How to Paint MDF Boards

Have you ever needed to paint MDF and wondered how to do it?  I ran across this exact question when building a shoe rack in my Dressing Room.  My goal was to match the existing Ikea Desk Vanity and Drawers (which are a laminate material and very smooth).  I matched the color and decided to go with MDF (so that I could easily get it smooth).  After a little investigating I started out and, through some trial and error, came up with a good system for painting MDF.

-MDF board
-High Density Foam Rollers (to get the smoothest finish)
-Foam Brush (I found this out later for doing the edges…)
-Paint (I chose eggshell because I wanted the shelves to be a bit more matte than the rest of the furniture)
-Sand Paper (medium, fine, and/or extra fine)
-Sawhorses (made this so much easier, but you could do without) and drop cloth.

1.  Sand down the MDF with medium and then fine sandpaper (making sure to get the edges or cut sections really good).  I had my shelving cut from large sheets of MDF, so the edges were the roughest parts and the parts that would be facing out on the shelf.

2.  Wipe the excess dust off of the shelf or use compressed air and place the MDF on your painting surface.  At first I had some plastic over a few pieces of scrap wood on the floor and it worked okay, but my back and hamstrings were killing me!  I later moved the project to the garage and used sawhorses, which worked much better.  It was also way easier to get to the edges and not have paint lumped up when the board was higher and I could see what I was doing.

3.  After trial and error, I found that the best sequence was painting the edges and one side first through all three coats, then flipping and painting the other side.  The MDF really soaks in the first coat of paint, so this coat takes the longest.  I could have used a primer, but I had a paint that included a primer and I wanted one less step.

Use the foam brush for the edges and the roller for the top and bottom.

4.  Let the coat dry (about one hour for me, but it was a warm day), then sand it down with the fine or x-fine sandpaper.  This is such an important step to get the smoothest finish possible.  After the first coat, the board with still feel really rough, but once you sand it, the smoothness will be noticeable.  I always wiped the boards down after sanding to get rid of extra grit/dust that i didn’t want to get into the next coat of paint.

It was really noticeable on the edges how important it was to sand to get the smooth finish that I was looking for.  The following picture was taken after the first coat of paint while I was sanding.

5.  Complete as many coats as needed to cover (i used a total of three coats) sanding in between each one.  Don’t sand after the last coat so that you leave the paint sheen intact.

6.  When you flip to the other side, get all the coats completed in one day.  I learned hard way that you can’t lean the boards up against each other (even after they have been drying for a week).  The paint will stick to itself and pull off.  The best tactic that I found for my shelving was to install it the day that I finish painting so that it could finish curing in place and I wouldn’t mess up any noticeable areas.

Things I Learned
-Don’t be stingy with the paint.  The foam rollers don’t soak up as much as a regular nap roller, so you have to dip back in the paint often.  I got a much more smooth finish when I really got the paint on there.
-Sawhorses save your back and help to move the project along faster.
-Sanding in-between coats is SO important!  I used fine grit for the first coat sand and x-fine for the second coat sand (you could use fine for both).

After finishing my project, I am much more confident (and efficient!) on how to paint MDF boards.  My finished shoe rack (my first MDF project) looks amazing and the shelves match the other furniture in the room).  Once i got the hang of it and developed a system, it was really easy to achieve the smooth finish that I was looking for.  The most important part for getting a smooth finish was to apply enough paint each coat and sand in between coats!  To see other posts from this project, see below!

How to Clean and Paint Iron Pipe– all of my tips and tricks for cleaning and painting the iron pipe from this project.
Planning the Shoe Rack– My initial plans and Sketches for the shoe rack build.
Build and Rough Fit of the Shoe Rack– putting all the pieces together and fitting MDF shelves.
Completed Shoe Rack Reveal!- Coming Soon!

Do you have a project where you need to Paint MDF?  Do you have other tips and tricks?  Tell me in the comments!



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.