The Tao of Painting Straight Lines

It can be challenging to paint straight lines, but it's key to a neat, professional-looking paint job. Luckily you have blue tape, expert advice and the unifying flow of Taoism to help you with perfect straight lines.

Blue painters tape is your friend
Regular beige masking tape just won't cut it. Blue tape is key to getting crisp lines when painting. Properly applied, it will not allow paint to bleed through and it won't pull old paint up.


  • Make sure you are applying the tape to a clean, dry surface.

  • Be diligent in pressing and smoothing it down.

  • Wait a day to remove it; doing so too early will pull the fresh paint away.

  • When you remove it, slowly pull it back, don't just rip it off in a hurry.

Taping trim for straight lines
If you are painting both walls and trim, do it this way:

  1. Paint the trim first. You can go back and touch it up later if you need to.

  2. Let it dry for a day or so.

  3. Carefully apply blue tape along all the edges.

  4. Cut in and paint your walls.

Taping the ceiling for straight lines

  1. Paint your ceiling.

  2. Wait a day and apply your tape. Make sure to use tape that's wide enough to protect the ceiling from roller bumps, or be sure to have touch-up ceiling paint on hand.

The Tao of painting straight lines without tape
I rarely use tape except along baseboards sometimes. I become one with my brush and paint and allow them to find the line naturally. Nothing is forced, it just flows organically. That's the Tao of painting. It works with practice, and that's how professional painters do it.


  • Use an excellent brush. I cannot emphasize this enough.

  • Use the largest size brush you are comfortable with. Larger brushes carry more paint and you're less likely to get herky-jerky lines.

  • Thin the paint a little. It is much easier to work with.

  • Paint from your shoulders, not your elbow or wrist. Be bold. Be relaxed. Be Zen.

Straight-line problem solving
Here's how to paint along the top of a wall when the ceiling is textured or acoustic.

If you are painting both walls and ceiling, cut in the walls first. Once they're dry, you have a smooth surface to apply the tape to. Paint your ceiling, then finish the walls. If you are not painting the ceiling, use a sharp screwdriver or small putty knife to gently score a line along the juncture of wall and ceiling. Using Taoist painting principles, cut in the wall--the brush will find the scored line.

Painting straight lines on rough surfaces.
Apply your blue tape as carefully as you can. Say you are painting a red accent wall and the adjoining walls are tan. You have the tape applied along the edges over the tan paint. Now, using a little tan paint, brush along the tape. Let it dry. This "seals" the inevitable bleed-through you'll get with the red paint. Then paint your red wall. When you pull the tape, you should have a very nice line.

If you're painting a rough wall up against something smooth and unpainted, like cabinets or paneling, use clear acrylic varnish as your first sealing coat.

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