Ikea Billy Makeover: How to Give Your Bookcase a Fresh Look with Paint

Looking to refresh your old IKEA Billy bookcase with a new coat of paint? We’ve got the step-by-step answers you need to give it a stylish makeover below.

A white room with painting on wall, bookcase and flowerpots with plants, How To Paint An Ikea Billy Bookcase

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The Ikea Billy bookcase’s laminate exterior is tricky to paint. The secret to painting successfully is to first apply a base primer coat designed for surface adhesion.

Once you have an even layer of primer, you can paint the bookshelf with your paint of choice. Since Billy is covered in a thin laminate veneer and not wood, the usual sanding method to prep for paint will not work. 

Read on to learn more about doing the best job possible and ending up with a beautiful custom Billy bookshelf!

It’s All About The Primer

Typically, you’d sand and prime furniture before repainting, but that won’t work for IKEA’s Billy bookcase. Its plastic veneer can chip, dent, and peel, revealing the particleboard underneath.

Plus, the finishes often lack the appeal of a freshly painted color.

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Brush with white paint on a wooden table and a jar with white paint

If you try to paint over Billy’s laminate veneer, it will likely only stick in certain spots and leave a marbled mess of paint.

Since you can’t sand down the laminate, you must create a clean base layer to paint on.

Most everyone recommends a shellac-based sealing primer. There are so many benefits to using this type of primer on Ikea recoloring or DIY projects.

The primer is designed to adhere to any surface and create a perfect seal.

The Zinnser B-I-N primer is the most common for Ikea projects. It will fully cover defects, scratches, and imperfections while blocking odors.

The primer will have no trouble adhering to any laminate or wood surface. From that original primer, you can paint over it like you would any small project.

You can use rollers for long stretches and brushes for details and corners. If you want to do the cleanest job possible, you can disassemble the larger parts of Billy, paint them, and then reassemble them into place.

Can you use chalk paint on the laminate?

A tin of country grey Annie Sloan chalk paint on the vintage table next to the paintbrush

Chalk paint sticks to almost any surface, including IKEA’s laminated furniture, but it has some downsides.

It easily rubs or scratches off the Billy bookcase, especially in high-traffic areas. So, it’s best to avoid using chalk paint if your bookcase gets a lot of use.

For other painting methods over furniture without much fuss, you can read our article, “How To Paint Furniture Without Sanding Or Priming [7 Steps].”

What kind of paint do you use on Ikea furniture?

Assembling ikea furniture

The most popular and affordable Ikea furniture will mostly use laminate on the exterior.

As a result, it’s best to follow the steps above and use a primer first. Once you have that down, apply any paint you see fit.

For pieces with real wood exteriors, sand them first, then apply primer and paint. Every piece of furniture is different, and Ikea also carries some furniture that arrives with unfinished wood to paint it directly.

For ideas on other Ikea bookcases to put your DIY spin on, you can check out our article, “15 Ikea Bookshelves You Can Choose From.”

What color white is Ikea furniture?

Furniture assembly parts and tools for self assembly furniture

Surprisingly, most IKEA white furniture isn’t pure white but a light beige. This softer tone looks better in home lighting and matches other furniture more naturally.

If you would like to color-match something exactly to your Ikea furniture, it would be best to take a small part before assembly and bring it to a hardware or paint store.

Hundreds of similar, off-white tones look the same in the store but do not match in person.

The difference in lighting and positioning can also make the color gap seem bigger. Some recommend an eggshell finish to match white Ikea paint best.

Can you stack Billy bookcases?

The Ikea Billy bookcases are not one product but a whole system. You can purchase Billy in different heights, widths, and configurations.

The Billy system is designed to accommodate adding new parts as needed so you can easily stack them.

You can also buy single-shelf extenders from Ikea, and various doors are available. The system lets you customize your bookcase in any space by adjusting your shelf heights.

A Simple Secret To Great Results

The secret to getting a great result when painting your Ikea Billy bookcase is to use a good adhesive shellac primer.

This takes care of all the little problems with repainting over laminate and provides a great base.

There may be other options that some people try, like chalk paint, but they have major drawbacks because they avoid that main problem.

The Billy bookcase system is very flexible and appealing because it can fit in so many spaces. Don’t let the basic colors available hold you back. Use these tips to get a great personalized result!


What kind of paint do you use for shelves?

Use an Alkyd (Oil-Based) Paint.

Many professional painters rely on alkyd paint for shelves and cabinets.

Note that alkyd paints require mineral spirits for cleanup (versus water for latex). They also take longer to dry. Avoid putting anything on an alkyd-coated shelf for at least a week.

Do you need to prime a shelf before painting?

You need a primer for a new bookcase that’s never been painted or varnished.

A water-based primer works well on natural wood, but use a solvent-based primer for particleboard because a water-based primer can cause the fibers to swell.

What is the best paint for wooden shelves?

Use alkyd-based oil paint on standard trim.
Use traditional latex paint on ornate trim.
For floors, use alkyd-based oil paint.
Pick plant-oil-based paint on small knickknacks.

How do you paint bare wood shelves?

Step 1: Sand the surface.

Step 2: Seal the knots.

Step 3: Smooth the surface.

Step 4: Consider tinted primer.

Step 5: Choose the right base for your color.

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