Painting kitchen cupboards: this easy guide will transform your kitchen cabinets

Simply painting kitchen cupboards can change the entire look of your space. Follow our video and step-by-step guide for the best results in your kitchen

Painting kitchen cupboards
(Image credit: Malcolm Menzies © Future)

Painting kitchen cupboards is a great, affordable way to give your kitchen a total refresh. If you are happy with the layout and design, why go pulling your whole kitchen out just to change the finish or colour of your kitchen cabinets? You can quite easily paint them yourself.  Yep, very doable, and if you are buying whole new kitchen, you can still keep costs down by buying cheap plain units and painting the kitchen cabinets yourself...

The colour of your units will essentially determine the whole look and feel of your space, whether you've an open plan kitchen, or not. Neutrals are always in fashion, particularly pale greys or stones, but bolder blues, greys and greens also look fantastic. Whatever look you're going for, use our step-by-step video and guide to painting kitchen cabinets below, to revamp your kitchen for less than you might have imagined. 

If you're after more kitchen ideas our feature offers all the inspiration you need. 

What kind of kitchen cabinets can be painted?

While painting kitchen cupboards is a relatively easy and cheap way to update your kitchen, unfortunately, you can't just whack paint on and hope for the best. First, you have to check your kitchen cabinets can be painted. If you have solid wood kitchen cabinets doors you are good to go: paint away, just make sure they are properly primed (more on that later). 

If your kitchen cabinet doors are laminate or veneer, you have a trickier job on your hands. You can still paint them, but the shiny, smooth surface just means you have to be all about the sanding and using a good primer to encourage the paint to stick (again, more on that next). 

Finally, you need to find suitable paint – check out our pick of the best paints for kitchen cabinets before you get started.

How to paint kitchen cupboards

Step one: remove doors and drawer fronts 

Before you start painting kitchen cabinets, remove the doors and drawer fronts that you intend to paint. If you can, remove all the handles and hardware too, and if you can't do this, tape up anything you don't want to be painted.

Step two: sand surfaces 

If you are painting kitchen cabinets with wooden doors that have already been painted, you can probably skip this step, but the whole point of sanding is to create a rougher surface for the paint to adhere to, so if your wooden doors are super smooth, just give them a quick go over with some sandpaper. If you are working with laminate or veneer kitchen cabinet doors, this step is essential as the paint won't adhere to the smooth surface. 

Make sure that once you have finished sanding you get rid of any dust. Give the doors a wipe down with a damp cloth. Get the vacuum out as you don't want any of those tiny particles around when you start painting. 

Step three: prime kitchen cabinets

Once the doors are dry and clean you can add the first coat of primer. Choose a primer that is best for the material you are painting: for wooden doors use a wood primer or undercoat and for laminate, a good multi-purpose primer or a specialist surface primer. 

Add an even coat to the whole surface using either a roller or a paintbrush and leave to dry. If you are painting laminate or veneer doors, give your doors another sand to to create even more texture for the paint to adhere to. 

Step four: start painting your kitchen cabinets 

To choose a paint that will suit your kitchen cabinets, you can pick one from the best paint for kitchen cabinets. Go in with your first layer of paint. Remember when you paint cabinets: lots of thin layers are best, so don't lay it on too thick. Let that layer dry completely and then paint a second layer. Depending on what colour you are painting over, two coats might be enough, but do a third coat if you need to. 

Step five: reattach your kitchen doors 

Once the doors are completely dry, screw back on the handles and reattach your kitchen doors. You could even treat yourself to some new kitchen handles since you have saved so much by painting your kitchen rather than buying new...

Which paint colour to choose for your kitchen cabinets?

how to paint kitchen cabinets: Annie Sloan Wall Paint in Antoinette, chalk paint in Aubusson Blue/Emperor's Silk

(Image credit: Annie Sloan)
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Along with neutral shades, black, soft blues, greens and greys are ideal for all styles of kitchens, and lend a light, elegant feel. Light pink is also an on trend shade that can look contemporary matched with greys.

Remember, though when you are painting cabinets, the entire kitchen need not be colourful – a bold shade, such as red or dark blue, can be used to accent a short run of units, a kitchen island or statement dresser, with the rest of the kitchen in a neutral or natural wood finish.

Alternatively, you can consider adding depth and interest to a kitchen by using different shades of the same colour. For example, painting the wall units a lighter colour than the base cabinets is a clever way to make the kitchen feel more spacious.

You'll find plenty of inspiration for each of these coloured finishes in our kitchen cabinet design ideas, as well as in our clever kitchen island design ideas.

how to paint kitchen cabinets: kitchen in a colour scheme of blues with wood worktops, shelves and accessories by benjamin moore

(Image credit: Benjamin Moore)

How to accessorise painted kitchen cabinets

Once you've finished painting your kitchen cabinets, you'll want to think about accessorising them in order to complete the look. 

Use the following tips, along with our kitchen splashback ideas and guide to the best types of kitchen worktop for inspiration:

  • An interesting splashback will lift the scheme, and it's a touch you can easily add yourself – have a read of our guide to how to tile a splashback for step-by-step instructions.
  • Smaller details in a natural wood finish, including worktops, peg rails, shelving and chairs, will prevent the look from cloying.
  • If you are after a unique finish, choose vintage (or just vintage looking) appliances in complementary colours. Opting for a brighter or darker tone than the main colour in your kitchen will effectively finish off the look.

how to paint kitchen cabinets: pastel mint shaker kitchen with marble worktops

(Image credit: deVOL)

Paint kitchen cabinets to lift the look of a budget kitchen

Painted kitchen cabinets are often associated with higher end bespoke manufacturers of handmade solid wood units, but the beauty of painting cabinets is that the species of timber underneath doesn’t have to affect the end appearance.

For example, a pine kitchen might cost less than half the price of hardwood, and still have the same finish and handcrafted quality once painted and dressed with beautiful cabinet door handles and worktops. 

If you're looking for more easy ways to design a stylish kitchen on a budget, there are plenty in our thrifty feature. 

Painted cabinets in Farrow and Ball pink

(Image credit: Farrow and Ball )

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