Given I have both hired professional painters to reface kitchen cabinets and even DIYed this project myself several times , I think it is safe to say I know a thing or two about painting cabinets. In this brutally honest and comprehensive review, I am sharing what I have found to be the best kitchen cabinet paint brands…
From oil-based paint to acrylic paint and even freakin’ latex paint (huuuge rookie mistake by the way) , I have pretty much used them all.
And from all of the years I have remodeled kitchens on a tight budget, I can honestly say that painting kitchen cabinets goes an incredibly long way when you don’t have the cash to start from scratch with completely new ones.
That being said, before I list what I consider to be the best paints for this particular application, I can pretty much guarantee that even if you hire a professional and use the most expensive, high-end paint on the market, painting over any existing cabinet finish (even after sanding) is not entirely without its risks.
What to Know Before Painting Your Kitchen Cabinets-
Simply put: I have never known a cabinet paint to be entirely impervious to extensive wear and tear. (Or maybe that’s just because my house is full of little hellions who have no regard for other people’s property?!)
At any rate, in every kitchen I have painted (or had professionally painted) , I have always had to do some touchups in particularly vulnerable spots.
So…before you decide to commit to the time or cost of painting your kitchen cabinets, keep in mind that you will most likely have to do the occasional touch-up every few years and as a result, it’s a good idea to always have some leftover paint on hand.
Now that you have realistic expectations about painting your cabinet doors (especially in such a highly utilized space as a kitchen) I am now going to list my favorite types/brands of paint.
But because we all have specific needs and wants (ease of use is especially important if you plan to DIY your project), I have listed out the best paint options based on each specific product feature – durability, workability, dry time, finish and versatility.
While all of the products I am about to list have all proven to be durable in my personal experience, each of these products come with their own pros and cons.
My Top Selections for Best Kitchen Cabinet Paint Brand:
What’s different about my review (versus generic, big-brand websites) is that I have personal experience with each of the paint selections listed below…in my own home. Furthermore, I have lived with these finishes, and put them to the test on a real-life, daily basis for years at a time (not just for the sake of compiling content for an article).
No one is paying me for these reviews, so you can trust I am keeping it real with you!
Best Overall: Sherwin Williams Emerald Urethane Trim Enamel Paint –
As a DIY-er , my favorite paint for kitchen cabinets (and doors) is Emerald Urethane Trim Enamel by Sherwin Williams.
Possessing properties of both water-based and oil-based formulas, this hybrid paint gives you the best of both worlds- the ease of use and quick dry time of a water-based finish along with the solid durability of an oil-based paint.
Primarily a water-based enamel, Emerald Urethane is super easy to work with as its self-leveling agents hide brush strokes quite nicely. I also love how just how well this paint covers existing surfaces and you can lay each coat on relatively thick…
As you can see in the photo above, I recently painted over an existing paint color on my kitchen island as I wanted a more neutral color to fit better with the aesthetic of my home. Much to my delight, it only took 2 coats of Emerald Urethane to entirely cover the old green paint with a more neutral greige hue.
Even better? The limited amount of prep work you have to do with this particular paint (not to mention its quick-drying nature) saves so much time as Emerald Urethane can be directly applied on top of most finishes including latex, acrylic and oil-based paints.
While it does take a good 24 hours to fully cure and harden, it’s re-coat dry time is only 2 hours (waaay less than both Benjamin Moore Advance and your traditional oil-paints). This allowed me to paint my entire island in less than four hours which is pretty impressive!
Note: While this paint can be applied over most existing finishes including factory finishes, I do recommend lightly scuffing up the surface with a sanding block before applying the paint. If you will be painting over raw wood, I recommend applying Bin shellac-based primer or an oil-based primer first.
With oil resins blended into Emerald Urethane (not to be confused with Emerald Acrylic which I will talk about further on in this review), this paint finish is so durable once it has cured, it can even be used for exterior applications.
While I have only used the satin finish (I feel like this matches more of the relaxed, farmhouse vibes of the rest of my house) , Emerald is also available in Semi-Gloss and Gloss.
Despite the fact that the workability, versatility, dry time and coverage of Emerald Urethane are all impressive AF, I must mention the one drawback of this paint brand- the cost!
Retailing at $109 a gallon, this formula is not entirely budget-friendly. That being said, I have never paid full-price as my husband has an account with Sherwin Williams ( we only pay around $65/gallon).
If you don’t have an account yourself, I would wait until they have a sale (as they often do) or use a coupon. If you are working with a contractor or painter, they should have an account which will give you a major discount.
Although Emerald Urethane is a bit on the pricey side, it saves me time, frustration and the coverage is superb (so you don’t need as much product as you would with the cheaper paints).
What can I say? I detest working with traditional oil-based paints so badly, that I am willing to pay a little more for a product that is more forgiving and beginner-friendly.
To sum up the important points of this particular paint product, I have listed the pros and cons below …
- easy to use
- versatile (can be used for exterior applications as well)
- dries faster than oil and other comparable paints like Benjamin Moore Advance
- goes on in fewer coats
- requires less prep work
- self-levels (forgiving of brush marks)
- resists yellowing(especially important if you are using white paint or lighter colors)
- low-VOC/low fumes
- superb to oil for spray applications
- pricey (especially if you don’t have a Sherwin Williams account)
- finish is not quite as luxurious as an oil-based paint or Benjamin Moore Advance
Prettiest Finish: Sherwin Williams ProClassic Alkyd Interior Enamel Oil Based Paint-
Years ago, during the kitchen remodel of my 1980’s fixer upper, hybrid paints like Sherwin Williams Emerald Urethane and Benjamin Moore Advance were not yet available on the market.
Unfortunately, the only proper course of action at the time for painting kitchen cabinets was to use an oil-based paint as this was the most durable paint option available (latex is not heavy-duty enough).
Having a really bad experience using oil-based paints on prior projects ( think: super long dry times, bad fumes and not very forgiving of rookie mistakes like drips and brush strokes), I decided to hire a professional painter to paint my outdated wood cabinets white.
He insisted on using Sherwin Williams ProClassic Alkyd Interior Enamel in a semi-gloss and while the application took weeks with the long dry time in between coats , the finish was the prettiest paint sheen I have yet to see.
Part of this may be due to the fact that my painter used a brush application on the very last/top coat of paint so that the texture didn’t exhibit the dimple effect that is often the by-product of using a foam roller.
While oil-based paints are touted among many old-school pros as the most durable, from my personal experience, I did not find this to be particularly true. In fact, in terms of durability, I didn’t notice the oil based formula to perform notably better than Emerald Urethane (a water-based hybrid) or even milk paint…
As you can see in the photo above, after about three years of wear and tear, certain areas on my cabinet doors were in need of touch-ups. Mind you…not all of the doors looked this bad. It was just some of the lowers that had withstood pretty heavy usage.
If you are still curious about the performance of my oil-based painted cabinets, you can read my full review in this separate post titled My Painted Kitchen Cabinets 5 Years Later.
While most oil-based paints do retail at a lower cost than the fancy, new hybrid paints, it is important to consider the fact that they also don’t provide as great of coverage either . This is because you have to use several thinner coats to avoid paint sagging (dripping).
Given you have to apply more coats of paint than the more expensive water-based hybrids, the total cost of materials may just end up balancing out when everything is said and done.
Nonetheless, if you are a traditionalist who still wants to use oil-paint for your cabinets, Sherwin Williams ProClassic was truly a beautiful result (albeit tedious to apply). As for the paint color, I went with a white-white (no-tint).
To summarize my experience with oil paint, I have listed the pros and cons..
- Beautiful Finish
- more budget-friendly than specialty or hybrid paints
- slow dry time
- unforgiving (sags and drips easily) can present especially problematic when using a paint sprayer
- can yellow and discolor
- high odor and VOC
- thinner coverage than Emerald Urethane
Most User-Friendly: General Finishes Milk Paint-
So I have actually gotten hate over this one (from an old-school, professional painter to be exact), but I stand firm in my claims that General Finishes Water-Based Milk Paint is a fantastic option for beginner, DIY-ers.
I have milk painted a variety of cabinets– raw wood, factory finish surfaces, oil-painted surfaces and stained surfaces- and I can personally say this paint has been the most forgiving of them all (and probably the fastest drying as well).
While the major selling claim is that you don’t have to prime or sand existing surfaces before applying, this is not entirely true for all instances.
In fact, if you are working with any wood that could potentially bleed thru and cause discoloration (stained woods or raw wood), you will first need to apply a stain-blocking primer (shellac is your best best).
From personal experience, I will also add that it is a good idea to scuff up ALL surfaces with a light sanding block before you apply milk paint. I learned this the hard way when I skipped this step on a factory finished vanity and there were a few spots which I had to constantly touch up with fresh paint.
That being said, on the cabinets I executed the proper prep work (light sanding/scuffing and primer to prevent wood bleed thru), I saw no difference in the durability of the milk paint versus the professionally painted oil based cabinets and the Emerald Urethane painted island.
In fact, the only true difference was that the finish of the milk paint is not entirely as pretty as a semi-gloss oil paint or water-based hybrid enamel because it does not come with any sheen options. Basically, once it dries, its appearance is somewhere in between a satin and matte finish.
However, if you do want to add a more glossy finish to the paint, you can buy the General Finishes Top Coat which is also a water-based finish. This product acts as a poly and provides extra protection from potential chipping.
In addition to the fast dry time and ease of use, what I particularly loved about using the General Finishes Milk Paint were the extremely low fumes and the low level of volatile organic compounds in the product.
The main reason I decided not to use it again on my current kitchen is the fact that milk paint only comes in about 12 color options, and I wanted a very specific paint color for my new island (a warm taupe/greige).
In my opinion, this is the main drawback of using a milk paint (this is also the case for chalk paint although I have never used chalk paint for cabinet applications as I was warned that milk paint is more durable).
To sum up the advantages and disadvantages of milk paint, I have listed them below…
- fast dry time
- easy to use (and forgiving)
- low fumes and low vocs
- durable when proper prep has been completed
- marketing is misleading (you still need to lightly sand and prime in situations where wood bleed thru could occur)
- only available in 12 colors
- only available in 1 sheen (unless you buy the top coat for a glossier finish)
- relatively pricey
Is Sherwin Williams Emerald Interior Acrylic Latex Paint ok for cabinets?
Sherwin Williams Emerald Interior Acrylic Latex Paint was actually recommended to me by a handyman I had once hired to rebuild my kitchen bar cabinets.
While I initially loved the paint because of it’s ease of use, fast dry time and low VOC, unfortunately I did not find it to be as durable as the other paints I have used in the past.
Although Emerald Interior Acrylic has some great features about it (not to mention it is anti-microbial), not only was the durability not as great as the Emerald Urethane , its finish is kind of blah, and only comes in matte and satin.
While it is a little less expensive than the Emerald Urethane (about $20/gallon less ) , the boosted durability and more appealing finish of the Urethane is totally worth the cost to me!
That being said, I absolutely love the Emerald Acrylic as a baseboard and trim paint, but I probably won’t be using it again for cabinets.
The only advantage of using Emerald Acrylic over a hybrid paint like Emerald Urethane or Benjamin Moore Advance is that it is slightly more forgiving of drips and is more user-friendly.
Why I chose Sherwin Williams Emerald Urethane over Benjamin Moore Advance paint for my kitchen cabinets:
From further research, however, I decided not to use this particular paint because of its very long re-coat dry time .
While some professionals have touted this paint as having a slightly prettier finish (and maybe a little better durability) than Emerald Urethane, I was turned off by the thought of having to wait 16 freakin’ hours to apply a second coat!
In this helpful video review on Emerald Urethane VS Benjamin Moore Advance, it is also mentions that Advance drips easier and is therefore harder to work with than Emerald Urethane.
This is because Benjamin Moore Advance acts much more like a true oil-based paint than Emerald Urethane (hence the prettier finish, but no-so-awesome workability).
Given I absolutely despise working with oil paints, Emerald Urethane is my very top pick for kitchen cabinet paint brands!
While many good things have been said about Advance in terms of its actual appearance, I chose not to include this particular paint brand in my top picks as I have not personally used this product myself.
What is the best primer for kitchen cabinets?
While you do not have to prime most finished surfaces (like factory finish or previously painted cabinets) when using Sherwin Williams Emerald Urethane, if you are using an oil-based paint or if you are painting any sort of raw wood (even with Emerald Urethane), you need to use a primer that can block stains and potential discoloration. This is especially important if you are going to be using a white paint or a very light-colored hue.
In this application, my favorite primer for stain blocking wood surfaces before I paint stained or raw wood cabinets is Zinsser’s BIN shellac-based primer. It was recommended to me by a professional contractor and I have always had good experiences with it.
While everyone’s needs will certainly vary when selecting the best finish for their cabinet doors and drawers, there truly is nothing like a fresh coat of paint to update an outdated kitchen on a tight budget.
Its truly an amazing time to DIY this project yourself as paint technology has grown by leaps and bounds in just the last few years. Gone are the tedious (not to mention headache-inducing) days of being forced to work with an oil-based formula.
With a little bit of patience and elbow grease (and the right paint of course), there is nothing you can’t do, sis!
My advice? Just don’t let price dictate your decision. After all, you don’t want to put all of that work into something that won’t withstand the test of time (and wear and tear).
Thank you so much for stopping by this week! I hope you found this review helpful!
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Now get out there and design some good vibes along with a fabulous life!