How to Paint a Picture Frame

Written by Mark Rogers

If you’re eager to make a change in your home, look to your picture frames. Whether you have an old frame that could use a little touch up or you’d like to customize a picture frame to match your color palette, a fresh coat of paint is a small change that can have a big impact on your home décor.

Painting Wood Picture Frames

Painting a wooden picture frame is much like painting any other piece of wood furniture. You’ll need a few items:

  • Wood picture frame
  • Sandpaper (60 and 120 grit)
  • Tack cloth
  • Paint brushes
  • Natural oil-based primer
  • Natural oil-based paint

Before painting a wood frame, you need to prepare the surface. All wood picture frames from Frame Destination are finished, some of which are also painted; if you are purchasing a wood picture frame from Frame Destination specifically to paint in a specific color, opt for one that has a natural finish such as profile S30 or profile 501.

Remove all parts of the frame, such as the glazing, if still attached. Next, use the coarse sandpaper (60 grit) to remove the existing paint or finish; move to the finer sandpaper (120 grit) to smooth out any rough edges. Using sandpaper to remove the finish and smooth it out allows the paint to better adhere to the wood.

Using the tack cloth, wipe down the frame. Tack cloth is slightly sticky and will remove any dust and sandpaper particles that have settled on the frame.

Apply a coat of primer, which does exactly what its name suggests: it primes the frame to receive the next coat of paint, allowing for better adhesion and brighter colors. After you’ve primed the frame, you can begin to paint. There are numerous types of paint available, including acrylic, latex, alkyd (synthetic) oil paint and natural (e.g. linseed) oil paint. Natural oil paint works best on wood picture frames, as it dries slightly softer and can thus expand and contract with changing temperatures.

Oil-based paints take longer to dry than latex paints, so let the frame sit undisturbed for at least eight hours. Apply the next coat of paint after you are sure the paint has dried. You can also paint wooden frames in a shabby chic style, which requires just a few more materials.

You can also spray paint wood picture frames. Spray paints are commonly oil-based and will provide more even coverage — just be sure to spray paint in a well-ventilated area and protect the surface on which you are painting.

Painting Metal Picture Frames

Unlike wood, metal is a nonporous material, which makes it more difficult for paint to adhere; you will notice paint more readily flaking off of metal objects as opposed to wooden ones. The materials you need, however, are similar:

  • Aluminum picture frame
  • Grease-cutting dish detergent
  • Wire brush
  • Sandpaper (80 and 120 grit)
  • Self-etching primer
  • Spray paint

Preparation is key when painting a metal picture frame. First, clean the frame with a grease-cutting dish detergent to remove any oils and let dry completely.

Once it is dry, use 80-grit and later 120-grit sandpaper to lightly abrade the surface. If the surface seems to have oxidized or has an old coat of paint, make sure to first remove this with a wire brush. Once sanded, clean again with water and detergent; finally, let the frame air dry.

Painting bare aluminum (i.e. a metal frame that has not be anodized) may result in a longer-lasting paint job. With bare aluminum, you can simply use a self-etching primer, which uses chemicals to score the surface of the metal for better adhesion. Anodized aluminum, on the other hand, has a layer that prevents paint from adhering to the surface. You certainly try — using the same self-etching primer — but note that the paint may not stick well. Frame Destination metal picture frames that have not been anodized include, but are not limited to:

Use spray paint on the metal picture frame, as this ensures an even finish. Let each coat dry completely in between coats.

Painting old picture frames or creating a custom color picture frame is a fun and easy do-it-yourself project — all it takes is a little prep work and paint. If you'd rather buy a read made picture frame online, Frame Destination offers thousands.

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4 thoughts on “How to Paint a Picture Frame”

  • Matt

    Hey there. I painted a picture frame with a liquitex antique gold spray paint (water-based acrylic), and whilst the coverage and adhesion are good the surface feels coarse. Is there a lacquer or varnish that you would recommend to provide a physically smoother finish? Thanks in advance.

    • Laura W

      Hi Matt - I requested assistance from our owner in answering this as she's an artist. Here's the response: "I prefer Krylon spray paint products for finishing. He could possibly try their Kamar® Varnish. I use it on my acrylic paintings and it gives a nice smooth surface. I would buy a small bottle and test it on a section of the frame first. And, he should only use it outdoors or in a well-ventilated area."

  • […] you’re not sure how to paint a picture frame, simply follow our guide for painting both wood and metal […]

  • Thomas

    I recently bought a bundle of old frames from a thrift store to restore for use with my artwork. Most helpful article I have read by far.

    I appreciate you explaining why oil paint is preferred over latex as opposed to just stating that users opt for oil paint with no explaination.

    Thank you.

  • Dan Ernest

    Need to frame a Tee Shirt and Baseball hat.

    • Mark Rogers

      Dan, framing objects like that is considered more advanced framing. You can do it yourself but it will require learning about advanced mounting techniques and shadow box framing.


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