How To Paint Plywood In 6 Easy Steps (Beginners Guide)

Plywood is a cheap and easy tool for any DIY craft or home renovation project. Is it possible to paint plywood at home?

We have sorted fact from fiction and shaved off the excess down below.

Plywood is a versatile wood-based panel consisting of thin veneers of binders and wood pressed and heated together into panels.

This strong panel can come in a number of layers and sizes to suit your needs, but it is typically three or more layers.

Depending on your budget and needs, plywood can be made from different kinds of wood.

However, it is usually pressure-treated wood coated in chemicals to protect the wood from rotting.


First-class quality plywood can be made from maple, oak, beech, or mahogany, while lower-class plywood can be made of pine, spruce, cedar, or redwood.[1]

The first-class plywoods are stronger, water-resistant, and more expensive than their softwood counterparts.

 Plywoods of all kinds are arranged in grades from A to D, depending on how smooth and quality they look.

Grade A plywood is typically pre-sanded and clean, not showing any knots or holes with a smooth surface.
Grade B plywood may have some blemishes and holes that can be filled with wood filler but is mostly smooth and clean.
Grades C and D are often rougher and more knotted, needing both wood filler and joint compound to become smooth.

Your plywood can come pre-stained or veneered, but this is often more expensive. Also, this pre-stain is unnecessary if you are going to paint your plywood.

What type, size, and grade your plywood needs to be will depend on what plywood projects you have in mind.

How To Successfully Paint Plywood In 6 Easy Steps

painting plywood

Supplies, Tools & Materials You’ll Need

  • Plywood
  • Paint in the desired color/s
  • Wood filler
  • Joint compound
  • Power sander
  • Fine grit sandpaper in 80, 120, 180, and 200 grit
  • Putty knife
  • Sealing primer
  • Brushes/rollers/paint sprayers/spray cans
  • Paint tray
  • Clean microfibre rags or tack cloth
  • Masking tape
  • Drop cloths
  • Screwdriver
  • Protective face and eyewear
  • Painting clothes

1. Fill Deep Holes

Once you have moved your materials to a well-ventilated space and put on your protective gear, you can start preparing your plywood by filling all the holes.

Lay down drop cloths and tarps over the painted plywood floor and any objects you do not want to get dusty or painted. 

Look for any nail holes, knots, or grooves in your plywood wood surface, and apply wood filler with a putty knife. Once done, leave to dry overnight.

You may need to repeat this a second time for deeper holes or if the first coat shrank as it dried on the furniture grade plywood surface. Leave any additional coats overnight to paint dry.

This is a good time to round out the plywood edges. To do this, take the finer grit sandpaper or the side of a screwdriver and run it over the edges of the plywood until smooth edges.

2. Apply Joint Compound

If your grade plywood does not need to be smoothed, you can skip this step of applying joint compound. You can also skip joint compound if you prefer an uneven surface.

For those with lower-grade plywood in need of a smooth finish, you need to apply joint compound with a putty knife.

Place the putty all across the entire surface, getting a smooth, uniform coat. Make sure to pay close attention to the exposed edges. Once done, allow to dry overnight.

You may need to do a second layer, especially if you are painting lower-grade plywood.

Note: If preferred, you can use drywall mud for this step, as it applies nicely to plywood and can create a smooth finish.

3. Sand, Sand, Sand 

It is possible to skip this step if you are using grade-A plywood or no joint filler.

However, before you sand plywood, it is important to ensure that your space is properly covered and ventilated. Once your area is prepared, put on your protective gear.

When it comes time to sand the plywood, we recommend using a plywood flooring sander rather than a sanding block for larger projects.

Sanded plywood is easy to achieve as the joint filler is soft; you just need to be careful not to sand too much.

If you are using Grades C and below, go for a coarser sandpaper, like 80 grit, and work your way up. Higher-grade plywood can start with finer ones of 120 and above.

When you are done, you should see white patches where the rough spots have been properly filled.

Remove all the dust from the plywood, workbench, and rest of your area with dry microfibre cloths or rags.

If the wet rag, you will have to sand the watery surface again. Make sure to clean everything at least twice to clean it well before continuing.

Once you have properly sanded plywood, you can continue to the next steps.

4. Priming and Sanding Again

When you are ready to prime, prepare your paint sprayer or paint equipment according to manual and primer instructions.

Apply the plywood primer in the direction of the grain in two-foot squares until complete. You want to aim for smooth, even strokes throughout this process.

Make sure to paint both sides with the best paint for plywood and not avoid painting plywood edges.

Once done, let that coat dry for 24 hours or until dry to the touch. Depending on your situation, you will need at least a second coat and need to dry them thoroughly each time.

In between each dry coat, lightly sand the surface with fine-grit sandpaper and wipe it twice as above.

The primer provides a good base for the paint while sealing in the compound and filler. Sanding ensures a smoother final finish.

5. Start Painting

Now to begin painting plywood. The best way to paint plywood is similar to how we primed the plywood. Wash your brushes, rollers, or paint sprayer, and prepare your paint for plywood as instructed.

Begin painting plywood by following the grain’s direction, going for a smooth and even coat with every stroke.

Ensure complete coverage over the entire plywood board before letting your painted plywood dry.

Spray painting plywood is also an option as it gives a nice thin coat every time, no matter the rough surface.

As before, let it dry according to instructions before you sand lightly and remove all the dust with each coat.

You will need several thin coats, at least two coats, of paint, depending on the type of paint, wood, and color you are going for.

The painting process for painting wood is rewarding, especially if you carefully sand lightly the ply wood between each coat of paint - it helps you get a smoother surface.

6. Seal It All

Sealing is optional for everyone except those using flat or satin paint.

We recommend using a gloss polyacrylic or polyurethane topcoat depending on your desired final look; it often comes in spray paint form but can be canned as well. 

To finish plywood properly, apply a final coat or top coat of sealer across the painted surface, aiming for smooth and even strokes like before.

Allow the topcoat to dry and cure properly according to the packaging instructions before handling it, especially if your DIY plywood project consists of plywood floors, plywood cabinets, or a plywood dresser, for example.

Expert Tips For Staining Plywood

staining plywood

What Stain Is Best For Plywood?

We recommend using oil or water-based stains depending on your preferences and where the item will be stored or used most.

For example, outdoor items will need oil-based stains for optimal results.[3]

You may want to buy pre-stain conditioner if your ply wood is particularly blotchy. Gel stain can help to provide an even finish to your smooth surface.

Prepare Plywood

Before you can stain plywood, you need to sand it as we discuss above. Once done sanding, wipe it down and clean it with cloths as before.

Put on some protective gloves and dip a lint-free cloth or brush into mineral spirits and apply with smooth, even motions. Leave to dry.

Once done, consider applying the conditioner and drying according to packaging instructions.

Apply the Stain & Finishing Touches

Find a new lint-free rag or paintbrush and apply the stain evenly.

Leave the stain on for anywhere from 10 seconds to 15 minutes, depending on how intense you want to stain to be.

Wipe down any excess stain and leave the plywood to dry for at least 12 hours.

Once done, paint your stain with lacquer and let it dry, ensuring you apply at least three coats depending on the type of plywood you are using.

What Type Of Paint Is Optimal For Plywood?

Now that you have the best plywood for the job, it is time to choose the best paint.

There is plenty of paint that could work well with ply wood, but the final type choice will often come down to the desired finish, intended use, and wear level of the finished product.

Some commonly used paints when it comes to painting plywood include:

  • Latex-based paint
  • Acrylic paint
  • Enamel based paint
  • Oil-based paint
  • Chalk paint

It is important to remember that the solid wood fibers inside the ply wood absorb moisture-rich paints of a medium consistency better than water-based ones.

Each type of paint comes with its benefits and drawbacks. For example, latex-based paint is easy to clean and user-friendly, while acrylic-based paints are good for art projects.

Oil-based paints provide durability and longevity, while enamel-based paints are less flexible and more likely to paint chipping.

Finally, you need to consider what finish is best for your project. You can either choose satin, semi-gloss, or gloss.

Satin paints will need a topcoat to seal them and ensure they last longer. Semi-gloss paint is good for acrylic enamel paint or cabinets and doors.

Gloss paint works well if you choose oil-based enamel and are looking for a shiny finish.

You may also want to choose a sealant, especially if using satin or chalk paint.[2] Paint jobs without seals tend to wear faster and need more touch-ups over time.

Consider carefully what environment and use the finished product has, and let that guide your final decisions regarding color, finish, and type.

No matter the products you choose for your project, ensure you work in a well-ventilated area.

Common Painting Plywood Questions

How do you keep plywood from warping when painting?

To prevent warping when painting plywood, paint and seal both sides evenly to avoid uneven moisture absorption caused by moisture and heat, which are the primary culprits of warping.

Does paint waterproof plywood?

No, paint alone does not waterproof plywood. Proper priming and sealing is recommended to protect against water and moisture, especially in DIY projects and furniture for damp areas.


Once you know how to paint plywood, the world of DIY project grows even bigger!

Do your research to find what gloss, ply wood, and right paint is, whether it is acrylic latex paint, latex paints, or flat paint.

Make sure you allocate a weekend or two to carefully follow each step and dry each coat of paint; doing this will ensure that your pressure-treated ply wood comes out wonderfully smooth.