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.

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 laminate cabinets with these surfaces is still possible using the right treatments and procedures. Laminates are not porous like wooden furniture and will require special preparation, paint, and application.

Methods how to paint laminate cabinets

There are two main ways to paint laminated surfaces. The first is to use standard laminate cabinet 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 Diy paint sprayer.

The second way to paint laminate cabinets 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 and know-how, such as using an air compressor and spray gun equipment. Airless sprayers are also good for painting 2 pack paints.

What to Paint Laminate Cabinets With – Choosing Paint

With the paint and painting process, laminate furniture, cabinets, and countertops all require the same surface preparation and type of laminate paint. There are many different primers and topcoat paint for laminate cabinets available from different manufacturers and suppliers. By following the manufacturer’s instructions most are reliable and will do the job, I would stress however using a well-known brand name.

Here are some suggested primers and topcoats that I have used painting laminate cabinets with great results. These brands and are proven to have great sticking ability for the primer and a good hard finish for the topcoats.

Primer paint. Two of the best primer for laminate cabinets are .1 – Zinzer Bin, and KILZ Adhesion. Both are excellent bonding primers and will stick to just about anything. Straight from the can they quite thin so you could apply two coats if the color you are painting is dark, such as woodgrain. As with most painting jobs the deeper the primer coats the better and the fewer topcoats you will need.

Topcoats Paints – The best topcoat for laminate cabinets is enamel paint. There are very good waterbased enamel paints available these days, plus the traditional oil-based enamels. With water-based paint, you can finish your job in one day. Not so with oil-based paint as it takes much longer to dry. Enamel paint is tough and designed to wear well. My choice is always water-based however old school will always choose oil-based. I do feel oil-based paint is slightly harder wearing than water-based, but it is a matter of choice.

Nuvo Kit Paints For Laminate Surfaces

Nuvo is a product specially designed for painting laminate kitchen cabinets. The product is especially for DIY and is a simple makeover that can be done with the cabinets in place so no need to remove the cabinet. The Nuvo paint requires no primer as the paint is a specifically designed cabinet paint for laminate. See more about Nuvo Here

How to Paint Laminate Cabinets Video

How To Paint Laminate Cabinets – Step 1

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 all the doors any handles, knobs, and hardware from the kitchen cabinets. 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, sugar soap is also good. 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 surfaces

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 can be used without 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 Kilz Adhesion is very good. There are also specific paints available just for priming and top coating laminate. Check your local hardware store. And Kilz Adhesion

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. Cabinets without any attachments will make a far easier and better job. Clean down the kitchen cabinets to remove all sanding dust. The best way how to paint laminate cabinets is to have a clear surface.

Using a good quality 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 the remaining areas and roll out any brush marks. For paint rollers, I find that the slimline, shorter four-inch or so rollers work best. The best roller to paint laminate cabinets for a smooth finish should have a 4 mm nap for high gloss finishes and a 5 mm nap for semigloss finishes.

Step Four – Apply Topcoats

Laminate paints for topcoats are generally standard enamel paints that 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 re-sanding the whole project, the cabinet doors, and laminate cabinets, again with 240 grit sandpaper. This will give the best surface for a great paint job finish. Apply paint as before, using a new roller. Sand and wipe down between coats. Two topcoats should be enough.

What to Paint laminate furniture with

Laminate furniture is the same as laminate kitchen cabinets. The only difference is generally the look and appearance whereas furniture tends to have woodgrain looking finishes. Some furniture has a flat color finish but laminate is laminate, so the painting would be the same process as painting kitchen cabinets.

As a side note, should the furniture you wanted to paint turn out not to be laminate, the process outlined here will be perfectly fine to paint real timber as well. The important part of the process is getting the first primer coat right, having a good surface key, ie, sanding, and using good quality primers is the secret of how to paint laminate cabinets.

What to Paint Laminate Countertops With

How to paint laminate to look like marble or granite is a common query. The solution to painting laminate countertops is slightly different as we would on how to paint laminate cabinets. The process is best done using a purpose-made countertop painting kit. These kits are specially formulated for covering laminate kitchen benchtops and have all the ingredients and tools in the one pack. These kits can also be used on tile, Formica, ceramics, and existing granite.

Laminate Painting Tips & Problem solving

  • Make sure that any laminate surface is sound, any cracks or peeling needs to be repaired or re-glued before recoating.
  • Test your paints for durability ( and your application skills ) on a piece of scrap or on the inside of a panel that won’t be seen before you commit to the big job.
  • Brush the corners of decorative panels but finish with a quality roller, painting pad, or paint sprayer. Brush marks are not a good look.
  • Use good safety gear, gloves, masks for fumes, and eye protection.

how to paint laminate cabinetsSolving 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 paint laminates.

Paint Bubbles or lifts. – Possible grease or other contaminants on the surface, using a roller with to heavy nap, 4-5 mm nap for gloss and semigloss, or use a foam roller. Always wash out new rollers to remove any particles left from manufacture.again it comes down to surface preparation and using the right tools and 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 cabinets and doing it yourself.


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