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Taking the PAIN out of PAINting MDF

Updated: Aug 13, 2022

We've all either seen the post from someone else or thought about it ourselves, "What's the best way to paint MDF?" Some crafters make painted products that look as smooth as glass and as evenly colored as a photoshopped headshot. Well everyone, here's my attempt to help you have similar results and if nothing else, help you improve.

First and foremost, I just want to make sure it's known that all MDF is NOT created equally. Some absorb more paint than others, some cut faster, some slower, some leave charred edges, and some don't. With that being said, all tests were performed on our 1/8" MDF and not to be biased, but I think it's the best MDF around.

TEST/Scenario 1: Brushing on Acrylic Paints

I saw a guy about two months ago perform a test in which he painted and compared how well sanded MDF vs UNSANDED MDF looked. His results showed that the SANDED MDF was better in appearance than the UNSANDED MDF. His reasoning was that when sanded with 220 and then 400 grit sand paper, the pores of the MDF were basically closed preventing most of the paint from being absorbed. In his case, the results did show a big difference.

I decided to test this process on our MDF using acrylic paint from Walmart (spray paint may yield different results). Below are the photos of my test.

I tested both with 1 coat of acrylic paint (Apple Barrel) and 2 coats.


Conclusion: In regards to our MDF, sanding did NOT affect paint absorption. Our MDF had very similar results for all of the tests, making "painting raw MDF" the better option in this scenario. Results may vary with other brands.

Test/ Scenario 2: Using Spray Paint to Achieve a Picture Perfect Finish

So I've seen many recommendations on how to achieve ultra smooth, even finishes on painted MDF projects. In this test, I tried 5 different methods of painting a project using spray paint.


-5 different methods all using just 1 coat of spray paint.

-All sanding was done using 220 grit sandpaper on a random orbital sander. One quick pass over the entire sheet lengthwise and one pass along the width.


Different Methods:

  1. Applied one coat of spray paint to raw MDF

  2. Applied one coat of sanding sealer with foam brush, sanded after 30 mins, applied 1 coat of Spray paint

  3. Applied one coat of flat white paint/primer, after 24 hours sanded, then applied 1 coat of spray paint

  4. Applied one coat of filler primer, after 24 hours sanded, then applied 1 coat of spray paint

  5. Applied two coats of Zinsser (according to directions), sanded after 24 hours, then applied 1 coat of spray paint