How to Paint Built in Bookshelves

Painting built-in bookshelves can breathe new life into your space, giving them a fresh, updated look that complements your overall decor. Whether you have built-in bookshelves in your living room, office, or bedroom, a coat of paint can transform them into a striking focal point.

How to Paint Built in Bookshelves

However, achieving a professional-looking finish requires careful preparation and attention to detail. In this article, we will delve into the process of how to paint built in bookshelves, covering the necessary materials, preparation steps, painting techniques, and finishing touches to achieve a smooth and flawless painted finish on your bookshelves.

With the right approach, you can revitalize your built-in bookshelves with a new coat of paint, elevating the aesthetics of your space and giving your bookshelves a fresh and updated appearance.

What Paint to Use on Built-in Bookcase?

When it comes to painting a built-in bookcase, there are certain paint types that work best. First and foremost, you want to use interior latex paint designed specifically for painting furniture or cabinets. This paint will provide the most durable finish and will last longer than other types of paint. To ensure your bookshelf is properly protected from moisture damage, consider using a semi-gloss or high-gloss sheen.

Additionally, make sure the paint you choose is labeled as being washable. This will make it much easier to clean any spills or dirt off the bookshelves in the future. For an extra touch of elegance and color depth on your built-ins, you can also choose to apply a wood stain before the paint. This will result in a richer and more luxurious finish.

When it comes to painting built-in bookcases, the key is to use the right type of paint for the job. By following these tips and choosing an interior latex paint with a washable finish and high-gloss or semi-gloss sheen, you can be sure that your bookshelves will last for many years to come.

Use the Right Type of Paint

Spend some time researching different paints and stains before starting your project so you can make sure you’re using the best materials possible. With proper preparation, you’ll be able to transform your bookcase into something beautiful!

10 Methods How to Paint Built in Bookshelves

1. Gather Materials:

Before you start painting, gather all the necessary materials. You will need drop cloths or plastic sheets to protect the surrounding area, painter’s tape to mask off areas you do not want to be painted, sandpaper in different grits (medium and fine), wood filler, a putty knife, primer, paint brushes or rollers, paint in your desired color, and a paint tray. To make your job as easy and efficient as possible, you should also have a few rags or paper towels on hand to wipe away any excess paint. However, if you prefer to use a paint sprayer for the job, be sure to have one on hand as well.

2. Prep the Bookshelves:

The first step in painting built-in bookshelves is to prepare the surfaces. Start by removing any items from the bookshelves and clearing the surrounding area. Cover the floor and any adjacent surfaces with drop cloths or plastic sheets to protect them from paint splatter.

Use painter’s tape to mask off areas you do not want to be painted, such as the walls or hardware. If you plan to only paint the interior of the bookshelves, use painter’s tape or cardboard to cover up the exterior. Once everything is prepped, use a vacuum cleaner to remove any dust or dirt particles from the bookshelves.

Use a Vacuum Cleaner

3. Clean and Sand:

Thoroughly clean the bookshelves to remove any dust, dirt, or grease. Sand the surfaces with medium-grit sandpaper to roughen the finish, allowing the primer and paint to adhere better. Sanding also helps to smooth out any imperfections or rough spots on the wood. Wipe the bookshelves down with a damp cloth afterward to remove any dust or debris.

While you don’t need to use a primer, it may be beneficial in the long run if you want your paint job to last. Primer will help the paint adhere to the surface and increase its longevity. Apply a thin, even layer of primer with a brush or roller. If needed, use a mini-roller for small, intricate areas. Allow the primer to dry completely before moving on to painting.

4. Fill and Repair:

Inspect the bookshelves for any holes, cracks, or dents. Fill them with wood filler using a putty knife, and then smooth them out to create a flush surface. Allow the wood filler to dry completely according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Use a Putty Knife

Once dry, sand the patched areas to ensure a smooth and even surface. If you intend to paint the shelves, use a primer over the patched area first. This will help even out any discolorations and ensure better coverage when you apply the paint. While the primer is drying, you can move on to the next step.

5. Apply Primer:

Primer is crucial for achieving a smooth and durable painted finish. Apply a coat of primer to all surfaces of the bookshelves, including the shelves, sides, and backs. Use a brush or roller, depending on the size and details of your bookshelves. Allow the primer to dry completely according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

If needed, apply a second coat of primer for better coverage. However, be mindful not to overdo it with primer as this can cause the paint to peel off or chip. To ensure the primer is adequately dry, lightly run your hand over it. If it feels tacky or sticky to the touch, allow more drying time before proceeding.

6. Sand and Smooth:

After the primer has dried, lightly sand the surfaces with fine-grit sandpaper to smooth out any imperfections or brush marks. Sanding also helps to create a better surface for the paint to adhere to. Make sure to vacuum away any sanding dust before moving on to the next step.

If your bookshelves are made of wood, then you may want to fill any visible gaps or holes with a wood filler before sanding them for a smoother finish. While you’re sanding, pay special attention to the edges of the shelves and other areas that need to be detailed.

7. Choose the Right Paint:

Select high-quality paint in the desired color and finish for your built-in bookshelves. Consider the sheen of the paint, which can impact the overall appearance and durability of the finish. Higher-sheen paints, such as semi-gloss or high-gloss, are more durable and easier to clean, but they can also show more imperfections.

Lower sheen paints, such as satin or eggshell, have a softer appearance but may not be as durable. It is also important to use paint specifically designed for wood surfaces, as this will help the finish last longer.

8. Apply Paint:

Once the primer is dry and the surfaces are smooth, it’s time to apply the paint. Use a brush or roller, applying thin and even coats of paint in the direction of the wood grain. Start with the edges and corners, and then move on to the larger surfaces. Be careful to avoid drips or brush marks, and use long, even strokes for a smooth finish.

Allow each coat to dry completely before applying the next one. Depending on the desired coverage, you may need to apply multiple coats of paint. When finished, allow the paint to dry completely before replacing any items on the shelves. For added protection against scuffing and staining, you may wish to apply a coat of sealant.

9. Pay Attention to Details:

When painting built-in bookshelves, pay attention to details such as edges, corners, and trim. Use a smaller brush or a steady hand to ensure clean lines and a professional finish. Take your time and be meticulous in your painting technique to achieve a polished look.

If necessary, use painter’s tape to mask off areas adjacent to the bookshelves to ensure crisp edges and prevent paint from spreading to unwanted areas.  Consider using a clear sealant to protect your paint job and help it last longer. With patience, precision, and the right materials, you can transform your built-in bookshelves with a fresh coat of paint!

 A Fresh Coat of Paint

10. Finish and Clean Up:

Once you have applied the desired number of coats and achieved the desired finish, allow the paint to dry completely according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Inspect the bookshelves for any touch-ups or imperfections and make any necessary corrections. Once the paint is fully dry, carefully remove the painter’s tape to reveal clean edges. Clean up any mess and move the shelves back in place. Enjoy your freshly painted built-in bookshelves!

What Is the Best Paint Finish for Built in Cabinets?

Once you have chosen your paint color and prepared the built-in cabinets, it is time to choose a finish. Paint finishes come in a variety of sheens – from glossy to matte. It can be tricky to decide which one is best for built-in cabinets, as each has its own advantages and disadvantages.

Glossy finishes are highly reflective, so they show off decorations and items on display inside your cabinets or shelves. These may also be easier to clean than other paint sheens but do tend to highlight any flaws or imperfections on the surface of the wood or cabinetry.

Semi-gloss and satin finishes will still create some reflections but not quite as much as glossy paints. This makes them a good choice for hiding any imperfections in the wood or cabinetry. However, semi-gloss and satin finishes are generally harder to clean than glossy ones.

Matte finishes are the least reflective of all paint sheens, making them great for hiding any flaws in your cabinets or shelves. They also require less maintenance than other types of finishes but tend to show dirt and dust more easily.

A Variety of Sheens – From Glossy to Matte


Painting built-in bookshelves may seem daunting, but with some careful planning and patience, it can be a breeze! After properly preparing the surface, choose a color that suits your style and apply paint in thin layers with a high-quality brush or roller.

Consider doing one or two coats of primer before beginning to paint, as this will improve the overall look of your shelves. Don’t forget to remove all hardware before painting or cover it up with painter’s tape for protection.

Finally, once the project is complete, make sure you wait at least 48 hours for the paint to dry before adding back any decorations or putting items on the shelves. Now that you know how to paint built-in bookshelves, why not take on this task yourself and give your home an updated look?

Photo of author

Adrian Green

Adrian is a woodworking hobbyist and has loved Woodworking since he was 10 years old. Back then in childhood, his father used to have a furniture shop. He used to help his dad and learned a lot from him about how to fix woodworking furniture, basic carpentry knowledge and also about how to work hard and take care of business. He enjoys woodworking as a hobby. He loves the feeling of creating something with his own hands, and the satisfaction that comes from seeing his finished products used by others.

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