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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.

Painting

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.

zinsser

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

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Modern updated wall curio

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Melody

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. šŸ˜ I will be going to get a can of oil based for the second shelf to test the difference. Thanks for your information!

Cmcc

Monday 6th of April 2020

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

Sarah

Monday 27th of April 2020

Yes absolutely, no need to stick with just white.

Christina

Sunday 11th of February 2018

How's your paint holding up to thus day?? LookS amazing!!;)

Sarah

Monday 12th of February 2018

Really well, and this bookshelf is in our playroom so it gets a lot of use. It has a few knicks from kids toys but I would expect that with any piece of furniture.

Darlene Ernst

Friday 18th of August 2017

I am getting ready to paint my old Sauder bookcases. I'm using black chalk paint and leaving the oak top and shelves as they are. The back of my bookcases is, as usual, very cheap and flimsy particle board that has bowed over the years. When you had the back of your's out, did you notice how sturdy the bookcase was without it? I would like to just leave the back off so my white walls will show and brighten the shelves up a bit but I'm wondering if the case will be wobble without it.

Sarah

Monday 21st of August 2017

The backing on my bookcase doesn't do much to hold it up. I am glad I put it back on because it's in my kid's playroom and the back keep little stuff contained. I would give ti a try and see how it holds up, best of luck with your project.

Terry

Sunday 9th of July 2017

How many coats of primer did you use? I did a laminate bookcase very similar to yours, but apparently didn't use right primer or enough of it. The frame and fixed shelves were spray painted and have held up well but the removable shelves were hand painted on top of paint/primer and they have peeled. I used wallpaper on the back that I got at my local Habitat ReStore for $1 and it looks great! I'm glad only the removable shelves are giving me a problem, that's an easier fix. Any suggestions on removing paint from them without removing laminate itself?

Sarah

Monday 10th of July 2017

Hi Terry, sorry your paint is peeling but yes glad it's only on the removable shelves. For mine, I used 1 coat of primer, 2 in some tough to cover spots. It's key to use an oil based stain covering primer that will allow the top coat to stick to it. As far as removing it you could try scrapping very carefully. If it's already peeling that might be a good option. Otherwise look for a chemical paint stripper. Best of luck on your project.

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