Giovanni Valle is a licensed architect and LEED-accredited professional and is certified by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB). He is the author and managing editor of various digital publications, including BuilderSpace, Your Own Architect, and Interiors Place.
Painted crown molding can give your room a lift and add a unique touch, but it’s not always an easy job. The goal is to make them look like they’re a part of the house’s architecture, not simple painted pieces of wood that have been nailed to the walls.
If you’re painting crown molding for the first time, it can be a bit challenging. Here are some suggestions from professionals to help you get started.
1. Prep The Molding
When you first receive the molding, go over it and fill any cracks or nail holes. When the filler is dry, sand the entire thing until everything’s smooth. You don’t want any defects because it’ll show up when you apply glossy paint.
If there are nail marks when you install the crown molding, you can sink the nails below the surface and fill it in with wood filler. Then, when it dries, you can go over the area with paint.
Best patching materials for trim:
- 3M Bondo Wood Filler
- Crawford’s spackle & wood putty
- Durham’s wood putty
Bondo and Durham fillers become hard and durable, so it’s ideal for large patching jobs, but it may be harder to sand if you apply a thick layer. Crawford’s spackle or wood putty is easy to work with and sands well. Most times, you put the putty into the holes and level it off with a putty knife.
2. Tape It Off
Prepping isn’t limited to the molding itself. You’ll also need to prep the ceiling and walls with tape. The masking tape will prevent paint transfer. It’ll also keep the edges crisp.
Many professionals use plastic sheeting along with tape to protect the walls, floors, and furniture. The plastic sheets can be attached to the tape. Or, you can purchase certain types of “pre-taped” sheets that are designed for painting. They come with tape or adhesives along the edge to make the process easier.
- Scotchblue Tape+Plastic– This product combines tape and plastic sheeting that will protect your wall or furniture against paint splatter. It’s easy to apply and has static cling to help it stay in one place.
3. Make Sure It’s Primed
If your crown molding is bare, you’ll want to prime it first before applying the first coat of paint. The primer acts as a sealant and bonding agent for the paint to adhere to the surface.
You’ll also have a better chance of obtaining a smooth finish if you apply paint over dried primer rather than bare wood. Don’t forget to sand the molding with fine-grit after the primer is dry.
4. Paint Before Installation
Some professionals will say, “don’t paint before you install,” while others will say, “painting before installation makes things easier.” So, which one is it? It really depends on the painting technique you choose.
- Hand-brushing method– it would be best to paint after you install the molding. That way, you can do everything while it’s in place. Make sure you feather the overpaint on the masking (tape or wall) as you go.
- Spray-painting method- You can do it indoors, but doing it outside would be practical. Painting indoors with a sprayer comes with some risks. Preparations would need to be made to ensure the paint won’t get on the ceiling or walls.
5. Use An Airless Sprayer
If you want to spray-paint your molding, go with an airless sprayer. You won’t have to thin your paint, and you can finish the job faster. If you don’t have (or want to use) a ladder, you can add a spray gun extension. It will allow you to spray crown molding from a distance.
Best Spray Tip Sizes for crown molding:
- 210 (4-inch spray)
- 310 (6-inch spray)
- 410 (8-inch spray)
When you’re spraying the crown molding, spray it vertically in overlapping sections. You can start in a corner and work your way around. Spraying vertically avoids spitting paint onto the crown as you release the trigger. Instead, it’ll go onto the masking paper.
6. Use High-Quality Brushes
If you want to hand-brush your molding, don’t go with low-quality brushes. It will leave horrible streaks and marks in your finish. And you’ll end up continually fishing out brush bristles that fall out.
Using the wrong kind of tools can throw off the entire job (and make it frustrating). Go with the angled sash varnish or enamel brushes that have flagged tips and tapered edges. The angled Sash brushes have a sharper edge and can trace around corners, making it easier to work next to walls and ceilings.
These brushes can hold a lot of paint and leave a smooth finish with fewer brush strokes (You don’t want streaks of lines on your crown molding).
Best paintbrush brands:
Purdy brushes are a favorite among many painters. The bristles are soft enough that they lay the paint on smoother than other brushes. If you can’t find a Purdy brush, Corona and Wooster brushes are excellent choices.
7. Add Paint Extender
When the paint is thick or dries rapidly, it can be harder to apply a mark-free smooth finish. A paint extender will thin out the paint and make it easier to use. It’ll also extend the drying time.
Best paint extender:
- Floetrol- This brand is recommended by many professionals because it eliminates brush and roller marks, leaving behind a smooth finish.
Follow the instructions and add the paint extender to the paint and mix well. You should see a difference in the consistency and texture when you apply it to the molding. You may have to do more than two coats for full coverage.
8. Caulk It Good
Caulking can be one of the most critical steps when it comes to painting crown molding. If you do an excellent job caulking, you’ll end up with straight lines against your crown. Use caulk to fill in every seam and check for any gaps around the corners.
Don’t forget to go over the caulk with a damp rag and press it in as you wipe it. This will get rid of any excess caulk and make sure every seam looks even and crisp. Some people go over the seams once more with their finger or scraper to ensure all the excess has been removed.
What Not To Do
There are some common mistakes people make when it comes to painting crown molding. Here are some examples of things that may ruin your crown molding.
Don’t Go Too Dark With Two Colors
White crown molding is a popular choice, but some people prefer to use two colors. The contrast adds an element to the overall look. Try to keep your color choices on the lighter side for the best results. If you want to go dark, then stick to one color.
Don’t Be a Cheapskate
The quickest way to ruin a crown molding painting job is by going with cheaper brushes and cheaper paint. If you want a successful crown molding installation, then shell out some bucks and get high-quality paint and equipment. The end results will be worth it.
Don’t Use Rapid-Drying Paint
If you notice that the paint is drying at a fast rate, add paint extender. Seriously. Some people think that fast-drying paint is an ideal choice because it means the job is finished faster.
The truth is, it will leave behind horrid paintbrush streaks and marks. Once your paint is dry, you can’t go back over it and smooth it out. Instead, you’d have to sand it and do it again. Thinner paint that takes longer to dry has a smoother finish because it can settle before drying.
Don’t Take Shortcuts
Take your time to do the job right. Taking shortcuts may seem like a good idea, but it can lead to bad results. For example, avoiding taping edges off because it can be time-consuming may lead to uneven edges if your hand is not steady enough.
Don’t Paint The Walls After Trim Installation
If you’re going to paint the ceiling or walls around the same time you’re installing crown molding, paint them first.
The last thing you want is to create perfect crisp lines around your crown molding, then ruin it by applying wall color around it. Besides, you would have to tape it twice. It would be easier to get the color on the wall first, and then add molding on top of it.
There is an exception. If the molding is already installed, and you want to change the wall color, you can tape around the molding and proceed with the color change.
Priming and Painting Crown Molding
First things first, let’s talk about paint. When you purchase crown molding, consider getting a factory-primed crown molding, so you don’t have to prime it again before painting. This will cut your work in half.
However, if you are painting brown molding, that means it didn’t come primed. So, you will need to apply a primer. Stained wood will also need cleaning and sanding, so the paint bonds to the surface better.
The general rule of thumb is to apply two coats. That means two coats of primer and paint. That way, the entire molding is evenly covered.
What Types Of Paint Should You Use On Crown Molding?
Semi-gloss and high-gloss paint is ideal for crown molding because it makes each detail shine.
Paint with a shiny sheen is easier to maintain than flat or eggshell paint, allowing for light reflection. It also gives the molding a sense of elegance. If you don’t want to deal with glares or a bright light reflection, you can go with satin.
Self-leveling enamel is a favorite among many professionals because the paint smooths itself out. The end result is a finish with minimal marks.
Make sure you purchase high-quality paint. It will ensure your crown molding looks its best. The usual recommendation is to start with a primer first (if your molding is not primed already). After it’s primed, you can add two coats of paint.
Primer paint options:
- Latex Bonding Primer
- White shellac-based
Oil-based and shellac-based primers are ideal choices for regular and brown stained molding. These products act as a surface sealer and set the stage for painting trim and molding.
Latex primer shouldn’t be used on unpainted crown moldings, like raw pine or oak. It can cause a tannin bleed, which looks like a yellow film. If you’re going to use a latex primer on a painted molding, make sure it’s a bonding primer.
Does Crown Molding Come Painted?
Yes. There are crown moldings that are considered “complete,” which means they’re already painted. However, it may cost a bit more money, and the color choices may be limited.
Most pre-painted moldings have a specially formulated paint that prevents scratches and scuffs. It also leaves a smooth, crisp factory finish. These moldings are ideal for high-traffic areas.
Some of them come with a touch-up kit that will provide everything you need to touch up after installation. For instance, caulk, putty, and paint that have already been color-matched.
Pre-painted crown moldings can be great because:
- Saves time
- Less work & mess
- Don’t need painting experience
How Much Does It Cost To Paint Crown Molding?
If you’re wondering how much it costs to paint crown molding, you’re not alone. The price can range from a low number to a very high number. It depends on several things.
For example, renting equipment (like a high-quality sprayer) may be cheaper than purchasing one. It’ll run you around $40-$120 a day. The price is based on where you get it and which type of sprayer you choose.
Hand-brushing crown molding will reduce the cost even further. For example, this is how it may cost to hand-paint crown molding:
- Crown molding materials– approximately $200-$300
- Primer- $30-$40
- Trim paint– $60-$70
- Floetrol (paint extender)- $7.00
Altogether painting your crown molding may run you around $300-$500. If you want to purchase pre-painted or customized crown molding, then expect the price to be higher.
What Color Should You Pick For Your Molding?
Now that we’ve gone over how to paint crown molding, and what paint is needed, let’s talk about color. It can uplift an entire room or make a statement, depending on which color you choose.
White works well for most decor styles. It goes great with white walls or colored walls. If the walls are colored, then the white molding stands out and offers a sense of uniformity. Many people see it as a no-fail option.
White molding is also a great choice for toning down strong colored walls. Or, you can pair it with a neutral wall color for a subtle effect.
It may seem traditional, but neutral trim can add a sophisticated appeal to any room. Neutral colors also work well with colored ceilings; it creates a sense of balance. You can add modern furniture to incorporate warmth and character.
Neutral molding is an ideal choice for older homes. It can also be used to add an authentic heritage feel.
Bright colors can add a wild and electric look by sprinkling a pop of color in each room. It’s a good way to add personality (and maybe a bit of excitement) without a full wall treatment. You can accessorize by adding matching throw pillows.
Bold colors are popular in modern home settings. It’s also helpful if you want to incorporate a particular color in small areas.
Some people like to go dark to create a high contrast effect. It can be highly effective when done right. If you want to go dark, stick with one color, and consider the wall color. A good example would be black molding with white walls. Or dark blue molding with light blue walls.
Keep in mind that extremely dark colors can mute details in the crown molding and make it appear flat. So, it may be a good idea to go with a simple crown molding trim.
Wood trim can be rustic or modern; it depends on the wood’s tone and how you decorate the rest of the room. Wood stained moldings are popular because they add a sense of texture and warmth. It also allows people to bring a bit of nature indoors.
There are different options for wood molding, it can be stained to match any wood flooring in the house, or it can vary in tone. You can combine dark trim with light wood floorings, and it will still coordinate beautifully. Wood trim works great with colored walls as well. It’s another no-fail option (besides white molding).
Painting crown molding can be challenging at times, but if done right, it can drastically change the feel of a room. The important thing to remember is to take your time to do the job right. Prep the molding well, purchase high-quality equipment, and choose a painting method you are comfortable with. If you are still unsure about your painting abilities, you can buy pre-painted crown moldings.
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