Can You Paint MDF

Can You Paint On MDF? (Step by Step Guide in 2023!)

MDF, or medium-density fiberboard is commonly used when making furniture or completing other woodworking or DIY projects.

It’s affordable, convenient, and can be stronger than other wood alternatives.

But can you paint MDF?

In this post, I’ll explore if you can paint MDF, how to start painting MDF, and much more. Let’s get started!

Yes, you can paint MDF by following the proper steps and using the right materials. While it might require a little more work than other types of wood, it’s certainly possible.

How to Paint on MDF

MDF is an excellent material for use in furniture, home construction, and countless other projects. But in these cases, you may need to paint the MDF.

Although the material is free of flaws like traditional wood, it is very porous meaning water-based paints may have trouble sticking to the surface.

To make matters worse, using the wrong primers and paints can cause wood to swell, leading to disaster in your project.

If you want to paint on MDF, you can! You just need to understand the best process for adding some color to your project just like painting particle board.

What You’ll Need

It takes more than a can of paint to get the job done when painting MDF. You will need several tools and materials to finish the process, most of which you probably already have in your toolset.

Here’s what you’ll need to successfully paint on MDF:

  • Brush/foam rollers
  • Brush
  • Sanding block
  • Putty knife
  • Tack cloth
  • Paint
  • Sanding sealer
  • Polymer-based filling
  • #220 and 320 sandpaper
  • Paint tray and liners

1. Prepare the Surface

First, you need to prepare your MDF project for the addition of paint.

Grab your #220 sandpaper and place it on a sanding block. Then, rub the sandpaper gently on the surface getting rid of any wax coating, high spots, or anything else that might cause the paint to become loose or refuse to stick to MDF.

You want to have a smooth surface when painting MDF so sanding is critical.

You need to ensure you sand gently. If you work too hard with uncoated MDF, it will cause damage. This damage gets in the way of painting and may cause issues with the paint sticking.

Make sure the surface is free from damage and pores before moving forward. You should cover every spot on the MDF boards to ensure an even coat.

2. Add Sanding Sealer

Take the sanding sealer and prepare it for the next steps.

Grab a paint tray from your supplies and place a liner inside. Then, pour the sanding sealer inside the paint try. Mix it until the sealer concoction comes together.

Use a foam roller to coat the MDF boards with a layer of sanding sealer. Keep the layer neat and clean to keep the thickness consistent. Ensure it dries for at least an hour before moving forward to the next step.

3. Sand the MDF Again

Once an hour passes, the sanding sealer should be dry. When the sanding sealer dries, it will raise the surface of the MDF. This effect means it’s time for another round of sanding to even the surface out.

Grab the #220 sanding paper and attach it to the sanding block. Gently scrape the block over the MDF to get rid of any excess bumps or additions to the MDF.

As you sand, be careful! You don’t want to push through the sanding sealer, or you will need to repeat the steps all over again. Ensure you cover the entire surface of the MDF before moving on to the next step.

4. Use Primer

Before you start painting MDF, you should always prime the surface for proper adhesion.

It’s critical to use an oil-based primer because a water-based version will soak into the MDF and cause it to expand and ruin your project.

You can use any application tool you desire to prime the MDF – it all depends on the project. Smaller projects may work best with a brush, while others call for a roller.

Place a layer of primer over every part of the sanded, smoothed, and sealed MDF. Be sure to coat the MDF edges as well as the flat surfaces for a proper finish.

You should also avoid over-priming the MDF to keep the thickness consistent throughout your project.

5. Paint Your MDF

Finally, it’s time to paint! Find the best paint for the project – which can vary depending on your what you’re working with. Ensure you have the correct color and open the can, mixing it if necessary. You can even use spray paint on wood for this project!

Again, the size of the application tool depends on the project. If you have a massive piece, you may need a foam roller to cover the entire surface. If you have something a little smaller, a brush may be necessary to complete the smaller details.

If you see any patches where the color of the wood peeks through, you’ll need to add a second coat. It’s better to add more paint than not enough before sealing the project.

After you apply paint, be sure to give it time to dry.

This can take anywhere from a few hours to a full day depending on the size of the project and the paint you use.

6. Layer a Clear Coat

Next, it’s time to apply a sealer.

You should use a sealer made of lacquer, polyurethane, wax, or any other type that is not water-based.

The clear coat is a simple way to provide an additional layer of defense to the paint layer and the material itself.

7. Clean Up

Last, it’s time to clean up the wood.

Put away your materials and ensure no excess wood or paint globs are sticking off the wood. If there are, you can gently sand them and apply touch up paint.

If you need more help, check out the video below!

How Long Does Paint Last on MDF?

Although MDF is dense, it isn’t a particularly durable material.

It can withstand a decent amount, but it also takes on damage and scratches with ease. Paint is not very safe on MDF, which is why a layer of sealant protection is critical.

If someone runs into or scratches your MDF, the paint will often suffer. You will need to replace the damage and put another layer of paint on top. If enough damage occurs, you may need to replace the MDF board altogether.

For durability, it’s best to keep your painted MDF away from places where it could get damaged. It’s more work to repair MDF than it is worth. 

How to Prep MDF for Painting

The most critical part of preparing MDF for painting is to sand it down and clean the surface before adding the paint. Although you can technically place the paint right on the surface, sanding it creates a surface that better adheres to the paint.

If you don’t sand MDF before painting, it may not last as long. The paint will fall off the surface and it won’t be able to withstand very much in terms of scratches or chips. If you don’t have time for all the steps, ensure you at least sand it down to allow the paint to adhere to some part of the wood.

Check out this post to learn if you can use wood glue on MDF!

Why Should You Paint MDF

It might seem like a lot of work to paint MDF. When should you paint MDF? What are the reasons you might want to paint MDF?

  • If it’s used as a piece of furniture
  • If it goes on the surface of a wall for design
  • If it’s used as a soundproofing material

Of course, there are some cases where painting MDF is unnecessary. If the material is going under shingles or in a wall, it doesn’t need paint as nobody will be able to see it.

Check out this post to learn how to stain MDF boards!


Can I Paint Directly Onto MDF?

If you don’t use water-based paint, it’s possible to paint directly onto MDF. However, if you want to color to last, it’s critical to take the time to prepare the wood beforehand. Sand and add additional primer layers for the best results.

If you don’t have time, you can paint right into MDF. However, don’t expect it to last nearly as long. The paint will likely chip or fall off the moment it is bumped or scratched.

What Primer Should I Use On MDF?

Primer is necessary if you want the paint to last as long as possible on MDF.

Don’t use a water-based primer, or it will soak into the MDF. Find a solvent-based primer to work beneath your paint.

It’s critical to use a primer if you want the paint to last for a long time on the MDF. The additional steps will keep the MDF in an ideal position for long-lasting color.

Can I Paint White MDF?

If you go to buy MDF, you might notice white MDF. This material is already primed and covered with a product to remove the porous surface. If you want to paint on white MDF, you can. It’s already prepped and ready to go.

White MDF is one of the best versions if you want to add color. It makes the ideal layer and background for the hues to stand out and pop.

What Paint to Use on MDF?

The best paint to use on MDF is a water-based paint. It will seep into the wood and create a more solid connection. If you don’t have time to prime the MDF, this is the best type of paint to use.

Water-based paint is also easier to clean up if you make a mistake. It doesn’t require as many harsh chemicals to remove.

However, you can also use an oil-based paint. It will take longer to dry, but will yield a smoother finish.

How to Get a Smooth Paint Finish on MDF?

Using an oil based paint will give you a smooth paint finish when painting MDF. However, it will take longer to dry.

Final Thoughts on Can You Paint MDF?

Painting MDF is certainly possible, and it can be easier than you think. Whether you want to paint MDF furniture, MDF cabinets, or you need to add color to MDF boards, the painting process is the same.

Be sure to prep the surface before painting by sanding it down, adding a layer of sanding sealer, and applying a coat of primer for the best results. After all, you don’t want to have to paint it again in a few months!