How to Cut in Paint and Paint Clean Lines

How to Cut in Paint and Paint Clean LinesIf you want your room looking good, but don’t want to pay through the nose for it, some DIY painting could just do the trick. Many people are scared off by the prospect of “straight lines” and the mess one so often gets on the ceiling when painting the adjacent wall!

Even masking tape can leave those pesky masking tape leaks, and so we give in to our own doubts and pay out for a professional painter (to do a job that really could be done ourselves). In this guide we will outline the techniques required for you to get that professional look when painting clean lines and using a technique called “cutting in”.

Painting Tip

Avoid the use of a full can of paint. When holding a full can it won’t be long before your arm begins to ache, and repeatedly bending down to get paint gets tedious before long (especially if you are up a ladder). As an alternative, why not pour a few inches of paint into the bottom of a clean pot or buy a small paint kettle? (a plastic paint kettle will only set you back a couple of quid) This tip will save you both time and effort, and will improve the quality of your painting; remember that a tired arm is the main cause of a bad paint job!

Painting Clean Lines

It’s a good idea to try and develop a technique for painting straight lines in the absence of tape. There are numerous methods to do this, and different things work for different people.

If you absolutely have to use tape to get a clean line, there is a correct technique to its use. If you require a divide between two colours of paint on the same surface, then start by drawing a line in pencil at the intended divide. Paint the side with lighter of the two colours first, making sure to cross the line about an inch into the opposite colours side. After this layer dries place your tape on the wall. The tape needs to sit entirely on the already painted side of the line, with the edge of the tape along your intended dividing line. The tape will now be positioned with an entirely painted wall on one side, and with an inch strip of the same colour along the other side. Paint over the edge of the tape on the latter side with the colour you have already applied, taking care not to paint only this edge of the tape.

The paint will bleed under the tape, creating a tight seal when dry. After this layer has dried you can apply your darker colour, painting half way over the tape as well as the rest of the wall. Removal of the tape is done while this darker layer is still wet for best results. Leaving the tape until the paint has dried can cause tearing of the delicate surface; the last thing you need after all your hard work!

Cutting In technique

Cutting in can be a tricky technique to learn properly, but once you have learned it the right way you won’t be so daunted and will save you a fortune. Resist the temptation to cover with tape any surface you don’t want to paint. Capillary action will suck paint underneath the tape and exacerbate any mistakes you do make. Taping also takes time, and countless hours can be wasted smothering a surface in masking tape unnecessarily. Although it may take time to build confidence in your new found cutting in abilities, you are better to begin your learning curve the right way: without tape.

There’s lots to think about when cutting in – or it feels like it, but the most important thing before we think about the paint, your grip or anything is to recognise that it also depends what you’re painting.

If you’re painting a window frame and you want a clean line between the frame and the window, ensure the window is dry as sometimes there can be a little condensation on the glass and that can spoil things. Next, ensuring you have sanded the undercoat gently with a pretty smooth sandpaper (at least 200 grit), hold the brush like a pen and using only a little paint, imagine you are drawing a line along the point where the glass joins the wood. This means the brush will be perhaps at 45 deg to the glass. Some people will find it easier to draw the brush from right to left, others from left to right, but continue in the way you find most comfortable.

For the top of the frame (imagine above your head) lean back and apply the brush in the same way, but imagine you’re writing on the ceiling – you’ll get it in time, it will save you ages in unnecessary masking and you’ll get a better job.

If you’re painting a line on a wall, you’ll need to draw that line first of course and do so by taking a piece of string the length of the wall, rubbing it in chalk, holding it tight at both end of the line by tying one end to a nail and pulling it tight with one hand, then as if it were the string of a guitar, pull the string out from the wall and allow it to “twang” back – voila – a nice straight line.


You’ll also need a different kind of brush, one with long bristles; perhaps 5 cm long, but only slim – perhaps 1.5 cm. Don’t fill the brush with too much paint and if you can, practice on a piece of wood or painted plaster-board first, but imagine you were dragging the bristles of the brush along the line you want to paint, almost… leading the bristles by the handle with the handle some 45 degrees or less to the wall. You’ll find the long bristles form a straight painted line, which you can paint up to with a more traditional paint brush.

Often people query just how much paint to put on the brush when cutting in. Too much and you will drip paint messily onto your pristine surface, and too little will make it very difficult to paint anything at all. For best results start by dipping your brush in the paint pot and lightly brushing off the surface layer of paint only. Some recommend leaving the last half an inch of the surplus paint on the brush when cutting in to give slightly better overall coverage, but practice (and all that…)

Brush Grip and Stroke

Your grip of the brush is important. The paintbrush should be held like a pen, and swept sideways. It is tempting to put a broad line on the wall when cutting in. A much more professional look is achieved by making your cutting in strokes as thin as possible and as I said, covering the rest with a bigger brush or roller.

You will notice that when you perform your tight brush stroke in the next step that the wet paint will make your brush glide much more smoothly over the surface, thus giving you a better overall finish. The sash brush is an angled brush designed specifically for use in cutting in and you may find one useful for window frames. For just one wall a normal brush will do the trick, but if you are repainting a house it may be worth considering buying a sash brush. While the type of brush used is unlikely to make any difference to the finish you achieve, the comfort provided is well worth the investment if you are undertaking a big job.

Once you have mastered the art of painting clean lines and cutting in, you will have a perfectly painted house in no time. But remember that to be a true painter, taking frequent tea breaks is a must!

Blog image courtesy of Alan Cleaver at

avatar Name: Alexandra Eager
About: Formerly Finance and Operations Director of anmarketing agency. Now luckily semi-retired. Amateur interior design buff, constantly experimenting on my own home (much to the chargrins of hubby) and passionate about anything to do with home interiors and improvements. Wish my house was bigger!

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