Best paint for cabinets

The Best Paint for Kitchen Cabinets

It is important to sand down the top layer of protective finish, if you are painting existing kitchen cabinets, or to use a degreaser. I use 120-grit sandpaper to level out any imperfections in my cabinets, then finish with 220 grit for a smooth surface. Vacuum and wipe down any debris with a tack cloth.

Best Paint for Cabinets for a Factory Smooth Finish

I discovered the best paint for cabinets for a smooth factory finish when I built our living room fireplace builtins and have used it numerous times since, with consistently impressive results. A newly built cabinet’s paint and finish job is probably harder to get just right than building the cabinet in the first place.

living room, fireplace wall builtins painted with the best paint for cabinets, SW emerald urethane trim enamel paint, shelf decor

Best paint for cabinets

Simple Materials Guide

Get this FREE GUIDE to different types of trim and molding materials for your every DIY need – from wall molding to cabinetry!

My goal with all of my DIYs is that the finished product looks professional and not like an obvious DIY. Whether you are painting raw wood unfinished cabinets, or looking to repaint existing kitchen cabinets, getting the right paint for the job is crucial. You can’t use the same type of paint that you use on your walls.

Table of Contents

Things to consider

For anyone attempting to repaint kitchen cabinets, there are some things to consider. It is very difficult – if not impossible – to replicate the result of a factory-finished cabinet. Kitchen cabinets are painted in industrial settings with industrial-grade paints and equipment that sprays the paint onto the wood surface with high velocity. It is usually lacquer or enamel-type oil-based paint and it might have undergone an additional curing process.

kitchen with factory painted white cabinets, honed marble countertops, unlacquered brass hardware, wood floors, artwork and cutting boards on countertop, drawer microwave

Oil vs water-based paint

Traditionally, the best paint for painting cabinets and trim has been oil-based paint. However, it is not easily available anymore or DIY friendly. It has a strong and unpleasant odor, it takes a long time to dry, clean up is difficult, and it will yellow over time. Not to mention that once you paint with it, you have to continue to refresh with oil-based paint.

If you use water-based latex paint over oil-based paint, it will end up peeling off. The trim and doors of my ’90s home were originally painted with oil-based paint and then the previous owners painted over it with latex paint. The faintest touch causes that top coat of acrylic to peel. In the image below, you can see the results.

90s home interior, white door with painted gold hardware, water-based paint peeling off previously oil-based painted surface

Water-based paint, or latex paint, has become the modern standard for paint. However, it has its disadvantages when applied to cabinetry. It doesn’t create a very smooth and hard-wearing finish. The wood surface tends to suck up the paint and requires multiple coats.

What is the best cabinet paint?

Many of the major paint brands offer specially formulated lines of paint that have many of the qualities of oil-based paint but without any of the drawbacks. The one negative point of this type of paint is the price. It is costly but trust that it is worth every single penny. My personal preference for cabinets is the Sherwin Williams Emerald Urethane Trim Enamel paint.

built in desk and cabinets using SW emerald urethane enamel trim paint built-in mudroom cabinets in SW emerald urethane enamel trim paint Best paint for cabinets

I’m sure the competitor brand paints are similarly formulated and deliver the same results. I am sharing my experience with the paint line I have worked with. Here is a list of the best cabinet paint lines on the market:

  • Sherwin Williams Emerald Urethane Trim Enamel – my personal favorite
  • Benjamin Moore Advanced – alkyd enamel paint that behaves like an oil-based paint but has no oil
  • Behr – best on a budget

Sherwin Williams Emerald Urethane Trim Enamel paint

The SW Emerald line is formulated for cabinet, trim, and door application. It has a self-leveling property that helps eliminate the appearance of brush or roller marks and cures with a very hard smooth, enamel-like finish.

Tap the image to get your very own Sherwin-Williams color deck. Having this on hand will keep you ready for any upcoming projects.

It has regular dry time between coats and to the touch however, it takes a few days to fully cure. What this means is that even though your project appears dry to the touch, you shouldn’t place anything on the freshly painted surface for up to 5 days. Allow the paint to fully cure before decorating your shelves or furniture as I did in my home office, pictured below.

built-in desk and cabinets in home office, paint is storm cloud gray Best paint for cabinets

This paint comes in a satin, semi-gloss, and gloss finish. I always paint my cabinets with semi-gloss. If your surface has a lot of imperfections that you’d like to disguise, you can opt for satin. But if you prepare your project well before painting (see below), a semi-gloss finish will give it that beautiful sheen that usually comes only with factory-painted cabinets.

Kitchen Posts

How to paint cabinets for a factory smooth finish

Knowing all this helps adjust your expectations before you begin your project. You can still achieve an excellent durable result that is almost the same as the factory-painted cabinets. You just have to follow these steps:

builtin cabinets with window seat bench, best paint for cabinets

Prepare the surface

Sanding and prep are 90% of the paint job. I know you don’t like to hear that and that you are looking for a miracle, non-sanding solution. But if you start out with a rough unsanded surface, there is no paint in the world that will give you a smooth finish.

It is important to sand down the top layer of protective finish, if you are painting existing kitchen cabinets, or to use a degreaser. I use 120-grit sandpaper to level out any imperfections in my cabinets, then finish with 220 grit for a smooth surface. Vacuum and wipe down any debris with a tack cloth.

Do you need to prime?

In my experience with painting unfinished plywood cabinetry, primer was not necessary. The SW Emerald paint is thick and has amazing coverage. I haven’t had any stain or grain bleeding issues with it. However, if you will be using this paint on any other surface than raw or sanded wood, you might have to prime it.

Stefana Silber painting DIY cabinet frames with sprayer outdoors

When I painted my bathroom vanity, I only sanded off the top protective coat of the original paint. It wasn’t necessary to completely remove all of the paint. I painted using SW Emerald Urethane Enamel paint and didn’t have to prime.

One example is painting IKEA laminate furniture. You can’t use the Emerald paint or any other paint on laminate or other smooth glossy finish without priming (or sanding) first. The paint will end up peeling right off. I wanted to use this paint in Accessible Beige for my IKEA Pax DIY custom closet, but the surfaces I painted were all pre-primed pine boards. I didn’t paint the ikea surface interiors and left them as is.

Stefana Silber painting drawer fronts with the best roller for painting cabinets DIY IKEA PAX hack, painted IKEA furniture, Accessible beige painted cabinet doors and drawers, painted IKEA furniture, accessible beige closet with brass hardware, marble tile floors

The best primer for IKEA laminate surfaces is Kilz. It has a strong odor and runny consistency which makes it difficult to work with. But it creates a textured surface that the paint can grip onto. You have to pick your poison – sanding the smooth surface or priming it.

Do you spray or roll for a smooth finish?

The good news is that you don’t need to buy an expensive spray gun or learn how to use one to get a factory-smooth finish on your cabinet paint job. I have done both spraying and rolling my cabinets and they each have their pros and cons.

Spray painting is fast but it adds more time and effort in the preparation phase. If you are spraying on the inside of your home, you will have to tape and mask off any surface in the room that you wouldn’t want to get overspray on. You also have to wear a protective suit and mask.

Stefana Silver using best roller for cabinets to paint vanity doors accessible beige person using best sprayer for painting cabinets outdoors

In the image above, I am using the best roller for painting cabinets for a smooth finish on my vanity doors. The next image is from when I took my closet doors outside to spray them. As you can see, the sprayer creates a cloud of particles so I still wear a protective mask outdoors.

The Best Paint for Kitchen Cabinets

Best paint for cabinets

Painting your kitchen cabinets can make a huge difference in the appearance of a room. However, if not done properly, the results can be disastrous . When armed with the right knowledge, you can paint your cabinets and know that the end results will be beautiful and durable.

Let’s talk about different types of paints as well as classic and trending colors for this year. Here is everything you need to know to choose the best paint for kitchen cabinets.

Best paint for cabinets

Types of Paint:

There are many different types of paint, but the main thing we recommend is something high quality and hard drying.

As you’ll see below, the steps to painting your kitchen cabinets require a lot of prep work and labor. So, don’t use cheap, low-quality paint because after all that hard work it’s just going to chip off over time and use.

You also want to use hard drying paint because kitchen cabinets are different from interior walls since they get a LOT more wear and tear. Think how often you touch your cabinets (to get things from the drawers or put things away in the cabinets) while you likely don’t touch your walls very often at all.

The Best Paints for Kitchen Cabinets:

Best paint for cabinets

  • Behr Semi-gloss Enamel Interior/Exterior Cabinet, Door and Trim Paint (lots of color options)
  • Valspar Semi-gloss Cabinet and Furniture Paint (lots of colors available)
  • Magnolia Home Semi-gloss Cabinet and Furniture Paint Enamel (eight color options)

Can I Use Chalk Paint?

Yes, you can use chalk paint on kitchen cabinets, but we recommend reading Painting Cabinets with Chalk Paint (Pros and Cons) first.

Best paint for cabinets

Favorite Kitchen Cabinet Paint Colors in 2023:

Best paint for cabinets

  • Behr Swiss Coffee – a creamy white with just a hint of beige, like coffee with a LOT of cream.
  • Sherwin Williams Marshmallow – a perfect, classic white that Elsie uses all the time.
  • Sherwin Williams Evergreen Fog – a soft, creamy evergreen.
  • Behr Black Evergreen – a deeper, richer evergreen for when you want a darker green.

How to Properly Paint Kitchen Cabinets:

Step 1. Remove the doors and drawers from the cabinet boxes. Take off any hinges, handles, or any other hardware that may be in the way of painting.

Tip: Number the doors with a sharpie underneath the spot where the hinges go and cover with a small piece of painters tape. This will make it easier when rehanging the doors.

Best paint for cabinets

Step 2. Clean your cabinets. One of the most important steps in the process is ensuring that all grease, grime, and gunk is removed from all of your cabinets. If there are any especially greasy cabinets, we recommend spraying the surface with Krud Kutter Degreaser.

After excessive grease is removed, wet a clean rag with Liquid Sandpaper/Deglosser and wipe down thoroughly. (We recommend wearing rubber gloves when using liquid sandpaper.)

Step 3. Sand. All surfaces must be thoroughly sanded using a fine grit sandpaper (180 or 220 grit).

If you have one, you can also use an electric sander to help speed up the process. There is no need to sand the surfaces down to the bare wood—you just want to make sure that the surfaces are thoroughly scuffed.

Best paint for cabinets

Step 4. Remove dust from all cabinet surfaces. To remove the bulk of the dust, you can dust with an old paint brush. If you have an air compressor, you can blow the dust off with a blower nozzle.

Next, while wearing rubber gloves, get a clean rag and apply some denatured alcohol to it. Wipe the remaining dust off the surfaces with the rag.

Step 5. Cover up the floor, countertops, backsplash, and walls as needed. To do this, you can use painters tape, plastic, paper, canvas drop cloths, or a combination of all.

Step 6. Prime the cabinets. Now that the cabinets are prepped, it’s time for a coat of primer. If you have a paint sprayer and are comfortable using it, the most durable primer is shellac.

The downside to this primer is that it needs to be sprayed using a respirator, as it’s very odorous.

The product can be cleaned up with either denatured alcohol or an ammonia and water mixture. For all the DIYers out there that are using a brush instead of a sprayer, the second best product to use on your cabinets is a high quality water-based bonding primer.

Do your research on this and be sure you purchase a primer that will bond well to high traffic surfaces.

Best paint for cabinets

A paint sprayer gives the smoothest finish, but you can also brush or roll on the paint. A rolled and a brushed finish can turn out very nice. There is no difference in durability between spraying or hand painting.

Recommended Sprayers:

Tip: When spraying, we recommend using a Graco 308 FFLP or a 410 FFLP size tip.

Step 7. Lightly sand. After the primer is fully dry, lightly sand the surfaces with 220 or 320 grit sandpaper. Remove any additional dust, and then you’re ready to paint.

Step 8. Paint. Once you have prepped and primed, the cabinets are ready for the first and second coat of paint. Do not cut costs on your cabinet paint. It is very important to purchase a high quality and hard drying paint (urethane alkyd enamel) that will withstand daily usage.

Recommended Drying Time:

Be sure to allow plenty of dry time between coats of paint. Most paints recommend 2-4 hours of dry time between coats. Dry time can be sped up by using fans, and being in a low humidity environment.

Step 9. Remove all masking and tape.

Step 10. Reinstall doors and drawers. Most modern hinges can be adjusted if necessary to ensure the doors are hanging properly.

Best paint for cabinets

What Not to Do:

There are several things that may cause your paint job to not last:

  • Not cleaning and sanding your cabinets properly or thoroughly. We can’t stress this step enough. Prep is key to long-term durability.
  • Not using a bonding primer before painting.
  • Using a latex paint instead of a urethane enhanced enamel. Traditional latex/water-based paint will never dry hard enough to withstand constant touch, and will become sticky and eventually start to peel off.

Don’t let this overwhelm you! The project will be very rewarding in the end! Follow the steps outlined above and you can be sure your newly painted cabinets will look great and last for years.

Best paint for cabinets

You can use the same steps for painting furniture—like wooden dining chairs.

Is it Better to Spray or Roll Kitchen Cabinets?

Spraying is a better painting method for kitchen cabinets than rolling because it will not leave a texture, (while rolling will). Spraying is also faster, but requires quite a bit of prep work and equipment. Keep in mind you can rent a paint sprayer if you do not wish to buy one.

Best paint for cabinets

Once you’ve painted your kitchen cabinets you might look around and want to update your kitchen backsplash or countertops. Here are some related posts:

Backsplash Ideas:

  • Removable Tile Backsplash – how to properly install peel and stick tile.
  • How to Paint a Tile Backsplash
  • How to Tile a Kitchen Backsplash – when you’re ready to take your DIY to the next level!

Countertop Ideas:

  • Faux Painted Marble Countertop
  • Concrete Countertop DIY – an inexpensive way to update laminate countertops
  • Tiled Countertop DIY – no saw required

Let us know if you have any questions or if you use this tutorial! xo.