Painting Shiplap — Complete How-To Guide From Start to Finish

Trend forecasters have been predicting shiplap’s fall for years now. Yet this versatile finish continues to dominate the home design world.

One of the easiest ways to give shiplap a modern update is with a fresh coat of paint. (Even classic white shiplap is typically the result of a bucket of paint and a brush or roller.)

Fortunately, painting shiplap is surprisingly easy. But following a few simple tips could be the difference between shiplap that looks amazing versus just okay.

Can All Shiplap Be Painted?

Shiplap is traditionally made of solid wood. However, affordable MDF shiplap has grown to be just as, if not more, popular than the real thing.

MDF, or medium-density fiberboard, is a type of engineered wood. While MDF shiplap is still technically made of wood, it does not have the smooth finish or visible grain pattern of solid lumber.

Good news: both wooden and MDF shiplap can be painted! The only differences you might encounter are in the way you prep the shiplap’s surface for painting.

What You’ll Need

Painting horizontal or vertical shiplap may feel like a foreign concept even for a relatively adept DIYer. Rest assured, however, that the tools and supplies you’ll be working with are no different from those used to paint your average wall.

There’s also no need to go out and buy specialty paint for this project. Shiplap can be painted with standard interior paint from your local hardware store.

Along with your paint, we recommend having the following tools on hand before getting started:

  • Brush
  • Paint roller
  • Drop cloth
  • Painter’s tape
  • Fine-grit sandpaper
  • Wood filler

How To Paint Shiplap Before Installation

You may be eager to get your shiplap wall up and on display the instant the boards are in your possession. But you can save yourself a ton of time and labor by painting your shiplap boards before installing them in your home!

Follow these steps to create the shiplap overlay of your dreams with as little stress as possible:

1. Set Up Your Work Space

Creating a clean and organized workspace is the secret to stress-free DIY. Whether you set up in a garage, basement, or the room your shiplap will eventually be installed, take the extra time to make sure everything is ready before getting started!

A set of sawhorses is the best setup for painting boards of any kind — shiplap included. Be sure to place a tarp or drop cloth beneath your work area to protect the floor below.

2. Prep and Prime

prep and prime

Next, determine what kind of prep your shiplap requires.

If your shiplap is made of real wood and is unfinished, then you’ll need to prime the surface before painting. MDF shiplap generally doesn’t require primer.

If you’re using faux shiplap (regular boards without tongue-and-groove edges) consider painting the wall the same color before moving on. If you don’t, the original wall color may be visible between the boards.

3. Apply Paint

apply paint

Using a brush, roller, or combination of the two, apply your chosen paint color to the shiplap. Be sure to cover all parts of the shiplap that could be visible once installed.

4. Install Your Shiplap

install your shiplap

Once the paint is completely dry, install your shiplap to the desired surface as usual. Don’t worry about any imperfections in the paint at this point. You’ll take care of them in the next step.

5. Touch Up Your Work

touch up your work

The downside of painting shiplap before installation is that you’ll need to touch up the boards once secured. Fortunately, this process is both quick and easy.

Use a wood filler to cover any nail holes in the shiplap. Gently sand over these areas to create a level surface.

With a detail brush or mini roller, reapply paint to any part of the shiplap that has been drilled, sanded, or accidentally nicked during installation. Once you’re done, you’ll be left with a perfect, professional-looking shiplap wall.

Pro Tip: Rather than fully painting the shiplap pre-installation and then touching it up, you can split the job up into two parts.

Use a brush to paint the edges (including the gaps) and then mount the shiplap to the wall. You can then fill and sand any imperfections before painting the rest of the shiplap’s surface with a roller.

How To Paint Existing Shiplap

Shiplap has been popular in contemporary design for many years. So there’s a good chance you already have an accent wall or other shiplap element in need of a fresh paint job.

You can remove shiplap to be painted. However, this method takes quite a bit more time and risks damaging the supporting wall or the shiplap itself in the process.

If your existing shiplap is in otherwise good condition, follow these steps to give it a new lease on life:

1. Prepare the Room

Since painting shiplap that’s already installed is really no different from painting a normal wall, you’ll want to prep the room the same way.

Remove as many pieces of furniture, decor, and fixtures as possible. Cover the floor and any items that cannot be moved with a plastic drop cloth.

Use painter’s tape to protect the surfaces adjacent to the shiplap. It’s always better to err on the side of caution and assume you’ll accidentally get paint where it doesn’t belong!

2. Clean and Prime

clean and prime

Existing shiplap may have a layer of dust or residue sitting on the surface. So before priming or painting, we recommend cleaning the surface with a product like Savogran 10621 Trisodium Phosphate.

If the shiplap’s current finish is peeling, flaking, or otherwise damaged, you may want to sand the surface to ensure the new coat of paint adheres properly.

Take a close look at your shiplap and identify any dents, nail holes, or other imperfections. Fill and sand these now before moving on to the next step!

3. Paint the Gaps

paint the gaps

The trickiest part of painting shiplap is getting an even coat of paint over the entire visible surface.

Use a handheld brush to cut paint into the gaps between each board of shiplap. Paint along the edge of the shiplap as well before moving on to the main area.

4. Finish Painting

finish painting

While you can paint the entire shiplap surface using a brush, switching to a roller will make the rest of the project go by much quicker.

Keep a close eye on the amount of paint on your roller. Too much paint could result in unsightly flooding between the boards.

Apply as many coats as needed to cover the shiplap’s previous color and create an even finish. Allow the paint to fully cure before hanging decor, replacing outlet covers, etc.

Optional: Use An Airless Sprayer

If you have access to an airless paint sprayer, then you can forego the painstaking process of cutting in the gaps with a brush altogether.

Instead, prep the space as normal, taking into account the extra protection needed when using a paint sprayer. Then, use the sprayer to paint all visible parts of the shiplap in one go.

Final Thoughts

As with any interior paint job, your most valuable tool when painting shiplap is an eye for detail.

Getting into the gaps between each piece of shiplap will create the most professional-looking results, as well as painting the surface behind your shiplap if it shows through.

Taking the time to fill nail holes and other imperfections will also make a big difference in the end result (and set the perfect stage for future updates!).

Is painting shiplap as simple as dunking a brush into a can of paint? No. But if you can paint a regular wall, you can definitely tackle this project!