I wrote this “How to Paint Your Kitchen Cabinets (like a pro)” tutorial after painting my own kitchen cabinets. I have since quit my corporate job and started a small business painting cabinets and furniture, so this tutorial has become somewhat of a living document, based upon loads of research, experience and practice. I try to keep it updated with new products, tips and techniques, since I am continuously learning as I continue to grow my business and hone my own skills.
If you’re interested in ONLINE VIDEO TRAINING, with me coaching you through the process, click here for more information.
If you’re in the Dayton/Cincinnati area, and want a quote for painting your cabinets, contact me.
Do you want to know how to paint oak cabinets?
More tips and tricks for tackling oak cabinets, including how to hide the grain, and some great go-to paint colors! Check out my post on how to paint oak cabinets for all of the details! Here are some of my favorite oak cabinet transformations from my portfolio:
- A builder grade kitchen turned custom
- Painted cabinets in an oak kitchen redo
- A client kitchen redo with an island reinvented
Do you have questions about prep?
Are you concerned about prepping your cabinets? Are they unfinished or previously painted? Check out this post on 5 Cabinet Painting Problems Solved.
Are you looking for the right tools to get the job done?
The more projects I do, the more tools and products I find. Here is my latest list of great tools to get the job done more efficiently and with a great finished look. Five Favorite Tools for Painting Cabinets and Furniture.
Do you have questions about using a paint sprayer to paint your cabinets?
Check out this post from my “Painter in Your Pocket” series as your guide.
*This post contains affiliate links*
I apologize in advance on the length of this post, but I wanted to make sure I covered everything in one fell swoop. That said, I’m sure I forgot something, so feel free to ask any questions you may have.
I did a great deal of planning and research before tackling this project, and continue to develop and learn now that I’m painting cabinets for clients, so I hope you’re able to learn from my obsessive-compulsive tendencies.
First things first. These are some of the most important things to know and consider before taking on a project like this.
1. Unless you have hired help (or a household that will take on all of your responsibilities while working on this), the rest of your house will suffer during this process.
Ok, maybe I’m being a bit dramatic here, but this was my personal experience. However, I should preface this by also mentioning that I worked full-time (outside of the home), when I painted my cabinets, and spent just about every non-working moment on this project in order to get it done. So, for me, this meant that my typical laundry “pile” turned into a laundry “mountain”. The entire house was a wreck, and the hubby and kids had to fend for themselves for the 2-3 weeks that I spent focused on painting. My kids may or may not have eaten cereal out of the box for dinner several nights in a row.
2. Invest in help from the experts.
I had three big questions in researching this project:
- How do I best prep my cabinets for painting?
- What kind of paint do I use to paint my cabinets?
- How do a I choose a paint color?
I looked at a lot of different kitchen cabinet projects online, which was helpful, but I urge you to talk to the pros at your local paint store. I’m not talking about the teenager that is working at Lowe’s. I went to a paint store where the guys working there knew their stuff. I brought in one of my cabinet doors and they could tell me immediately what kind of prep work I needed to do and the best paint to do the job.
I also went to a builder’s supply center and looked at different cabinet finishes to find the color/finish I wanted to have in my own home. I took cabinet samples home and decided on colors based on those samples. The awesome guys at the paint store did a color match on the samples, and I’m thrilled with the result.
Here are the samples I used and had color matched for the island and the kitchen cabinets.
What color did you paint your cabinets?
I have gotten a lot of questions about the color that I used on my cabinets. As I mention above, I had the cabinet samples above color matched for my kitchen paint colors. Below is the formula for the white I used on a bulk of my cabinets. This is a formula for Benjamin Moore paint, and I used their Advance paint product for my cabinets. Don’t use this formula for other paint manufacturers.
3. What is the best method to get the job done and make it look professional?
I know there are a lot of opinions and methods out there, but after painting the kitchen island, (using a sprayer for the doors, and hand painting the frame), I knew that painting the cabinets with a brush would not produce the look that I wanted, since I have a lot of raised panels and detail work.
However, if you don’t have a lot of raised panels on your end cabinets, I say paint your frames with a brush/roller. I still recommend spraying your doors and drawers, but there is some wiggle room with the frames. Just make sure you use a high quality brush like this one, and mohair rollers. Using high quality tools will give you a high quality finish.
The clincher for me was seeing this video of someone painting kitchen cabinets with an HVLP sprayer. HVLP = High Volume, Low Pressure. It is a dream for a project like this since you have so much control over the spray in terms of volume and area. You can dial it down to a targeted, narrow spray for corners and small areas, or you can open it up to give you a much broader spray as well. I didn’t buy the sprayer in the video, but the seed was planted. I knew this was the way to go (for me).
However, these paint guns can be expensive, since they hook up to a turbine (which I now have and use for client kitchens). But, I did some (more) research, and found one that I could hook up to our air compressor (ours is a 6 gallon 150psi, which was more than enough power) for a fraction of the cost. Enter the Wagner HVLP Conversion Gun of Awesomeness.*
(Ok, it’s not called a Gun of Awesomeness. I just think it is.) This is the gun that I used when I painted my own cabinets, and the results were nothing less than flawless.
If you don’t have an air compressor, you can go with a gun like this Graco TrueCoat Plus II paint sprayer. Thrifty Decor Chick used this to finish off her cabinets after my house call when I had the opportunity to walk her through the process. She loved this sprayer, and if you saw her kitchen, you’ll see that it got the job done beautifully.
So, let’s get to the details. How did I prep my cabinets? What kind of paint did I use? What finish did I choose?
Before we dive in too deeply on paint prep, let me first say that this is not a step where you want to take short cuts. I know a lot of paints claim that they are “no prep”, but if you’re investing the time to do this kind of DIY project, and you want a professional finish, you need to put in the work. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve cleaned cabinet doors and then sanded them, only to reveal all sorts of gunk that I never would have noticed otherwise. Since my cabinets didn’t have a glossy finish on the to begin with, I cleaned them Krud Kutter Gloss-Off, which is a great all-in-one cleaner AND deglosser and then gave them a light sanding. I have since invested in a nice orbital sander and dust extractor and use it for client jobs, but I will say that my light sanding has held up nicely in my own kitchen.
You can see the primer and paint that I used here as well. Benjamin Moore’s Fresh Start Primer and their fantastic Advance paint. Again, I’m going on the advice of the experts here (he recommended a different primer for glossy surfaces, but I can’t remember what). I cannot say enough good things about this Advance paint. Oh. my. goodness. The paint store guy/expert said, “It’s revolutionary.” He said that it’s basically an oil-based paint that acts like a latex (even though it is a latex paint). You get all of the good points of an oil-based paint, with none of the negative. It hardens like an oil, wears like an oil, but cleans up like a latex and it doesn’t smell like an oil! See? Revolutionary.
For a more detailed breakdown on prep, you can check out this post from my “Painter in Your Pocket” series that is exclusively dedicated to prep work.
I have experimented with a multitude of primers over the past few years, and while Fresh Start has held up nicely on my own cabinets, I am also a big fan of SealGrip by Porter Paints. It’s awesome for oak cabinets too, in that it keeps the oak grain from bleeding through the paint, and it’s water-based, which I love. Plus, it really holds up when cabinets need to be transported for clients. But as of lately, I have switched to using Zinsser BIN shellac-based primer. It sticks to EVERYTHING.
If you’d like to look at other paint options, I shared a comparison of two great products that I love. They’re both solid products, with pros and cons associated with each. It all depends upon your priorities and preferences.
But, before you can get moving with your actual priming/painting, you need to remove your cabinet doors and drawers. I highly recommend putting together some sort of numbering system so that you don’t lose track of what goes where. While it all seems to make sense when you’re planning, trust me that you will be glad you did this when your paint-weary brain goes to put the doors and drawers back.
TIP: I started out my labeling like this, but the best way is to take a piece of painter’s tape and number your cabinet doors and the corresponding frame so that it’s easy to match them up when you reinstall. Put the hinges in a Ziplock bag, and store them in the corresponding cabinet/drawer space. Take the time to number your doors and drawers, because things can get ugly really fast when reinstalling your doors/drawers if you don’t.
Below, my cabinet coding translates to – Right of stove, cabinet #28, right bottom (RB). Believe me, when you’re exhausted and swimming in a Sea of Cabinets that need to be put back in their proper place, you’ll be thankful for this little extra help.
This is especially important if you currently don’t have knobs on your doors, and you’re planning on adding them. Label the door so that you know whether it’s a right or left sided cabinet so you make sure to drill your holes in the correct spot. Just trust me on this.
You will also need to tape off the insides of the cabinets, the countertops, floor, even some of the ceiling. If you’re planning on painting the walls, do it after you paint the cabinets – you’ll save some time and trouble in taping off the walls in addition to everything else. This was, by far, my least favorite part of this project. Taping off the insides of cabinet frames is harder than it sounds. But, I can offer you some advice that I learned along the way.
TIP: Tape off the bottom, sides and top of the frame first (newspaper works well for this), and then tape off the back of the inside frame.
You can see what I mean here:
Versus here where I was trying to tape off right at the edge of the inside frames. Don’t ask me why it took me so long to figure this out, but it was a maddening process. (And don’t mind the water spot on the contractor paper – it’s from the water dispenser in the fridge. I swear.)
You will need to go all Dexter-like and tape off any open areas in your kitchen to avoid spray particles from floating through your house.
|Note: I don’t flip my cabinets and paint the other side without waiting. I have never been successful in that, and if you are, I’d love to see your technique. But, these are great to use when spraying your cabinets.|
Priming and Painting
Paint pattern size:
Air and paint flow control:
Then, fill in the center area, working side to side, ensuring complete coverage.
- Clean and degloss the frame surface with Krud Kutter
- Lightly sand the frames (I used 220 grit sandpaper)
- Remove excess dust and wipe clean with tack cloth
- Prime cabinet frames and allow to dry 24 hours
- Lightly sand and use tack cloth before painting
- Paint cabinet frames with 2-3 coats of paint, waiting 24 hours in between coats
- Wait 2-3 days for paint to cure before rehanging doors
I hope you found this tutorial helpful, and most importantly, I hope you’ll begin to see that you can do this project!
In case you missed it – here is my post with tips and tricks on painting oak cabinets.
In April 2014, I gave Behlen’s Grain Filler a test drive to get rid of the oak grain on a cabinet project.
Here is a post showing an oak kitchen transformed (by me) for a client.
Here are some links to some other resources that might be useful:
Melissa at 320 Sycamore
Traci at Beneath my Heart
Sherry and John at Young House Love
Marian at Miss Mustard Seed
Traditional Painter Hand Painted Kitchens and Furniture – a treasure trove of information from seasoned pros, on materials, supplies, prep and technique, along with loads of photos of kitchen transformations. One of my favorite resources!