Can You Use Acrylic Paint On MDF? Expert Advice

Yes, you can use acrylic paint on MDF but must prepare the surface beforehand as MDF doesn’t accept paint that well. Sanding, sealing the edges, and priming are three essential steps for preparing the MDF surface.

MDF boards are made with tiny fibers and resin which make the surface highly absorbent and porous.

Consequently, when you use water-based acrylic paint on MDF, the material swells. Hence, it’s preferable to use oil-based paints on the material for durability and easy usage.

However, when you ask if you can use acrylic paint on MDF, as we have mentioned, the answer is positive.

You only have to follow some rules and the correct method to make the paint set well on the surface without any swelling or peeling. Let’s get into the details and find out how you can paint MDF with acrylic paint.

Types of Paints for MDF 

When it comes to painting MDF, you have several options like oil-based paints, acrylics, and latex. Below is a brief comparison between the paint types.

Oil-Based Paint 

Without a doubt, oil-based paints are more suitable for MDF as they offer higher adhesion and durability.

Due to the thickness and elasticity of oil-based paint, it can easily cover a large area. Also, this type of paint works with solvent-based primers needed for preparing the MDF board. 

Acrylic Paint 

As we said before, acrylic paint is water-based, and MDF boards easily absorb liquid and swell. So, it’s a bit difficult to paint MDF with acrylics.

However, MDF-compatible acrylic paints are available nowadays with high viscosity. 

Just use the appropriate primer or sealer before applying acrylic paint on MDF and it will work fine.

If you’d like to know about the uses of fabric paint, this ‘fabric paint vs acrylic paint‘ piece will be good to read.

Latex Paint 

Although latex paint is also water-based, it’s not the same as acrylics. Latex paint contains acrylic polymer, whereas acrylic paint features synthetic resin.

Latex paint is less thick and less durable than acrylic. However, you can apply it on MDF with a suitable primer. Moreover, latex paint can be a decent option if you want to keep the cost low and cover a large MDF surface.


Oil-based paints, acrylics, and latex are the most popular options for painting on MDF. While oil-based paints are more durable with higher viscosity, acrylics can also be used with proper primer and sealers. Similarly, latex paints require surface preparation, and it’s the lowest-cost option here. 

How to Use Acrylic Paint on MDF- Detailed Guideline 

First things first, you must take necessary safety measures before you start. As MDF boards contain toxic chemicals like formaldehyde, you must wear a face mask and hand gloves. Also, work in a well-ventilated area so that the MDF dust is easily exhausted.

Here’s the step-by-step process for applying acrylic paint on MDF- 

Step One – Gather the Necessary Items

Start with the tools you need for this process: 

  • Acrylic paint (pick any color you like) 
  • Paint brush set
  • Acrylic paint sealant (Preferably gesso)
  • Solvent-based primer 
  • Sandpaper (120-grit and 220-grit) 
  • Microfiber cloth 
  • Paint roller 
  • Drywall compound

Step Two – Clean the MDF Board

Use soap and water to clean the board surface to remove any kind of dirt, oil, or grease. Take a microfiber cloth and dip it in soapy water. Make sure the cloth doesn’t contain too much water, as MDF is a porous surface. 

Simply rub the front and back sides of the surface and leave the edges as they are more absorbent. When you’re done, allow the board to dry before applying any product.

Step Three – Sand the Surface 

Now, it’s time to smoothen the board surface for paint application. While sanding MDF, you need to pay special attention to the edges as they are uneven and rough. Use 220-grit sandpaper and apply moderate pressure to sand the edges.

As the main surface is already smoother than the edges, use fine 120-grit sandpaper instead.

Finally, wipe away the extra dust with the microfiber cloth. Be careful not to let the dust go into your eyes or nostrils.

Step Four – Seal the Edges 

Typically, MDF board edges are more absorbent than the main surface. So, you must seal the edges to prevent paint absorption. You can use a drywall compound to seal the edges.

An acrylic paint sealer or PVA wood glue will also do the job. Sand the edges again once you’ve applied and dried the sealer.

Step Five – Apply Primer 

No matter what paint you’re using, take advantage of this step. Priming the MDF surface will make it accept the paint well and create a hard coat preventing paint absorption.

Gesso is the best primer for acrylic paints and works well on MDF. You can also use MDF special primers or acrylic solvent primers.

Choose solvent-based primers instead of water-based ones, as MDF soaks water like a sponge. Use a brush or roller to apply thin layers of primer. You need to apply 2 to 3 coats to seal the surface completely.

Before applying a new layer, ensure the previous one is fully dried. Typically, primers take about one hour to dry off completely.

Finally, sand the surface with 120-grit sandpaper after each application. 


A pro tip is applying a bunch of thin layers instead of one or two thick ones. Otherwise, the surface will look porous and uneven.  

Once dried, don’t scratch or rub the surface at all. Lastly, clean the area thoroughly to avoid crumbs and dirt while painting.

Step Six – Use Acrylic Paint 

Choose a good-quality acrylic paint brand like Liquitex, Golden, or Winsor & Newton. You can go for artists’ grade or students’ grade acrylic. We recommend artists’ grade acrylics as they are thicker, opaque, and higher in quality.

Use a paintbrush or a roller to apply the paint. Apply thin layers as they will dry quickly and won’t easily peel off. Make the layers thicker towards the edges. For greater coverage, you can apply multiple layers of paint.

Let one layer completely dry off before you go for a new one.

Place the board in an open area for quick drying. It’s best if you can let the paint dry for about 24 hours as it will cure it and make it more durable.

If you can pick high-quality acrylic paint, you’ll see how versatile acrylic paint can act. You can even hydro-dip with acrylic paint! Using the paint on fabric, and on nails as nail polish are other things you can explore anytime.

Step Seven – Seal the Paint 

If you want to preserve acrylic paint on MDF, you must seal it after drying. You can use any acrylic-compatible sealer you prefer, such as polyurethane, lacquer, mod podge, wax, etc. Use aerosol spray sealants for easier application.

Otherwise, take an old brush to evenly spread the sealant over the paint, as the sealant will clog the brush bristles. When dried, the sealant creates a hard coat on the MDF surface.

This coat is resistant to water, UV damage, and other environmental factors. As a result, the acrylic paint will last long on the MDF surface. Once the surface is sealed, your job is done!

Should I Use a Brush or Roller When Painting MDF?

It’s okay to use a brush, roller, or paint sprayer to paint MDF. But the fact is, a roller will work the best if you’re painting a large area of MDF. Also, it ensures a smoother finish.

In most cases, a 4-inch roller (made of foam) does the job perfectly.

However, for detailed works like painting the edges of your furniture, you should go for a 2-inch brush that ensures greater finish.

Frequently Asked Questions 

What paint will stick to MDF? 

After proper sealing and sanding, any paint would stick to MDF. However, experts prefer oil-based paints. But make sure you use a primer meant for blending well with the paint you’ll use.

Can I paint MDF without a primer? 

No, you can’t. The surface obviously needs priming before you put colors on it. MDF boards aren’t good with moisture. So priming is a must to create a blockage between the paint and MDF.

How long does acrylic paint take to dry on MDF?

Approximately from 20-30 minutes. Make sure you apply thin layers, and don’t touch the paint until it completely dries. Temperature and humidity are two key factors that affect the drying time of acrylic paint.

Wrapping Up! 

Today’s blog said all about the significant factors regarding painting an MDF. Meanwhile, we answered: can you use acrylic paint on MDF?  

Make sure you maintain the steps while doing this process. Also, you must use safety glasses, an apron, and a mouth dust protective mask. If you’re not sure about the quality of acrylic paint, use it on a scrap MDF board to test how the surface accepts the paint.

Although painting MDF is nothing difficult but a very fun process, consider calling a professional if you need more time for the seal and sand step. Good luck!  

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