sub for the roll of tape in the paint department. If you don’t have a roll of this specific stuff, you’re going to need to buy one (or more). Painter’s tape is low-tack, which means it will go on and peel off without leaving sticky residue on your walls and trim. It also won’t pull away the finish you wish to keep. There are different tapes suited for specific surfaces. Read the label or ask the paint shop staff for help in selecting the right roll for your job. For example, you’ll find tape designed for multi-purpose use, as well as tape specifically designed with delicate walls in mind (think fresh dry wall or newly painted). To get off on the right foot, pick the tape that’s best suited for your job. 

Prep the wall

Before you stick the tape anywhere, take a damp sponge and wipe down the wall and trim. Let the surface dry before you proceed. The best painted walls start off clean, dry, and dust-free. 

Go long

You may think it’s more manageable to pull off several inches of tape and apply it to the surface you wish to protect. Not necessarily. Every juncture point is an open invitation for paint to seep through. On the other hand, you don’t want to peel off a huge swath of tape all at once. Work with 1 to 2 foot sections at a time. Be sure to overlap your tape segments to limit the aforementioned invite to seep. Don’t go too long, however. Pulling off large sheets can create sticky tangles and ineffective, overstretched tape that won’t lie properly. This would invite paint to bleed past your tape border as well.

Smooth it out

The goal of taping is a clean, sharp line. Make sure the tape lies flat at your border line. Press it down with your fingertip or a putty knife to secure the edges. 

Base coat it

To really seal the deal, use your brush to lightly paint a thin strip of your primer or wall color along the edge of your tape. 

Take it off

If you wait for your paint to fully dry to remove your tape, the paint may chip and create uneven lines. Start pulling your tape off when you put your brush down from the last swipe of color. Pull down and away gently at a 45- degree angle. If the tape isn’t peeling back cleanly, adjust your angle to 90 degrees and enlist the help of a sharp tool to cut (or score) the layer of paint between the finished wall and the tape you’re pulling away.

by Anjie Cho