How to Paint Perfectly Crisp and Straight Lines on Walls

After this post, some of you emailed for tips on painting really crisp and straight lines on walls. I have a simple approach, but it works every time for me! One little disclaimer though - stripes don't work well on highly textured walls. The lines just never look perfect, which would bug me a bit. So, best to attempt stripes only if you have smooth or close to smooth walls.
(Oooh! An update from the comments section: If you have textured walls, use caulking to seal the tape and you lines will be straight!!) 
To start, use a ruler to make your registration marks. My stripes are 8" wide, so I made a little mark with a pencil 8" above the floor board, every 18" or so around the wall of the closet, making sure to mark at the corners and turns especially. Then just measure and mark 8" above every one of those marks, going all the way up the wall.

Then use painters tape to connect the marks. Try hard to not bend the tape. If you pull the tape out gently and straight, you can trust that your lines will also be straight.

You can see here that the stripes don't look evenly spaced (because they're not). You'll need to tape above the registration mark and then below the registration mark to block out the full 8" for the stripe.

Then go back over the tape with your thumb and really smooth out and lay down the tape, just on the edges you'll be painting.

Here's the real trick for perfectly crisp lines: seal the edges of the painters tape with some of the base wall color before painting on the contrasting color. Don't paint the whole width of the tape. Just a bit along the edge of the tape on the side where the stripe will be painted.

Let that dry before you paint on the stripe color.

For my stripe color, I wanted to do a gray that sort of coordinated with the gray I just painted in my powder bath, since the doors are across the hall, only about three feet apart from each other. I didn't want to do the exact same color and I wanted something much lighter, so I mixed about one part BM Chelsea Gray with two parts White Dove.

You can roll or brush on the stripe color, and then I like to pull the tape off while the paint is still wet. I don't think it matters either way though, if you prefer waiting til it's dry. (#impatient)

Check out those lines! Not a bit of paint bled through because that extra little strep of sealing the edges with the base coat paint. I've used all brands of painters tape before too, and none of them give me the same results without doing the sealing step.

It's one of those completely satisfying projects that moves pretty fast. I busted out this closet in about two hours.

PS Some of you asked about the citron boxes I have on the shelf here. They're shoe boxes from Crewcuts! Ha! J. Crew is having an additional 40% off sale items plus free shipping, so how could I resist picking up some new spring kicks for the girls? The cute, sturdy boxes were a little bonus though, for sure. :)


Bec said...

Thanks for the tutorial. Your stripes look super crisp. I will certainly be using your method in the future. And once again, I love that you implemented gorgeous design that was crazy cheap and doable. You're a rock star. :) Thanks for the inspiration.

Daniel Perry said...

A tip for crisp lines on textured walls: caulking! You just rubbed it onto the edge of the tape. It seals the tape and then you just paint over the caulking. The trick is to rub it in so there isn't a thick layer of caulking. Love everything you do!


Angela said...

This is exactly what I do too even on lightly textured walls. Love your little peek a boo striped closet. I may have to incorporate some surprise stripes somewhere in my home. Maybe in the pantry. Hmmm So many possibilities.

M said...

Ah! This is brilliant - sealing with a base coat first! I've been wanting to do stripes on one wall of my entry way for some pizazz, but was way too intimidated about having the "bleeding"/uneven lines. Thank you thank you thank you!! :)

MARISA {Vinyasa Mama} said...

As always, you are amazing! I painted stripes in our powder bath last year and wish I'd thought to do the first sealer coat. It's so defeating to go through the process of measuring out the stripes, taping the walls and then painting only to take the tape off and have less then crisp lines! Definitely using your method next time - thanks, jenny!!

Stephanie De Groot said...

You did a very nice job !! so many things to do to make your home nicer :) like my new chair Stoel ridge rib

Maggie Pearson said...

You are a genius!

marymary said...

Is there a code for the additional 40% off at J. Crew?

Amy said...

I always wondered why this didn't work for me. It's because I didn't know about the sealing step. My paint always bled through. Thank you! Now I know!

Mary said...

That closet looks so great! Glad to have a go to trick for some crisp lines next time I'm painting.

Laurie Swartz said...

Thank you for the tutorial. I knew you must have a secret weapon to tackle such a project to perfection.

Andsetinn said...

If you start by painting over the tape with white paint then the white paint bleeds under the tape. If you then paint with the coloured paint, the coloured paint will not bleed.

SpruceAustin said...

Great tip! I stink at painting so my next project will certainly be better than the last. Thanks!

kumi said...

If you don't mind- I have two quick questions that I wondered about since I read this post:

1. How long did you wait for the original white painted walls to cure or dry prior to taping them? I want to avoid having the tape pull up the original paint, when it is pulled off.

2. Another time related question, how long did you wait before for the seal coat over the stripes to dry/cure before painting over it with the final color?

Thanks- your site is super helpful.

gustoandgrace said...

Thanks for the tips! I'm determined to get stripes painted on my textered laundy room walls! Hoping this sealing trick will minimize necessary touch ups!

Unknown said...

How to pull the tape while while the paint is wet has always stumped me. I have to do 2 coats, I don't think one coat paint exists except maybe where the unicorns live. And of course at least the first coat has to dry!
Your home is lovely!

Caroline Inge said...

Hi Jenny!

I'd love to pin this post to The Home Depot All About Paint pinboard. This is just a great tip for painting stripes!

Senior Editor, The Home Depot


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