Clever Ways to Avoid All That Labor-Intensive Taping Before You Paint

published Aug 9, 2019
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Credit: Viv Yapp

For a lot of people, it’s just assumed that when you paint a room, you pick up a few rolls of blue painter’s tape while you’re buying your gallon of color. However, while it promises clean lines, painter’s tape can come with issues like bleed through and paint peeling when you take it off. And, of course, there’s the time requirement: It takes forever to apply.

Growing up in a construction family, I’ve seen quite a few painters at work. Among the pros, it seems like it’s much more common to not use tape because they can freehand it beautifully. That sounds scary, but there have been a few times—like when I was painting all three flats in a triplex and was just over it—that I skipped the tape. I had to be a little more careful, but it looked totally fine in the end. 

Especially in older houses (read: homes with wavy walls or otherwise crooked surfaces), some people find tape to be more problematic than helpful. Here are some clever ways you can skip the time-consuming and tedious job of taping, courtesy of an expert: my own painter, Sam Ross of Nailed It Contracting in Louisville, Kentucky. 

Invest in the right brush

Purchase a good brush with the money you’re saving on tape. Ross’s go-to is Wooster, specifically the Alpha. For the careful work needed when you’re cutting in—which is the process of painting the section nearest the ceiling or trim or wherever your stopping point is—he recommends a 2 1/2-inch angled brush. And for getting into a super tight spot, like a weird triangle along a stairway or that half inch between the door casing and the corner, “we bust out an artist’s brush if we have to,” he says. 

Credit: kitzcorner/Getty Images

Proceed with care

Remember all of that time you saved by not taping? Use some of it when you’re painting, and move as slowly as necessary, Ross says. To get started, “get a comfy grip, start off about an inch from where your cutting line is, and work your way gradually over,” he says. “Go nice and slow, almost like you’re dragging your hand across. Keep it as straight as you can, as slow as you need. Go until the paint starts to thin out, where it’s not filling in as well.” 

When you reach that point, don’t just yank the brush off the wall, he warns. Reverse course and literally repaint in the opposite direction for about an inch before pulling your brush away from the surface you’re painting. 

After that, he says, “Look at the line. If there are any weak spots, do the same thing, but going the other way to fill in.” You may want to switch to your nondominant hand for that step. 

Then repeat! And this is no time for short, little brush strokes—make each stroke as long as you can, Ross says. “A paint brush can hold a lot if you get a good, high-quality paint brush, so you should be able to move a couple feet at a time.”

Grab a screwdriver

Did you really want to tape around every single switch plate or outlet in your house? That would probably be a no, and there’s an easy solution. “It’ll save you a ton of time to just get a screwdriver, take off your switch plate, and a day later, when you’re done, put them back on,” Ross says. Paint right up to the switch or outlet; when the plate goes back on, no one will be able to tell the difference. Also, a tip: When you remove all of the plates and tiny screws, stash them together in a Ziploc bag so you don’t lose anything. 

Just fix it afterward

If you’re painting something like muntins—those little strips that divide your window into grids—it’s almost impossible to tape them well. And the thing is, paint won’t really stick to the glass anyway. “It’ll scrape off even years later because it’s not going to adhere that well,” Ross says. “Don’t worry about it at all. Just let it dry and come back in a couple hours with a rag or putty knife and scrape it off.” 

If we’re talking trim, like baseboards, you can fix ‘oops’ moments if you catch them in time, he says: “Take a 2-inch putty knife with a rag over it—you may have to wet it—and clean your line back up.” It may even be as easy as scraping the paint off with your fingernail.