Ultimate Cabinet Painting Guide: Part 2
Disclaimer: I am a professional painter who uses equipment & products not found on this guide. These are my recommendations for those who wish to achieve the highest possible quality without production spray capabilities. Professional cabinet painting is done MUCH quicker, cleaner, and often uses higher quality products so if budget allows its worth considering.
Searching for the the best way to paint cabinets can be overwhelming. It brings up information & opinions from professional painters, homeowners, DIYers, and renters with different skills/experience levels & opinions. This guide was created to help the average homeowner looking to paint their cabinets and achieve the most professional finish possible.
Part 1 We talked about skills & basic steps required in order to achieve a quality finish.
Part 3 Covers all thing prep – A finish is only as good as your prep work!
Part 4 Will go over the steps for priming & painting.
After prep this is one of the MOST important decisions!
Primer choice will determine how well your paint finish adheres to the surface, help fill any remaining grain, and prevent tannin bleed.
TIP: Have the primer tinted too closely match your paint color in order to prevent future dings from becoming an eye sore.
Choose the best option for your needs, apply carefully (making sure to coat each surface area in as equal and smooth layers as possible), and follow the recommended dry times between coats and prior to paint application (allowing it time to fully cure and provide grip for the paint).
1.ZINSSER BIN (Shellac Based)
Shellac primer prevents wood tannins bleeding through and ruining your paint finish. This is a VERY common problem when painting wood with high oil content or older wood cabinets. It dries very quickly, reducing the time required for cure.
Warning: It has a VERY strong odor. Wear a respirator to avoid inhaling the toxic fumes and ensure the weather is nice enough to leave doors/windows open and apply the cabinet doors and drawer fronts outdoors. Shellac comes from the female lac bug and is all natural. However it must be broken down in a high amount of solvents (such as alcohol) in order to be used in a liquid coating. It does a fantastic job but may not be the best option for anyone highly sensitive to fumes.
2. ZINSSER COVER STAIN (Oil Based)
If the shellac base primer is not a viable option for your project, the next best thing is KILZ Cover Stain Oil Based (Brown Label). There is still a noticeable smell but it’s not nearly as strong as the shellac which can be overwhelming, and it still provides a great adhesion base and seals wood staining problems. I always have this primer on hand for furniture and other projects (its not good for walls).
3. Stix Bonding Primer (Water Based)
This is the ideal primer when your cabinets are made of anything other than solid wood. It offers maximum bonding power, low odor, and easy soap and water cleanup. Its an acrylic-urethane primer that can be used on nearly any surface, including metal and can be found by searching their website for a local retailer.
4. INSL-X Prime Lock Plus (Resin Based)
Alkyd-resin based primer that blocks stains and seals surface. This is ideal for preventing tannin bleed and has a lower odor than the shellac based option. One of the best features is that it won’t cause raised wood grain like a water-based products and it dries to such a hard finish that the water from the paint finish cannot soak through causing hot-spots in the final finish. Its best to use throw-away rollers and brushes for application rather than trying to clean them afterwards.
There are a lot of conflicting opinions on “the best” paint & primers, this is by no means a rule book so be sure find what works for you.
If there’s one thing I think everyone can agree on its this….
Purchase the highest quality paint & tools you can, it makes all the difference in this project!
In the world of cabinet painting, durability is king! The low-VOC limits imposed on paint manufactures have eliminated almost all of the old and dependable oil-based products that can handle a lot. Everyone in the painting field is stressed about the decline in durability & that nothing has been developed that can come close to the old products.
However, I’ve had a great experiences with some of the paints listed below
Each paint has a slight learning curve. If you choose one that’s unfamiliar its best to test it on a few scrap boards in order to learn how the paint lays down and levels out after application. Once you feel comfortable with application (no brush marks appear and material isn’t too thick to dry), and how it flows (how smoothly it glides and levels out after applied) then you’re ready to go!
Check the “Ratio of Solids” listed on the products MSDS sheet (usually found online):
Paint quality is determined by the volume (or ratio)of solids compared to the amount of solvent and fillers used. Paint shrinks down as it dries and the solvent/fillers evaporate leaving behind the pigment and resins (or binder). This is what determines what the final color will look like, how well it will cover, and how durable it will be over time.
This is why some paint brands are more expensive than others..the more pigment and binder a paint has the more expensive it becomes. High quality paint always gives you more bang for your buck than a lower quality (cheaper) paint can. When using a paint sprayer the volume of solids is more important than when you’re rolling because the paint has to be thinned which reduces the solids and coverage ability.
It can be a lot of work to track down the technical data of paints and understand the numbers, but I’ve done research on all of the paints mentioned below and the ones I recommend all have a high percentage of solids and will provide a durable finish and great coverage!
When choosing a paint sheen be honest about how you use your kitchen and how much abuse the cabinets take. Choosing a finish that will work for your lifestyle is more important than the color! The flat paints you see in celebrity kitchens may look lovely but if you have pets, kids, or love to cook it will be a nightmare to live with!
This term is used interchangeably with very little different between Flat / Matte. Both sheens absorb the most light providing the truest color. This is because of the high ‘ratio of solids’ (more on this below under paints).
These types of sheen are not recommended for any space that takes a lot of abuse, like kitchens or bathrooms. The finish is porous which means that dirt & grime can become embedded in the finish. Water & oil stains will also show up as dark spots and can’t be removed, so its best to avoid this type of sheen when painting cabinets.
Somewhere between flat & satin is eggshell. If a lower sheen appeals to you but flat is too risky this is an option. However, since there is very little difference between eggshell and satin I usually recommend choosing satin for slightly more durability.
Even with the advanced technology of current paints please don’t take paint store associates (or manufacturers) at their word, test it out first to make sure the finish is going to hold up. Get a sample and paint a raw piece of wood, after it’s fully dried put that sucker through some abuse & spills to see if its a good fit! It may save you a lot of money and heartache…
Satin is a durable sheen but not too shiny that it causes imperfections to stand out. This is the sheen I most often use and highly recommend it.
Be aware when using a light color (like white) that over time the cleaning & scrubbing can buff away shine leaving it vulnerable to damage and cause a difference in sheen. I haven’t personally had any issues when using a high quality paint but wanted to let you know it’s possible.
Semi-gloss is more forgiving than a gloss but it will show major imperfections such as those in very old wood cabinets. Be sure that all damaged areas, chipped edges, and old hardware holes are completely filled & sanded flush before painting. Its also important to make sure the paint levels out so there isn’t a ridge which will be visible.
If you’ve got young children or love to cook then this sheen is probably your best bet to holding up to a lot of abuse and dings without chipping or damage.
High-Gloss kitchens are unique and give a designer look to the right space. It reflects a lot of light and attracts attention but can be extremely difficult to achieve a perfect finish and may not work best with your homes style so be sure to think over this decision carefully.
Gloss will make any imperfections stand out like a sore thumb so its best used on new cabinets or those without any damage. It can be especially difficult to apply this sheen in an even layer to edges and detailing so its best applied by someone with a lot of paint skill or a professional to avoid sheen differences or hot spots (areas that absorb the paint differently and appear dull).
If you choose to attempt a gloss finish on your own be sure to purchase enough paint to fix areas that don’t come out perfectly, paint colors are never exact between mixes. Its also important to have a work light placed at an angle across the surface while painting to make sure the paint or brush strokes are leveling out before dry.
Houzz has a wonderful article on picking the right paint finish based on your home project and room.
1. Chalk Paint:
Chalk paint is lovely and has a very unique appearance that’s beautiful when used for the seldom used items. Despite the fad of using this on cabinets I don’t recommend it for few reasons:
- Durability: Kitchen cabinets take a lot of daily abuse and frequent scrubbing. Wax takes up to 30 days to cure & even then it’s still not as durable as the cross-linking finish of an acrylic or latex paint (this is what happens when high-quality paint hardens & water/binders evaporate).
- Cleaning: Abrasive cleaners shouldn’t be used on a wax topcoat and it’s inevitable that you’ll have to re-coat the cabinets with wax after regular cleanings and abuse have taken their tole.
- Time: Just thinking about the painstaking process makes my body ache. After regular prep work is complete (which is still important for any cabinet job, even with chalk paint), painting, and then waxing & buffing all the cabinets….It doubles the amount of time of an already large project! So although chalk paint dries much faster than regular paint so there is less time spent waiting between quotes, I still don’t see any advantages.
- Cost: The paint is more expensive by the quart than some of the highest quality (aka most expensive) paints such as Donald Kaufman or Farrow & Ball. This means to paint a decent sized kitchen it will cost A LOT!
APPLICATION: I’ve used chalk paint on an island with a DURABLE TOPCOAT (not wax). Since chalk paint is a porous material without any chemical binders its important that the surface be covered in order to be cleanable and help resist fading, stains, or chips. Adding a topcoat means an additional step that paint or 2k products don’t require and it won’t deepen the color like wax will, so make sure to consider your options. You can apply a glaze before the topcoat if desired although this adds ANOTHER step and additional time in order to allow the glaze to fully dry prior to applying a topcoat. Its important to note that each layer applied has the potential to prevent the topcoat from adhering well, which could lead to scratches and chipping in the near future. DO NOT apply wax before a top coat, it won’t adhere and will make a horrible mess!
I recently read a review by Sarah on Little Vintage Nest about her experience with chalk paint on bathroom vanities. It’s got some great feedback and warnings if this is a route you’re considering. You can check that out here.
2. Shewin Williams ‘ProClassic Acrylic-Alkyd‘
This is a water-based-hybrid of the old oil-based-alkyd paints that are now banned in most areas. It cleans up easily with soap and water, levels beautifully, and dries to a hard and durable finish that doesn’t dent or chip if allowed to cure without too much abuse. This is the paint I’ve been using for years and have always had great luck although I’ve recently switched to the PPG Breakthrough mentioned below. It takes some getting used to but once you’ve played around with it and learn how to let it self-level without over-brushing its amazing to see the perfectly smooth finish when dry!
APPLICATION: Brush/Roll the first coat in an upward motion & life off instead of rolling back down. The self-leveling quality can be easily messed up if you try to ‘lay-ff’ (back brush) to remove the stroke marks. Just have faith that it will do what its designed to & if for some reason it doesn’t you can always correct it later! Keeping a wet edge, roll the next adjoining area by slightly overlapping. Any sheen difference in the overlap will be fixed in the next coat by centering the roller on top of the overlap.
NOTE: For some reason SW puts all their ProClassic in cans with the exact same color label.
Its not uncommon to call in an order only to arrive and find they’ve mixed it up in the Latex-Enamel version rather than the acrylic-alkyd. Be sure to check the label before paying (the alkyd version is more expensive so that can help tip you off to an issue).
If your choosing a shade of white its actually best to go with the Latex-Enamel version to prevent any potential yellowing that may occur. It’s a very good paint and I use it quite frequently. However, if your going with anything outside of white I’ve found its best to use the acrylic-alkyd on cabinets, as its a bit more durable and self levels faster than the latex.
3. PPG “Break-Through!”
This is an EXTREMELY durable enamel finish that sticks to almost any surface if it’s been properly prepared. I’ve put it through a number of durability tests and find that after its fully cured the paint holds up against scuffs, scratches, and scrubbing without marring the finish.
Although its has been around a long time, PPG only purchased the product a few years ago which has increased its visibility in the market. I only discovered it after my local paint supply store said they used it to coat their cement floors and hadn’t had to re-apply since putting in on over 7 years ago.
I’ve used it a lot over the years and find the clear base version to be great as a topcoat!
APPLICATION TIP: This is 100% enamel which means it has great flow and rolls very easily with a smaller learning curve than latex or alkyd products. However, it dries faster than the other products mentioned so its important to have your technique down and all supplies ready before you begin application. Its also important to stir this VERY WELL during use since the solids/tint settle on the bottom quicker than normal paints. The best mixing is done on a paint store shaker so I recommend buying AFTER ALL YOUR PREP work is completed and your ready to start painting.
I noticed its now being carried by Home Depot so it may be available at your local box store, but I would call PPG first to to verify the quality is similar to that sold at independent paint retailers (Example: The SW paints sold at Home Depot is a different quality than those at a SW retail location).
4. INSL-X Cabinet Coat
Although cabinet finishers usually prefer a 2k product (meaning 2 components that must be mixed together prior to application) – this is a very popular 1k product used by painting contractors. It adheres well to surface’s that can be difficult for other products such as corner molding or tight grained woods. The learning curve is a bit higher with this product than some of the others so it’s best to play around for awhile until your fully confident in your understanding of how it flows, levels, and dries.