Due to popular demand, I present the tutorial you’ve all been waiting for: how to paint kitchen cabinets!! Painting cabinets is an affordable way to breathe new life into a kitchen for pennies on the dollar of what it costs to buy new and a badass way to bring in bold color that’s budget-friendly. BOOM 💥
PSA: if you’re rehabbing existing kitchen cabinets, you just skip right ahead to the instructions below. If you’re buying new cabinets with the intent to paint them yourself, read this:
You see, in my kitchen remodel, the kicker is I DID buy brand new kitchen cabinets and opted to paint them myself. Why? Because the dark green cabinet color I desired was hard to come by, and when I did the cost was upwards of $20K. Uhh, no thank you.
The Green Kitchen Glamazon was my second foray into painting cabinetry. What I can tell you in all honesty is this: depending on the size of your kitchen and the amount of cabinets you have to paint, this DIY project is not for the faint of heart. Most especially a dark paint color (aka more coats).
My kitchen renovation had me bright-eyed and bushy-tailed (even with dust and mayhem everywhere) until I was about midway through painting my kitchen cabinets. Each drawer and cabinet door required four coats of paint—one coat of primer and three coats of dark green. That meant the cabinet backs and bases also required this many coats as well. Add to that, sanding in-between coats. I have a large kitchen, so it took an entire month (even with helping hands and several eight-hour days) to accomplish this task. I’m still partially traumatized. 😬
I’d never met a DIY I disliked, until this project came along. My hubby was urging for a professional paint job that would’ve cost an additional $2–4K (our cabinet cost was $10K). In retrospect, my time (and sanity) would’ve been better served spending the extra bucks, which were within our means. I wholeheartedly blame my thrifty, stubborn Italian genes. I admit this outright so you can, in earnest, weigh your options before you’re knee deep in paint.
Still ready to fight the good paint fight? Then let’s dive in.
WHAT YOU’LL NEED
INSL-X Stix Bonding Primer, 2 gallons (varies)
INSL-X Cabinet Coat in Semi-Gloss, 2 gallons (varies)
Foam Mini Paint Rollers
Mini Paint Roller Frame
Mini Paint Tray
¾” to 1” Foam Brushes
Angled Paint Brush
Sandpaper, 180-220 grit
4-Sided Sanding Block
Tack Cloth or Rag
First things first, remove cabinet doors from the bases. Organize hardware into jars and store brackets in their respective unit. Use painter’s tape to label each cabinet by size and tape off edges, shelves, walls and floors surrounding the face of the base.
Next up, sand-town. Break out the hand sander or grab a sanding block and start roughing up all surfaces—bases, doors and drawers alike. This is a critical step to ensure the primer and paint adhere. Use a vacuum and a tack cloth or rag to remove all dust before applying a single paint stroke. Do this every gosh darn time!
Grab a stirrer and mix up that primer. For bases, first apply primer along the inner edges of each cabinet base with a foam brush. Make sure to wipe away any excess blobs quickly. Cabinet paint tends to cure faster than any other paint on the planet. Once the edges are complete in each section, use a foam roller to swiftly apply coverage to the overall surface.
PRO TIP: Bonding primers are a foolproof way to ensure paint sticks to any surface. Since my new cabinets were coming with a light finish (much to my dismay), even with a hardy sanding I didn’t want to take any chances. Two coats are recommended, but this chick took a chance on one. Sufficed just fine.
For cabinets, apply primer first in the corners and then swiftly apply coverage to the front and outer edges. Set aside until tack dry, about 30 minutes. If you’ve got time, let the primer cure for 3 to 4 days. Otherwise, they’re ready for a top coat within 1 to 2 hours. Make sure to lightly sand before applying paint.
PRO TIP: To stack doors in a tight space, line each with a sheet of wax paper to avoid any paint sticks or chips.
Break out that (deliciously moody) top coat and stir it up! Apply paint just as you did primer—inside edges or corners first, then front, then sides—except three times. Without a tinted primer, it took three hard coats for solid coverage. Not to mention, the first coat looks absolutely horrendous.
Lightly sand in between each coat. If any large paint blobs were left behind, use a razor or x-acto blade to scrape off.
Cabinet Coat is tack dry within 60 minutes, ready for re-coat in 6 hours, and offers a full cure in 5 to 7 days. Also, I cheated and did not prime the backs of my cabinet doors. They’re holding up great, which makes me wonder: maybe I didn’t need to prime at all? Whattayagunnado.
One striking difference in painting cabinet doors: swapping from a foam brush to an angled paint brush to apply more paint in corners. It was important to apply a fair amount (not too much, not too little) and swiftly smooth out the paint before it started to dry. The foam brushes were light on paint. The angled paint brush helped with globbing on a bit more. I wasn’t prepared to go anymore than three coats.
PRO TIP: Work the paint quickly. It’s all in the wrist. Apply lightly and in the same direction as much as humanly possible. Any strokes applied as the paint starts to dry messes with the self-leveling, leaving unwanted brush marks. It’s guaranteed to happen. A sanding block can help smooth out these imperfections.
TIPS FROM THIS RETIRED CABINET PAINTER
If working in a confined environment, wax paper is a great way to stack and/or lean tack dry cabinet doors against one another to conserve space.
I highly recommend purchasing cabinet-specific paint for several reasons: durability, adhesion and self-leveling science. Not all brands are made the same. Considering my “paint studio” was my home, I opted for the fastest dry/cure times (i.e.; Cabinet Coat versus Advance). Cabinet coat is tack dry within 30-60 minutes, re-coats in 6 hours, and cures in 5–7 days.
Be aware of your environment. Temperature and humidity play a large role in drying times. In fact, several times I moved back into my house to keep the paint from drying too quickly (high heat) or too slowly (high humidity).
Rollers and brushes, I tried them all. Short nap rollers, velour rollers, foam rollers (with round and flat edges) and every possible paint brush you can imagine. Cabinet coat recommends a short nap roller, but I disagree! To quickly cover every nook and cranny, with the least amount of strokes, my preferred tools were an angled paint brush, ¾”–1” foam brush and a foam paint roller with a flat edge.
Wrapping rollers and brushes tightly in plastic wrap extends their shelf life. If the paint cured, you will know the next time you use it. If it’s not too far gone, you may be able to clean off clumped paint particles. Waste not, want not.
Why didn’t I spray paint the cabinets myself? My spray tool was clogging easily, spraying uneven, tiny paint bubbles along test surfaces. Since thinning was not recommended, and spray painting in-house was not an option, I opted to do it by hand this way. Lesson learned.
Why didn’t I tint my primer? The hardware store said they were unable to and I’m still not 100% clear why. Perhaps this is a Benjamin Moore issue as friends have reported success tinting cabinet primers from other brands. If you can, I highly recommend tinting your primer for darker hues!
Peace + Good Luck!
You’re gunna need it.