How to Paint Kitchen Cabinets Like a Pro

A kitchen renovation can be expensive, but painting your kitchen cabinets is an affordable way to give your kitchen a fresh new look without breaking the bank. With the right preparation and technique, even amateur DIYers can paint their cabinets and make them look professionally done. This comprehensive guide will walk you through every step of the cabinet painting process, from choosing paint and preparing your cabinets to applying the paint for a smooth, durable finish. Follow these pro tips and techniques for stunning painted cabinets that will revive your kitchen’s style.

Clean Cabinets Thoroughly

Thorough cleaning is crucial before painting kitchen cabinets. Grease, dirt, and grime will prevent paint from properly adhering and cause peeling or chipping later on. Clean inside drawers and cabinets as well as exterior surfaces.

Follow these steps to properly clean cabinets before painting:

  • Remove all cabinet doors, drawers, and hardware (handles, hinges). Remove shelves if possible.
  • Wash cabinet boxes, doors, drawers, and shelves with a grease-cutting dish soap and water solution. Use a sponge or soft cloth to scrub.
  • Rinse soap off thoroughly and let cabinets fully dry.
  • Use a liquid deglosser or fine grit sandpaper to scuff up existing cabinet finish. This helps the paint adhere.
  • Clean out cabinet boxes and vacuum up dust. Wipe with a tack cloth to remove any leftover dust or debris.

Thoroughly clean and degrease cabinets 1-2 days before painting for the best results.

Choose the Right Paint

Picking the right type of paint ensures your freshly painted cabinets maintain their beautiful look over time.

Paint Options:

  • Latex/acrylic paint: Most popular option for painting cabinets. Durable, affordable, easy cleanup with water.
  • Alkyd/oil-based paint: Harder finish, but contains strong odor and requires paint thinner for cleanup.
  • Laquer, varnish: Provide a smooth, durable finish for frequently used cabinets. Require paint sprayer to apply.
  • Gel stain: Can be used to tint wood cabinets without concealing wood grain.
  • Paint and primer in one: Convenient all-in-one formula, but best to use separate primer.

For most DIYers, a high quality acrylic latex paint is the best choice. The satin, semi-gloss, or gloss sheen offers good durability and withstands cleaning and moisture. Water-based acrylic latex paint is easy to apply and clean up.

Tips for Choosing Cabinet Paint:

  • Use a premium quality paint specifically made for cabinets and furniture. Avoid cheap paints which take more coats and are prone to chipping.
  • Opt for a satin, semi-gloss, or gloss finish. Higher sheens are most durable for kitchen surfaces and easier to clean.
  • Choose a 100% acrylic formula rather than vinyl acrylic. Acrylic offers better adhesion and durability.
  • Pre-mixed white paint is the easiest starting point. Custom tinted paint must be used immediately before color fades.
  • Buy all the paint together in one large batch to ensure consistent color. Save your receipt and paint label.

Quality name brand cabinet paints include Benjamin Moore Advance, Sherwin Williams ProClassic, and Behr Alkyd.

Wood Filler and Sanding

Any holes, gouges, or imperfections in your cabinet boxes, doors, and drawers should be fixed before painting kitchen cabinets.

Use wood filler and sanding to prep and smooth surfaces:

  • Squeeze wood filler into holes and cracks and wipe away excess. Let dry completely.
  • Sand wood filler smooth using 120-150 grit sandpaper. A sanding block helps on flat areas.
  • Sand entire cabinet to rough up surface and help paint adhere. Use 150-220 grit paper.
  • Vacuum dust and wipe clean with a tack cloth after sanding to remove debris.

Sand lightly between coats for the smoothest possible finish. Address wood repairs and sanding early in the painting process.

Prime Cabinets Before Painting

Priming is a key step that shouldn’t be skipped when painting cabinets. Prime coats:

  • Adhere bare wood for better paint coverage
  • Seal raw wood to prevent bleed-through.
  • Block stains, knots, and flaws so they don’t show through topcoats.
  • Provide a uniform surface for truer paint colors.

Oil-based primers offer the best stain and odor blocking for cabinets. Zinsser Bulls Eye 1-2-3 is a top choice. For a low-odor option, water-based acrylic primers also work well.

Apply primer with a high quality mini roller and angled brush. Brush primer on cabinet frames and trim first. Then roll a smooth and even coat over flat cabinet door and drawer fronts.

Doing multiple thin coats prevents drips and runs. Sand lightly and wipe clean between coats.

Priming existing cabinets provides maximum paint adhesion. For new wood, one prime coat is often sufficient.

Paint Cabinets Using Proper Brush Techniques

Applying the paint smoothly and evenly is key to achieving flawless, professional results when tackling a DIY kitchen cabinet paint job. Follow these key brush painting techniques:

Brushes Matter

Invest in high-quality angled sash paintbrushes designed for trim and cabinet work. The angled edges allow you to cut in and paint straight edges cleanly. Spend a little more for brushes with thicker, denser bristles and smoothly tapered edges. Foam or microfiber rollers also produce a smooth finish.

Slow and Steady Wins the Race

Resist the urge to hurry or overload the paintbrush. Paint slowly and methodically for the most pristine finish. Multiple thin coats look better than one thick coat.

Maintain a Wet Edge

Maintain a “wet edge” by brushing into freshly painted areas before paint dries. Overlapping sections minimizes blotchiness and lap marks.

Brush with the Wood Grain

Brush paint on in smooth strokes going in the direction of the wood grain. On drawer fronts, brush vertically. For door panels and frames, follow the wood grain contours.

Cut In Carefully

Use the angled brush to carefully “cut in” around edges and trim before rolling larger sections. Avoid drips or splattering.

Follow these pro brush painting techniques for the smoothest possible finish on DIY painted kitchen cabinets.

Roll Cabinet Doors and Drawer Fronts

While brushwork is crucial for cutting in, rolling is faster for covering large flat cabinet surfaces. Use these tips:

  • Use a high density foam or microfiber roller with a fine nap for the smoothest finish.
  • Dip the roller in the tray and roll off any excess before applying paint.
  • Start by cutting in edges with the brush, then quickly roll the center using smooth, straight strokes.
  • Maintain a wet edge and blend sections together.
  • For cabinet doors with panels, cut in the grooves and edges first before rolling panels.
  • Paint the backs of cabinet doors and drawers too!

Proper rolling technique ensures full paint coverage on cabinets and minimizes brush marks.

Dry Brushing Creates Depth

For cabinet doors with recessed panels or profiled trim, “dry brushing” is a pro technique that highlights these details.

  • Load the brush lightly and wipe most of the paint off on a rag. The brush should be nearly dry.
  • Very lightly brush over raised areas to deposit just a small amount of paint.
  • Paint recesses and profiles first before dry brushing.

Dry brushing accentuates the subtle wood grain patterns and textures. Take your time with this detailing step.

Deglosser Helps Paint Stick

Painting cabinets for the first time? You’ll need to prep the existing finish so the new paint sticks properly.

Liquid deglossers work by chemically etching the slick glossy surface so the new paint can grip better. Deglossers are ideal for preparing previously painted or factory finished cabinets.

Follow these tips for successfully deglossing cabinets before painting:

  • Use a TSP substitute deglossing product made specifically for prep. Most are water-based and low odor.
  • Apply a thin coat with a brush or rag. Let it sit for 15-20 minutes.
  • Scrub the finish gently with a stiff nylon scrub brush or abrasive sponge.
  • Rinse thoroughly with clean water and let dry completely.
  • Lightly sand with 220 grit sandpaper after deglossing for the best adhesion.

Deglossing opens up the cabinet finish so primer and paint properly stick to the surface, resulting in a more durable finish.

HVLP Sprayers For a Flawless Finish

While brushing and rolling work well, spraying paint onto cabinets yields an ultra-smooth factory finish. Handheld HVLP sprayers are the spray method best suited for DIYers painting kitchen cabinets at home.

HVLP (high volume low pressure) sprayers have some key advantages:

  • Utilize a high volume of airflow to atomize paint into a fine mist.
  • Operate at low pressure which minimizes paint misting and overspray.
  • Require less thinning of the paint compared to airless sprayers.
  • Provide great control and precision for applying smooth coats.

HVLP sprayers are ideal for spraying thin coats of paints and stains with precision and control. Models like the Fuji Semi-PRO 2 allow even novice DIYers to achieve flawless results.

Follow manufacturer instructions to thin paint properly and use recommended tip sizes. Clean the sprayer immediately after use.

Apply Primer Coats

Priming is an essential first step in the cabinet painting process. The right primer provides a smooth, uniform surface for painting while blocking stains, wood knots, and other imperfections.

Follow these best practices for successfully priming kitchen cabinets at home:

Use Oil-Based Primer For Stains and Odors

For covering stained wood or existing paint with noticeable damage, oil-based primers offer superior blocking power. They seal in stains to prevent bleed-through. Zinsser Cover Stain and similar oil primers dry hard and prepare cabinets for painting.

Water-Based Primers Work For Clean Cabinets

For painting over smoothly sanded or new wood, water-based acrylic primers bond well. Low-VOC options like Zinsser Smart Prime provide less odor than solvent-based primers.

Apply With a Brush and Roller

Use a quality angled sash brush to cut in and prime edges and trim. Then roll primer onto flat surfaces using a short nap roller for smoothness.

Do 2-3 Thin Coats

Applying multiple thin, even coats ensures proper coverage. Lightly sand between coats for leveling. Allow proper dry time between coats.

Remove Doors, Drawers and Hardware

Prime and paint cabinets disassembled for the highest quality painting results. Remove shelves for full access.

Properly primed cabinets ensure your DIY paint job resists chipping, scratching, and wear for lasting durability and beauty.

Sand Between Paint Coats

Achieving an ultra-smooth painted finish on kitchen cabinets requires carefully sanding between each coat of paint. This levels any brush marks or imperfections from the previous coat.

  • Wait at least 2 hours or until fully dry before sanding a freshly painted cabinet.
  • Use 220-320 grit sandpaper wrapped around a foam sanding block.
  • Lightly sand entire painted surface using smooth circular motions.
  • Once sanded, wipe cabinet with a tack cloth to remove all dust.
  • Apply next paint coat within 2 hours before sanding again.
  • For the final coat, do not sand. Allow to fully cure before reinstalling doors.

Proper sanding between coats creates the silky smooth finish of professionally sprayed kitchen cabinets. Take your time and don’t rush the sanding steps.

Pick the Right Sheen

Cabinet paint comes in different finish sheens ranging from flat to high-gloss. Choosing the proper sheen affects durability and aesthetics. Consider these tips:

  • Flat/matte paints offer no shine or reflection. Hide surface flaws but susceptible to staining and marking. Best for heavily distressed or rustic styles.
  • Eggshell has a soft velvety appearance and subtle shine. Provides a classic look on cabinets. Requires careful cleaning.
  • Satin is low luster and semi-reflective. Resists moisture, stains, and damage better than flat or eggshell sheens. Most popular choice.
  • Semi-gloss has medium reflectivity. Very durable and ideal for frequently used cabinets. Makes wipedown cleaning easiest.
  • Gloss is very shiny, smooth, and reflective like a hard enamel. Highlights cabinet detail but shows more surface imperfections.

Consider your cabinet style, kitchen use, and cleaning requirements when selecting a sheen. Satin or semi-gloss offer the best durability for kitchens.

Distressing Techniques

For a vintage, timeworn look on kitchen cabinets, try using distressing painting techniques. Distressing creates intentional worn spots, cracks, and dings on cabinets.

Here are some easy methods to distress cabinets:

  • Apply top paint coat in random blotches to mimic older cracked paint.
  • Scrub areas with coarse sandpaper or wire brush to reveal primer underneath.
  • Use wood putty or spackle to make “cracks” and dents, then paint over.
  • Hammer small nails partway into cabinet frames and boxes to make “wormholes”.
  • Make paint edges and trim appear chipped by scraping with a screwdriver tip.
  • Rub white paint over edges and drawers/doors to simulate everyday wear and tear.

Distress cabinets lightly and focus on natural areas that would see the most damage like corners, edges, and near handles. You can easily distress and antique modern cabinet styles.

Color Sand Between Layers

For an extra smooth, blended look on painted cabinets, lightly color sanding each coat of paint helps blend layers together beautifully.

  • Use fine (220+ grit) sandpaper to avoid creating more brush marks.
  • Sand using even, circular motions until paint takes on a smooth, matted look.
  • Wipe away all dust, then apply next coat in opposite direction to fill any scratches.
  • Each layer should be fully dry first. Sand again before applying final topcoat.
  • Color sanding helps hide brushstrokes and transition between paint layers seamlessly.

Invest the time into proper color sanding and you’ll be amazed at the flawless, glass-like painted finish you can achieve on kitchen cabinets.

Prep Trim and Molding

Those small yet intricate trim and molding elements on cabinets can make or break your paint job. Proper prep and painting of the trim prevents drips, splatters, and bleed-through.

  • Carefully degloss and sand trim so paint adheres properly. Fill nail holes with wood filler.
  • Use high quality fine tip brushes to precisely cut in trim. Mini foam rollers also work on trim.
  • Where trim meets wall, run painters tape above to prevent drips. Remove before paint dries.
  • If staining or varnishing, prep and seal trim before painting cabinet boxes.
  • Apply thin, even coats and gently color sand between layers on trim.
  • Work methodically and slowly. Rushing causes mistakes.

Taking extra care when painting cabinet trim and moldings helps define details and creates a professional built-in look.

Choose Appropriate Paint Finish

From basic matte to ultra high-gloss, it’s important to choose a paint finish suited for kitchen cabinets. Consider these factors:

Matte (Flat) Finish

  • Provides an ultra smooth uniform finish with no sheen
  • Shows fewer surface defects
  • Susceptible to staining and marring from cleaning
  • Lacks durability for high use kitchen cabinets

Eggshell Finish

  • Soft, velvety appearance with very subtle sheen
  • Classic look, resists yellowing
  • Wears well for light to moderate use
  • Requires gentler cleaning

Satin Finish

  • Most popular choice for cabinets
  • Subtle sheen level between eggshell and semi-gloss
  • Withstands cleaning, moisture, and wear and tear
  • Durable enough for active kitchens

Semi-Gloss Finish

  • Medium to high reflectivity
  • Most durable and stain resistant cabinet finish
  • Ideal for frequently used cabinets and bathrooms
  • Enhances cabinet detailing
  • Easiest to clean

Consider carefully how your cabinets will be used before deciding on a paint finish. Satin, semi-gloss, and gloss offer the best durability.

Create an Even Base Layer

Achieving a flawlessly smooth, professional finish when painting kitchen cabinets starts with properly applying the initial base coat layer. Follow these best practices:

  • Make sure cabinets are fully primed first before painting.
  • Sand primed cabinets very lightly to create a smooth surface the paint can grab onto.
  • Use high quality trim paintbrushes to carefully brush on the first layer. Maintain a wet edge.
  • Thoroughly coat inside cabinet frames and boxes too.
  • Apply paint in direction of the wood grain for minimal brush strokes.
  • Paint all sides of doors and drawers including edges and trimwork.
  • Allow proper dry time between coats based on paint specifications.
  • Lightly sand base layer before painting subsequent coats.
  • Take your time! Rushing leads to drips, errors, and unevenness.
  • The base layer creates the foundation for your perfect final finish.

Applying the first cabinet paint layer with care and precision sets the stage for your later coats to complete the high-quality painted cabinet project you envision.

Paint Cabinet Interiors

Just painting the exterior isn’t enough when refinishing kitchen cabinets. For a complete professional makeover, don’t neglect cabinet box interiors! Here are tips for painting inside cabinets:

  • Remove shelves and hardware before painting interiors.
  • Use a small trim paintbrush to cut in and reach narrow spaces.
  • Maintain a wet edge and blend sections together to prevent lap marks.
  • Use thin coats of paint to avoid drips running down sides.
  • If spraying cabinets, remove doors fully to spray cabinet interiors.
  • Let each coat fully dry before closing up cabinets or reinstalling shelves/hardware.
  • Sand lightly between coats for maximum smoothness.
  • Clean interior surfaces thoroughly before painting – vacuum dust and wipe with tack cloth.
  • Degloss and sand existing cabinet interiors so new paint adheres properly.

Painting the inside of cabinets is just as crucial as the exterior for a cohesive, seamless look. Proper prep and careful paint application prevents messy errors inside cabinets. Take your time painting inside corners, hinge areas, and hard to reach spots.

Stagger Cabinet Doors For Painting

Trying to paint all cabinet doors simultaneously results in a disorganized mess. A better system is to paint cabinet doors in an assembly line style.

  • Set up three workstations – one for wiping/sanding, one for painting door fronts, and one for painting door backs and edges.
  • Start by fully prepping and priming all doors first before painting.
  • Paint one side of several doors, then let them dry while you paint the other sides of the next set of doors.
  • Alternate door fronts and backs to maximize efficiency and avoid drips.
  • Lay doors flat on sawhorses or across chairs for support while painting.
  • Let doors dry fully upright on edge before rehanging to avoid sagging.

Staggering the workflow minimizes downtime waiting for paint to dry. Establish an organized system to paint cabinet doors efficiently.

Pro Tips for Painting Cabinets

Painting your kitchen cabinets like a professional requires employing proper techniques and having the right tools. Follow these pro tips:

  • Invest in high-quality angled sash brushes made for trim and cabinetry. Avoid cheap brushes.
  • Use a microfiber mini roller for quickly covering large flat areas after cutting in edges.
  • Sand all cabinets lightly before priming and sand again between each coat of paint using 220+ grit paper.
  • Wipe sanded cabinets clean before reapplying paint using a tack cloth to remove all dust particles.
  • Maintain a wet edge by brushing into freshly painted areas before paint dries.
  • Use small craft brushes and artist’s palette knives for detailed prep work and painting trim pieces.
  • Prep existing cabinets by deglossing and sanding so new paint adheres properly.
  • Apply multiple thin coats of paint for a perfectly smooth finish rather than one thick coat.

Employing professional techniques helps amateur painters achieve truly expert results on their DIY kitchen cabinet paint projects.


How long does it take to paint kitchen cabinets?

Plan on painting an average sized kitchen taking 1-2 weeks working on it most evenings and weekends. The cabinet painting process involves many steps – preparing surfaces, priming, painting multiple coats, sanding in between, and reinstalling cabinet hardware. Rushing through stages can ruin the paint job, so allow enough time to work methodically.

What color should I paint my kitchen cabinets?

Whites, off whites, light grays, and navy blues are popular paint colors for kitchen cabinets. Consider the undertones you want to come through – warm, cool, neutral? Color selection also depends on countertop and backsplash colors and the overall style you want to achieve – contemporary, coastal, farmhouse, etc.

What sheen should I use to paint cabinets?

Satin and semi-gloss sheens are best for durability on kitchen cabinets. They resist moisture, stains, and damage while allowing easy cleanup of dirt and grease. Full gloss paint can look too shiny. Matte is prone to staining and marks. So satin or semi-gloss offer the ideal mid range sheen.

Should I spray or brush paint kitchen cabinets?

You can achieve excellent results by brushing and rolling if you use proper painting techniques. Spraying cabinets yields a flawless factory finish, but requires significant masking and prep work. HVLP spray systems allow DIYers to spray paint efficiently.

How do I get a smooth finish on painted cabinets?

Carefully sanding between each coat of paint helps achieve an ultra-smooth finish. Use fine 220+ grit sandpaper and wipe clean with a tack cloth before reapplying paint. Spray painting cabinets also produces the smoothest possible finish.


Painting kitchen cabinets allows you to give your kitchen a fresh facelift at a reasonable cost. Follow this guide and employ professional techniques for stunning results. With the right tools, quality paint, proper preparation, and some elbow grease, you can paint your cabinets like a pro. Just go slow and focus on applying paint smoothly. Your beautiful new painted cabinet makeover will provide a beautiful, durable finish that makes your kitchen look brand new.