Can You Paint Trim in Flat Sheen Paint?

Matte Paint on Trim

Trim–doors, windows, baseboards, and the like–is usually painted with semi-gloss or glossy paint. Can you paint trim in flat (also known as matte) paint and what would happen if you did?

Best Answer

Yes, you can use flat or matte paint for your trim. It would be vastly more difficult to clean than glossier paints and touch-ups would be frequent.


Close on the heels of that brief answer is this: understand that flat paint will be more difficult to maintain on impact trim surfaces than paint with a gloss.  Most trim is a functional thing. It’s there for two reasons: to cover up unfinished edges and to provide a surface that can withstand impact better than drywall can.

The only trim that does not do this is crown molding. Riding high above your head, this regal strip of wood (or PVC) never gets touched. In fact, since it is angled downward, it barely even gets dusty. But crown is a rarity in the world of trim.

Ease of Cleaning: Flat-painted surfaces are hard to clean. Whether you are using a cloth rag, terrycloth towel, sponge, or paper towel, all of them drag on flat-painted surfaces. The stain itself tends to “grab” tighter to flat surface more than to glossier surfaces.

Frequent Touching Up

I often say that the best way to clean flat paint is with a can of flat paint. Having a spare can of matching paint is required when you have flat walls and certainly when you have flat trim. Touch-ups will be frequent.

But you can ease the burden of touch ups by:

  • Keeping the paint can half-full. This makes it ease to shake up the can. Full cans are impossible to manually shake.
  • Having a trim brush and brush comb nearby. Keep the implements under a counter, in a closet, or some other available place.

Impact Resistance:


Can You Paint Trim with Flat Palint

Using flat/matte paint for trim should never be your first choice. Your go-to will always be a paint with some type of gloss. The more gloss, the better–at least from the standpoint of impact resistance and ease of cleaning. If you can stand it and the design conditions call for it, high gloss paint would be the best.

You need to have a reason for using flat for trim. I painted the trim in a section of my basement home movie theater in flat paint because I wanted to reduce light bounce with my video projector. Projectors, ranging from 1,500 to 6,000 lumens, cast brilliant light on the screen. Not all of the light stays on the screen. Because it ricochets off, all immediately surrounding surfaces–ceiling, walls, floor, and even trim–need to be as dark and flat as possible. That is the reason behind black draperies in some movie theaters.

How It Looks

Trim painted flat has an unusual appearance, if only because our eyes are accustomed to seeing shiny trim. It adopts a look similar to that of the adjoining wall. It does not completely disappear because of the shadows created by its offset from the wall and offset within itself, as seen below, where door casing, door stop, and trim all come together to form one unit. Also, if your walls are textured, your trim will not be textured. This is another way the two surfaces will differ in appearance.

Matte Paint on Trim


A continuing education supplement from the American Institute of Architects called “The Ingredients of Paint and Their Impact on Pant Properties” has a good, in-depth discussion of how the various elements of paint work together to form a single protective surface.

Build Easy Rope Light / Wiring Channels from Cheap Trim

Cross Section of Rope Light / Wire Channel

Rope lights hidden in a ceiling-high channel and casting a glow against the ceiling is a fantastic way to create mood lighting. For home movie theater builders, rope lighting is almost a necessity. What’s the easiest way to build channels or chases for rope lights?


Build chases out of 8-foot long finger-jointed pine trim. Each length of chase consists of three boards:  two 1 x 4 boards and one 1 x 3 board. Use one 1 x 4 as the base, then nail the other two boards on top to form the walls.


Agonizing over how to build your rope light channels? Tear your hair out no longer. While all light channels do need to be adapted to each user’s particular needs, I found one that works perfectly for me.

First, determine how much space you need. The older style thick, plastic-encased rope lights are great for outside uses, but indoors you do not need that heavy casing. Using thin, tape-like LED “rope” lights is vital because this frees up a vast amount of space. Greater space means that the lights can lay flat, without the problem of them accidentally sticking up or being seen by tall people. It also allows you to add other wires, like speaker wires or movie screen controllers.

My wire chases use cheap pine trim boards and are easy to build with a power brad nailer and wood glue. Because my room is fairly small, I wanted them to hug as tight to the wall and ceiling as possible. At the same time, I wanted them far enough away from the ceiling to allow the lights to cast a glow on the ceiling. There also has to be enough space between the top edge of the outer “wall” of the chase and the ceiling, so that you can get your drill in there to attach the chase to the wall. Finally, you need enough space to get your fingers in the chase to arrange the wires.

The Materials

  • Two 1 x 4s (Actual width: 3.5 inches)
  • One 1 x 3 (Actual width: 2.5 inches)

The brand of trim that I used, and which I like using for other parts of my house, is a primed pine board called Sum Guard EX by Composite Technology International. I wish I could give you a Home Depot equivalent but they have nothing like this.

The Sum Guard EX has a prime coat that is far thicker than the usual primed board. It really is more priming than I need for an interior application, but I like the board so much because it is smooth, straight and true, and it has more-or-less square edges. No, the boards are not defective. Rather, CTI adds some kind of very slight camber to the boards that probably has a use when it comes to trimming doors and windows. Either way, the camber can either matter to you or not, as you will see below.

Along with the trim, you really should have an electric or pneumatic nailer. Your job will go so much faster (since you’re producing many of these chases). Mostly, though, you’ll be able to hold the boards in place with one hand, while the other hand does the nailing. You cannot do that when hand-nailing finish nails.

Above photo:  This is me pretending to nail one board to another.

Variations and Making the Thing Better

As with most home remodeling projects, this one is a compromise between ease and quality.  Here are variations you might consider:

Front Wall Overhang

One variation I considered but eventually decided not to go with was the one pictured directly above. The front “wall,” instead of being a 1 x 3 board would have been yet another 1 x 4 board. It would have been tacked to the front of the base 1 x 4 board with an overhang that had the benefit of obscuring seams between the boards. It also would have given me flexibility in raising or lowering the height of that front wall, rather than having to go with the 2.5 inches mandated by the 1 x 3 board.

Longer Trim Boards Mean Less Seams

One benefit of using trim is that trim comes in longer versions than 8 foot. I chose 8 foot because it was easier to handle and because I would have only saved one or two seams by using longer boards.

Wood Filling Horizontal Seams

This is a variation I vacillated on but ended up doing: filling in the horizontal seams with wood filler.  I’m always suspicious of wood filler’s long-term prospects. But I figured that this was an interior application and the filler would get primed over, giving it more strength.


Which Are Better: MDF or Pine Baseboards?

Baseboards often have the same look and profile but are made of different materials.  MDF (medium density fiberboard) and pine are two common baseboard materials.  Which material is better?


Pine baseboards.  Whether solid or finger-jointed, pine is a better baseboard material than MDF.  MDF baseboards are half the cost of solid pine but a little more expensive than finger-jointed pine.


Pine is real wood that is stronger than MDF because of its grain.  MDF is fake wood and is weaker–little better than cardboard.

Using MDF for high-impact areas like door and window trim and baseboards makes little sense.  If there is ever a place where you want to prioritize stronger materials, it’s here.

MDF Baseboards

Medium density fiberboard (MDF) is a mix of sawdust, wood chips, and binders.  Imagine a dried-up bowl of oatmeal.  That’s a good representation of MDF.  Ranking MDF baseboards lower than pine baseboards is pretty easy:  MDF is crumbly, heavy, and a potential victim of moisture.

Pine Baseboards (Solid, Continuous Wood)

Continuous grain pine is what you think of when you think of “real wood.”  It is one continuous length of wood, no joints, no glue.

Pine Baseboards (Finger-Jointed)

Finger-jointed means several smaller lengths of pine that are factory-joined.  In the lower right quarter of this photo, you can see where one grain ends and another grain picks up again.  This is the tell-tale sign of finger-jointed wood.

Price Comparison

A price snapshot of baseboards of the same profile and look, 8′ long by 3.25″ high:

  • Finger-Jointed Pine:  $3.50
  • MDF:  $4.50
  • Solid Pine:  $10
  • PVC:  $10


There are a few reasons you may want to choose MDF baseboards over pine:

  • You Don’t Want to Prime/Paint:  MDF baseboards always come primed white.  While priming is not the same as painting, in a pinch in can serve as “paint.”
  • Cost:  MDF is cheap, but not always as cheap as it is represented.  As shown above, it is cheaper than PVC and solid pine, but more expensive than finger-jointed pine.
  • Predictablity:  Because MDF is 100% manufactured, there are no surprises that await users of natural wood, such as knots and cracks.  It is completely homogeneous.
  • You Expect to Pull It Out:  For temporary construction, MDF baseboards are easy to remove and discard.  They break up by hand into small sections.


Baseboard Design

Any homeowner worth his/her weight in sawdust already knows that baseboards are a great way to spiff up any room.  And baseboards fit right in with my credo of:  fast, easy, and (can be) cheap.

But how are baseboards designed?  What’s their basic makeup?  And what’s all this about single-piece baseboards vs. built-up baseboards?

Refer to the picture below and to this key here:

Single Piece Baseboard – It’s a single piece, as opposed to a built up baseboard.  You can tell by looking at the top edge of the baseboard.  Some baseboards are constructed of multiple pieces, and the top part is always a separate piece.  This is a single-piece baseboard; a cohesive unit.

Baseboard Profile – The profile is probably the most obvious baseboard design factor.  Here you find two horizontal grooves which will catch the light and create attractive shadows.

Quarter-Round – The quarter round is less baseboard design and more baseboard practicality.  The quarter-round is a separate piece and it covers up the gap between the floor and the bottom of the baseboard.

Gap – Finally, it’s worth noting that another element of baseboard design is that it covers up the gap between the flooring and the wall.  This gap is necessary.

Baseboard Design

Remove Baseboards to Install New Flooring

Before installing new flooring, you’ll need to remove the baseboards.  It’s not as simple as it seems.  While poorly removed baseboards will not necessarily ruin your life, they sure as heck can ruin your walls.  If you have plaster-and-lath walls, you might end up with giant pieces of plaster falling down.  Really.

Why Removing Baseboards Isn’t So Bad

Because you’re installing flooring, you’re also raising the height of the floor.  This means that the baseboards simply get raised another half-inch, inch, or whatever up the wall.

Nail alignment stays the same.  You don’t have to guess where the stud are.  Because the baseboards are moving vertically but not horizontally, the nails will still hit the studs.

And this is the best part.  You’ll first need to score the paint along the top of the baseboard.  This leaves a horrid mess:  a deep gouge in your drywall.  But never fear, layering is here!  Remember, the baseboard is moving up.  So, it will effectively cover up the score marks.  All you need to do is make sure there are no bulges in that scored area to mess up your baseboard.

Remove Baseboards

How to Remove Baseboards

Tools and Materials

  • Pry bar
  • Claw hammer
  • Thin scrap of plywood (1/4″ thick and about 4 inches square)
  • Utility knife
  • Stud finder


  1. Score along the top of the baseboard with the utility knife.  Score several times lightly rather than one heavy pass.
  2. Start at the stud closest to the end of the baseboard.  Locate with a magnetic stud finder.
  3. Lay the wood square on the wall, just above the baseboards.  Make sure square is positioned at a stud.  This is where the nails will be.
  4. Slowly, carefully tap the end of the pry bar into the top of the baseboard and pry back.
  5. If it’s hard to pry back all the way, get it started with the pry bar and continue with the claw hammer.

Locknail Your Window Trim

Here’s a simple tip that took me forever to realize, but it’s so easy: locknail your window trim to help it hold together better.

Let’s back up a second… When you are installing mitered trim on your windows, you often run into the problem of these d**n 45 degree angle joints not holding together. This is the point where the two pieces of trim meet at 90 degree, or perpendicular, angles. You’ve cut the end of each piece at a 45 degree angle…

The trim may hold well to the window itself—all well and good—but it doesn’t hold very well to itself. Even if you can get these corners to look like they are joined, over time they will begin to separate. Trust me, they will. So, what do you do? Fill in with wood putty? Caulk? No way. Two nails solve the problem.

Simply lock-nail the two pieces of trim together. The way you locknail is by driving a finish nail into the side of one piece so that it enters the adjoining piece. And then by doing the same to the other piece. These two crossing nails gives your trim rock-solid holding capabilities. Be sure to sink them with a nailset.

Locknail Window Trim

Butted Door Casing: Where Head Meets the Side, Plus a Little Extra

  1. Cut the door casings at 45 degrees so they meet at angles; OR,
  2. Cut the door casings so they have a butted casing plus rosette design; OR,
  3. A true butted door casing style, which this article is all about.

No weird angles or expensive rosettes to buy here. Just cut the two vertical side pieces of casing so that they reach (but do not extend beyond) the top of the door opening.

Butted Door Casing

Then cut a header piece (the horizontal top piece) so that it equals the horizontal door opening + the twice the width of a side casing + plus some whatever extra amount that tickles your fancy.

Butted door casings have a utilitarian look that can look cheap.  So, use real moldings, not dimensional lumber (i.e., 1x4s).

By that last time, I’m talking about the extra amount that extends beyond the side casings. It can be anything you want, but you’ll probably not want to go crazy here. This is all for show, and gives your butted door casing a little fancy finish: a quarter-inch on each side is enough.