How To Paint A Bookshelf

Learn everything you need to know about the best way to paint a bookshelf to transform your space.

A homeowner sits on a step ladder in a pink-painted room, observing her freshly painted bookcase in a grayish blue. A homeowner sits on a step ladder in a pink-painted room, observing her freshly painted bookcase in a grayish blue.

Ready to Learn How to Paint a Bookcase?

A freshly painted bookshelf, especially a large one, can make a big statement.

Whether you want to update the color of your favorite bookcase, or you’re looking for advice on how to paint an old bookshelf and bring it back to life, we’ve got the tips and tricks you need to succeed.

Read on to achieve the DIY painted bookshelf of your dreams.

Step #1: Go with Quality Products

  • Looking for the best paint for your bookcase? Better quality products are going to lead to a better result. While painting a bookshelf doesn’t require a specialty top coat, homeowners love ADVANCE®, a premium line of interior paint that perfects the details with a furniture-like finish.
  • If you have leftover interior paint from another project, painting a bookshelf is a great way to use it.
  • The best way to paint a wood bookcase is to make sure you’re working with the right primer and paint for your material.
  • To prime a wood bookshelf, we recommend Fresh Start® High-Hiding All Purpose Primer.
  • To prime a laminate, or particle board, bookshelf, recommend INSL-X® STIX® Waterborne Bonding Primer.
  • To paint a wood or laminate bookshelf, we recommend ADVANCE® Interior paint.

Helpful Tip

Ever have a picture frame or book stick to paint? That’s a problem called “blocking.”

Using premium-quality paint products with superior resins will help you avoid this, in addition to making sure you let paint dry completely between coats.

Step #2: Choose the Right Sheen for Your Goals

  • Picking a paint finish is just as important as choosing a paint color, and depends on both functionality and desired aesthetic.
  • A matte finish provides a nice, rich look.
  • Lower sheens hide imperfections much better, and tend to look better for longer.
  • If you do choose a high-gloss sheen, it’s best to spray the paint.

Helpful Tip

What’s a popular, go-to paint and sheen for a bookcase? Homeowners love ADVANCE® Interior paint in satin, which offers superior durability and a sleek look.

You can also use INSL-X® Cabinet Coat for an ultra-smooth finish and long-lasting beauty.

Try Regal® Select Interior paint for easy application, excellent hide and a uniform finish.

Step #3: Work with a Clean, Dry and Dull Surface

  • Before you pick up a paintbrush or roller to apply your first coat of primer, make sure to properly prep your bookshelf.
  • When prepping your bookshelf, remove hardware or cabinet doors before you start painting.
  • To prep a previously painted or stained bookshelf, sanding is only necessary if your bookshelf has any kind of glossy finish. If you do need to sand, we recommend a light sanding with medium (180 to 220) grit sandpaper just to dull the surface.
  • After sanding, vacuum up any debris.
  • Be sure to clean your bookshelf with warm water and a rag after sanding, and make sure the surface is completely dry before you start painting.

Helpful Tip

If you’re wondering how to paint a stained bookcase, sanding might be required if the stain has a glossy finish.

Step #4: Use a Roller and a Small Paintbrush for the Best Finish

  • While some people might opt to spray their bookshelf, especially if it has a lot of detail, hand painting is a more controlled, less messy option.
  • Use a 4-inch fine-finish roller to get hard-to-reach places, like the inside of the shelves, and to achieve the smoothest finish.
  • Always keep a paintbrush on hand to catch any drips and paint any smaller details on your bookshelf.

Step #5: Paint Two Even Coats

  • When your primer is dry, apply two coats of paint.
  • Be sure not to over-apply the paint—go for even, light coats.
  • Allow your first coat of paint to dry before applying your second coat. Check the back of the paint can for dry and recoat times.

Helpful Tip

Although ADVANCE® Interior paint sets up quickly for a faster dry time, you still need to make sure you wait until the paint is dry before painting your second coat. Consult the back of the paint can for recoat and dry times.

Step #6: Let it Cure

  • After priming and applying two coats of paint to your bookshelf, allow it time to cure.
  • Cure time is the amount of time before any painted piece can be returned to everyday use. For ADVANCE® Interior paint, the optimal cure time is three to five days.
  • Wait until the bookshelf has cured completely before reattaching any hardware or doors, or returning books to the shelves.

Now That You Know the Best Way to Paint Bookshelves, Try Another DIY Project

Want to try something new for your next DIY project? Check out our how-to interior, exterior and DIY sections for ideas and inspiration, and How to Paint Furniture for more tips and advice.

As always, visit your local Benjamin Moore retailer for help with all your painting needs.