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How To Paint Metal: A DIY Guide

Paint is a fantastic tool that you can use to transform just about anything! A fresh coat of paint can take you from drab to fabulous and give you the new modernized look you crave to fit your style better

How to paint metal: Painting a metal beam
Painting of metal pipe using a roller & paint.

Metal is a bit different from painting other materials, but never fear! You’ll be an expert in no time with this step-by-step guide on how to paint metal.

This article will cover how best to prep, paint, and seal your metal surface to achieve your desired results!

Additionally, you will find in this guide we will cover the best methods and materials to use while engaging in the process of painting your metal surfaces!

How To Paint Metal: Step by Step

Painitng a metal fence
Brushing paint on a metal fence.

How To Paint Metal Step 1: Setting Up To Paint

So you’ve decided to work some magic on your old rusty metal surfaces? Perfect!

Keep reading, as we will guide you through the process in this easy to follow step-by-step guide from DIY Painting Tips!

First, you will need to inspect your metal surface for any cracks, peeling, or chipped paint to get started. This inspection is crucial as it will give you a better idea about the piece you’re about to tackle and let you in on what “you’re in for.”

Next, you will need to make sure your workspace is well-ventilated. Trust me on this one; you will not want to skip this step as your lungs will thank you!

Then, lay a protective cloth down in the area you choose to paint to protect against any spills or misplaced paint. This can mean an old sheet, flattened cardboard boxes, or a drop cloth found at your local store.

Step 2: Preparation

The next step in how to paint metal is preparation.

Please always practice safety first when it comes to painting. In addition to your drop cloth and ventilated space, you will want to wear eyewear, gloves, and a mask for your protection!

Now you’re set up to begin transforming your piece! Prep the metal surface area with a wired brush. The wire brush will help remove any peeling or chipping paint located on and around your surface.

Why is this important? As you scuff up your piece with your brush, this will create an excellent base for your paint to adhere and stick well to the surface. You also will help loosen any debris, rust, and old paint that will need to be cleared off before you start painting. If you want a good quality result, never skip this step! Correct prep work can make or break your final results!

Step 3: Tools and Materials

Painting A Metal Fence Green

Next, you will want to collect the tools and materials needed for this project. Here is a list of the things you will need moving forward to begin painting your metal surfaces:

  • Shop Rags – These shop rags will be very helpful to clean up any messes that could happen on your surface and are soft yet disposable. I rarely paint without these!
  • Scuffing Pads – These pads are helpful to continue the scuffing process so that you have a fine yet raised surface that the paint will reach out off your brush and grab on.
  • Acetone and Mineral Spirits – You will need acetone to clean off any areas where the paint is stubborn and needs extra help with a more vigorous removal. When using these products, always wear a mask as they carry harmful and strong fumes.
  • Wired Brush – As used above, this wire brush will be essential to create an appropriate base for your surface so that when you’re ready to apply your paint, you will have a successful experience!
  • Sanding Block or Fine Grit Sand Paper – Sanding with fine-grit sandpaper will smooth down the rougher surface made with your wire brush. It will also take care of any bubbles, imperfections, or drips of dried paint that could develop while applying your first coat of paint!

Step 4: Primer, Paint, and Sealers

In addition to your painting materials above, you will need a good-quality primer specially formulated to take on metal. Depending on the surface area you plan to cover, you will then need to decide how much primer will be required for your painting project. Since primer is the base coat, you will only need to apply one coat of primer to your metal.

Next, you will need to choose high-quality paint to apply to your metal surfaces. Water-Based Acrylic Paint or Oil-Based Paint for Metals will be your best bet here. Every painter will have their preference, but both of these types of paints will offer the correct coverage and smooth finish you are hoping for in the end!

Lastly, you will need to choose the right type of high-quality sealer to finish off the piece you’ve worked so hard to create! A favorite amongst painters is water-based polyacrylic as it’s less likely to stain white paint, and it offers the correct amount of waterproofing needed to keep moisture away from your paint.

Step 5: Prepping the Area You Will Paint

Sanding a Metal Surface
Sanding a metal railing with sandpaper, preparing for painting.

When you have reached this step, you will want to get your fine-grit sandpaper and sand down your metal piece. First, you will need to sand the entire surface to ensure scuffing on all the areas, nooks, and crannies. Next, follow by wiping your surface down with a damp cloth or handy dandy shop rag, then let that dry.

If you find remaining rust, grime, or residue on your piece, use a shop rag, apply acetone or mineral spirits, and let it dry. Follow with a damp cloth to clean up the chemicals left behind, any leftover residue, and the like, and then you are ready to apply your primer!

When choosing the suitable primer for your painting job, you will want to select one formulated explicitly for metals! Selecting a primer is not where you’ll want to save a little money. Yes, we know cheaper primers are on sale, but please walk away and say no as this is a crucial step, especially for painting over metals.

When painting your metal surface, you will want to apply a high-quality primer specially formulated for metals alone. You can apply your primer with a brush or roller to save a little time. Give your metal surface an all-around good coat of primer, love!

Step 6: Applying Paint to Your Prepared Metal Surface

Here comes the most exciting part! Once your primer is dry, and you’ve patted yourself on the back for the fantastic prep work you’ve carried out, the time has come for the ultimate transformation!

You’re now ready to apply your high-quality water-based acrylic paint or oil-based paint to your piece!

To apply your paint, use your favorite paintbrush and apply your first coat, making sure to coat evenly all over your metal surface, then let that dry. Don’t worry if you missed a few spots, as you can get them with your second coat.

Yes, you can speed it up and use spray paint, but keep in mind that there are pros and cons when it comes to this method. If your ultimate goal is the best quality with a long-lasting finish, then do it right!

Next, repeat this process as you will; in the end, you want to have at least two coats of paint on your finished product.

If you run into issues with dried on drips or ridges or your application wasn’t as smooth as you have hoped, you can use your fine-grit sandpaper and carefully sand these down. Your next coat of paint will go on must smoother in the end, and you will be happy you did this!

Step 7: Apply A Waterproof Sealer

Not many paints require a sealer, but some do. So make sure to check your paint manufacturer’s instructions when painting metal.

After you’ve let your piece dry for at least 24 hours, you can go ahead and add your sealer. Our favorite sealer is a water-based polyacrylic.

They make waterproof sealers in either spray-on or brush forms, so it’s your preference what you’d like to use. After applying your sealer, this will need to dry 24 hours, and a second coat will need to be applied, and then you’re golden!

Step 8: Allow your Paint to Cure

Painted Metal Stools

The last and easiest step in how to paint metal is curing.

I know! By now, you’ve seen the magic and excitement that comes along with paint transformations, and you’ll be tempted to use your item right away, but please allow 36-48 hours until the entire surfaces are completely dried through!

Lastly, your piece shouldn’t come into contact with any water or household cleaners until it’s had at least 30 days to cure! If you choose not to follow through with the curing process, it will cause you to have to repaint your piece sooner or create unwanted stains or blemishes.

Concluding Your Metal Painting Project

Stand back and admire the beautiful work you have just carried out! You’ll be ultimately in awe as now your once rusted, old metal-surfaced project and now transformed into a gorgeous masterpiece, and it’s all thanks to you! Make sure to Congratulate yourself on a job well done and show off your creation!

Hopefully, after following this step-by-step guide on how to paint metal correctly, you’re now a painting expert and know exactly how to tackle painting metal surfaces!

We’d love to hear how this step-by-step guide helped you transform your metal pieces! Do you have any tips you’d like to add found along your painting journey?