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The Absolute Worst Way to Paint a Window

the worst way to paint a window
Image Copyright: Steve Quillian

What is the absolute worst way to paint a window? Well, surprisingly, it’s the way that most painters do it! I’m not talking well-meaning DIYers. I’m referring to almost all of the professional painters I see around my town and across the country as well.

Driving around historic neighborhoods, I’m amazed how may times I see a scene like in this picture. Tape as far as the eye can see. A sea of blue proudly sponsored by 3M.

A lot of people will look at this and think, “What excellent prep work! This company is meticulous.”

I just think, “This painter has no idea what he’s doing.”

There are a few options when it comes to painting windows so let’s look at the difference between the mad taper and the smart painter.

Option #1 The “Mad Taper”

  1. Buy 10 big honking rolls of blue tape for a crazy price.
  2. Pay the least amount per hour possible to tape windows, taking a waaay long time.
  3. Pay another guy a little more per hour to spray windows and waste as much paint as possible.
  4. Pay the guy who makes the least per hour to remove the massive amounts of blue tape.
  5. Pay another guy a little more per hour to clean the mess left by the sprayer and the places where the blue tape didn’t cover.
  6. Pay a guy the highest wage of all to touch up the work with a brush.

When you breakdown the whole process, it sounds absolutely insane! All that just to paint a window? How have we taken a seemingly simple process and made it into something so convoluted?

Now, let’s look at how to accomplish the same thing but in a different way.


Option #2 The Smart Painter

  1. Pay a skilled guy to paint the windows with a brush.

That’s it! No tape to buy, no bags of crusty, gooey tape to trash. Just a skilled painter and his paint brush.

You’ve heard the saying work smarter not harder, right? Well, this is the epitome of that scenario.

Our society is on the downward spiral when it comes to skilled laborers. We’re not interested in learning to be masters at a particular craft. We just want to be good enough to get by and this “painting by tape” mentality is a perfect example of it.

To see the right way to paint a window check out my video post How To: Paint a Wood Window Sash


Where Tape Goes Wrong

I painted a window using tape once just to see if it would make a difference. I’m always testing things to see if there are better ways to do a task and this felt like a subject worthy of testing.

Here are the problems when it comes to painting windows with the tape method: the table below are actual numbers from my painting experiment a couple years ago. This includes 1 coat of paint sprayed and 2 coats of paint brushed since I can build up the needed paint film faster with spraying.

Taping Windows

The Problems:

  1. Spraying uses a lot of paint and increases your materials costs.
  2. Blue tape is expensive, messy and time consuming to apply and remove.
  3. Taped paint line fail prematurely because the paint seal is broken when the tape is removed.

Ultimately, it’s faster to brush your windows by hand AND it results in a better, longer lasting finish. You save money on paint, on tape and labor.

When you look at the numbers, why wouldn’t you paint windows by hand from now on?


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20 thoughts on “The Absolute Worst Way to Paint a Window

  1. Hey Scott,
    I have a major concern with my paint not adhereing/bonding on the glazing putty. Here are the supplies that I use:
    Sarco type M glazing compound
    Sherwin Williams sher-cryl hpa paint

    I started painting my windows approx 2 weeks after glazing the windows. A few days later after painting them I noticed that some of the paint “cracked” where the paint meets the window. Clearly the paint did not bond with the glazing compound. I could easily peel away the paint from the glazing compound. This is disheartening and I’m not sure what to do.

    What went wrong?
    Should I continue peeling all the paint off all the glazing compound?
    Should the glazing compound be primed with a oil primer first, followed by two coats of the sher-cryl paint?
    Thank you in advance Scott, I have been a huge fan and appreciate any advice.

    David (Index)

    1. Dave this has happened to me occasionally and I’m still not 100% certain the exact cause. A couple likely culprits: 1. Was the glass thoroughly cleaned from any contaminants prior to Painting? 2. What was the glass cleaned with? Winded, alcohol, etc. 3. Did the putty feel oily prior to painting?

      1. Thanks Scott for the reply! I don’t think that the actual glass was the problem whether not being cleaned or the product it was cleaned with. Where the paint was cracked (where the glass and putty joined), I still had to scrape paint off the glass with a razor blade. This leaves me to thinking it had something to do with the putty. The putty did feel a bit oily, which is strange to me since I let the putty try to skin for approx 3 weeks (maybe northwest weather didn’t allow for a full skin/cure). I have three questions to mitigate or prevent this in the future:
        1)What should the putty feel like or look like when it has skinned?
        2)Should I use an oil primer first on top of the glazing compound since it has oil in it (I’m using Sarco Type M)?
        3) The paint that started peeling was along one of the stiles. Should all paint be removed? The bummer about it is the sash has 15 small window panes within the sash. If the putty in the rest of window hasn’t skinned, is it a matter of time before the paint will just peel?

        Thanks again for your reply!

        1. David, the putty should feel firm, dry, and like fine grit sandpaper when skinned appropriately. Sarco recommends NOT using an oil-based primer on top of the putty. Remove any failing paint but if it is still in good shape then lightly sand and repaint. Hope you can get things resolved!

  2. I will be taking this project on. What I want to know is if you don’t tape the windows how do you get a straight edge with the paint overlapping on the glass? I know this question may sound stupid to someone who has done this a lot but when you scrap off the excess does it not push the putty up or go under the putty breaking the seal?

    1. Carol, you cut in the straight line with a brush. No razors, no tape. It take a little practice but most folks can get a straight line by freehanding after 1 or 2 sash. Then you know everything is sealed properly. I have a how to video on my YouTube channel if you need more help with it.

  3. The speed is the main thing when painting windows. Especially on the exterior, it’s best to overcut slightly onto the glass and scrape the excess to form a seal. Taping – for a contractor – is a sign of someone unskilled. It’s not time-efficient.

  4. Glad to see this post – you generally don’t see a lot of people talking about the finer points of window painting. Especially not these days, since vinyl windows can’t be painted (and I’m not knocking vinyl, it has its uses!) and fiberglass needs to be covered.

    But, that said, I do agree with Brittany’s post above – yeah, it’ll affect the paint seal, but if you’re doing it yourself (ALWAYS the cheapest method, even if its your first time) there’s no shame in blocking off some of the more ‘dangerous’ areas with blue tape. The fact you’re willing to do it yourself already shows more initiative than most people, and your first, second, or tenth windows aren’t going to be 100% flawless.

    Just don’t take a spray can to it. That’s really the lesson you want to take away from this.

  5. I, like you, learned painting from my grandfather and my uber perfectionistic father! Until reading your painting tips, I always thought I was doing something wrong with my painting. I just could never get the whole taping thing to turn out so I learned how to use a good trim brush to paint a straight line by hand. Glad to know that I’m not just being weird (the results always speak for themselves!) I have only been in my 104 year old house 2 months but I know there will be a TON of window and trim painting in the future!

  6. Hi, Scott! I’m the proud owner of a 101 year old bungalow in Oakland, CA. Hopefully you won’t be driving by anytime soon because I have my dining room windows covered with blue tape but ONLY to protect the glass from sandpaper and other rough restoration that will be under way. Your book and website is our number one go-to for how-to. Thanks!

    1. Melissa, too funny! So glad you find the book helpful! I’ll be sure to think twice before ranting about any blue taped windows in Oakland, CA in case it’s your house, but you’re probably safe on the other side of the country. 😉

  7. Agreed, Kathy. I often get teased for doing things the old-fashioned way which is generally cost-effective, quieter and very satisfying.

  8. Great topic! So sad that skills aren’t being passed on to the younger generation, except for folks like you who are determined to do things the old way, with a dash of the new way where it makes sense. If we invested more into labor and less on replacement materials, there would be more work and less waste in the landfill–a win-win in my book.

  9. Scott,

    Two years ago, my family’s historic home was painted. Unfortunantly, now we can not lift the windows because they painted over the window. It’s so frustrating. How do I find a solution. Obviously, these painters used blue tape or didn’t care about closing and opening windows. This family home is outside of Houma, Loisisna and I would like to know how I can fix this.

    Your devoted admirer,

    Kate Johnson

  10. But what is the best method if you are truly doing it yourself? I spent 8 hours yesterday painting windows and doors with the blue tape method. I’m not skilled enough to do it freehand, and I spent my reno budget on electricians and plumbers.

    1. Brittany, with a little practice anyone can paint straight lines on a window. The first few will be a bit messy, but they will get better. I have a 20 yr old girl who works in my shop who had never held a paintbrush before and now she paints a smooth and clean line everytime. Practice makes perfect. Just don’t beat yourself up if it’s not fast and clean at first.

    2. Modern marketing has confused the simple. At the turn of the century when it was time to paint something, one might have grabbed a drop cloth, some paint and a brush. Walking into the paint section at the home store can be so overwhelming! So many choices! 182 brushes to choose from. 94 rollers and covers. 73 brands of caulk and 17 colors of tape. Where does a person start? I agree with Scott. Instead of spending time practicing the fine art of going through disposable and costly blue tape, spend the time you would have spent taping – practicing! Pretty soon, you’ll be teaching others the same thing.

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