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Primers for painting cabinets can be the most important part. We always use primers even know that the paint we use advertises that you shouldn’t need a primer. Primers will give a better uniform finish and allow for a more durable and lasting finish. Many suppliers make an acceptable primer for cabinet painting including Sherwin Williams and Benjamin Moore and Zinsser.

Primers For Cabinet Painting/Cabinet Refinishing

  • Oil(or Alkyd) primers will block the yellow tannin oils from bleeding through and causing yellow staining on the finish coat. However they are inherently soft with great bonding and also leave a horrible finish because they simply do not level out. So although oil primers make the process fool proof, they also allow for easy damage from fingernails and will always need extensive sanding to achieve professional cabinet painting results.
  • Water-based primers will typically dry to a harder film than any alkyd primer will. However the water based primers also don’t block stains as much. If you are using a very light color, you are best to apply two coats of primer.
  • Shellac or BIN primer is an alcohol based primer that blocks and bonds VERY well. However the drawbacks are that BIN primer will run very easily, the smell is horrible, and its not as water or heat tolerant.

All The Information You’ll Find On The Internet – AND The Fallacies

Many things are said on the internet. A good friend of mine always says… “Don’t believe EVERYTHING you read on the internet.” The first piece of information that you’ll find is that you should be using an oil or “alkyd” topcoat paint to level out best on your kitchen cabinets. Lower VOC and lower sheen oil paints are generally alkyd and these are the greener option of oil based paints. All oil based paints lack in flexibility which is needed for cabinet painting and they also will yellow in sunlight and heat, so expect for the area around your oven to yellow and become very brittle in years to come. Waterborne alkyd trim paints are “The Best Of Both Worlds”. Yes, this is true, however they have their drawbacks too. The major issue is that they will still yellow under heat. They say that it wont but they are talking about sunlight, heat WILL still yellow this paint. If you are a DIY cabinet painter planning to brush and roll then you need to consider this option. Waterborne alkyd paints do dry very hard but they take a LONG time to do this. One of fastest drying with early “dry to touch” properties is Sherwin Williams ProClassic Acrylic-Alkyd version however Sherwin suggests the regular ProClassic version as the finish look is comparable when applied by just about anybody. However there are other paints that might pique your interest like Benjamin Moore’s Advance. The Benjamin Moore product will dry harder. BM Advance uses a colorant that cures with the paint and neither of Sherwin, PPG or Valspar use that technology. All other cabinet paints will be pretty much not worth using in our opinion. The Paint that will touch up the best on your painted cabinets is Sherwin Williams Pro Classic (non-alkyd version). This is also the paint that the Sherwin Williams will usually suggest to the DIY cabinet painter. The reason that Sherwin Williams will not suggest the alkyd version of ProClassic is because it can be drippy and requires a bit more finesse than the regular version as the solid molecules are very heavy for their size. However the regular version will not give professional durability. Valspar does make an alkyd/water hybrid that they label as their cabinet paint. Just like ProClassic or Benjamin Moore Advance. All of these paints have a very slow cure time which means that you will have to be very careful reinstalling everything as the paint may be dry to touch but it’s far from cured. However if you do choose to go with the slightly higher durability of an alkyd/water hybrid I would suggest either going with Benjamin Moore Advance or Sherwin Williams Alkyd ProClassic. Those paints have been produced and tested for many many years and Valspar just started using this technology and is kinda just cashing in on the cabinet painting craze.

What Cabinet Paint Do We Use

We have tested EVERY paint system that could ever be thought of. We use a mixture of these based on our experience of which cabinets have which challenges. This is enough information to write a book so we cannot include every bit of it. For the best results hire a professional kitchen cabinet painting company. If you are in the Indianapolis Area consider hiring Grants Painting for your cabinet painting project. Our current go to, best on the market right now is Benjamin Moore Advance and also please read our PPG Breakthrough Here


Dwight O Smith

Friday, September 18th, 2020

These are your opinions. Just like a bellybutton everyone has 1

Janet Cassady

Thursday, August 13th, 2020

I’ve just read your (very interesting) article on which paint to use when painting cabinets. What is your opinion of Sherwin-Williams Emerald Trim Enamel? I’ve spent hours studying paints for cabinets and it’s driving me mad! I’m not a pro, but a DIYer who has owned my own home for over 40 years. My dad was a cabinetmaker. He would make things for me, but the leave the finishing to me. (I get that!) My husband has made a large Plywood/MDF cabinet for my craft supplies. I’ve applied 2 coats of Kilz2, with all of the necessary filling, cleaning, sanding. (Rinse, repeat...ugh!) I’m just using a 3/8” microfiber roller and a brush. The cure time of Advance is nuts!

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