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How to Paint Laminate Furniture

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Learn the simple process for updating an old bookcase and how to paint laminate furniture.

Updating furniture is a fun way to add color or just a new look to a room. Painting, staining or restructuring a piece are all creative ways to change up an item.

Today, I’m sharing the simple process for painting a laminate, or veneer, wood bookcase.

This post contains affiliate links, you can view my full disclosure here.

How to Paint Laminate Furniture - keep that old bookcase

What is laminate

The word laminate just means an overlay. This could apply to flooring, countertops or furniture. A veneer is a thin piece of wood that is laid over something, typically a piece of particle board or something that doesn’t have an attractive finish.

Laminate products are durable and rest scratching and wear better than real wood sometimes. They are less expensive and much more accessible when adding to a home.

The bookcase I am painting has been in our basement for years, it’s secondhand and for a while just stored junk. It still has good bones and I want to put it to use.

bookshelf before

My children have a playroom just for themselves and I’m decorating it in bold primary colors. This is something that I probably wouldn’t do in a bedroom or living room, but it makes perfect sense in a playroom.

I did some research on how to paint laminate furniture and asked some questions to make sure I did this right.  The blog I found that made me say “yes I can” is here.  Check her out.

Project supplies

  • Primer, specifically Zinsser Cover Stain PrimerGet yours here and read on to see why this is THE product to use. 
  • Paint
  • Roller (x2)
  • Brush (x2)
  • Wrapping paper
  • Hot Glue

I started by cleaning it and removing the shelves and back.  There is one fixed shelf in this piece that stayed put, the rest popped off and I removed the pegs that held them up. The back was nailed on with small tacks and they were easy to pop off with a flat head screwdriver.

I dusted the whole shelf removing any cobwebs and dirt that accumulated. A damp microfiber cloth was enough to get this piece clean.


If you were to apply a regular paint to laminate it would bead up or it would dry then peel off.

Paint needs something to stick to and laminate is too smooth. Typically you can sand down a surface before painting, however with a very thin veneer sanding is not the best option.

Use an oil based stain blocking primer like Zinsser Cover Stain Primer.


Laminate is glossy and this thick sticky oil-based primer works great to cover it up without sanding.  A primer is key to a smooth paintable surface.

Since this primer is oil-based it doesn’t clean up easily so I purchased a cheap roller, pan, and brush; for about $5 total.  That way I could throw it all away and not worry about the clean-up.  I did end up with a few splatters on my hands that scrubbed off in a day or so.

I primed the entire bookcase using the roller for the large flat areas and a small brush for the corners.

Rolling on primer
Painting the corners of a bookcase

The primer dried quickly and I was able to move on to the paint after an hour. The primer won’t look like a finished coat, but it should cover every part of the veneer that you want to paint.

I chose an ultra white semi-gloss latex-based paint for the finish. Pick this up at a hardware store, if you don’t want to use white you can have them mix up whatever color you choose.

For this paint I used a nicer roller and brush, I was able to clean up afterwards with soap and water.  A good roller and brush won’t leave residue and brush strokes behind.

I applied 2 coats of paint, letting the first dry about an hour before applying the second.

Paint a laminate bookcase
Finished and drying painted laminate bookcase

The result was a smooth, slightly glossy finish, so much better than fake wood brown.

Changing the back of the bookcase

Next up was the back of the bookcase.  On this piece and most inexpensive bookshelves, you have a piece of flimsy wood that is nailed to the back.  I removed this and covered it with a bold wrapping paper.

red and white wrapping paper for the back of a bookcase

I bought this paper on clearance many January’s ago intending to use it the next Christmas. It’s so pretty but just never got around to using it. It is extra wide and perfect for this project.

It was destined to be a focal point in the playroom.

I laid a long piece of wrapping paper on the floor and laid my backing on top.  Then I “wrapped” the back and secured the edges with hot glue.

back of bookcase - how to paint laminate furniture
back of bookcase - how to paint laminate furniture

This paper is thin and down the road will probably tear.  But it’s easily removable and can be swapped out for another style when I am ready for a change.  UPDATE – this paper has not torn and we are 4 years in.  This bookcase gets a lot of use too.  

How to paint laminate furniture - back of bookcase covered in wrapping paper

I reattached the back of the bookcase using small nails around the entire perimeter. Then I mounted the shelves, and the bookcase was ready for the room.

How to paint laminate furniture - finished painted and wrapped bookcase
how to paint laminate furniture

It’s an awesome first piece in this primary colors playroom.

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How to paint laminate furniture
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Be sure to check out these furniture projects for more inspiration

cozy colorful foyer bench in yellow
Modern updated wall curio

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Sunday 10th of March 2024

Hey there, i have been googling for about 3 weeks now, in search of a video, blog, site, ect that simply but informatively explains and breaks down how to paint laminated particle board. And girllll!! YOURS IS IT! πŸ«ΆπŸ™Œ THANK U SO MUCH !

(Btw- all the stuff I have found to watch/read on this, have said to use different type of primers) i was about to loose patient's because I didn't know which one to actually buy.


Friday 22nd of December 2023

Wrapping paper on the back is genius! How long do you need t wait after painting to put books back on?


Tuesday 2nd of January 2024

I would wait 24 hours to be safe and ensure it's completely dry. You don't want books sticking to tacky paint.


Sunday 12th of November 2023

Hi there! The shelf looks fantastic! Your picture of the Primer step has some old color showing thru, which you had mentioned. However did you make sure nothing was showing thru before you added the paint? Also the one I am looking to recover is "textured" wood grain laminate. WHat do you think? Thanks. Shelle


Wednesday 15th of November 2023

I added the paint even with the color showing through. The final paint coat covered everything beautifully. I have never painted textured laminate, maybe try a small area first to see the result. Good luck with your project!


Monday 2nd of May 2022

Perfect ish timing to find this post! I'm in the process of rehabbing two of these identical bookcases. Im almost finished with one and every time I hit it, the paint slides off like butter. It has two coats of primer! The apparently important detail is to USE OIL based primer, which I did not do. 😁 I will be going to get a can of oil based for the second shelf to test the difference. Thanks for your information!


Monday 6th of April 2020

Love this ! Could you put another color over the primer then? I’m trying to turn white laminate into green ! Thanks !


Monday 27th of April 2020

Yes absolutely, no need to stick with just white.

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