How do I Go About Painting MDF?

Susan Anderson

Medium density fiberboard (MDF) is made from the wood of birch and larch trees. The chippings from these trees are steamed until the materials become fine wood fibers. Resins are used to bind these fibers together, and the material is pressed into boards with the application of heat. These boards are relatively easy to paint on, but some caution must be taken when doing so. To paint MDF, you should prime the board before painting, use the proper tools to apply the paint and apply two coats of paint.

MDF typically doesn't exhibit much expansion or contraction.
MDF typically doesn't exhibit much expansion or contraction.

Advantages of MDF

MDF is an ideal wood to use for many interior home furnishings such as cabinetry because it is more stable and cheaper than hardwood. It also is dense and flat, and many people consider it to be attractive. It has no recognizable surface grain, so it can easily be cut, drilled, filled or machined.

Using spray paint is often the best way to paint intricate pieces of MDF.
Using spray paint is often the best way to paint intricate pieces of MDF.

Preparing to Paint

If you are planning on cutting the MDF before painting it, make sure to wear a mask or some kind of facial protection. The dust, which contains wood particles and resin, can be hazardous to your health if it is inhaled. Small holes or gaps should be filled with wood filler, and any rough edges should be sanded before you start to paint.

Paint and a paint brush.
Paint and a paint brush.

Priming the Board

MDF sometimes comes pre-primed, but if yours isn't, then you should prime the surface before painting. You can use any type of water-based primer, such as an emulsion paint or an acrylic primer. This base-coat of primer will help give the top coat a truer shade and will prevent it from being affected by the color of the board. The primer also will combat the MDF's tendency to result in a blotchy, uneven finish because of its porous surface.

A face mask and eye protection should be worn when working with MDF.
A face mask and eye protection should be worn when working with MDF.

Applying the Paint

When you are painting solid areas, paint brushes and paint rollers work well. For more intricate pieces, it's best to use spray paint instead of a brush or roller. Spray painting the MDF can cover the surfaces more evenly without resulting in an excessive buildup of paint.

More than One Coat

The best results are often obtained by applying two coats of paint and sanding the wood in between coats by using fine sandpaper. Any acrylic, water-based paint will suffice in painting a top coat of paint on the MDF. Also keep in mind that painting both sides of the board will help prevent it from bowing after the paint dries.

Large, solid pieces of MDF can be covered using a paint roller.
Large, solid pieces of MDF can be covered using a paint roller.

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Discussion Comments


If you're getting swelling with water based primers then you're using cheap grades of MDF. There are many different grades and a decent grade will only swell if you soak it in water for a long period. I make and sell thousands of letters a week.


People, understand water and MDF do not mix. You need to use an oil based primer as your base coat. Then you can use a water based topcoat.


Water based and wood primer paints do not prevent white mold /fungus growth on the board, hence synthetic enamel and primer should be tried.


I'm building a Dalek and it's from MDF. I'm going to use the PVA/WATER solution to seal it and then a high build primer to fill the imperfections with a top coat.


Definitely prime MDF with an oil-based primer. A water-based or latex primer will only cause the board to swell.


I use mdf wooden letters, and up until now I didn't know I needed to prime the mdf. I need something quick drying.


Oil based is rubbish. Primer takes too long to dry and is cancer causing. Two primer coats of quick dry acrylic with a short pile mohair roller. Light sand back smooth at 180-220 grit. Then go on with undercoat then quick sand, then two or three topcoats acrylic enamel with a sand between the second and third coat. Leave it to dry at least seven days at more than 10 degrees celsius less than 60 percent humidity.


MDF is the new asbestos. Take care not to inhale its dust when sawing. Gordon


well about to paint wardrobe and cupboard with an undercoat. It cost me £800,00 to have built and now left to paint so I'm a bit annoyed, really. never thought about it till now.


i am painting mdf and my neighbor has given me aluminum wood primer. i don't know if this is suitable. can i use it?


I do painting of mdf all the time. Water based undercoat is fine but i prefer two coats. then i use eggshell, oil based finish once. that should always be enough.


unprimed mdf needs to be primed with a water based primer.


anon54727, all the glue/water mix does is seal the MDF, you should do this if it is raw MDF. then sand, apply a primer, sand and then apply the topcoat paint


I'm making bookcases and want to paint them with latex paint they are made of mdf board. I saw on tv once the mdf board was prep with a mix of wood glue and water. can anyone help?


I just have built a large book shelf of MDF and still need to paint. it is however close to the outside door. need good advise of the kind of paint? how many coats? appreciate your help. --MH


Bathpanel and sink surround in mdf! Poor you! First make sure it is thoroughly dry, by no moisture contact for a few days and heating and ventilating, then you need to seal as best you can with whatever waterproof finish you choose, use a flexible waterproof mold resisting sealant with good adhesion around the edges afterward. If you allow mdf to absorb moisture it will deteriorate.


I know this probably sounds strange but I have been making children's toys now for some time. Only small things such as jig saw puzzles etc. I make these from MDF as there are no splinters and so I feel it is much safer. I paint them with acrylic paint. Should I be concerned about the safety of these things? Any advice would be welcome.


I agree, always use an oil based primer to seal MDF, otherwise the waterbased material will make it swell. Then topcoat with oil enamel or acrylic latex.


I would use a oil base primer - the water base swells the mdf and soaks in. Just my 2 cents worth.

Good luck



I have bath panel and sink surround made from MDF which is looking very shabby due to getting wet. It has not bowed yet but need to seek advice on how to restore it. Any tips?

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