The term “cutting in” has different meanings in different contexts. In dancing, cutting in means when someone (usually the man) comes in between dance partners so that he can dance with the woman without waiting for the music to end. In driving, cutting in means maneuvering a car in between two cars without leaving much room between cars in the front or in the back. This type of driver probably gets expletives showered on his head because such a move may be too risky and could be dangerous for everyone on the road. In baking, cutting in means to mix the butter and dry ingredients using two knives or a pastry blender to achieve that flaky consistency for biscuits, cookies, etc.

What Does Cutting In Mean in Painting?

In painting, cutting in means to draw a straight line using a brush to paint areas that are too tight for paint rollers, like cornices, jambs, trims, baseboards, corners or ceiling lines. Cutting in is something that you can be good at with practice.

Before you start cutting in, read How to Paint Window Interior Frames and Trims. It is important to prepare the surface to be painted very well to ensure a smooth finish.

Best Paint Brush for Cutting In

Your best tool for this painting project is a paint brush that is 1-1/2 to 2 inches. When using oil-based alkyd paint for your wooden surfaces like Boysen Quick Drying Enamel, remember to use a brush with natural bristles. If you are using water-based paint, then use one with synthetic bristles.

Painting Tip: The Art of Cutting In | MyBoysen
When painting wood, use Boysen Quick Drying Enamel.

Most brushes that you’ll find in hardware stores are square-cut brushes. You can use these. However, if you can find a sash brush, one with bristles that are cut at a slight angle, use that instead because you will have better control when cutting in edges or small areas.

The most important thing to remember when choosing the size of your brush is that it should be narrower than the surface you will be painting. If you choose a 4-inch brush for a 3-inch baseboard, chances are you will go beyond the area that has to be painted and will most probably be dripping paint.

Best Way to Load Paint Onto Your Brush

Transfer a small amount of paint (about 1-inch high) into a small container. Dip your brush straight down to coat about a third of the bristles, and wiggle it to load it fully with paint. Tap the brush gently against the sides of the container and wipe each side gently on the rim.

How to Unload Paint onto the Surface

Hold the brush like you would a pen, so have it between your thumb and index finger.

Painting Tip: The Art of Cutting-In | MyBoysen

Professional painters who have years of experience and steady hands do not need to protect the surface not to be painted with painters tape. What they do is paint the surface about 1/4 inch away from the cut-in line or that surface that will not be painted.

When painting a baseboard for example, turn the brush so that you are using the narrow angle when you move the brush horizontally near the cut-in line. Then, sweep the brush back but this time closer to the cut-in line, using the wider angle of the brush.

Laying On and Laying Off the Paint

When your brush hits the surface, do back-and-forth brush strokes to lay on the paint. Work in short sections.

Once you’ve coated a section of the surface, drag the bristles from the unpainted part, over the just painted part, until a part of the previously painted section (still wet) in long strokes. DO NOT LOAD YOUR BRUSH WITH PAINT FOR THIS TASK. This is called laying off the paint. Sweep the brush then lift it at the end of the stroke. You may have to do this several times if your surface is much wider than your brush.

Avoid brushing over sections where you have finished laying off the paint so as not to leave brush marks on the surface.

Most of all, paint with a light hand. Too much pressure causes the paint to ooze out of the brush and may create drips.

Tip for DIY Newbies

Cutting-in sounds complicated but it is actually something we all can master.

If you are afraid to make mistakes by coloring outside the cut-in line, use painter’s tape to tape off the edges that should not be painted.  Do this if you’re not confident enough to try out how to unload the paint on the surface like how the pros do it.

When you use painters tape, do take it off when the paint is still wet (but not drippy). In Boysen technical terms, it’s when the paint is set-to-touch but not yet dry-through. Remove the tape at a 45 degree angle.

For an excellent finish, do your surface preparation well. Click on this link to see more Boysen tutorials on the different substrates.


Annie is the Managing Editor of Let it B | MyBoysen Blog. An unrepentant workaholic, she runs this blog and her own company Talking Lions ( She thrives on collaborating with people who are good at what they do, and working together with them to create something special. Annie learned interior styling while managing her own wholesale business in the Netherlands, importing high-end, handmade home furnishings to stock four outlets and a showroom in the country.

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