3 Different Methods for How to Cut-in a Ceiling

The quality of your cutting-in can easily make or break an otherwise top-notch painting job.

Also referred to as trimming-in, the term relates to the process of painting a thin strip next to trim, molding, transitions between walls and ceilings, and any other area that is too tight for a paint roller to reach.

The goal is to create a smooth transition, especially if the colors are different, so that the rest of the paint job is easy and the finished product looks professional.

Even though the task can feel overwhelming, especially to a beginner, it’s actually pretty easy to learn how to cut in a ceiling with just a little know-how and the right tools.

When you’re done with our guide, you’ll have the knowledge needed to cut in like a pro.

What You’ll Need

The tools and materials that you need to cut in a ceiling depend on the method you choose to use.

Though it’s not the easiest method, the method that produces the best results is to use an angled brush, so that’s what we’ll focus on first.

Here’s what you’ll need:

Don’t skimp on the quality of your paint brush – according to The Painted Surface, a high-quality paint brush results in a much better-looking finished product.

Method 1: Angled Brush  

The angled brush method of how to cut in a ceiling is the choice of professionals.

I’ll be honest – it does take a little practice, but you’re better off practicing and learning this technique than taking a shortcut. The results will speak for themselves.

Step I: Fill Container with Paint

Fill your container with paint. It’s important not to fill it with too much. You only need roughly one inch of paint for this step.

Step II: Load Brush with Paint

Dip the brush into the container. Don’t cover the entire brush with paint. You just need to cover about one third of the end of the brush.

Tap off any extra paint alongside the edge of the container. Then remove any more excess paint by painting a light downstroke on an as-of-yet unpainted wall away from the painting area.

Working with too much paint on the brush is one of the most common beginner mistakes.

Step III: Paint a Foot-Long Stroke

Everyone has a different approach to cutting in a ceiling.

What all experts can agree upon, however, is that you should start with foot-long strokes.

Paint a foot-long stroke on the ceiling right at the edge where it meets the wall. Stroke the paint in one direction before going back over it in the other direction.

Most experts, including The Family Handyman, recommend holding the paint brush with a pencil grip and using the narrow edge of the brush for cutting in a ceiling.

Step IV: Smooth Out Brush Marks

After you’ve created a foot-long stretch of paint with the narrow edge of your brush, use the wide edge of the brush to smooth out any brush marks.

Sweep the brush back and forth a few times as needed to create the smoothest appearance possible.

Step V: Repeat and Use Roller

Repeat steps three and four until you cover about three feet of the ceiling.

From here, you have several options. You can continue cutting in along the entire wall or even around the entire room.

An alternative is to cut in small three-foot sections of the ceiling and then use a roller over these areas to create a more seamless looking finish.

Working in three-foot sections at a time is often the best bet for beginners as it ensures you won’t let the paint dry before you go over it.

Method 2: Caulking the Transition

Using an angled brush to cut in a ceiling is the method of choice for professionals.

But there are a few other methods that can be easier for beginners to learn. One of these is caulking the transition.

The method consists of applying caulking with a caulking gun around the transition between the ceiling and the wall before painting.

Caulking the transition is the most time-consuming method by far but it can create some of the crispest results.

Step I: Apply Tape

Run a strip of painter’s tape along the wall about an 1/8 inch from the ceiling and a second strip along the ceiling about an 1/8 inch from the wall.

Step II: Run Caulk

Use your caulking gun to run a bead of caulk in the space between the two pieces of tape.

The bead of caulking should run around the entire length of the ceiling, essentially cutting it in.

Use a finger – wet it with a little water – to smooth the caulking. Don’t worry about it if it smears onto the tape.

Step III: Remove Tape and Paint

Peel off both pieces of tape from the wall immediately after smoothing out the calking. Now you can use a roller to finish painting the ceiling and walls.

Method 3: Ceiling Paint Tool  

A number of gadgets and devices have hit the market lately with the intention to make it easier for beginners to learn how to cut in a ceiling.

According to Gildan, this is one of the best is a ceiling paint tool.

All you have to do is load the pad up with paint and then line up the top of the device with the walls (keep the flat part on the ceiling).

Next, run it along the transition between the walls and the ceilings. It will create a perfect line of paint without brush marks.

Final Thoughts

There’s no denying that cutting in a ceiling can seem intimidating at first.

But it’s actually a simple project, even for beginners when you know what you’re doing and you use the right tools.

Once you’re doing with your interior painting job, check out these fun DIY painted furniture projects.

About Gus Donaldson

I built houses for over 30 years and recently retired. I've made lots of mistakes and hopefully teach you not to make the same ones. I still love to build and have a garage workshop that I use for hobby projects like the walnut bookshelf I made for my wife. I like to write and let people know that working with your hands and tools does not need to be intimidating.

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