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The Best Paint For MDF | Top Primers, Acrylics & Enamels | 2024

The Best Paint For MDF | Top Primers, Acrylics & Enamels | 2024

Posted by Skirting World on 2nd Jan 2024

The Best Paints For MDF - Ranking & Guide

MDF Board being painted white

Painting MDF requires careful consideration for a high-quality result.

Choosing the wrong primers, acrylics or enamels leads to poor adhesion, quick wearing, cracking, chipping, uneven finishes, and requires repeated re-painting.

Learn how to pick the right MDF paints to achieve smooth, durable and professional-quality painted projects.

Choosing the Best Paint for MDF

Achieving a flawless, professional-grade finish when  painting MDF requires using a 2 or 3 layered approach. 

By using  Primer, Acrylic and Enamel paint in combination you can achieve a durable finish on your MDF project that lasts a lifetime. 

  • Primers are essential first. They seal the porous MDF surface to prevent uneven paint absorption and swelling. Primers create a uniform base layer and improve adhesion for the next layer of paint.
  • Acrylic paints provide your colour, coverage and decorative finish. Quality acrylics flex to prevent cracking as MDF expands and contracts. They adhere tightly and resist chipping over time.
  • Enamels give a clear, protective top coat over acrylic paint. Enamels make MDF impervious to moisture and wear-and-tear to preserve your hard work for the decades to come.

In this guide, we’ll compare top brands and review recommended all-purpose paints for priming,  colouring, and protecting MDF projects.

Quick Summary

The Best Paint For MDF

Best Primer Paint Best Acrylic Paint Best Enamel Paint
MDF Furniture Leyland Trade MDF Primer Dulux Trade QD Eggshell / Satin / Gloss N/A
MDF Cabinetry Caparol Haftprimer Dulux Trade QD Eggshell / Satin / Gloss Rustins Varnish
MDF Flooring Johnstones Trade MDF Primer Dulux Floor Paint Range Johnstones Floor Epoxy
MDF Trim/Skirting Leyland Trade MDF Primer Dulux Diamond Satinwood N/A
MDF Crafts N/A Your paint of choice N/A
MDF Doors Zinsser Bullseye 1-2-3 Dulux Trade QD Eggshell / Satin / Gloss N/A

Find out why in our comprehensive breakdown below...

Match Paint To The Project

MDF is used for a wide variety of projects due to its smooth, stable, and affordable sheet construction.  When painting MDF, it's important to consider the end use and environment in selecting the right paint products. One type of paint isn't best for all types of MDF. 

The paint you choose must be aligned with the item that you want to paint.

MDF Furniture

Furniture needs flexible paints that resist chipping from movement/wear.

Leyland Trade MDF Primer Dulux Trade MDF Eggshell Paint

MDF Cabinetry

Cabinets need a hardwearing, protective paint finish.

Caparol Haftprimer MDF Primer Dulux Trade QD Satin MDF Paint Rustins MDF Varnish Paint

MDF Flooring

Flooring requires ultra durable, scuff-resistant paint.

Johnstone's MDF Trade Primer Dulux Trade Floor Paint Range Johnstones 2 Part Floor Epoxy MDF

MDF Trims/Skirting

Trims and skirting boards can use standard primers and acrylics.

LeyLand Trade Specialist MDF Primer Dulux Diamond Satinwood Skirting Board Paint

MDF Doors

Doors require hardwearing, flexible paint.

Zinsser Bullseye 1-2-3 Primer MDF Dulux Trade QD Gloss Paint MDF

MDF Arts & Crafts

Crafts need flexible paints with wide color options.

For arts and crafts, there are no specific paint product recommendations, opt for flexible acrylics over oil-based paints. Oil-based paints can cause MDF swelling and damage. Instead, choose water-based acrylics that remain elastic when dry. 

This allows the paint to move with the natural expansion and contraction of the MDF. Additionally, select acrylics with agents to resist moisture absorption. This prevents warping or bubbling from humidity changes. 

With quality acrylics, you can match any creative color scheme without primers or finishes. Prioritize paint flexibility to avoid damaging the MDF when applying color to your arts and crafts projects.

Water vs Oil-Based Paint

It’s not only the sheen and colour of your paint that matters, but also the type of solvent the paint is composed of. There are two main types of paint solvents, water and oil.

The solvent that paints are based on will make a big impact on the appearance of the colour over time, its durability and its quality.

What is Water-based paint?

Water-based paint also known as latex or acrylic paint is a paint which uses water as the primary carrier. Water-based paint is the most common type of paint and is considered more environmentally friendly because it emits lower levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) during application and drying in comparison to traditional oil-based paints.

Water-based paints are a popular choice for skirting boards as they create easy-to-clean surfaces which are moisture-resistant, and dry quickly, which means you can use them in bathrooms and kitchens and won’t have to tip-toe around the house for too long after applying.

Advantages of water-based paint

  • Low emissions of VOCs
  • Easy to clean
  • Dries quickly
  • Can be tinted to match a variety of colours
  • Offers good adhesion and durability on skirting boards
  • Can be applied in multiple layers for better coverage and finish

Disadvantages of water-based paint

  • Can be more expensive than oil-based paint
  • Not as durable as oil-based paint
  • May have a rough or imperfect finish
  • Not the most suitable for high-traffic areas

What is Oil-Based Paint?

Oil-based paint, also known as alkyd paint, is a paint which uses oils such as mineral spirits or turpentine as the primary carrier. One of the main advantages of oil-based paints is their long lifespan and smoother finish than water-based paint.

Oil-based paints are a more traditional option, they can have higher levels of volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions during application and drying, which can have a negative effect on the environment. Cleaning oil-based paint is also difficult and requires the use of harsh chemicals. It can also take longer to dry than water-based paint.

Advantages of oil-based paint

  • Longer lifespan and durability than water-based paint
  • Smooth and shiny finish
  • Suitable for high-traffic areas
  • Resistant to stains
  • Provides good resistance to moisture

Disadvantages of oil-based paint

  • Difficult to clean
  • High levels of VOC emissions
  • Prone to discolouration and yellowing
  • Takes longer to dry than water-based paint
  • Not as sustainable and environmentally friendly as water-based paint.

Non-Toxic Alternatives

For those concerned about toxicity and VOCs (volatile organic compounds) in traditional paints, milk paint and chalk paint offer non-toxic options suitable for MDF.

Milk Paint 

Milk paint is made from milk protein, lime and pigment. It is odourless, low VOC and contains no toxins. The natural composition makes it safe for use on children's items. Milk paint has excellent adhesion to smooth surfaces like MDF without needing a primer. It cures to a matte, porous finish that requires sealing for durability.

Chalk Paint 

Chalk paint gets its name from its velvety, matte texture like chalkboard paint. It is water-based with a high pigment load for excellent coverage. Chalk paints are low odour, zero VOC and contain no toxic ingredients. They adhere well to MDF and leave a porous patina, requiring a protective topcoat for hardness and washability.

Plant-Based Paints 

Some newer eco-friendly paint lines use plant oils like soybean and linseed instead of petroleum. These provide a viable non-toxic option as they contain zero VOCs. However, plant-based paints have disadvantages like longer drying times, less coverage and shorter shelf life. They require careful MDF preparation and sealing for adequate adhesion and durability.

For most non-toxic options, allowing for extra drying time and a protective topcoat is advised to maximize adhesion and achieve a durable result on MDF projects. But for situations like children's furnishings, these provide a safe painting alternative.


What is the best paint for MDF?

For most MDF projects, a primer, durable acrylic paint, and protective enamel provide the best results. Use MDF-specific primer, flexible acrylic in your desired colour, and a clear polyurethane or varnish enamel topcoat. This 3-step painting system seals, colours, and protects the MDF for a flawless finish.

What is the best paint for MDF furniture?

For MDF furniture, use a flexible, fast-drying primer like Leyland Trade MDF Primer, followed by durable acrylic paint in your desired colour and sheen. A top enamel is usually not needed for furniture. Choose acrylic paint that remains flexible when dry to prevent cracking and chipping from furniture movement and wear.

What is the best paint for MDF kitchen cabinets?

For kitchen cabinets, use an adhering primer like Caparol Haftprimer, followed by a hardwearing acrylic cabinet paint in satin or semi-gloss sheen. Finish with a protective clear polyurethane varnish for durability and easy cleaning. The varnish enamel topcoat makes the painted MDF cabinets tough, washable, and moisture-resistant.

What paint is best for MDF crafts?

For MDF crafts, flexible acrylic paint works well without needing primer or enamel. Avoid overly thick or inflexible paints that could crack or damage the MDF. Prioritise paints designed to resist chipping and remain somewhat elastic when dry. This allows the paint to move with the natural expansion of the MDF material.

Can you paint MDF with emulsion?

Yes, you can paint MDF with emulsion or latex wall paint. However, it is not ideal and requires proper MDF preparation and priming for best results. Standard emulsion paint does not adhere well to the smooth MDF surface. Use MDF primer first, then thin layers of emulsion to prevent absorption issues leading to bumps or uneven finishes.