In this post I want to go over a problem that many DIY painters experience and a handful of simple solutions. That problem is brush marks.
Today, I want to particularly address brush marks when painting a door, either cabinet doors, regular doors or really any piece of wood or furniture that you want to eliminate brush marks on. I am going to go over howto get rid of them and how to avoid them in the first place.
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Getting Rid Of Existing Brush Marks
Many DIY painters are most likely in the process of painting already painted doors and therefore could be dealing with thick brush marks from the last time these doors were painted.
Sadly, I don’t have any special tricks that will simply eliminate these brush marks, but rest assured, they can be eliminated.
You Will Need:
I like to remove the door and lay it flat on either a work table or two saw horses. This allows me to work on the door easier than if it were hanging (it is also the way I like to paint the door).
Start by placing your 100 grit sanding disc onto the random orbital sander. Slowly sand down the door until you have eliminated all of the brush strokes. Once you are done sanding out all of the brush strokes, you will want to sand out the deep scratches left by the 100 grit paper. I find that 120 or 150 grit is perfect for pre-painting sanding. Switch to your 120-150 and sand down the door thoroughly before moving on.
A few notes while sanding your doors:
- If the door is a six panel door, I never worry about brush strokes in the grooves. I only sand the flat areas and the doors turn out great. Groves would have to be sanded by hand and that would take ages.
- Do not push down on the orbital sander. Any extra pressure will only cause more wear on your motor and thus kill your sander quicker. Let it do its work on its own, I use my hand to guide the sander and let the weight of the machine do all the work.
- Check your doors for lead paint before sanding. You can get a lead test kit here.
- Lead or no lead, always wear a NIOSH approved safety mask when sanding.
How To Paint Doors Without Brush Marks
Now that you have sanded out any existing brush marks (or are starting with un-painted doors), you are ready to paint. Here are the tricks I use to make sure I don’t end up with brush marks:
Add Floetrol To Your Door Paint
Floetrol is a paint conditioner, not a paint thinner like water and is the number one thing you can do to eliminate brush and roller marks.
When you thin down paint with water it actually covers less and loses some of the qualities it was built to have. With Floetrol, your paint will keep it’s coverage, thin (condition) the paint so it lays smoother and slow down the dry time to increase leveling. When Floetrol is added to your paint, you will easily eliminate 75-90% of your brush marks.
If you are using an oil based product, use Penetrol, this is basically the same product only for oil based paint.
Paint Your Doors While They Are Laying Flat
By removing your doors and painting them flat you receive a handful of benefits. By painting your doors flat, you will be able to apply a thicker coat of paint without the risk of getting runs. If your paint is thicker, your brush and roller marks should have more time to level off into the finish. You’ll also have gravity on your side by painting your doors on a flat surface, which will help the marks sink into the finish.
You also get some extra benefits by removing your doors and painting them flat. The first is that you won’t have to paint over your carpet/flooring. Second, you won’t get any paint on your hinges (which MANY DIY painters do when painting doors).
Use a 4′ Roller & Velour Cover On Flat Areas
Another easy (and quicker) way to eliminate brush strokes is to use a brush as little as possible. A velour roller cover and a 4″ roller is the perfect way to go.
Velour covers are incredibly short nap rollers that do not shed and leave as little texture from the roller as possible. A velour roller cover with a flat laying door and some Floetrol and your doors will like as though they have been professionally sprayed.
The way I paint doors (when I am not spraying) is to start by brushing any of the grooved areas that I cannot get my roller into. Once those are done, I go over all of the flat areas with my velour roller.
Sand Thoroughly In-Between Coats
An extremely important step to achieving no brush marks in your finish is to make sure and sand thoroughly between coats. After every single coat, whether primer or top coat make sure to sand with a sanding sponge.
Before primer, I like to use a medium grit sanding sponge (if I am not using a random orbital). In-between coats of primer and before my first top coat, I like to use fine sanding sponges and finally, in-between top coats I like to use extra fine sanding sponges for all my sanding.
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Apply Your Primer Correctly To Eliminate Brush Marks
Primer is usually the biggest culprit of brush marks because it goes on thick and dries fast. This means that the paint doesn’t have time to level out and lay smooth after you brush or roll it on. Look for a slow drying primer or try adding Floetrol or even water to thin down the primer.
This is a trick I use to get my doors to be incredibly smooth (literally, not a brush stroke, roller mark or slightest sign of grain on them!). This technique will make your primer coat perfectly smooth and hide thick grains such as oak grain if you are painting oak doors. It takes some extra time and work, but the results are incredible.
Apply your first coat of primer and lightly sand with a fine sanding sponge when the primer is dry. Now you are going to apply another coat of primer, let dry and sand again. Repeat for a third time. Make sure to still apply your primer in a way where you are creating as few brush strokes and roller marks as possible.
Once your third coat of primer is fully dry, get out your random orbital sander and 150 grit sanding disc. Lay the door flat again and lightly power sand your primer until you get a flawlessly smooth finish. Remember don’t press into the sander, let the weight of the sanding and the random spinning motion do all the work. Do not sand through the primer back to the raw wood or you will have to re-prime.
This trick works because the three coats of primer build up a thick sandable surface. It should easily sand to a perfectly flat finish.
Hopefully with these tips and tricks you will be able to get doors that turn out perfectly smooth and aren’t covered with those unsightly brush and roller marks! Happy Painting!
Wednesday 19th of May 2021
Instead of doing 3 coats of primer why not just add Goodfilla to first coat of primer?
Wednesday 9th of June 2021
Goodfilla is a grain filler and would be a good solution on a small project to fill the grain (like a guitar). However, it would get REALLY expensive to use on a bunch of doors. You'd probably spend $10 per door. And this doesn't really address brush strokes, but rather grain, which I have a much better and cheaper solution for filling grain (when painting) that you can can read about here: Wood Grain Filler For Oak Cabinets (and how to use it).
Thursday 15th of October 2020
After following your instructions for "Getting Rid of Existing Brush Marks" (left on my doors by a supposed professional, who did a great job on my stucco but made a mess of the painting ) and using your "Painter's Trick" to eliminate brushstrokes on the exterior door I am repainting, I was amazed how perfectly smooth the finish was, nearly identical to the spray-on finish the door had when it was professionally made and installed a number of years ago. Unfortunately, when I put on the first coat of paint, using Floetrol and a 4" velour roller, I was left with very noticeable "orange peel" stippling. I have tried sanding the finish with extra fine sanding sponges, but, even though the finish feels smoother, the stippling is still evident. Why is this not working as well as sanding the primer did? That result was really impressive. Is there something I can do to further smooth out the paint finish?
Tuesday 3rd of November 2020
Hey Bonnie, Sorry to hear that you're having problems with your doors! It sounds like you are doing everything possible to get as little texture as possible on your door. Sadly, the only way I know of to get absolutely no stipple or brush marks would be to actually spray your doors. Maybe that is an option you should look into. I have a post on choosing the best sprayer for the right project and am currently working on an intro to spraying post as well (hopefully I will have that up soon).
Tuesday 21st of July 2020
I've always tried to give the doors I'm working on several layers of primer and sanding before painting, as I've always been told that's generally where brush marks occur. I have never, until a few days ago, went at it with an orbit sander after the 3rd coat of prime. The guys I was working with looked at my kinda funny up until the end when my doors came out brush mark free.
Name me a believer because this is now standard practice for all my doors!
Wednesday 20th of May 2020
I sent you some photos to that email using my work email. Hope you got them:) Andrea
Tuesday 19th of May 2020
Hi Ryan, You guess it...it's me again-lol! So I just finished my kitchen cabinets and they look fantastic!!! I did ALL the steps you recommended, used SW Extreme Bond Primer & SW ProClassic Waterborne Interior Acrylic Enamel using 2 coats. Last night, after waiting about 36hrs before handling after the last coat, I started putting the doors/drawers back up. Some of the corners, edges & a couple spots on the frame of the cabinets chipped. Granted, as careful as I was handling them, I still was the one who "nicked" them. Is this because the paint needs 30 days to fully cure or did I do something wrong? Again, I did ALL the steps & took my time (81hrs total). Sorry to keep bugging you but I'm just hoping I'm not in for a world of heartache with this. They did turn out great thought - no brush/roller marks at all!!! Thanks for all your help:)
Tuesday 19th of May 2020
That's Awesome! As long as you prepped and primed your cabinets properly, I wouldn't worry at all about the corners right now other than being as careful as possible. The enamel isn't even close to its full hardness yet. After 30 days, I don't think you'll have any issues at all. When I'm putting doors back on, the same thing happens to me all the time. I have literally never had a callback due to paint chipping off or durability issues (I've been doing cabinets since 2008).
One thing you can do is put clear bumpers on the inside corners of your doors. I usually either put these on for my clients or highly recommend them. You can buy a 100 pack on Amazon really cheap: https://amzn.to/3cPMKIw
I would love to see pictures of your cabinets if you're willing to share [email protected]