Finding the best paint for MDF is the difference between a beautifully smooth finish or something that will result in hideous defects such as an orange peel effect or brush marks that even the best brushes or rollers can’t stop.
As MDF is such a smooth surface, I would shy away from choosing cheap retail paints. Even after a good sanding, MDF remains smooth and as such you’ll want a trade-standard paint that levels off easily.
With that in mind, I’ve put together a list of my favourite paints to use on MDF and have given situations in which I would use each paint to help you work out which one is best for you.
What is the Best Type of Paint to Use On MDF?
The best type of paint to use on MDF really depends on what capacity the MDF is being used for. For example, if you’re thinking about painting your MDF kitchen cabinets, the best type of paint will be satinwood or gloss as they’ll be able to withstand the demands of a kitchen environment and stand up well to frequent cleaning.
On the other hand, if you have MDF wall panelling, which is becoming increasingly popular, a durable matt emulsion would be the ideal choice. The matt emulsion will provide an aesthetically pleasing look which is the most important attribute when looking for paint for wall panelling.
What to Look for When Buying Paint for MDF Surfaces
Before jumping into my recommendations, I want to briefly touch upon what you should be looking for in a paint to use on MDF surfaces. This includes…
Typically, MDF is used for surfaces such as skirting boards, kitchen cabinets and shelving – all of which come into frequent contact with either knocks or bumps or require frequent cleaning. It’s therefore important to consider the surface you’ll be painting and evaluate how durable you need the paint to be.
Some MDF surfaces, such as MDF panel feature walls, will barely be touched by anything and thus won’t need paint that’s highly durable. Conversely, kitchen cabinets require cleaning on a regular basis so you’ll want paint that doesn’t wear down or discolour too easily.
Ease of application
MDF isn’t the easiest surface to paint as it’s so smooth. This can expose you to the risk of painting errors being more pronounced. If you’re a professional decorator then ease of application isn’t going to matter but for DIYers, a paint that’s easy to work with (and preferably self-levelling) will minimise the chances of leaving brushmarks, orange peel effects and paint drips.
Opacity and Finish
Of course, opacity and finish don’t just apply to painting MDF but it’s worth mentioning nonetheless as it’s a criterion I will be using to score the paints I’ve recommended below.
Almost directly related to durability, you can paint MDF with any sheen paint after you’ve primed it. This is mostly down to personal preference although I would recommend skipping any ideas involving painting your kitchen cabinets with matt paint!
Best Primer for MDF
Any bare MDF will need a primer before painting as the MDF will simply drink your paint and leave a terrible finish if you go straight on with your topcoats.
Furthermore, as MDF has a smooth surface, I always recommend using a primer on it before painting. More specifically, an adhesion primer. There are a few decent adhesion primers on the market but my favourite right now has to be Caparol Haftprimer.
I’ve tried other primers such as Zinsser 123 and Zinsser BIN but neither comes close to Haftprimer.
Zinsser BIN has no body and is far too brittle to be used on MDF – any slight knock or scratch causes it to come away from the surface. I’ve seen some other blogs recommending BIN but I promise you will regret it if you use it on MDF.
Zinsser 123 is better than BIN but again lacks body and has pretty poor coverage on MDF. You’ll need at least 2-3 coats if using 123 as your primer.
Now onto what I consider to be the best primer for MDF – Caparol Haftprimer. It’s got amazing coverage, the consistency is spot on which makes for easy application, it doesn’t ruin your brushes (unlike Zinsser BIN) and sands back like an oil-based primer. Furthermore, it seals edges so that they don’t become furry (which is a common problem when painting MDF). There’s simply no other adhesion primer like it on the market at the moment.
Best Paint for MDF
1. Johnstone’s Aqua Guard Satinwood: Best MDF Paint Overall
When it comes to the best MDF paint overall, I don’t think I could look past Johnstone’s Aqua Guard Satinwood. I know a lot of people clamour for oil-based paints on MDF but as long as you use Caparol Haftprimer (as I would suggest with all paints for MDF) it really doesn’t matter if you’re using oil-based or water-based paint.
With that in mind, with the mix of durability, clean aesthetics, nice flow out of the tin, super coverage and a price that isn’t going to break the bank, Johnstone’s Aqua Guard gets my vote.
In terms of usage, any MDF is fair game. including skirting boards, furniture and kitchen cupboards.
Perhaps my favourite feature of this paint is how it levels beautifully during application. This is key when it comes to painting MDF as MDF is typically so smooth that brush marks are easy to leave. Fortunately, the Aqua Guard gives a finish that’s comparable to spray painting even when using a paintbrush.
There are some other satinwoods that work well on MDF such as Dulux Diamond but I find that the Diamond doesn’t quite lay as flat on the surface as Aqua Guard.
- Levels beautifully – so much so that you can achieve a near spray paint finish even when using a brush
- Great flow makes for easy application
- Is highly durable and can withstand scrubbing and cleaning
Paint specs: coverage: 14m2/litre, touch dry: 1-2 hours, re-coatable: 4 hours, application: roller or brush
2. Crown Clean Extreme: Great for MDF wall panels
MDF wall panels are all the rage at the moment and that rules out using satinwood or gloss (unless you want a shiny-looking wall which isn’t generally recommended). Whilst you could go for an eggshell, I would personally recommend going for a durable emulsion and more specifically, Crown Clean Extreme.
In terms of application, Clean Extreme is one of the best durable matts on the market. It flows on so easily, especially the second coat.
It’s also great for any touch-ups required after you finish painting. As it lacks sheen, it’s much easier to avoid leaving noticeable patches where you’ve touched up.
Whilst the Dulux equivalent (Diamond Matt) is probably a bit better in terms of durability, Clean Extreme more than makes up for that when it comes to its superiority in overall finish and opacity. 2 coats are almost always enough. Besides, MDF panelling is usually used as a decorative effect so durability doesn’t necessarily have to be your number one priority.
- Has great opacity which usually means you’ll only need two coats
- The finish makes brush marks and touch-ups almost invisible
- Is very easy to spread across the surface which gives you a great chance of creating a consistent finish
- Whilst its durability is certainly good, it’s not quite up to the level of Dulux Diamond Matt
Paint specs: coverage: 14m2/litre, touch dry: 1-2 hours, re-coatable: 4 hours, application: roller, brush or spray
3. Little Greene Intelligent Eggshell: To spruce up your MDF shelves
Mixing style with durability, Little Greene’s Intelligent Eggshell is my recommendation if you’re looking to spruce up your MDF shelves.
This paint has a subtle yet elegant finish that doesn’t detract your eyes from the main centrepieces in your home whilst drying to a hard-as-nails finish that won’t crack or chip when placing or removing items from the shelf.
Such is its durability that I’ve even used Little Greene’s Intelligent Eggshell on kitchen units and have had no issues.
In terms of application, it goes on nicely but the opacity isn’t quite there with two coats in my opinion. I tend to apply 1 coat of Caparol Haftprimer followed by 3 coats of Intelligent Eggshell to get the picture-perfect finish I’m after and would recommend the same to you. Sure, that’s 4 coats and a lot of waiting around, but the finish is definitely worth it.
Here’s my method when using Little Greene Intelligent Eggshell on MDF:
- Prime the MDF with Caparol Haftprimer
- Apply a coat of Intelligent Eggshell
- Lightly sand once the first coat is dry and use a tack cloth to remove any dust from the surface
- Apply a further 2 coats, again sanding in between and using a tack cloth to remove dust
Whilst Little Greene says it’s OK to use a roller, I generally avoid doing so when painting MDF as it can leave a horrible orange peel effect.
- Hardwearing yet still looks great
- Comes in a variety of stunning colours
- Very forgiving with touch-ups and doesn’t flash
- Needs 3 coats to achieve full colour
Paint specs: coverage: 14m2/litre, touch dry: 1 hour, re-coatable: 4 hours, application: roller, brush or spray
4. Everal Aqua Semi-matt: A mix of durability and aesthetics
One of the most durable paints for MDF, Everal Aqua is only really known to professional decorators and it’s one of our best-kept secrets.
Not only does it dry to a rock-solid finish after a couple of days, but it’s also a highly versatile paint that can go on any interior or exterior wood and metal. This makes it ideal not just for MDF, but also if you also want to paint other surfaces in your home to achieve a uniform colour scheme.
Whilst it’s labelled as a semi-matt, I would say it’s somewhere in the eggshell to satinwood range. This means it’s got a lovely sheen whilst being easy to keep clean.
- Dries to a hard-wearing finish that will resist scuffs and scratches for years
- Covers in 2 coats meaning you don’t have to wait around to finish the job
- It’s hard to source and is often out of stock
Paint specs: coverage: 10 – 14m2/litre, touch dry: 1 hour, re-coatable: 4 hours, application: roller, brush or spray
5. Crown Fast Flow Gloss: For a high-sheen option
Many professionals in the industry use Crown Fast Flow for various projects. Indeed, we enjoy using this paint so much that we recently used it to paint all the MDF skirting boards at an entire student accommodation building.
Crown’s quick dry gloss is branded as quick dry for a reason – the paint becomes touch dry within an hour or two, which for gloss is extremely quick! As it dries so quickly you do have to be slightly wary when it comes to the speed of application and you will need to get it right on your first go which might put some amateurs off. I wouldn’t necessarily worry that much though as the flow is lovely and the paint is very easy to work on the surface.
However, going back over the paint with a brush might leave some unsightly brush marks so it’s worth bearing that in mind.
Once fully cured, which will take a day or two, you can expect it to be hardwearing and resist scratches and stains.
- Very easy to work with
- Has amazing durability
- Dries to a beautiful high-sheen finish that almost mimics oil-based gloss (but without the yellowing)
- Slower drying time than other paints on this list
Paint specs: coverage: 15m2/litre, touch dry: 1-2 hours, re-coatable: 4-6 hours, application: roller, spray or brush
Painting MDF can seem like a daunting task but with the right primer and paint you’ll find that you had nothing to worry about. I would definitely recommend choosing something that is specific to what you’re trying to achieve as mentioned in the article above.
For example, a durable matt emulsion will make your MDF feature wall look incredible whereas skirting boards will need something that is a lot more durable and can withstand scratches from vacuum cleaners and the like.
Hopefully, you’ve come away from this article with all the information you need to make the best purchase decision but feel free to get in touch if you need some more advice!