Q: Is there a proper sequence for painting room interiors? I always paint ceilings first, but after that, do you do walls before trim or vice versa? And why?

A: Scott Burt, owner of TopCoat Finishes in Jericho, Vt., and a presenter at JLC Live, responds: I find it best to work in a “top down” approach, starting with two coats on the ceiling. From there I apply the first coat on the walls and then apply two complete coats on the window and door casings as well as on any other trim besides the baseboard, such as crown or chair rail. Next, I apply a final coat on the walls and then I do the baseboard last.

Finishing the baseboard last allows you to protect it from spatter during wall rolling, and also results in the crispest lines when you are cutting back into walls.

To protect the baseboard, I use a 1 1/2-inch-wide low-tack tape, such as 3M 2080 Delicate. I do not rely on the tape to establish the cut line, but instead use the tape to cover most of the top of the baseboard, leaving me the baseboard-to-wall line to cut to as I apply the wall paint.

Besides keeping the spatter mess to a minimum, this sequence also lets me cut in the tightest lines.

The line between the wall and the trim is usually established by a bead of caulk, and I always trust my eye to establish the cut line rather than trying to follow one of the exact “lines” that are present where the caulk meets either the wall or the trim. Because those lines are never perfectly straight, following them would yield a cut line that is not straight. And by the same token, the straightest visual line most likely won’t follow the exact center of the caulk because of irregularities in the wall or in the trim.

The true craft involved in cutting in is creating a line that is straightest to your eye. When you look directly at the edge of the casing from 3 feet away, neither the wall color nor the trim color should look proud—just crisp and straight. And never try to create a line by taping. A freehand, straight, tight, crisp line is best. My mantra for cutting in is: “The faster the cut, the straighter the line.”

When I cut in, I generally leave no overlap on adjacent surfaces. Overlapping trim onto wall or wall onto trim is a bad idea because there are always differences in sheen and in color. These differences can create coverage issues as well as “flashing,” where the luster of the paint changes in the area that was overlapped. I try to make tight cuts on every round, establishing the straightest line.

Cutting in the wall to the ceiling is even more critical to do well because this line is the most visible. The drywall joint is never perfectly straight, so you can’t just cut to the joint. But you want to avoid letting the wall line creep up onto the ceiling joint—our eyes find that in a hurry. It’s best to hold the wall line down a hair.

When you are cutting the wall-to-ceiling line, also keep in mind that you are working from a ladder and looking at the wall-ceiling joint from eye level. The view from the floor is an entirely different perspective—and the most important one. So you should be sighting your line each time you step off the ladder.

When I cut the first coat of wall paint to the ceiling and trim, I try to cut it fast and get the line to what I consider to be 98% of the finished line. On the final coat, I bring the line home to 100%, straightening out any slight variations with the last cut.