What kind of Paint do you Use on Picture Frames?

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Looking to revive your old, damaged picture frames or design a custom gallery wall? With the right materials and techniques, you can easily transform frames to match any décor.

This comprehensive guide covers everything you need to know about painting picture frames. You’ll learn the differences between acrylic, latex, oil-based, chalk, and spray paints to pick the best option for your project.

Helpful step-by-step instructions outline how to properly prepare wood, plastic, and metal frames before applying paint for smooth, lasting results. You’ll also discover special antiquing, dry brushing, sponging, stenciling, and distressing techniques to add artistic flair.

Plus, find simple tips for modernizing shiny gold frames with sanding, matte sealants, glazing, and more.

With so much practical advice for frame prep, painting methods, and decorative touches, this article will turn plain frames into beautiful showpieces.

Choosing Paint for Picture Frames


When selecting paint for picture frames, you have several good options: acrylic, latex, oil-based, chalk paint, and spray paint. Each has advantages and disadvantages to consider based on the frame material you are painting.

Acrylic Paint

Acrylic paint is water-based, fast-drying, and comes in many colors. It works well on wood without any prep work needed. For plastic or metal, lightly sand and clean the surface first.


  • Dries quickly
  • Vibrant colors
  • Affordable
  • Easy clean up with water


  • Dries fast, so you need to work quickly
  • Can be difficult to remove once dry

Latex Paint

Latex paint is another water-based option safe for indoor use. It comes in various finishes from matte to high-gloss. Latex adheres easily to most surfaces but works best on wood, plastic, and metal if you sand and prime first.


  • Many finishes available
  • Dries relatively fast
  • Affordable
  • Low odor


  • Requires priming and multiple coats
  • Prone to chipping

Oil-Based Paint

Oil-based paints provide excellent coverage on all frame materials. The oils allow the paint to flex as wood expands and contracts. Oil paint requires mineral spirits for cleanup but provides a durable finish.


  • Sticks to any surface
  • Expands and contracts with wood
  • Usually only needs 1 coat


  • Strong odor
  • Requires mineral spirits for cleanup
  • Long dry time

Chalk Paint

Chalk paint provides a trendy matte, chalky finish on frames. It requires no prep work and comes in many colors. Chalk paint is ideal for achieving a vintage, shabby chic aesthetic.


  • No sanding or priming needed
  • Quick dry time
  • Blends easily for a distressed look


  • More expensive
  • Limited availability
  • Needs a sealer for protection

Spray Paint

Spray paint offers fast, easy application and works well on metal and plastic. It provides smooth, even coverage. Most formulas contain a primer to help the paint adhere.


  • Provides a smooth, consistent finish
  • Built-in primer
  • Fast drying
  • Easy for small projects


  • Requires well-ventilated area
  • More expensive than brushes
  • Messy overspray

Prep Work for Painting Picture Frames

Proper prep work ensures the paint adheres correctly to produce a smooth, lasting finish. The steps vary slightly depending on the frame material.

Wood Frames

  • Remove glass/backing
  • Lightly sand surface
  • Wipe clean with a tack cloth
  • Apply primer

Plastic Frames

  • Remove glass/backing
  • Wash with mild detergent
  • Sand lightly to rough up surface
  • Wipe clean and dry fully
  • Apply primer

Metal Frames

  • Remove glass/backing
  • Clean with mild detergent
  • Sand to rough up the surface
  • Wipe clean and dry fully
  • Apply a self-etching primer

Techniques for Painting Picture Frames

These simple steps will help you achieve beautiful results painting frames with various materials and techniques:

  1. Select your paint and prepare the surface as outlined above.
  2. For spray paint, lay down newspaper or a drop cloth. Hold 10-12 inches from the frame and apply light, even coats using a side-to-side sweeping motion.
  3. For brush painting, use a high-quality nylon or polyester brush. Apply the paint in smooth, long strokes following the grain of the wood.
  4. Let each coat dry fully before adding another. Oil-based paint may require up to 24 hours of drying time per coat.
  5. Apply at least 2 coats of paint for full coverage, or more if needed to achieve your desired color depth.
  6. Once completely dry, reassemble the frame with its glass/backing.

Special Painting Techniques

Beyond basic painting, there are some special techniques to give your frames extra flair:

Antiquing: Apply dark paint over a base coat, then immediately wipe it off to leave behind cracks and crevices. This gives an aged, timeworn look.

Dry Brushing: Dip your brush in paint then wipe off most of it on a paper towel before lightly brushing over the frame. This highlights edges and raised areas.

Sponging: Use a natural sea sponge dabbed in paint to add texture. Sponging works well over a base color.

Stenciling: Use stencils and dab on paint with a stencil brush to add patterns like scrollwork or floral designs.

Whitewashing: Water down white acrylic paint until it has a wash consistency. Apply it over a dark base coat to create a weathered whitewashed look.

Distressing: After painting, sand down areas or use steel wool to rub away paint and expose the original wood surface. Age frames with dings and paint chips.

How to Tone Down and Update Gold Frames

Gold frames can start to look dated or tacky over time. Fortunately, you can easily tone down the shine for a more modern, sophisticated look. Here are some simple techniques:

  • Lightly sand with fine grit sandpaper to reduce shine
  • Spray with a matte sealant
  • Mix brown and grey paint for an antique gold look
  • Use glaze over gold paint to tint it
  • Rub areas with steel wool to create a worn finish
  • Dry brush black or brown paint over corners and edges

Painting frames can revive thrift store finds, complement your colour scheme, or tie a gallery wall together. With the right materials and techniques for your frame surface, you can easily update frames on a budget. So grab some paint and get creative with transforming your picture frames!

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