How to Paint Laminate Cabinets

We often get queries about different painting projects in and around the home. It seems that many people are familiar with what’s required when painting interior or exterior walls and using water-based paints (acrylic). However one of the most asked questions is how to paint laminate cabinets.

The areas that are the most renovated areas of the house are kitchens and bathrooms. Replacing or refurbishing cabinets, cabinet doors and countertops are generally at the top of the list for remodeling. These cabinets, doors and kitchen countertops are also the most expensive to replace as there are usually a lot of them. Cabinet paints are readily available for both laminate and timber cabinets and there are great kitchen countertop paint kits also available online.

For many people, it’s just too expensive to replace laminated kitchen or bathroom cabinets as they can cost thousands of dollars to do so. The other option is to paint them. There is no reason why you can’t do it yourself and create a professional finish that will not only look terrific but will also stand the test of time. However, there are special techniques on how to paint laminate kitchen cabinets and that we need to cover.

How to Paint Laminate Cabinets Video


What Is Laminate

Laminate is generally a plastic surface bonded to a timber base that is usually particle board or pressed hardboard. The finish can be printed such as a woodgrain look or simply a plain color. Laminated cabinets are also referred to as Formica, veneer, and thermofoil.

The textures and finishes are many, they can be plain, patterned, smooth, glossy, matt, and textured. The list is endless and ever-evolving. However, painting these surfaces is still possible using the right treatments and procedures.

Methods how to paint laminate cabinets

cabinet paint sprayer
Wagner 590 Paint Sprayer

There are two main ways to paint laminated surfaces. The first is to use standard paint finishes. When I say standard paint finishes, the paint does, however, need to be specialized for laminate. These are easy to apply and can be brushed or rolled but for a great finish use a paint sprayer such as the Wagner 590

The second is to use a two-pack system finish. This method is certainly the most durable and can bring the finished cabinets up to a very high gloss finish. The downside for many people is that two-pack paints need to be sprayed on. This method requires more specialized equipment, such as an air compressor and spray gun equipment. Airless sprayers are also good for painting 2 pack paints.

A Word Of Caution

Spraying two-pack paint is hazardous. You must wear a good quality safety apparatus and coveralls. Also, be aware of others around the spraying area. Ideally, this should be done in a purpose-built spray booth. See paint spraying safety.

If a two-pack finish is something you really want then I would strongly advise that you get it done professionally as there are businesses that will do this for you.

How To Paint Laminate Cabinets – Getting Started

The following is on how to paint laminate cabinets using standard off the shelf paints from your local hardware store, or you can buy these paints online.

Step One, Preparation – Cleaning

A good finish begins with good housekeeping. Get started by preparing the area you are going to paint in. Get rid of anything that may cause the painted surface to attract dust. Give yourself plenty of room to work in and somewhere to layout your paints, rollers, brushes and cleaning gear.

Remove any handles, knobs, and hardware from your project. Start by cleaning down the project using a general purpose cleaner. Vinegar and water or a small amount of detergent in warm water are fine. Anything will be ok here just as long as it doesn’t leave an oily film or residue on the surface. Note that some primers may require a specific cleaner to be used. Always read the instructions on the paint label first. This can save a lot of headaches later on.

Step Two – Sanding The Surface

Check the surface for any unwanted holes and imperfections, fill these with a general-purpose wood filler. Don’t be over-fussy with the finish as they will be sanded smooth later.

There are some laminate painting kits that require no sanding, however its always a good idea to sand anyway, this ensures the paint has a ‘key’ to adhere to. Use 240 grit sandpaper for laminate.

There are a few new breeds of undercoat and primers that are promoted as ‘No sanding required’. Even though they may be fine to apply directly I would give the surface a light sanding regardless. The reason for this is that there may be slight surface bumps or specs that need to be removed.

Sanding beforehand will ensure that you get a great finish in the end. Sanding also gives the paint surface a ‘key’ for the paint to stick to. The better your preparation is, the better the end result will be and the longer it will last. Use a 240 grit sandpaper and lightly sand using a sanding block or handheld electric sander. No need to sand the laminate off!

Step Three – Priming and Primers.

As I said earlier, paint primers are getting better all the time. The emphasis is for manufacturers to produce low odor, water-based paints that stick to anything. Some of the better brands are Zinzer B-I-N, and recently Dixie Belle Chalk Mineral Paint which is very good. There are also specific paints available just for priming and top coating laminate. Check your local hardware store.

Always check painting instructions before using any paint on what the manufacturer recommends as preparation. Some paints require specific cleaners that may be solvent-based.

Once the surface is cleaned and sanded its time to paint. Begin by placing masking tape on areas you don’t want to be painted. This could be hidden edges, difficult to remove fixings or the door hinges. Ideally, though these should be removed. Clean down the job to remove all sanding dust.

Using a brush, paint around areas that a roller will be hard to reach. This includes moldings and recessed finishes. To finish use a short nap or foam paint roller to cover remaining areas and roll out any brush marks. For paint rollers, I find that the slimline, shorter six-inch or so rollers in foam work best.

Step Four – Top Coats

Laminate paints can be tinted to any color you choose. This can be done in the store you buy from or you can do it yourself using your tinter of choice. Tints can also be purchased from hardware or paint shops.

Start by sanding the whole project, again with 240 grit sandpaper. This will give the best surface for a great finish. Apply paint as before, using a new roller. Sand and wipe down between coats. Two topcoats should be enough.

Problem Solving

Solving problems on how to paint laminate cabinets can be boiled down to a few specific things.

Paint scratches easily. – This is due to poor surface preparation or using the wrong primer. Make sure the surface is cleaned, well sanded and the primer is specifically designed to pain laminates.

Paint Bubbles or lifts. – Again it comes down to surface preparation and using the right paint for the job.

Painting laminate furniture is a straight forward process overall. The secret to a great finish is preparation, the best paint you can afford, and use good quality brushes and rollers. Follow the instructions above and you will save hundreds of dollars by learning how to paint laminate and doing it yourself.

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