RTA (ready-to-assemble) cabinets have become increasingly popular in recent years as an affordable and customizable option for kitchen and bathroom renovations. Unlike custom cabinetry which can be prohibitively expensive, RTA cabinets allow homeowners to get a fresh new look without breaking the bank. But what if you want to go a step further and change the color of your RTA cabinets? Can you paint ready-to-assemble cabinets to match your dream design vision?
The short answer is yes! With the right preparation and painting technique, you can absolutely paint over your RTA cabinets to transform the look of your space. Painting cabinets is an affordable way to update the style without embarking on a major renovation project. Follow this guide to learn everything you need to know about painting ready-to-assemble cabinets.
Understanding RTA Cabinet Construction
Before diving into the painting process, it’s helpful to understand what makes RTA cabinets different than other cabinetry. As the name implies, ready-to-assemble cabinets ship as individual pieces that you put together yourself. The parts consist of:
- Cabinet box – This forms the main structure and consists of four sides, top and bottom. RTA cabinet boxes are typically made from low-cost materials like particle board, MDF or plywood.
- Doors and drawer fronts – These overlay the cabinet box and are usually made from higher quality woods like maple, oak or hickory.
- Shelves and interior parts – RTA cabinets include adjustable shelves, interior trim and storage accessories. These pieces are usually particle board or MDF.
- Hardware – Assembly hardware, hinges, knobs and pulls ship with RTA cabinets. Hardware is typically metal.
Understanding the mix of materials in RTA cabinet construction will inform the painting process later on. While the cabinet boxes are fair game for painting, you may wish to keep nicer wooden doors and drawer fronts stained or natural. Hardware will also need to be removed before painting.
Prep Work Before Painting RTA Cabinets
The key to success when painting ready-to-assemble cabinets lies in the prep work. Taking time to properly prepare RTA cabinets before painting will help the paint adhere and look smooth. Follow these steps:
Remove Doors, Drawers and Hardware
The first step is to fully disassemble the cabinets. Remove all doors, drawers, shelves, knobs and pulls. Taking doors off the hinges will allow you to paint the cabinet boxes most effectively. Number each door and drawer to keep them organized.
Place door hinges in labeled bags, along with any shelving pegs or hardware. You can spray paint hardware later on if needed to match your new cabinet color.
Thoroughly wipe down all cabinet surfaces with a deglosser or mild detergent. This removes any dirt, oil or residue so the paint can properly stick. Pay special attention to greasy areas around handles.
Lightly sand cabinet boxes, doors and drawers using 220 grit sandpaper. This roughs up the surface a bit for the primer and paint to adhere. Don’t sand too aggressively or you could damage the finish.
Fill Any Holes
Inspect all cabinet pieces and fill any screws holes, gaps or imperfections with wood filler. Let dry completely. Sand smooth. This prep ensures your painted cabinets will have a flawless finish.
Priming is a must before painting ready-to-assemble cabinets. Primer creates a uniform surface for paint to stick to. Use a high-quality primer designed for painting cabinets and woodwork. Apply a generous coat to all cabinet parts, including the interior of cabinet boxes.
Let the primer dry fully before sanding lightly with 220 grit sandpaper. Address any drips or uneven areas. Clean surfaces and apply a second coat of primer if needed to cover completely.
Choosing a Cabinet Paint
With your RTA cabinets fully prepped, it’s time to choose a cabinet paint. The type of paint you use will impact the finished look and durability. Consider these options:
Paint and Primer in One
For a streamlined painting process, choose a paint + primer formulated to adhere to surfaces like wood and laminate. The best cabinet paints offer maximum coverage that dries to a hard, smooth finish. Look for longevity and resistance to nicks and marks.
Also called alkyd enamel, this oil-based paint provides a shiny, glass-smooth finish. Enamel levels smoothly and offers a durable finish that holds up to busy kitchens. Proper ventilation is needed when applying oil-based paints.
Latex Acrylic Paint
Water-based acrylic latex paint is easy to apply and clean up. It adheres well to many surfaces and dries faster than enamels. Latex paint cures to a matte or eggshell finish. For cabinets, opt for an interior latex formulated for trim and woodwork.
Offering a super durable and flawless finish, lacquer paint can be ideal for kitchen and bathroom cabinets. Pre-catalyzed lacquer paint cures smooth and hard. Spray application is typically needed for the best results.
Consider how much wear the cabinets will receive, along with the finish look you wish to achieve. Your RTA cabinet paint should include built-in primer, offer great adhesion and resistance to moisture, grease and dirt.
How to Paint RTA Cabinets
Follow these steps to paint your ready-to-assemble cabinets like a pro:
1. Set Up Workspace
Choose a well-ventilated area protected from dust and overspray. Lay down plastic or drop cloths. Set up your painting supplies so they’re easily accessible.
2. Wipe Down Surfaces
Use a tack cloth to remove any dust from sanding on the primed cabinets. Paint adheres much better to a clean surface free of debris.
3. Apply First Coat
Stir your cabinet paint thoroughly before starting. Use a high-quality angled brush to neatly “cut-in” corners and edges. Then roll on an even coat of paint to cover all surfaces. Work systematically and maintain a wet edge. Allow to dry per the manufacturer’s instructions.
4. Sand and Recoat
Gently sand the first coat to smooth any texture or brush marks. Wipe clean and apply the second finish coat, again brushing edges and rolling surfaces.
5. Cure and Dry
Allow the painted cabinets several days to cure fully so the paint bonds and hardens before reinstalling. The cure time may vary based on humidity and ventilation. Oil-based enamels can take up to 2 weeks to cure.
6. Add Topcoat (Optional)
For added durability and stain resistance in heavy use kitchens, apply 1-2 coats of a polyurethane topcoat. Water-based is easiest to use. Let the topcoat fully cure before reassembling cabinets.
7. Reinstall Doors and Hardware
Once fully cured, attach your cabinet doors, drawers and hardware. Add any adjustable shelves, interior fittings and accessories. Enjoy your like-new painted RTA cabinets!
Painting vs. Refacing vs. Replacing RTA Cabinets
Painting ready-to-assemble cabinets allows you to change the color and style without the cost of brand new cabinetry. But how does it compare to other RTA upgrade options?
- Cost – Inexpensive compared to new cabinets. DIY is possible.
- Process – Prepping and painting takes time and labor. Cabinets unusable during the process.
- Look – Fresh painted finish transforms style. Limitations based on existing cabinet construction.
- Cost – Mid-range. Less than new cabinets but more than paint.
- Process – New doors and veneers applied over cabinet boxes. Less downtime than painting.
- Look – New doors and finishes provide a quick facelift. Limited by current cabinet layout.
- Cost – Most expensive option.
- Process – New cabinet installation is messy and time-consuming. Kitchen or bathroom unusable for many days.
- Look – Total transformation with custom or semi-custom cabinets. Layout can be modified.
For many homeowners, painting strikes the right balance between an affordable, dramatic update versus replacing quality RTA cabinets that still have good bones. Take time to consider all your options to find the best solution for your specific kitchen or bathroom.
Tips for Successfully Painting RTA Cabinets
Follow this expert advice when tackling a DIY cabinet painting project:
- Take doors, drawers and hardware off for best results
- Thoroughly clean and lightly sand surfaces
- Use a quality bonding primer before painting
- Apply in thin, even coats using a brush and roller
- Use angled trim brushes to neatly cut-in edges
- Allow proper dry and cure time between coats
- Consider a clear poly topcoat for added protection
- Work slowly and systematically for a smooth finish
- Be patient – properly painted cabinets take time
What Kind of Paint Finish Should You Use?
Aside from choosing the right cabinet paint formula, also consider the paint finish. Matte, eggshell, satin and semi-gloss are common options:
- Matte – Provides a subtle finish with no shine. Shows fewer imperfections but requires gentle cleaning.
- Eggshell – With low luster, eggshell finishes nicely while still hiding minor flaws. Washes easily.
- Satin – The most popular choice for cabinets. Smooth with a low sheen. Easy to clean and touch up.
- Semi-gloss – Impervious to moisture and stains. The shine highlights cabinet details. Best for heavy use kitchens.
For most cabinet projects, a satin or eggshell finish offers the right balance of durability, ease of touch-ups and visual appeal. Semi-gloss enamels are ultimate for cabinets in a busy kitchen or bath. Consider the amount of use the cabinets will receive and choose wisely.
How Long Does It Take to Fully Paint and Cure RTA Cabinets?
The timeframe to paint, reinstall and cure your RTA cabinets depends on the scope of the project, steps involved and products used:
- Prepping – Allow 1 full day to disassemble, clean, sand and prime cabinets.
- Painting – Plan at least 1 day per coat of paint, including dry time. Most projects need 2 coats minimum.
- Curing – Oil-based enamel will need 7-14 days to fully cure before using cabinets. Latex cures faster.
- Reassembly – Set aside 1 day to reinstall doors, hardware and accessories.
- Total Time – For a thorough DIY paint job, you’re looking at 4-6 days from start to finish. Plan accordingly!
Factors like temperature, humidity and ventilation impact dry and cure times. Working efficiently but methodically is recommended to end up with a smooth, lasting finish. Take your time and follow all product instructions.
How Much Does It Cost to Paint Kitchen or Bathroom Cabinets?
If hiring a professional, you can expect to pay $2,500 to $4,500 to paint an average sized kitchen. Factors impacting the cost include:
- Cabinet footprint – More surface area equals more labor hours and paint quantity.
- Door style – Cabinets with inset panels or decorative routes take longer to prep and paint.
- Paint choice – Premium cabinet enamels cost more than latex paint. Expect added charges for multiple colors.
- Accessibility – Prices go up if cabinets are built-in and require extra modifications to remove doors and hardware.
- Location – Labor rates vary regionally. Urban areas are generally more expensive.
- Contractor reputation – Top rated firms charge higher rates than entry level painters.
For a basic paint job using latex on RTA cabinets, DIY cost might be $200 to $800 depending on cabinets size and materials needed. Get quotes from at least 3 contractors to compare rates in your area.
Can You Use One Paint Color on the Boxes and Another on the Doors?
A popular trend is using two complementary colors on cabinets – one for the boxes and another for doors and drawers. This allows you to be creative with a more dynamic, stylish look. When painting RTA cabinets, here are tips for using two colors:
- Pick colors in the same undertone family, like two shades of blues or greens. Avoid clashing tones.
- Prime all cabinet pieces with the same primer first for maximum adhesion.
- Paint the boxes first. Tape off doors and drawers before painting.
- Paint doors and drawers their color after the box paint has fully cured.
- Use the same sheen level on both paints, such as eggshell or satin. Varying sheens can look disjointed.
- Plan the colors strategically. Darker cabinets tend to ground a space while lighter accents feel more airy.
Get creative painting your RTA cabinets, but maintain cohesion through strategic color pairing. The mix of materials and colors will lend beautiful, eclectic style.
Can You Paint Just Cabinet Doors?
For a quick budget update, painting only the doors is an option. Since doors cover much of the front surface area, new door color makes a noticeable impact. Here’s how to approach:
- Choose new doors made from quality plywood or solid wood, available pre-primed. Or paint existing doors.
- Clean, sand and prime doors as needed to prep for painting.
- Paint doors and allow proper dry time before hanging. Wait 7-14 days for paint to cure if using oil-based enamel.
- Label doors and hardware to reinstall on correct cabinets.
- Fill existing screw holes in boxes with wood filler; sand smooth.
- Adjust hinges as needed to properly mount freshly painted doors.
- Consider masking sides of cabinet boxes around doors to keep consistent look.
While less time intensive than painting entire cabinets, painting doors still takes preparation. But you can transform the style with about 20% of the work and cost of full cabinet painting.
Best Colors for Painting RTA Cabinets
Picking the perfect paint color for your RTA cabinet refresh can be fun yet challenging. Here are appealing choices for kitchens and bathrooms:
Top Colors for Kitchen Cabinets
- White – Classic, clean and brightens small kitchens. Softens dark floors.
- Light Gray – Neutral and versatile for pairing with any wall, floor or countertop colors.
- Navy – Deep and dramatic on lower cabinets. Inviting on uppers or inset with white perimeter.
- Sage Green – Earthy and relaxing. Compliments natural wood counters.
- Charcoal – Striking contemporary vibe on modern cabinetry.
Popular Paint Colors for Bathroom Cabinets
- White – Perennial favorite, highly functional and bright.
- Light Blue – Crisp, refreshing, oceanic. Lovely on vintage inspired baths.
- Soft Green – Tranquil and calm. Works with tiles or as an accent.
- Black – Dramatic on minimalist or contemporary cabinetry.
- Dove Gray – Light but warm. Safe for small windowless baths.
Take cues from your existing tile, fixtures, paint colors and style preferences. Always sample paint swatches on cabinets to view in your space before fully committing to a color.
Painting Oak RTA Cabinets
Oak is a common wood species used in manufacturing ready-to-assemble cabinets. Here’s how to successfully paint natural oak:
- Choose a bonding primer formulated for laminates and oak. This helps paint adhere.
- Sand oak lightly before priming to open the grain. Heavy sanding can damage the veneer.
- Use a paint with built-in primer for simpler application. Latex acrylics work well.
- Expect to need an extra coat of paint or two over oak. The dense grain means more absorption.
- Stick with medium to lighter paint colors to show off oak door and drawer fronts if not painting them.
- Maintain proper ventilation while prepping and painting.
With proper prep and paint choice, you can paint over oak veneers or solid oak on RTA cabinets with outstanding results. The wood grain provides charming visual texture.
Can You Paint Thermofoil Cabinets?
Thermofoil, also called laminate, is a popular low-cost material used on many RTA cabinet boxes and drawer fronts. The durability and stain resistance of thermofoil make it practical for kitchens and baths. While this laminate surface cannot be stained, you can paint over it with the right approach:
- Clean thoroughly and degloss for proper paint adhesion.
- Choose a high-bonding primer specifically designed for laminates.
- Opt for cabinet paint with built-in primer for fewer coats.
- Apply thin, even coats of paint using a foam roller. Avoid over-brushing.
- Expect to use multiple coats of paint so it fully covers thermofoil.
- Paint doors separately from boxes for easiest application.
- Cure paint thoroughly before reassembling cabinets.
Prepping optimally and selecting the right paint allows you to successfully paint over plastic thermofoil laminates. Take care not to chip the edges while working. Patience and care result in attractive painted cabinets.
Can You Paint Melamine Cabinets?
Melamine is another popular laminate finish on RTA cabinets. It resists moisture, scratches and stains. With careful prep, you can paint successfully over melamine:
- Clean and degloss laminate so paint can properly adhere.
- Apply 2-3 coats of a special bonding primer made for laminates.
- Allow primer to fully dry then lightly sand any texture smooth.
- Paint with a high-quality acrylic latex paint in thin, even coats.
- Roll paint on rather than brushing to avoid streaks and brush marks.
- Expect to use 3 or more paint coats for good coverage over dark melamine.
Proper prep is key to paint adhering to slick melamine surfaces. Patience with applying multiple coats leads to good looking results.