How to Paint Plywood

Learn how to paint plywood for a smooth professional look using a simple trick that makes all the difference!

Close up of plywood desk with text overlay - how to paint plywood for a professional finish

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Ever since I built the two-tone A-frame desk, the most common questions I get are –

  • How did you get that smooth feel on plywood?
  • Did you use expensive veneer?

I thought it was time I wrote down a separate full tutorial to explain exactly how I painted the sanded plywood to get that gorgeous professional smooth look.

RELATED: See all the techniques to cover plywood edges!

Type of Plywood for Painting

While you can paint any plywood, the answer to the second question above is NO – I did not use expensive veneer plywood.

In fact, I used the cheapest one – sanded plywood.

If I were staining the project, I would have considered a good quality veneer like oak or maple. But the price goes up as well.

Since I was going to be painting, I didn’t want to spend money on the premium veneers. It would just be a waste if no one was going to see the beautiful veneer finish.

What Type of Paint to Use for Plywood?

If you follow the below directions to prepare and prime your plywood, you can use any paint you like!

I usually use regular latex paint in satin or semi-gloss – depending on the final finish I am looking for.

Semi-gloss paint which is used for cabinets and door is pretty durable without a top coat.

If you use satin or flat plaint, you would need a top coat.

You can also use acrylic paint or chalk paint – just be sure to seal them appropriately at the end.

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Materials Needed to Paint Plywood

Be sure to download the printable instructions below – 

DOWNLOAD PRINTABLE INSTRUCTIONS

How to Paint Plywood

Painting plywood is very similar to painting any other lumber – you have to fill all the holes and non-uniformities (there is a special trick to this!!), prime and then paint and seal it.

However, there is one special step that makes all the difference!

Step 1 – Fill Deep Holes

  • Fill in any pocket holes, nail holes and deep dents using wood filler. Allow to dry overnight.
Filling holes in plywood preparing to fill

Sometimes, the wood filler shrinks as it dries up and would need a second coat.

Also, this is a good time to round out the edges of the plywood. You can do this simply by running a screwdriver across it.

running a screw driver along the edge of the plywood to round it up

Step 2 – Apply Joint Compound

Yes, you heard that right!

This is the most critical step!

applying joint compound on the DIY desk
  • Try to make it as uniform as possible.

How to seal plywood edges for painting –

  • To make sure the edges are smooth and uniform, cover the exposed edges with joint compound and smooth it out. Make sure all the holes and crevices are covered.
applying joint compound to the plywood to prepare it for painting
  • Allow to dry overnight

This step is literally like frosting! Just keep smoothing it out till the entire surface is covered.

The joint compound helps fill up the rough splintered surface of the sanded plywood.

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Step 3 – Sand

woman sanding plywood to prepare to paint

This is the messiest step ever. Please do this in a well-ventilated space with proper eye and breathing protection. Just put on some music and enjoy your sanding session.

RELATED – My favorite Bluetooth hearing protection (get $10 off with code ANIKA10)

Honestly, sanding the soft joint compound is a lot faster and easier than sanding away wood filler… so don’t let it intimidate you!

Be sure to not sand everything away!

When finished you will be left with white patches on the plywood. This means the joint compound is doing its job by filling in the rough surface.

Step 4 – Prime

woman wiping off dust from plywood to prepare it for painting

This is important. If there are any particles left on the surface, it can cause issues later during painting.

  • Apply 2 coats of primer using a paint sprayer (or manually).
  • Allow to dry 3-6 hours between each coat ( depending on temperature and humidity). I usually wait for it to be dry to touch.
  • Sand lightly between each coat with super-fine grit and wipe off all the dust.
woman applying primer on plywood using a paint sprayer

The primer seals the plywood and joint compound and gets it ready for paint.

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Step 5 – Paint

It’s time to paint!

  • Apply 2 coats of paint using a paint sprayer or manually.
  • Sand lightly between each coat with super-fine grit and wipe off all the dust.
Woman painting the plywood with a paint sprayer

Typically you need 2 coats to get good coverage and color. However, depending on the paint or the color, you might need extra coats.

Step 6 – Seal

Every paint project needs protection – especially if you use satin or flat paint.

  • Apply a couple of coats of polyacrylic – in matte or gloss – depending on your preference.

That is it!

Be sure to download the printable instructions below – 

DOWNLOAD PRINTABLE INSTRUCTIONS

Be sure to allow the project to cure well before using.

The final result will be a nice smooth surface!

Close up of painted plywood desk showing how to paint plywood for a  smooth finish

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In fact, it will be hard to tell where the edges of the plywood were or the fact that you started with sanded plywood!

More Articles for Painting –

Learn how to paint plywood for a smooth professional look using a simple trick that makes all the difference!

How To Paint Plywood

Yield: Smooth painted finish on plywood

How to paint plywood for a smooth professional look using a simple trick that makes all the difference!

Instructions

    1. Fill in any pocket holes, nail holes and deep dents using wood filler. Allow to dry overnight.
    2. Apply joint compound all over the surface using a putty knife.
    3. To make sure the edges are smooth and uniform, cover the exposed edges with joint compound and smooth it out. Make sure all the holes and crevices are covered.
    4. Using a random orbital sander, sand down the joint compound.
    5. Once the joint compound is properly sanded down, wipe off all the dust using a tack-cloth or a wet rag.
    6. Apply 2 coats of primer using a paint sprayer (or manually). Allow to dry 3-6 hours and sand between each coat of paint.
    7. Apply 2 coats of paint using a paint sprayer or manually. Sand lightly between each coat with super-fine grit and wipe off all the dust.
    8. Apply a couple of coats of polyacrylic - in matte or gloss - depending on your preference and you're done.

Anika's goal is to inspire and empower beginners with woodworking, DIY, home improvement, and home decor ideas.
She wants everyone to unlock their creative potential and experience the feeling that comes with making something. Nothing feels better better than seeing something and saying "I can make that!"

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4 Comments

  1. The use of joint compound is genius! I never heard of that before. Great tip!

  2. As a regular woodworker I learned something new today. Never considered using joint compound to smooth open grain wood. Great idea!

  3. Arlene Puentes says:

    Thank you for your post. As a weekend warrior woodworker I think it’s hard enough to do the task, never mind photographing it and explaining it!

    A technique I’ve used for painting or staining plywood I got from an old George Grotz (AKA The Furniture Doctor) book. It is to varnish, let dry, then sand, and repeat. The varnish seeps into the soft part of the plywood. The sanding takes it off the had part of the plywood. Then when the plywood is stained or painted the surface is smooth.

    Also I like rounding the edges just a little bit.

    Anyway, thank you again. Great post. It’s also great that you’re wearing a mask! That dust is no good for us.

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