How to Paint MDF Like a Pro – 4 Easy Steps

by Andrew Ahearne - April 11, 2022

You can paint MDF just like any other type of wood. However, the job requires a few key steps to ensure a smooth, even finish. With the proper preparation, painting MDF is a straightforward job you can complete over the weekend. In this guide, we’ll show you how to paint MDF like a professional and why it’s a worthwhile DIY project.


The Benefits of Painting MDF


MDF, or Medium Density Fiberboard, is an engineered wood product composed of broken-down hardwood or softwood residuals made into wood fibres. These wood fibres are then combined with wax and a resin binder under heat and pressure to create a strong, durable material. MDF is often used for cabinets, shelving, moulding, and even furniture.

While many let their MDF display their natural wood colour, a splash of paint enhances its overall look. Below we’ve outlined the main reasons why painting your MDF boards or cabinets is worthwhile:

  • Provides an extra layer of protection against general wear and tear, such as scratches, scuffs, and stains.
  • Prevents moisture damage which causes your MDF to warp or swell.
  • A cost-effective solution to give MDF an updated look, ideal for home improvement projects.
  • Disguises any imperfections on the MDF’s surface, such as dents, chips or scratches.


MDF Painting Summary


  1. Apply drywall compound over your MDF ‘s edges and let dry.
  2. Sand your MDF with 200-grit sandpaper to create a smooth surface.
  3. Clean with a damp cloth to remove any lingering dust.
  4. Apply 1-3 layers of solvent-based primer to your MDF. Let each layer dry and sand lightly in between. 
  5. Paint the MDF with oil or lacquer based paint with a roller or paintbrush.
  6. Seal the paint job with a wax, polyurethane or lacquer sealer.


How to Paint MDF – Step by Step


You might think painting an MDF is difficult, but with the proper preparation you’ll get a smooth, even finish that will last for years to come. Below we’ll go into detail about the best way to paint MDF:


Step 1: Sanding Your MDF for Painting


The first step to prep work is to sand your MDF. This aids with the paint adhesion and smoothes out any of the surface’s imperfections. Always wear a dust mask and safety goggles to protect your lungs and eyes from the MDF dust.

1. Set the MDF on a worktable or another flat surface. 

2. Apply a coat of drywall compound over your MDF’s edges and allow it to dry. 

3. Sand the MDF using an oscillating sander with medium-grit sandpaper (220-grit).

4. Use a clean cloth to wipe away any dust and debris from the MDF.


Step 2: Priming your MDF


Once sanding is done, priming your MDF is the next crucial step. Primer provides a barrier between the paint and the MDF, while ensuring proper paint adhesion. We recommend using a solvent-based primer, as a water-based primer can cause the MDF’s wooden fibres to swell.


1. Apply the primer to the MDF with a paintbrush, working in long, even strokes. Be sure to cover the entire surface, including any edges or corners.

2. For the best results, apply two to three thin coats of primer. Lightly sand your MDF after each layer has dried. 


Step 3: Painting MDF


When choosing a type of paint, go for oil or lacquered based paint for your MDF. Oil-based paint provides a better finish and is more durable than other paint types. Water-based paints, like primers, can cause the MDF’s wooden fibres to crack, splinter and swell.

1. Stir your paint thoroughly in the can to facilitate its colour and consistency. Once the paint is ready, pour some into a paint tray.

2. Apply the paint to the MDF in even strokes with a roller or paintbrush.

3. Be sure to start painting from the top and work your way down. This will help ensure that any drips or runs are not visible once the paint has dried.

4. After the first coat of paint has dried, apply a second coat if necessary. If your surface has patchy areas, a second coat will help even out the colour. 


Step 4: Sealing your MDF


Once you’re done painting, it’s time to apply your MDF sealer. Sealing your MDF helps protect the material against scratches, scuffs, and discolouration. MDF sealers applicable include wax, polyurethane and lacquer, which you can purchase at most hardware stores. 

1. Pour your sealer into a paint tray.

2. Apply the sealer to the MDF using a roller or paintbrush.

3. Cover its entire surface area, including the edges or corners.

4. Allow the sealer to dry completely. Once it has, you’re finally done!

Now that you know how to paint an MDF, you can use this knowledge to update the look of any furniture piece. MDFs are great to work with, and a splash of paint can really help to change the look of a room.


Painting MDF : Frequently Asked Questions


Have any lingering questions on painting your MDF? We’ve got you covered. Below are some frequently asked questions and their answers:


Is MDF stronger than plywood?


Because MDF doesn’t chip or splinter easily, it’s typically used for machining, cutting, and drilling. Plywood, however, is the stronger material out of the two, durable enough to be used for doors, stairwells and outdoor furniture. Both materials are excellent choices for a wide range of woodworking projects.


How do I make sure my MDF doesn’t warp?


One way to keep your MDF from warping is by using a moisture-resistant variety of the material. You can also add support to your MDF by attaching it to a plywood backing. Other options include storing your MDF horizontally in a well-ventilated room, applying a sealant and using at least three supports under your MDF board when attaching them to a wall.


Do you need to seal MDF before painting?


Yes, sealing your MDF is necessary as its porous material will absorb your paint and swell in higher humidity areas. It’s always worth taking this extra step to protect your investment.


Should I Use a Brush or Roller When Painting MDF?


A roller will produce a more efficient, smoother finish for larger MDF surface areas that need painting. As such, we recommend a 4-inch roller for most jobs. A brush will give you better results for smaller areas or those that require a bit more finesse.


Can you paint MDF cabinets?


Absolutely. Painting MDF cabinets can be done, but you’ll first need to seal its edges with a drywall compound. Factory made MDF cabinets are generally easier to paint due to its smooth surface, saving you time on sanding. As recommended above, always refrain from water-based primers and paints as it can swell your wood fibres and lead to undesirable results. 


NewlinePainting – Professional Results for Your Paint Job


MDF is a solid material that’s applicable to many woodworking projects, making them excellent for furniture and other home pieces. If you require any assistance painting with your MDF, don’t hesitate to give us a call. Our professional painters in Melbourne would be more than happy to help you out!

Contact us today at 1300 044 206 to get a free quote or book on our website.

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