Bookshelves are a lovely addition to any home. They are primarily used for holding books; many people personalize them by adding special items, such as family photos. Another way to personalize bookshelves is to paint them. But what types of paints should you use for bookshelves?

The type of paint you should use on a bookshelf depends on what the bookshelf is made out of. Most bookshelves are made of wood, with hardwood plywood being one of the most common materials.

The three best paints for a bookshelf made from wood are:

  • Acrylic paint
  • Enamel-based paint
  • Chalk paint

There is more to painting a bookshelf than simply knowing what type of paints to use. For example, what are some of the best colors to paint bookshelves? Should bookshelves match walls? We answer these questions and more in this article! Keep reading to learn more about making your bookshelf look its best!

A gorgeous reading or work area with a gray bookshelf filled with books, 3 Best Paints For Bookshelves

Can You Paint Laminate Bookshelves?

Yes, you can paint laminate bookshelves! However, laminate bookshelves are not wooden. They are composed of synthetic materials that are made to look like wood. So, you shouldn't paint laminate bookshelves with any paints that you would use on wooden bookshelves.

An empty room with a gray bookshelf filled with books

Instead, you should paint laminate bookshelves with latex paint. Latex paint offers more durability and a smoother finish for laminate surfaces.

Laminate bookshelves have become popular due to their inexpensiveness, but as mentioned, most bookshelves are wooden. So, let's further discuss the best paints for wooden bookshelves.

Acrylic Paint

Artist making his artwork with acrylic paint

Acrylic paint is a great option for wooden bookshelves because it is very compatible with wood. This is because acrylic paint adheres to any surface that is not oily or waxy, making it highly versatile. Also, acrylic paint is pretty durable and doesn't crack, peel, or yellow.

However, there is something you should know before applying acrylic paint to your bookshelf. Many wooden bookshelves come with a layer of varnish.

Varnishes protect the wood, but many are oil-based, containing Linseed oil or Tung oil.

If your bookshelf has a varnish topcoat, you must remove the topcoat before painting it. Otherwise, the acrylic paint will not stick to the surface of the bookshelf.

Enamel-Based Paint

Three buckets of enamel paint

Enamel-based paint is another great option for wooden bookshelves. Like acrylic paint, this paint is pretty durable. However, it does tend to yellow over time, whereas acrylic paint doesn't.

Unlike acrylic paint, enamel-based paint leaves furniture with a glossy finish. So, if you want your bookshelf to have a subtle shine, you should probably opt for an enamel-based paint.

Though enamel-based paints offer durability and a glossy finish, they are not without their drawbacks. One major drawback of enamel-based paints is their toxicity. Because they are oil-based, enamel paints contain chemicals that emit strong, irritating odors and are highly flammable.

If the potential toxicity of enamel-based paint bothers you, you can always rely on acrylic paint, which is water-based and doesn't contain any of the harmful chemicals that enamel paint does.

Chalk Paint

Carpenter painting a chair with chalk paint

Chalk paint differs from acrylic and enamel paint due to the amount of preparation you must put in before using it. Before using acrylic paint, you have to remove the wood of any topcoats and sand it.

Similarly, before using enamel paint, you have to sand the wood for the paint to deliver its glossy finish perfectly.

Unlike acrylic and enamel paint, chalk paint requires little preparation, as you generally don't have to sand your furniture before applying chalk paint. So, if you're looking for quick and easy paint to apply to your bookshelf, chalk paint is a good option.

However, unlike acrylic and enamel paints, chalk paint isn't excessively durable. You can increase its durability by adding a layer of wax, but some people find this a bit of a hassle.

What Are The Best Paint Finishes For Bookshelves?

Paint finish, also known as sheen, is the amount of light paint reflects. The five interior paint finishes are high-gloss, semi-gloss, satin, eggshell, and matte. Of these paint finishes, semi-gloss, high-gloss, and eggshell are the best options for bookshelves.


High-gloss finishes reflect the most light of any paints and make furniture look the shiniest. One of the major benefits of high-gloss paints is that they're easy to clean once they dry.


Semi-gloss finishes offer a smooth sheen and give the furniture a shiny look. Like high-gloss paint, one of its significant benefits is easy maintenance.

Whether you want a semi-gloss or a high-gloss paint for your bookshelf depends on your preference. If you wish your bookshelf to have a glass-like appearance, then high-gloss is perfect for you.

However, if you want your bookshelf to have a more subtle shine, semi-gloss is probably more your style.


Unlike semi-gloss and high-gloss paints, eggshell finishes provide a low sheen and a softer look. A major advantage of eggshell finishes is that they resist scuffs. This makes it perfect for a bookshelf, as you may frequently be removing books from the shelf, resulting in scuffs.

What Colors Look Best On Bookshelves?

A huge collection of books inside a library with a leather sofa and coffee table

There are many colors that you can paint your bookshelf. It just depends on your personality and the vibe you want to convey!

If you're feeling bold, try painting your bookshelf a bright color such as yellow, a bright red, or even hot pink. These colors add vibrancy and life to any room. Since these colors are so bright, you may even want to paint the back of the bookshelf and leave white trim.

The white trim will offset the bolder colors, creating a nice contrast.

If you're a fan of darker colors instead of bolder, brighter colors, that's perfectly fine! There are many darker colors to choose from. Black is a simple option that will give your space a classic feel.

Other options that offer a sophisticated vibe include navy blue and green.

Should Bookshelves Match The Walls?

Gray bookshelf and a laptop on the table inside a work room

Like the choice of paint color, the answer to this question depends on your personality. Bookshelves don't need to match walls.

However, if you want your room to have a flowing, cohesive look, painting your bookshelf to match the walls is a great idea.

Matching your bookshelf to your walls works even better if the bookshelf is built-in, as a built-in bookshelf adds to the cohesiveness of a home.

Should You Stain A Bookshelf Instead Of Painting It?

Staining highlights the beauty of wood in a different way than painting does. Staining protects wood and preserves its natural beauty, while paint hides wood and adds a new type of beauty to it.

So, whether you should stain or paint wood depends on what you value. If you appreciate wood's natural beauty, try staining your bookshelf. Try painting it instead if you want to add a new beauty to your bookshelf.

In Closing

A gorgeous reading or work area with a gray bookshelf filled with books

Bookshelves are a great addition to any house and can shine when painted with the right paints. Three of the best paints for bookshelves are acrylic paint, enamel-based, and chalk paint. It's important to weigh the benefits and drawbacks of these paints before deciding which one you want to use.

Keep in mind how shiny you want your bookshelf to be and the vibe you want it to convey. This can help you decide what paint finish and paint color to use and if you should match your bookshelf to your walls. Also, remember that you can stain your bookshelf instead of paint it.

Before you go, check out some of our other articles:

15 Types of Ikea Bookshelves You Can Choose From

How Tall Are Bookcases? Here are the Standard Dimensions

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