What Kind of Paint to Use on Picture Frames: Selecting the Right Finish and Material

Selecting the right paint for your picture frame is essential to enhancing your home decor with a personalized touch. Whether to breathe new life into an old frame or to add a splash of color that complements your room, knowing which paint to use is the first step to a successful project. Not all paints are created equal, and the choice depends on the material of the frame, the finish you desire, and where the frame will be displayed.

A hand holding a paintbrush applies acrylic paint to a wooden picture frame on a drop cloth

Preparation is just as important as the painting process itself. A well-prepped surface ensures better adhesion of the paint and a more polished final look. It’s important to clean, sand, and prime the frame accordingly. Proper application techniques, including the use of the right brushes or spray methods, will bring about a smooth, streak-free finish. After the paint has dried, applying a sealant can protect the paint job and add a professional touch to your work.

Key Takeaways

  • The choice of paint depends on the frame’s material and the desired finish.
  • Adequate preparation is crucial for paint adhesion and overall finish quality.
  • Using appropriate application techniques and finishing seals the project effectively.

Choosing the Right Paint

A hand reaching for a can of glossy paint labeled "picture frames" with various paintbrushes and frames in the background

When I approach painting a picture frame, my main focus is on the paint’s durability and finish. The type of frame material and the final look I envision guide my choice of paint.

Acrylic vs. Oil-Based Paint

Acrylic paint is my go-to for picture frames due to its quick drying time and exceptional durability. It’s water-resistant when dry, making it a superb choice for areas with high humidity. Oil-based paint, although slower to dry, provides a resilient coat that is less prone to chipping.

Water-Based vs. Latex Paint

I find water-based paints wonderfully easy to work with and clean. They emit fewer odors and offer a more environmental-friendly solution. Latex paint, a subset of water-based types, offers a versatile range of finishes such as flat, eggshell, and gloss which I use depending on the desired aesthetic effect.

Specialty Paints for Frames

For frames with nonporous surfaces or for those projects where a unique texture is desired, I turn to chalk paint or spray paint. Chalk paint provides a matte finish and requires minimal surface preparation. Spray paints, on the other hand, offer a uniform coat and a broad color palette for creative expression.

Preparation and Priming

An artist carefully selects and prepares picture frames for painting, choosing the perfect type of paint for priming

To achieve a professional finish on picture frames, adequate preparation and an appropriate priming process are vital. These initial steps ensure that the paint adheres smoothly and lasts longer, whether you’re working with wood, metal, or plastic frames.

Surface Preparation

I always start by laying down a drop cloth to catch any debris and spills during the project. For wooden frames, I fill in any imperfections with wood filler and allow it to dry completely. Sanding is the next crucial step; I use 80-grit sandpaper to remove the rough spots on any frame material and then follow up with a 120-grit sandpaper for a smoother finish. Cleaning up the dust from sanding is essential—I make sure the frame is free from any particles that could interfere with the paint job.

Selecting a Primer

Selecting the right primer is dependent on the frame material. For metal frames, I recommend a self-etching primer, which significantly improves paint adhesion. For plastic frames, a high-quality primer designed for plastics is necessary to prevent peeling. When dealing with wood, any primer that seals the wood and allows for even coverage of paint is my go-to choice. Regardless of the frame material, applying the primer in even, thin coats and allowing ample dry time between layers sets the stage for a flawless final paint application.

Application Techniques

In painting picture frames, the approach I take can significantly influence both the visual appeal and longevity of the finish. Employing the right tools and methods ensures that the final coat of paint is applied smoothly and lasts.

Brushes vs. Spray Application

When I use brushes for painting picture frames, I carefully select high-quality nylon or polyester brushes because they help me achieve a smooth application. Prior to application, I ensure the surface is clean and sometimes apply a self-etching primer, especially on metal frames, which can assist with paint adhesion. I apply the coats of paint evenly, following the grain of the wood when applicable, and allow for ample dry time between coats to prevent any tackiness or imperfections.

In contrast, when I opt for spray paint, I ensure to maintain a consistent 10-12 inches distance from the frame. The spray application tends to cover larger areas quickly, creating a smooth, even finish without brush strokes. This method is particularly suitable for achieving satin or gloss finishes. Additionally, spray paint typically dries faster, reducing overall project time.

Achieving a Flawless Finish

For a flawless finish, my thorough preparation of the frame’s surface is crucial. Here’s the process I adhere to:

  1. Sanding: I sand the frame with fine-grit sandpaper to remove old paint and to provide a better surface for the new paint to adhere.

  2. Priming (Optional): Depending on the paint and material, I may apply a primer to help the paint adhere better and to achieve a uniform base.

  3. Painting: I apply the paint in smooth, long strokes with a brush or in even layers using spray paint. I’m careful to avoid drips and runs for a clean touch.

    • First Coat: Crucial for establishing base coverage.
    • Additional Coats: Applied only after previous coats are fully dry, enhancing the color richness and overall durability.
  4. Distressing (Optional): If desired, I use a distressing technique, gently sanding the edges or details after the final coat has dried to give an aged look.

  5. Protection: A sealer or a clear coat can be applied for extra protection, particularly if the frame will be handled frequently or exposed to elements.

By adhering to these steps, I ensure that each frame I paint not only looks professional but also stands the test of time.

Finishing Touches

In my experience, adding finishers to picture frames not only seals the paint but can also enhance the aesthetics through various decorative techniques.

Sealers and Protective Coatings

After painting and allowing the frame to dry properly, I usually apply a sealer to protect the painted surface from scratches or peeling. For a durable finish, I opt for a clear polyurethane or acrylic sealer. Wax can also be used for a softer finish; it gives a beautiful, subtle sheen and is excellent for frames in a shabby chic or farmhouse style. I recommend using a sanding block between coats to ensure a smooth base for the sealer, which aids in preventing any potential peel or scratch.

Decorative Techniques

Once the frame is sealed, I sometimes employ additional decorative techniques depending on the desired look. For a matte finish, I might go with an eggshell topcoat, which adds to the frame’s character without too much glare. If I’m aiming for a more distressed look, I use fine-grit sandpaper to distress the edges, enhancing the frame with a tasteful distressed appearance. In terms of different finishes, a glaze can be applied in the recesses to accentuate details, primarily if I work on a frame with intricate designs or molding profiles.

Maintenance and Care

When I focus on maintaining and caring for my painted picture frames, I prioritize both the materials used and the techniques for cleanup and touch-ups. Here’s how I ensure my picture frames remain in top condition:


  • For cleaning, I use a soft, lint-free cloth.
  • Minor scratches on metal frames are managed by mixing a bit of toothpaste in a water-based solution.

Clean Up:

  • After painting, I clean my brushes with mineral spirits if I’ve used oil-based paint.
  • Water-based paints require just soap and water for cleanup.


  • To touch up a frame, I make sure to use the same type of paint originally applied to maintain consistency in texture and color.


  • I always store my paints in a cool, dry place and ensure they’re tightly sealed to extend their lifespan.
  • PaintPerks can be utilized to keep track of my purchase history, making it easier to buy the exact same paint for future touch-ups.


  • Managing paint supplies requires proper labeling and inventory checks.

I keep these practices in mind to care for my picture frames, ensuring they stay looking fresh for years to come.

Frequently Asked Questions

In my experience with refurbishing picture frames, I’ve come across a variety of techniques and materials that can significantly enhance the appearance of a frame. Below, I’ll address some common queries regarding the painting of picture frames.

How can you effectively paint a wooden picture frame?

For a wooden picture frame, I start by sanding the surface to create a smooth base free of any imperfections. Then, applying a suitable primer is crucial before painting to ensure optimal paint adhesion.

What are proven methods for achieving a vintage look when painting a picture frame?

Creating a vintage look involves using specific painting techniques. One method is distressing the paint after applying it, which can somewhat mimic the effect of age and wear. Layering different colors and then strategically sanding the frame can also produce an antique effect.

Can acrylic paint be successfully used on picture frames?

Absolutely, acrylic paint can be used on picture frames and often provides a wide range of vibrant colors. It’s important for me to apply it in well-adhered layers and possibly finish with a sealant for durability.

What precautions should be taken when painting a picture frame without removing the picture?

If the picture can’t be removed, I carefully cover the picture and the glass with painter’s tape and paper to avoid any accidental splatters. Working in a well-ventilated area is also crucial for safety when using spray paints or varnishes.

Are there any creative ideas for hand painting a picture frame?

Certainly! Hand-painting a picture frame can include techniques like stenciling, creating patterns with painter’s tape, or even applying gold leaf for an elegant touch. Opting for a chalk paint offers a matte finish that can be easily customized with hand-drawn designs.

Does natural oil paint work well for finishing picture frames?

Natural oil paints are an excellent choice for finishing picture frames, especially when seeking a rich, glossy look. They require more drying time than acrylic paints, but the result is a durable and high-quality finish.

Leave a Comment