Bulman’s PRO Guide to Painting Kitchen Cabinets


Why Paint Kitchen Cabinets

If you are looking for a cheaper alternative to replacing kitchen cabinets you may want to look into having them painted. Generally we charge around $3300 to $4000 to do this here in San Diego. The price may change depending on the region you live in. You may be able to buy brand new cabinets for that price, but then you still need new countertops, sink, and the cost of installation for all those items not to mention painting of the walls at the very least. Saying all that, the cost to replace your cabinetry can actually be two, three, or four times the cost of painting. 

UPDATE 2024: Our base pricing for cabinets has changed as this was written in 2019. Please see new blog post coming up about what we can do for your cabinets! 

Homeowner or Pro

This post is to help homeowners understand what exactly goes into painting kitchen cabinets. It also could help a mid level to high level painter take the right steps to a great result. You may have been painting for ten or twenty years and never have had the opportunity to spray a like this. Hopefully this will help you out!


There are many reasons the cost may vary from region to region. You’ll want to look into what the general cost is for your area. This is important to a homeowner so that they do not over pay. If the cost is way under norm, you may want to look into who gave the quote and the quality of their work. As a painter it is important to charge appropriately so your business runs smoothly. Since here in southern California there are restrictions on paints due to VOC’s (volatile organic compounds). As an example a few years ago oil based primers were still sold regularly. These days you can only find it in quarts. This has changed the way we need to go about things, which in turn changes the cost and products used. Certain regions may have lower or higher labor rates and material cost. These are all factors professional painters should take into consideration when quoting a job.


Many painters have different opinions on which products and application methods are best. So you should do a little research and decide what is best for you. 2 popular methods here are pigmented lacquer and water based finishes. Because of the VOC regulations here in California we feel that pigmented lacquers are not exactly what they used to be. At the same time, water based, or water born products have taken leaps in their quality in the last 10 years. Lacquers have a great smooth and durable finish that dries very quickly making them high in the rankings as a finish. One of the downfalls is lacquer is best sprayed and does not touch up well. So a small touch up can result in having to re spray a whole area. On the other side, water born products can take a month to cure but can touch up very easily. When fully cured we believe the product is on par with lacquer as far as its durability goes. When it comes to odor its hands down easier to deal with water based paint. Clean up is always easier with water based products and doesn’t take nearly as much of a toll on the sprayers used (if using airless sprayers). We prefer the water based finished such as a Urethane, Alkyd, or Pre Catalyzed water based epoxy.

Since we tend to use the water based finishes, the methods will be targeted towards that application process. The process would be very similar for lacquers and oil based finishes but you’d definitely want to do a little research on those specific applications.

Painting the insides of cabinets

Will you be painting the inside of your cabinets? This an important question to ask your self. If so, you’ll want to make sure that you give the cabinets ample time to cure before storing items inside. We suggest a full month. If you are going the route of lacquer we still suggest 2 weeks. Most of the time the doors will be closed so the inside would not matter as much. Also, depending on the material of the cabinets were built with we may not recommend painting them. Material such as melamine would NOT be a good candidate to paint. Paint on a shelf surface would likely scratch very easily. We typically recommend not painting the insides unless they are real wood not coated with anything other than paint or lacquer.

Ok, Ok, lets get to it!

First thing we need to do is see what exactly we need to get this done!


  1. Sand paper, 180, 220, 320, and 400 grit
  2. A pen or marker
  3. Razor blade
  4. 5 in one tool
  5. Buckets, approx 2-5
  6. Electric sander such a sheet sander or orbital sander
  7. Masking paper
  8. Masking machine
  9. Painters Tape. Approximately four rolls of low adhesive tape and 6 rolls of regular adhesive painters tape. We prefer the width of the tape to be 1.5 inch.
  10. Eye hooks
  11. Degreasing cleaner such as Dove soap solution or spray 9
  12. De-glosser
  13. Rosin paper
  14. Painters plastic
  15. Drill, screw drivers
  16. Foam roller or ¼ inch nap weenie rollers 4 to 6 inches in length (Some painters call them hot dog rollers or zip rollers). We prefer the ¼ inch rollers
  17. Shellac primer
  18. Denatured alcohol
  19. A paint sprayer. We prefer an airless or air assisted airless paint sprayer
  20. A spray booth
  21. Wood Hangers
  22. An extension ladder
  23. 3 six foot ladders
  24. Finish Paint. We prefer pre catalyzed water based epoxy in a semi gloss finish
  25. Shop Vac

After we have all our materials together its time to move on to the work process!

Instructions to Paint Kitchen Cabinets

1. Disassemble Cabinets

This does not mean we are taking them completely apart, it just means we are taking off hardware such door pulls and handles. We will also be taking off the doors, hinges, and drawers off completely. While doing this it is very important to number each door and drawer. When the project is complete this will make the re assembly of the cabinets so much easier. We like to do this a certain way. Usually the doors will have 2 holes in them where the hinges would lie. This is the perfect place to number them. We like to do this in a certain order too. When looking at the cabinets we start with the top doors from left to right like reading a book. We label them T1, T2, T3, and so on. Then proceed the same way with the bottom doors and drawers.

Drill Holes

Drill your holes and place your eye-hooks. This is one of the best parts and secrets to spraying cabinets that make a job profitable. It used to be … and still is for some painters that they would lay a door down on flat surface and only paint one side at a time. They would then have to wait hours or even a full day before being able to flip them and paint the other side. So what we do is drill small holes on the upper end of the upper cabinet doors and the bottom end of the lower cabinet doors and install the eye hooks. They are then ready to be placed on hangers and hung to paint both sides at once.

Scuff Sand

Time to sand down EVERYTHING. Any surface you will be painting will need to be scuff sanded. We do this for a couple reasons. First, it helps with the adhesion of the primer coat. The least shine a surface has the better for the next coat. Second, while sanding you may come across spot issues such as imperfections or grease. A lot of the time you’ll be able to pay a little more attention to sanding those specific spots getting grease off or sanding out the imperfection. For this initial sanding we recommend using 220 grit sand paper for the majority of the areas. If you find problematic areas you can always spot sand with anything from 100 to 180 grit.

Clean all areas. We like to do this with two products. First a degreaser and then a very quick second round with de glosser. This cleans the surface and also takes the sheen down a notch re enforcing the sanding process we did in the last step. It also gets all the dust from sanding off s well. Some other tactics we use to getting dust off would be to use air from a compressor, a dust brush, and tack cloths. It is very important in this step that you pay attention to any areas that may have grease. Grease is our mortal enemy when it comes to painting cabinets. Paint will not adhere well over grease and it also bleeds through paint and primers. Just make sure to wipe well thoroughly. Make sure to clean areas around the work area as well. Dust can ruin a project quickly.

Protect (mask) areas

Time to mask off all work areas. This basically is any area that you wouldn’t want paint on whether is be walls, flooring, ceilings, and countertops. If you are not painting the insides you’ll want to mask the openings. When we do this we caution you to use only paper and tape and not plastic. There are two reasons for this. One, paint tends to flake off plastic and the last things you want are dry paint flakes in your final coat. Second, the pressure of a sprayer is more likely to put a hole in thinner plastic then paper.

Spray Booth and Dry Room

Set up a spray room and a dry room for the doors and drawers. You’ll want you spray room or booth to be secluded as possible. Building a spray room can be as easy as making a 6 ft cube around with plastic and tape. The method I like most is using a pop up canopy and wrap the sides with plastic. When setting up the dry room it is super important to make sure the area is dust free. So make sure to have your shop vac and damp rags around. The dry room set up we use is very easy to set up. Using 2 six-foot ladders at each end of an extension ladder horizontally. Place the extension ladder on top of the 6-foot ladders.

Primer Coating

You are now ready to spray your primer coat. We suggest using shellac. It is a very hard and brittle primer that sands to a powder very easily. Cabinets are the perfect project to use this product on. Using a fine finish tip such as a 208 or 210 is preferable. Some tips even have FFLPs, these are fine finish low pressure tips. They are great to have because there won’t be as much over-spray in the booth.

Before spraying the doors you’ll want to test your spray pattern out on some rosin paper or cardboard. You’ll want to have a nice spray pattern with no tails at the lowest pressure setting possible. Its best to start the pressure low and it work it up until there are no tail or fingers. Tails ate two distinct lines seen on the outer edge of the spray fan. When spraying make sure to overlap each pass by 50 percent to have the best result. I recommend bringing one door in at a time to spray so that you don’t introduce other doors to over-spray. After spraying your primer coat you’ll hang all doors and set all drawers in the drying room. Make sure to use denatured alcohol if using shellac to clean your pump. After cleaning rinse with warm water too.

Re Sand

Time to sand again! Its time now to go over all the doors, drawers, and cabinet boxes again. This time you should use 400 grit sand paper. The purpose of sanding this time is to knock off any high areas, bumps, or any little issue you may have come across while spraying primer. If you’ve done a really good job prepping and priming there shouldn’t be whole lot to sand. The reason we are stepping it up a notch with the grit of sand paper is to make sure no scratches come from sanding. If you ended up with rough areas you may have too much overspray in the booth.

First Coat of Paint

Apply first finish coat of paint in the same manner you did while priming. We like to use Pre Cat water based Epoxy. Epoxy is used for areas that get a lot of abuse and are cleaned often. There is no better product in my opinion.

Final Sand

Re sand once more. This time you can kick it up to 600 grit if you’d like. The finer sand paper will result in an overall finer finish.

Final Paint Application

Apply final coat of finish paint.

Dry Time and Re Install

Allow at least a full day of dry time before handling any of the doors. All that left now is to re install every thing and clean up. Obviously nothing this long of process ever goes perfect so you may need to make some changes along the way or re spray a few things. The more you do it the better you’ll get.

I hope this is helpful to all you looking to spray out some cabs! Here is a sped up video of everything I just mentioned https://youtu.be/zVBMD8-xgeI

For a free quote check us out at https://bulmanpaintingpros.com

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