Beginner’s Guide to Spray Painting a Picture Frame

Beginner’s Guide to Spray Painting a Picture Frame

We have a lovely big print in our lounge room, the colours are great and it fits well into the décor.  The only problem is the frame was a little, well … uninspiring, but I knew all it needed was a coat of paint to make it pop! The frame is made of wood, with some lovely detailing and bevelling. I had never used spray paint before and decided this would give me the smooth, flawless finish I was after … I thought I was onto a winner! While I am very pleased with finished product, this project turned out to be quite a learning experience. So here is a beginner’s guide to spray painting a picture frame (with some mistakes and learnings along the way).

Beginner's Guide to Spray Painting a Picture Frame

The frame as it was … not bad, but a bit dark and heavy looking for my taste.

1. Sanding and priming

a) Sanding

As I was after a smooth and even finish, the first step was to sand the frame. Sanding before painting also provides a good surface for the paint to “grip” too.  After sanding, I wiped down the frame with a mixture of Sugar Soap and water to remove any remaining dirt, grime or dust.

Beginner's Guide to Spray Painting a Picture Frame

I used 2 types of sandpaper: firstly, a medium grit sandpaper (180 grade) to take off the varnish; followed by a fine sanding sponge (210 grade) to get into the nooks and crannies.

Beginner's Guide to Spray Painting a Picture Frame It was at this early stage that I really noticed the knots and imperfections in the frame.  I debated filling them in with wood filler but I didn’t think I would be able to create an even finish as many were on the detailing and bevelling.  So I left them, figuring the spray paint would fill the gaps…

b) Painters tape

As I was unable to easily remove the print or glass from the frame, I carefully taped the glass with painters tape, getting as close to the edge of the frame as I could and ensuring the tape was smooth with no air bubbles. The rest of the glass I covered in newspaper and taped it down.

Beginner's Guide to Spray Painting a Picture Frame

This technique worked a treat! When I removed the tape and newspaper at the end … not a drop of paint on the glass!

c) Primer

Next came applying a coat of primer.  To ensure sufficient ventilation and because of over-spray, I laid the frame out in the backyard on a drop-sheet (or an old curtain in my case). I had never used a spray primer before and I found the spray version very quick and easy, particularly on this slightly bevelled frame. I followed the instructions on the back of the can … shaking well for 1 minute and then applying in smooth, even back-and-forth strokes.

Beginner's Guide to Spray Painting a Picture Frame

After the primer was dry, I lightly sanded the frame with a fine grit sanding sponge (210 grade). Wiping down the frame afterwards with a microfiber cloth.

Full of confidence I boldly moved onto applying the paint.

2. Apply 2 coats of paint

For the spray paint I choose Dulux “Antique White USA” in a satin finish, primarily because it was in the colour I liked.  I had decided on the white as it was a neutral colour and would lighten the lounge room. Outside in the garden worked well to apply the primer, so I kept going … however this time I ran into some minor issues…

Applying the first coat of paint …

  • Issue 1: the wind picked up and the paint started to spray everywhere but on the frame (thank goodness I had the foresight to take the washing inside)
  • Issue 2: the frame stuck to the drop-sheet
  • Issue 3: small bugs stuck to the paint!

Once the wind picked up, rather than waste paint, I left the frame to dry.  I knew I would be applying at least one more coat of paint.

Beginner's Guide to Spray Painting a Picture Frame

Applying the second coat of paint …

To avoid a repeat of the issues listed above…

  • I moved the frame into our garage.  By opening the roller door I had sufficient ventilation but was also protected from any wind and small insects.
  • I raised the frame up off the ground and onto a couple of old boxes, ensuring the edges of the frame were free

I sanded the frame with a fine grit sandpaper (220 grade) to remove all the little bugs and grit which had stuck to the paint. Wiped down the frame with a microfiber cloth and applied the second coat of spray paint with ease. Again using long, even strokes back-and-forth. Because the frame was now elevated, I was able to get into the different angles of the frame easily.

To avoid the paint dripping or running … use smooth, even strokes across the surface.  Don’t spray in one area.  Apply several coats if required to get full coverage.

This time there were no bugs and no wind to spoil my paint job. However, once the second coat was throughly dry I again noticed some minor issues…

  • Issue 4: Remember the knots and imperfects in the wood that the paint would fill up?  Not so… They were clearly visible and didn’t look great.
  • Issue 5: As I had used a satin finish spray paint, the frame had a glossy finish that didn’t suit the frame at all!

Beginner's Guide to Spray Painting a Picture Frame

3. Distress the finish

When I started out painting this frame I had no intention of “distressing” the finish. However, once the last coat of paint had dried, it became clear that I was going to distress this frame after all. I wasn’t happy with the glossy finish, which didn’t seem to suit the wooded frame. The visible knots and imperfections were not in keeping with the smooth and shiny look.

Next time I’ll apply a matte paint to wooden furniture and objects, leaving the glossy finish for metal frames etc. I can always add a polyethylene afterwards for some extra shine.

I hoped sanding the frame would reduce the glossy texture … and it worked! By “distressed” the frame using the sandpaper technique discussed here I reduced the shine and added some character, allowing the imperfections to become part of the overall look rather than standing out like a mistake.

Beginner's Guide to Spray Painting a Picture Frame

You can also try rubbing back glossy paint or varnish with very fine steel wool to cut back some of the shine. You might need a little vegetable oil or beeswax to lubricate the steel wool if it’s cutting into the finish too much. Try it out first on a small, unseen part of the piece.

The frame seemed to want to be distressed … I know that sounds strange, but sometimes when your making over a furniture or an object, it will reveal to you what’s needed. Perhaps it was the bevelling on the frame or the print itself, either way … I’m pleased with the finished product!

Do you have any tips for using spray paint you would like to share? Do you have any other painting techniques which ave worked well on picture frames? Beginner's Guide to Spray Painting a Picture Frame

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11 responses

  1. It looks great! And, as someone who dove right into spray painting without knowing what I was doing, I understood the mistakes you illustrated. You wouldn’t think a post like this would be necessary, but it totally is. Thanks for the awesome descriptions and photos. I feel like I’ll be much better prepared when I tackle my next project!

    Happy Sharefest! I hope you have a wonderful weekend.


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