How to Paint Cabinets: Step-by-Step Tutorial

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In this post, I’ll share how to paint cabinets and all the tricks and tips I’ve learned along the way! Painting cabinets doesn’t have to be hard or overwhelming — it’s a great, budget-friendly way to bring a whole new style to your cabinets!

Changing the look of your cabinets with paint!

It was about a month into lockdown when I decided I couldn’t stare at our builder-boring oak cabinets anymore.

It wasn’t the first time I had painted a cabinet (the first was a vanity that was in one of our bathrooms) but this was a pretty big job since we have a lot of cabinets in our kitchen. I decided to tackle it anyway!

Now, I’ve actually painted my kitchen cabinets twice. Not because the first time got damaged or “messed up” in any way. Simply because I decided to go a different way with the style. Let me show you what my kitchen looked when we moved in:

Here’s what it looks like now:

Yes, I’ve changed more than just paint — but would you believe this transformation was possible for less than $1500?

Ok now that you’ve seen the power of paint, let’s dive in!

Optional: Remove cabinet doors

This might be a controversial thing to say, but I don’t think it’s required to remove your cabinet doors. I’ve done it both ways and I honestly prefer to leave them on.

What ended up happening to me was that by removing and replacing them, some of the hinges became loose. Likely due to the age of the kitchen and the cabinets. It’s fine, it’s an easy fix but it’s more work.

If you plan to use a paint sprayer to paint your cabinets, you will need to remove them. To make your life easier, I do recommend labeling the spot where the hinge attaches to the cabinet door and the inside of the cabinet so you can match up where the cabinet door belongs after painting

Pro tip: If spraying, put a piece of painters tape over where you mark so you don’t paint over it. The hinge will cover it up when you put it back together.

Again, you don’t need to remove the cabinet doors! When I left the cabinet doors on, I simply used a small paintbrush to paint around the hinge. Then, I used my regular brush and foam roller for the rest like I normally do.

Wipe down well with liquid sandpaper

The first thing I do to prep the cabinets is to wipe them down with liquid sandpaper. I do not actually sand down the cabinets at all. Liquid sandpaper will de-gloss your cabinets and rough up the surface enough so that you can prime and paint.

You’ll want to do this for any kind of cabinets, not just oak. This will also be important if you have laminate cabinets (like IKEA) or any other type of cabinet.

The only time you do not need to do this step is if you’re painting unfinished cabinets.

Prime your cabinets

Ok, I’ll be the first to admit that I hate priming. I have skipped this step in cabinet painting before. While it has been OKAY — I don’t recommend it. Putting in the extra time to prime your cabinets first will give you a better finish and help your cabinets stay durable for a long time!

As far as the type of primer goes, you can use a regular primer for most cabinets. If you are painting a laminate cabinet OR you notice your paint starts to bead-up/separate when you start painting — you will need a shellac-based primer.

A shellac-based primer is the ONLY way to get paint to stick to laminate cabinets (or furniture!) so it’s definitely a good thing to have on hand!

Once you have your cabinets primed, you can go ahead and paint!

Tips for painting your cabinets

As far as actually painting your cabinets, I want to break it down to talk both about the type of paint you choose and the tools you use to paint. There are always many options for completing a project like this, and I’ve tried a few different ways! I want to share my favorites with you and what I’ve learned!

Choosing the right paint

The type of paint you choose does matter! Here are my recommendations:

  • Cabinet enamel paint – This is the most accessible option as most hardware stores have a cabinet enamel paint that can be tinted at the paint counter to any color you want. This is typically the route that I choose to go when it comes to painting cabinets.
  • Fusion mineral paint – The only other type of paint I’d recommend for your cabinets would be fusion mineral paint. This is something you have to order so you’ll need to head to their website to do that. You CAN order swatches to get a better idea of the color before you order your paint.
  • BBFrosch – Lastly, I have tried (successfully) using regular paint with BBFrosch mixed in. This powder is designed to add to any type of paint and transform it into durable paint suitable for furniture and cabinets. It will give any paint, in any sheen, the durability of a mineral paint. Depending on the size of your project, it can be a budget-friendly solution since mineral and enamel paints are not cheap!

Choosing the right tools

I personally don’t own a paint sprayer yet. Given how well I know myself and my personality, I don’t think I would be a good paint sprayer owner. I don’t like prep work or cleaning – HAH!

That being said, I won’t say “never” because I may change my mind one day.

While you will get the best, smoothest, finish using a paint sprayer — it absolutely is not required!

Choosing the right tools for painting will make a big difference though, so here’s what I recommend:

  • Zibra brushes – I’m NOT exaggerating when I tell you that Zibra brushes are by far the BEST brushes I have ever used. With virtually NO brush strokes, it is something you will want to have for a cabinet-painting project! I can usually find them at Home Depot, but you can order them from Zibra or Amazon. Check out this post for more paint tips!
  • Foam rollers – foam rollers are definitely a requirement in my opinion for painting cabinets! They will give you a smooth finish, with zero texture, and that’s what we’re looking for with cabinets!

Let’s talk wood grain

If you’re painting oak cabinets, you will need to consider the grain. I’m a firm believer that there’s no way to get rid of the wood grain 100% so for the reason, I don’t usually try.

My personal preference is that dark colors look better with wood grain, so I don’t usually pick whites or light greys when painting cabinets.

That being said, you can purchase a wood grain filler and use this on your oak cabinets prior to painting in an effort to try to smooth the grain as much as possible. You will need to apply the filler, and sand it so it is adding extra work to the project. If you are really wanting to paint them white, I would recommend taking this step but it’s not required.

Remember, you can always get samples of different colors and paint a few doors different colors. Then live with for a few days before making your final choice on the whole project!

Bonus: Swap the hardware to complete the new look

Not only does paint make a BIG difference with your cabinets, but swapping the hardware will totally finish the look! It’s a very easy way to make your cabinets look modern and more custom!

I get my hardware on Amazon, has always been the most budget-friendly solution since I can get them in packs! These are the knobs and these are the pulls I used in my kitchen. I also used those knobs for my daughters closet as well, I’m a huge fan!

Budget-friendly transformations with the power of paint!

I absolutely love painting cabinets! It’s a project that has the power to completely transform an entire space for very little time and money! I have painted our kitchen cabinets as well as bathroom vanities and I don’t regret it at all!

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If you're looking to learn how to paint cabinets in your home then you need to read and save this post! This is definitely the easiest and most budget-friendly way to paint cabinets that I've seen! I can't believe how much paint can transform a space just by painting cabinets!!

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