Clean cut: painting neatly

Date:4 August 2012 Tags:

Q When I’m painting, I never can seem to get a clean line in the corners. I’ve tried masking tape and bought trim brushes. No matter what I do, it never comes out neat. What’s the trick?

A You need one of two things to cut a clean line: a steady hand or masking tape. If you use the latter, buy high-quality crepe painter’s tape (it’s usually coloured blue or green). The beige variety is cheaper and more readily available, but it’s all but impossible to get a crisp line with the stuff.

Using a clean, damp cloth, wipe down the surface where you are going to apply the tape. This removes dust that would prevent the tape from bonding; if the tape doesn’t bond, paint will get under it and you’ll be left with a messy line when you remove the tape.

Apply the tape to the edge, but take care not to stretch it as you press it into place. Finish by burnishing the tape on to the surface using a metal or plastic putty knife.

Spread the paint and let it dry to the touch before stripping the tape. If you’re really concerned about leaving a clean edge, carefully run a utility knife along the paint line to score it before removing the tape. Now gently pull the tape off the surface. If you hear a sharp ripping noise as the tape is coming off the wall, the ceiling or the trim, you’re moving too fast. Pull the tape firmly from the surface and angle it back at 45 degrees so it comes away in a shearing action.

The no-tape option is freehand-painting, or “cutting in”, a clean line. Buying a high-quality trim brush is a good start – but be sure that it’s the right brush. Most cutting in is done with one that’s about 5 cm wide (a brush that’s much wider or narrower is more difficult to control). Also, the brush should be appropriate for the paint you’re applying. A natural- or China-bristle brush works well with alkyd (oil) paint but goes limp in water-based paint, making cutting in a clean line impossible. Water-based paints call for a brush with synthetic bristles made of, say, nylon. Once you’ve got the right paint-brush pairing and you’re ready to cut in the line, dip only the bottom 2 cm of the bristles into the paint. Oversaturation with paint makes even the best brush tough to control.

Professional painters can adeptly pull or push a brush and get a razor-sharp line in a corner. Most of us amateurs, though, will probably have better results if we pull the brush toward ourselves, keeping a small bead of paint rolling along the edge of the brush as we move it along the corner.

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