Introduction: How to Paint Clean Lines

Picture of How to Paint Clean Lines

Have you ever tried to use masking tape for its intended purpose only to discover that, no matter how carefully you apply the tape, paint bleeds under it, ruining your efforts?

Making clean paint lines between two colors doesn't have to require a steady hand or special equipment. This technique is very simple and requires only paint, brushes and masking tape. This time, however, you will be controlling the bleeding paint and using it to create crisp lines that precisely follow the edge of the tape.

Step 1: First Color

Picture of First Color

Lay down the first color, extending past the area where the line will be. If you are using two layers per color, paint both layers.

Step 2: Taping

Picture of Taping

Once the paint is dry, place your masking tape. In this case, the bottom of the masking tape marks the location where the edge between the two colors will appear.

Step 3: Bleed Line

Picture of Bleed Line

Using the same color, paint along the tape edge. This seems strange but, there will always be some bleeding under the tape. By deliberately painting against the tape, you seal the edge with the first color, allowing it to bleed under the edge, so the second color can't do it. The edge of the tape becomes the edge of your line.

Make sure the lower edge of the paint feathers softly away so you won't see a thick edge of paint later on.

Step 4: Second Color

Picture of Second Color

When the bleed-under layer has dried, paint the second color. Make sure your paint overlaps the location of the tape line.

Step 5: The Reveal

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Remove the tape by pulling it at a 90 degree angle. Do this when the paint is wet, if possible.

Tah-dah! Crisp, clean paint lines!

(I hate adding a caveat but it seems warranted here: I haven't had any problems with the line when removing the tape after the second color has dried BUT other people I know have. It has to do with paint setting up and binding to itself. So, if you cannot pull the tape while it is still wet or at least soon after it dries, you might consider using a craft knife and a straight edge to score the line before pulling the tape.)


StumpChunkman (author)2010-06-08

We did this for a video shoot at HQ, and it turned out great! You can still see a little of the red coat underneath the black top layer, because we did a rush job and only applied one coat (it would have been see through with any other technique and only one coat too).

But even with the rush, the line came out really nice, straight and clean. Thank so much, it looks awesome!

Looks awesome. This gives me even more hope of this working for my son's car! :)

garling37 (author)2009-06-18

any good tips on getting the line straight from wall to ceiling I never get it straight i hate taping because one way or the other,when I take tape down and paint comes off either the wall or the ceiling I can't cut in straight and it drives me nuts.

Morganbarker (author)garling372010-03-01

 when you paint the wall color, stop JUST before you get to the ceiling.  if you stay within a 1/16" away from the true corner, it won't matter much if your line isn't perfectly straight.  the actual corner will create an optical illusion that makes the transition between wall and ceiling look straight and crisp.  I learned this trick going through my apprenticeship as a professional painter.  Obviously, the success of this trick is dependent on  a number of factors including the ceiling height, lighting, wall texture and the intensity in the color difference between wall and ceiling...(example where it may not work as well:  a room that gets a lot of sunlight, with low ceilings where the walls are a dark chocolate and the ceiling is stark white)  Your mileage may vary.

nehmo (author)Morganbarker2017-05-25

A 1/16 inch gap would be visible even if it's in a junction between the wall and the ceiling. Are you saying leave the very top of the wall unpainted?

garling37 (author)Morganbarker2010-06-02

thanks i will have to try that im moving into a new house and all rooms have to be painted and of corse will not want to brake out the art brushes to satifiy my anel retentive straight line between cieling and wall so thanks again

przemek (author)garling372009-06-25

The secret to straight lines is to stick on the beginning of the tape at one end of your run, unroll and stretch it taut, and bring it down to stick at the other end. It should stick lightly along the full length, so you'll need to press it down gently so that it adheres well along the entire run. If you try to unroll the tape and stick it on as you go down the run, the edge will wander around.

------ (author)przemek2010-06-02

Yep this is how I did it when I painted boats :)
It's kinda like the same method to pop a chalk line.

garling37 (author)przemek2009-06-25

thank you I will try that I hate the wave between the wall and the ceilings

finfan7 (author)garling372009-06-29

If the tape is taking the new paint off with it when you take it down you are waiting too long to remove it. If you remove it while the paint is wet it separates cleanly and as long as you are careful you won't get any paint on things you don't want to. If the tape is taking off the old paint you're using the wrong kind of tape.

cfedonczak (author)2016-10-30

Genius trick, filling the tape edge leakage with the color that you are masking.

Ccincalifornia (author)2016-08-18

Fabulous! Easy to understand and can't wait to try it on my black trim next to a white wall. Thank you

CraigS69 (author)2016-03-18

why not just use the brown then pull tape back? Doubling uo with the green first then brown seemed to np be an extra step!! What am I missing?

Looks as the brown covers all the lighter color either way!

KirkF8 (author)CraigS692016-08-08

this is old but I'll comment anyway.. by painted the tape edge green also you are controlling the paint that will bleed under the tape do to the texture of the surface and this fills in the tiny spaces with the same color. If you put brown on directly it would bleed in those tiny spaces and you will have a jagged line. So you're making a jagged line but of the exact same color and filling in the gaps, then when you paint the next color it doesn't bleed because the tiny gaps are already filled in so you get a nice crisp line... Cheers

kaystone (author)2015-01-14

I find it a little difficult to understand the instructions is they any video.

WeeRedBird (author)kaystone2015-04-24

You made the same reply four times. I don't think the problem is with the instrutions.

JenniferK6 (author)2015-03-24

wow! You just saved my plan to paint the panels of my raised panel doors a separate color. Trying to get a sharp line has seemed a bridge too far. No longer thanks!

kaystone (author)2015-01-14

I find it a little difficult to understand the instructions is they any video

starshipminivan (author)kaystone2015-01-14

Instructables produced a video of this which makes it very clear.

kaystone (author)2015-01-14

I find it a little difficult to understand the instructions is they any video.

kaystone (author)2015-01-14

I find it a little difficult to understand the instructions is they any video

zappenfusen (author)2014-07-20

An oldy but a goody!

marydecorator (author)2014-03-27

Thanks. I've had problems with bleeding before, when I painted my son's box car. There'll be more races this summer so a new paint job is due! Gonna try this technique.

ClayOgre (author)2013-02-03

I haven't tried this yet, but it looks like it should work quite well. THANK YOU!! This is an excellent idea.

jensenr30 (author)2011-07-02

great! i love this1

tinker234 (author)2011-06-19

wow thank you

bikeboy (author)2011-05-13

Diddely darn! Just pulled off the last masking tape in baby room today. Whish I did it your way... Used 5 different colours too!

trocar_noir (author)2011-04-21

This is genius..thanks!

avaistheone (author)2010-08-12

Looks fool proof. Thank you for posting this.

starshipminivan (author)2010-06-17

I've also done this using spray paint. I know there are people who use other products such as glazes to control the bleed. I'm curious, are there other products that can be used to control the bleed with spray paint that anyone else knows of?

samandjan (author)2010-03-02

this may be even easir.  after you have put on your blue tape and rubbed it down apply about 1/2 in clear glaze.  the glaze fills the voids under the tape.   when the glaze is dry, just paint with the desired color.  this is a new fix for 20 yrs of being unhappy with wiggly lines, especially with textured walls.  works also where the ceiling meets the walls.

You're not the first to suggest that.  I still use paint wherever possible because glaze, if it creates even a slightly different sheen, can be noticeable--too dull, too shiny, etc..  But if you take this into consideration, it would certainly work. 

The point that most people don't understand is that it's about working with the bleed.  It's still good, of course, to put down your tape carefully but at least this back-up allows you get consistent results despite tape issues.

iminthebathroom (author)2009-10-08

Yep, its works sooooo nice.  Thanks!

captain Jack (author)2009-07-30

so simple!

den08088 (author)2009-07-03

I'm not certain, but I believe it was Frank Lloyd Wright who said (paraphrased a bit) that a good solution to a problem should be elegant. This painting tip is one of those "elegant" solutions. Thanks.

ODDJOBS (author)2009-06-19

Oops. It should be "TESAKREPP"

ODDJOBS (author)2009-06-19

You'll notice that the tape is blue. It is a special masking tape of superior quality which is also less sticky than normal, which can be left (even on glass) for several weeks and still be removed with no tearing, residue etc. The brand name I use is "TESAKREP 4438" or just Tesa tape. Available from Paint suppliers.

lampajoo (author)2009-06-19


JorritJ (author)2009-06-16

Great instructable! My thoughts: Always use the right tape for the job. Use the blue paper tape for masking lines, not the white tape because that will not stick to your surface without any gaps. Another tip if your painting a line on a small surface, or you can't paint the other side: use a template brush. Those are the thick brushes with short hairs. Just tap on the paint along the lines. This gives a great result, but will be a lot of work for big surfaces.

tommy tinker (author)2009-06-12

I have worked in construction ever since I was 14 and worked as a head painter for 13 years for a small outfit that was specializing in custom residential paint jobs. this is absolutely correct, the edge of the tape that you are painting to MUST be sealed to prevent bleeding. Excellent instructable. However, having said that, I did a large commercial job a few years ago and time didn't permit me to use that technique, after a long sleepless night I decided to use something from another profession, an arborite roller. It's about four inches long made of hard rubber and about twenty bucks. After placing the tape I ran over it with the roller to seal it to the wall and NO bleeding, the tape will work if it is good quality and placed correctly.

Thanks for the real-world reply. I think this is a valid point--as long as the tape's edge is sealed, that's how you get a nice line. I think that the initial coat of paint has to be fairly well cured for the tape to be used in this way--or it likes to stick (as I've learned in previous taping episodes). My father used to build custom cabinets for years and specialized in laminate (formica, etc.) so think I am familiar with the kind of product you are describing. That would certainly seal tape well. Brayers used in art are similar but smaller and cheaper and might work for someone doing projects at home. They are hard rubber rollers for applying ink and other printing uses.

The cheaper it is the better it is as long as it works. Excellent suggestion. And yes, I forgot to mention that the first coat needs to be cured first.

kkinney (author)2009-06-11

A very good idea for dealing with the problem. I like elegant solutions. Personally I use black electrical tape. Absolutely zero bleed. Plus, it's flexible enough to make curved lines or pinstripes. Also, when pulling off the tape pull it away from the second color. In your example, this would be in an upward direction. This way you don't rip off shards of the new color.

starshipminivan (author)kkinney2009-06-12

I will have to try electrical tape sometime. I love it when things have a uses outside of their intended purpose.

jossdw (author)2009-06-12

Best tool to use to get into corners and paint a straight line by hand is a 12 mm bevel paint brush - cost about a buck. I'm obsessive about straight lines - they sream of quality.

starshipminivan (author)jossdw2009-06-12

In my home painting on corners and along ceilings, I use a sash brush with the point of it sort of drawing the line and "eyeball it." I've gotten pretty good at it so that's normally how I tackle those areas. This instructable was intended for clean lines between two paint colors (as in decorative elements rather than corners, etc.) but I think, for the worried or frustrated painter, it translates well to these other applications.

Nicknight (author)2009-06-11

I am painting stripes on a mobile hamburger stand at the moment and got bleeding. I'll give this a try. Very timely, thanks very much.

oldnukeet (author)2009-06-11

Champersand had it right - Abso-friggin-lutely BRILLIANT! I have fought with this problem for 20+ years painting I dont know how many homes and apartments we've lived in - next job will look great. Thanks again. If brevity is the soul of wit then simplicity is the soul of genius - Me.

annfill (author)2009-06-11

Thankyou for that tip- it is going to save me heaps of angst. I am very gratefull.

hotLatte (author)2009-06-11

Genius. 'Love it.

About This Instructable




Bio: I'm a Renaissance woman. I love to create things with a fantasy, medieval, or geeky edge. I'm also a math/science nerd. I ... More »
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