best paint for bookshelves

Best Paint for Bookshelves to Execute a Perfect Finish

Ian Mutuli
Updated on
Ian Mutuli

Ian Mutuli

Founder and Managing Editor of Archute. He is also a graduate architect from The University of Nairobi, Kenya.
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Bookshelves have become of age and can be found in almost every house room, from holding quilt guides in your craft room to holding cookbooks in the kitchen. They hold not only books but also all your miscellaneous knick-knacks and special collections that spice up your rooms.

Painting bookshelves is surprisingly affordable and easy, but this is only so if you use the best paint for bookshelves. Painting your bookshelf in the right way will impact your style, theme and feel of any room for the better. Whether a free-standing or a built-in bookshelf, it can be pained to coordinate well with the overall color scheme of any room. Read on!

What are the Types of Paints for a Bookshelf?

The best paint for bookshelves depends on the material that makes the bookshelf. Most bookshelves are made of wood, but some are made of laminate which looks similar to wood. So let's dive in to see what paints work best for the different materials.

a). Wooden Bookshelves

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1. Acrylic Paint

Acrylic paint is one of the best paint for wood bookshelves since it's compatible with wood. Moreover, it adheres to not only oily surfaces but also waxy surfaces, making it super versatile. In addition, it is super durable and doesn't yellow, crack or peel.

However, when applying acrylic paint to bookshelves, remember that most wooden bookshelves come with a varnish layer. The best varnish will protect your wood. Moreover, some have oil-based paints such as Tung oil or Linseed oil.

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So, if your bookshelf has a varnish topcoat, you should remove the top coat before you paint it. Otherwise, the acrylic paint won't stick to the bookshelf's surface.

2. Chalk Paint

Chalk paint is different from enamel paint and acrylic because of the preparation you put in before using it. However, before you use acrylic paint, ensure you remove the topcoat of wood and sand it. Likewise, before you use enamel paint, ensure you sand the wood the paint before you deliver a glossy finish perfectly.

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Unlike acrylic and enamel paint, chalk pint needs minimum preparation, and you don't have to sand your furniture before applying chalk paint. Therefore, chalk paint is a perfect option for easy paint for your bookshelves.

Nevertheless, chalk paint is not as durable as acrylic and enamel paints. You can increase durability by adding a wax layer, although people might find this more of a hassle.

3. Enamel-Based Paint

Enamel-based paint is another popular option for wooden bookshelves; just like acrylic paint, it offers durability. However, it yellows over time where acrylic paint won't.

Unlike acrylic paint, enamel paint gives all furniture a glossy finish. So, if you fancy a glossy finish on your next painting project, choose an enamel-based paint for the best results.

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Nevertheless, the enamel-based paint has a major disadvantage which is its toxicity. Since it's an oil-based paint, the enamel-based paint has chemicals that emit a strong irritating odor and is highly flammable.

If the toxicity of enamel-based paints bothers you, you can always opt for acrylic paint, a water-based paint option. Also, it doesn't have any harmful chemicals in enamel-based paint.

b). Laminate Bookshelves

Did you know that you can paint laminate bookshelves? Yes, you can! They have become popular because they are relatively affordable than wooden ones. Laminate bookshelves are not wooden but made with synthetic materials that look like wood.

Therefore, you should avoid painting laminate bookshelves with most paint options you would use on your wooden bookshelves. Instead, latex paint works perfectly where it offers a smoother finish and additional durability for the laminate surfaces.

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The latex paints have coats that fully dry up between one and four hours, unlike the oil-based paint coats, which take up to eight hours. As a result, latex paints are low in volatile organic compounds (VOCs), are less likely to show the brush marks seen on alkyd-based oil paint coats and are cheaper.

In addition, with latex paints, the ones with a flat to satin sheen reflect less light than the glossy sheens, which means that the super smoother coats will mask all furniture flaws. Lastly, the latex paint is one of the most inexpensive sheen options for the furniture you don't handle often.

What is the Best Paint to Paint Over Old Bookshelf Paint?

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What if you want to change the color of your already painted bookshelf? The rule of thumb is that you can paint over enamel paint with acrylic or enamel paint. However, don't try painting over acrylic paint with anything other than acrylic paint because enamel-based paint won't stick.

Quickly sanding dust will help with adhesion. A primer might work better before the final painting, especially if the original paint job is already peeling and pitting. However, if the original first paint is in a bad state, you will have a thorough sanding job and possibly need to apply a wood filler as much as needed before priming and painting.

What Are the Best Paint Finishes for Bookshelves?

The paint finish is the amount of light paint reflects, and it's also known as sheen.

a). High Gloss Paint Sheens

The high gloss paint sheens make the furniture look the shiniest because they reflect the most light of all the paints. One of the major advantages of this sheen is that it's easy to clean once it dries, thanks to the glossy surface.

This gloss paint finish is ideal for pantry and kitchen surfaces with high durability and coverage.

b). Semi-Gloss

A semi-gloss finish gives a smooth sheen which gives our furniture a shiny look. Like the high gloss paint finish, its main advantage is easy maintenance.

Whether you choose a high gloss paint or a semi-gloss finish, it's your decision based on your style and preference. So, opt for a high gloss if you fancy a bookshelf with a glass-like appearance, but if you prefer a bookshelf with a subtle shine, choose a semi-gloss finish.

c). Eggshell

Unlike the high gloss and semi-gloss finishes, the eggshell finish gives a softer look and a low sheen. One of the major advantages of this finish is that it can resist scuff marks. This makes them perfect for the bookshelf you may frequently use, which results in scuff marks, including those that carry electronics and other heavy objects.

What Are the Best Colors for Bookshelves?

When it comes to color, there are many colors to paint bookshelves, and your choice will depend on your personality and the vibe you are going for.

a). Bold/ Bright Colors

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If you want a bold look, try painting a bright color like hot pink, yellow or bright red, as these colors add some life and vibrancy to any room. Notably, since these are bright colors, you may want to paint the bookshelf's back to leave a white trim.

The white trim will help offset the bold colors, creating a great contrast. Also, for a solid color print, apply two coats unless you will be first using a primer.

b). Dark Colors

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On the other hand, if you prefer dark colors instead of bold paint, there are also many dark colors to choose from in the paint store. A perfect example is black, which will add a classic look and feel to your space. Other paint color options that will give your sophisticated space vibes are green and navy blue.

Should the Bookshelves Color Match Your Wall Paint Color?

Just as you have freedom with your paint color, it's the same as it depends on your style and personality. The bookshelves' colors don't need to match the walls, but similar paint makes your room have a flowing yet cohesive look. Matching your bookshelf to the walls will work better if you have a built-in bookshelf since it will add cohesiveness to a home.

Is Staining your Bookshelf Better than Painting It?

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Staining your bookshelf highlights an unseen beauty of wood in a different way than painting would. It protects the wood while preserving its natural beauty while paints hide wood and give them a new type of beauty.

Therefore, whether you should stain or paint your wooden bookshelf depends on what you value most. If you like the natural beauty of wood, then opt for staining your bookshelf but if you prefer adding a new beauty to your bookshelf, try using paint on the surface.

Tips for Choosing the Best Paint for Bookshelves

  • Latex paint works fine for the walls but might not be the best choice for your bookshelves because it will leave your surfaces tacky.
  • Use latex paint on your built-in shelves or cabinets only if you intend to add a protective sealer.
  • Paint your wooden shelves toward the wood grain after drying a thin primer coat for about three hours.
  • Use paints with polyacrylic, polyurethane, or shellac to enhance and protect the natural appearance of wooden bookshelves. Opt for acrylic, colored stain, or enamel-based paint.
  • Oil primer works best for oil-based paints, while a latex primer works perfectly with latex paint.
  • Opt for semi-gloss or high gloss paint sheens as they have a non-porous and smoother finish that makes it easy to clean. In addition, this allows the moisture beads to remain and maintain the paint coat's performance with time.


Before you decide on the best paint for bookshelves, it's important to gauge the benefits against the drawbacks of each type of paint. So, first, have an idea of how shiny your bookshelf looks, as this will give you an idea of which paint color and finish to opt for. Then, save yourself a do-over by reading to find out the best paint to use on your bookshelves.

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Ian Mutuli

About the author

Ian Mutuli

Founder and Managing Editor of Archute. He is also a graduate architect from The University of Nairobi, Kenya.
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