Medium Density Fibreboard, more frequently referred to as MDF (because the full name is a bit of a mouthful, if we’re honest), is a cheap and wonderfully versatile composite for a wide range of woodworking applications. At its core, it’s a very simple thing – wood fibres are mixed with resin before being heated and compressed into tough, durable panelling. The resulting panelling is frequently used as a cheap and tough material for all sorts of furniture, cabinetry and flooring among other applications.
As with many painting surfaces, MDF has some very specific needs due to its unique properties. It has a very smooth finish, but is also inherently very porous. Therefore, it has a tendency to soak up any paint and moisture it comes into contact with, and as such MDF needs to be primed and covered with the right MDF paint to get a good finish that isn’t absorbed or dulled. As such, MDF specific paint is rarely water based, given the risk of the wood absorbing the moisture and warping.
In order to break down the different considerations you need to make for a suitable MDF paint, we’ve summarised a selection of the best paints fir for purpose on the market. Read on for our breakdown of the best products to ultimately make your buying decision just that little bit easier.
|Rust-Oleum Universal Paint||9 m2 /l||2 hours||££££|
|Ronseal One Coat MDF||8 m2 /l||2 hours||£££|
|Leyland Speciality MDF Primer||13 m2 /l||3 hours||££|
|Rustins Quick Drying MDF Sealer||12 m2 /l||2 hours||£|
|Rainbow The One Multi Surface||12 m2 /l||2 hours||££|
An all-in-one solution to your MDF painting needs, as well as a large variety of other surface types, comes in the shape of Rust-Oleum’s universal all-surface paint. Great overall quality and superb versatility make this a great pick for general decorating solutions. 16 different shades are available for this particular paint, almost guaranteeing you’ll find the right hue to express yourself exactly the way you want to.
Being a paint and primer in one tin is a big draw for the Rust-Oleum here. Primer is an essential step in the painting of MDF, and something combining paint and primer is a major time and cost saver. As such, once you’ve scrubbed up and sanded your MDF surface), just one coat of this paint is needed. It is fair to note that for an extra-porous surface like MDF, more than one coat might be a safer bet. It’s also suitable for either indoor or outdoor applications.
- Colour choices
- Paint and primer combination
- Interior or exterior
- Strong odour
Ronseal’s ‘does what it says on the tin’ moniker is very much in full effect here, with a paint designed for cupboards, melamine and MDF. One of the most notable features of this particular paint is how it removes the need for a primer – a one coat formula takes care of that combined with the top coat. A second coat is not strictly necessary but should you feel it necessary, it would need at least 2 hours until dry to the touch.
The paint dries to a super smooth white satin finish with a lovely subtle mid sheen. It has a very tough and durable finish, given its potential use on surfaces that get a lot of use, such as cupboards. A drip free consistency makes sure it’s really easy to use and helps to ensure the smooth finish, and the finish resists yellowing to keep your MDF looking clean and white for longer.
- Good finish
- May need several coats
Leyland Trade’s mission statement is to provide high quality paints in line with what professional painters and decorators use. In this case, their MDF primer is a specially formulated product designed to quickly and efficiently prime MDF ready to be painted. While water-based paints are not typically used with MDF, a water base for this primer is quick drying but offers lower odour levels than a traditional solvent-based primer.
With the quick drying time, you can easily apply 2 or 3 coats inside a day to lay down an incredibly strong foundation upon which to paint. It dries to a flat matt finish, which you would be perfectly able to keep as your colour of choice, but equally serves as an ideal neutral base. Additionally, as trade paints often are, this represents incredibly good value with a large volume for the same money as a much smaller container.
- Quick drying
- Quality finish
- Solid value
- Very flat matt
Rustins’ quick drying MDF sealer here is a little different from other products on this list. For one thing, it’s colourless and dries to a clear finish, and as such acts more as a specialised primer. It still stands out as an excellent example of a truly essential stage in the process of painting MDF – while it does dry clear, the finish it leaves is nigh on flawless, leaving you a perfect canvas for your choice of coloured top coat.
A quick drying formula makes this easy to work with; it’s dry to the touch in roughly half an hour, and is ready for re-coating in only 2 hours. Additionally, as a clear formula, you’re not restricted to just paint. If a clear wood finish is more to your liking, then this primer can also be varnished over. It’s even safe for use on children’s toys, should you find yourself painting such a thing.
- Quick drying
- Clear finish
- Necessitates buying paint/varnish
An all-in-one solution to your MDF painting needs comes in the form of the aptly-named The One from Rainbow Paints. It’s a solid choice for an all-round decorating solution thanks to a range of features and a good overall quality. Off the bat, you can purchase The One in 10 different colours, with bold yet understated shades that are sure to complement any room.
Key to The One’s appeal it the combination of paint and primer in the one tin. Given the importance of primer in the painting of MDF, an all-in-one is a significant time and cost saver. As such, once you’ve cleaned the MDF surface (and potentially sanded it), just one coat of this paint is needed. Although it’s a water based paint, the combination of primer with the paint reduces the risk of moisture damage. Should you decide to paint a second coat, leave it to dry for 16 hours. A VOC-free (Volatile Organic Compound) formula also ensures that the formula is very low odour.
- Colour choices
- Paint and primer combination
- Low odour
- Not necessarily specialist MDF paint
Which MDF Paint To Go For?
MDF is a tremendously versatile medium for woodworking and applications around the home. It’s durable, tough and can be used for just about anything – however, MDF can be a little tricky as a paintable medium, given its propensity to absorb moisture. Priming adequately is an essential step, and that’s why we’ve summarised the best products to prepare and/or cover MDF for painting. Here are our picks for the best paint and the best value.
Best MDF Paint – overall, the Rust-Oleum Universal Paint stands out as the best pick for painting MDF. Despite being a multi-surface paint, the quality of the finish on a medium like MDF is not compromised one bit. The range of colours is a huge plus, and a rapid drying time paired with solid value for how far the paint goes seal the deal (pun sort-of intended).
Best Value – for value, look to the Leyland Speciality MDF Primer. While it is only a primer and shouldn’t necessarily be considered as the final coat, the quality of finish paired with the superb value for such a large quantity of product, it’s hard to ignore.
MDF Paint FAQ
How to paint MDF
As a highly porous medium, MDF needs to be carefully treated in the painting process. It should be lightly sanded with a medium grit sandpaper; although it’s initially a smooth surface, it’s always advisable when preparing wood. Also be sure to get the edges while sanding, as they’re also liable to absorb moisture. Then, coat sufficiently with primer and then paint, applying as many layers as is recommended by the paint manufacturer.
What paint to use on MDF
A solvent based paint is the best paint for MDF, as water based paints are liable to be absorbed into the wood. This may cause irreparable damage and mis-shaping to the wood.
How to paint MDF furniture
Painting MDF furniture is a simple process. As with any painting job, clean and sand your surface until it’s adequately prepared. MDF’s high absorbency necessitates a primer or self-priming paint – use a roller, brush or combination of the two based on the size of the job and your preferences.
How to paint MDF to a mirror finish
MDF can be painted to such a high level of glossy shine that it becomes mirror-like. The key to this, aside from patience, is to first use a very fine grit sandpaper, with a sanding block. A sufficient primer to fill in all the pores of the MDF, maybe with multiple layers, is essential. Roughly 5 thin coats of paint should then be applied, perhaps done as 3 layers with a few minutes between them, then the final 2 coats before you leave it to fully dry. The most important process for the mirror finish, however, is wet sanding. Take a sanding block, with paper, and dip into clean water. Sand for 10-15 seconds until it starts to grab, at which point you should stop sanding. Carefully clean off any grit, then add another coat of paint, buffing when dry. Repeat the process of cleaning, painting and buffing until you have your mirrored finish!