That’s brushed? That’s BEHR!

The more we learn about a products capabilities, the more we realize there is no short answer when asked about products. As you know, painting contractors can apply coatings many different ways. The above photo of a hand-brushed finish was first published on Google+ and later on paint talk with some basic discussion about how it was achieved. However, the same level of finish can be accomplished using a variety of methods.

Some methods and/or primers require more labor than others, but the end-result can be identical. For example: a finish like seen above can be achieved with a certain primer and one coat of paint.

Achieving fine finishes on MDF requires a basic understanding of the substrate and how paint behaves going over it. As you are likely aware, MDF can be a sponge for whatever paint or primer is initially applied over the factory primer. Typically the end-result is less than satisfactory and more noticeable with acrylics vs oils. Once that initial step is successfully performed, the fine finishing aspects are easily obtained. If you make a mess of the first coat, you may end up with more labor than you bargained for.


January 4, 2013 The following discuss the use of Zinsser Cover Stain primer. We have replaced Cover Stain with water-base Insl-x STIX.

We paint MDF regularly, our preferred method is spraying a reduced coat of Zinsser Cover Stain oil-base primer directly over the factory MDF primer without prior sanding. The goal is to seal the porous surface with a primer fully capable of 1st coat film retention. We want the 1st coat of paint to dry on the surface. There are exceptions to pre-sanding MDF trim.

If spraying trim is not an option–or the smell of oil-base primer, Zinsser Odorless oil-base primer can be used as an alternative however Odorless does not have the same level of adhesion or gloss retention but sands easily to a powder. Something worth mentioning about a reduced primer coat is that you will lose some qualities of the product due to the reduction depending on the level of reduction.

But, you should also be aware that even though you are applying a better product over the factory primer–the factory primer is the weakest link and more reduction can be in your favor because it penetrates the factory primer deeper. No $50, $60 or $70 gal of paint is going to protect the weakest link so choose your finish wisely. I’ve seen paint release along with the factory primer on door jambs when a door near it was closed. The paint adheres to the factory primer, but the factory primer has poor adhesion to the MDF.

Seen in the photo above, we have successfully achieved a high-build wet film with the 1st coat of finish paint which will dry on the surface. Next, we want to remove any 1st coat brush application traces by sanding them out with 320-400 Abranet mesh abrasives or equivalent to a dull polished finish seen below. This sanding step can go very smooth and fast if the primer-coat was applied successfully.

Depending on the leveling properties of your finish paint of choice,  paint should level-off tight and smooth. We used BEHR ULTRA Semi-Gloss for these samples. These sample boards have been passed around locally quite a bit the past month and these photos do not show-off the detail vs seeing the samples in your hand. We are certainly no strangers to producing hand brushed finishes that look like they were sprayed but ULTRA makes achieving those finishes much easier.

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20 Responses
  • Normy Reply

    Hey Jack, you mentioned that you thinned down the cover stain….how about the BEHR ultra? I’ve used it before straight from the can and it seems a little thick to level out that nicely. Just curious.

  • jackpauhl Reply

    Normy, I typically reduce ULTRA by 8 oz but all our testing is done without reduction. The photos are from stock product. Paint behaves differently over different surfaces but these photos represent painting over itself. The first coat had faint visible brush marks that were sanded out.

  • John W. Brown Reply

    Jack, I read your article on Behr paint and MDF. I have about a dozen MDF bead board 4×8 panels primed on one side. I am already using Cover Stain for my stained window trim and I plan on “re-priming” the front,of the bead board, but can I use the Cover Stain to prime the bare “wood” on the back and edges before I apply Behr, or will the chemicals in Cover Stain break down the structure or stability of the MDF? Thanks

    • Jack Pauhl Reply

      You can apply Cover Stain to the back side and edges.

  • Carlos Reply

    Hi, when you say you reduce paint by 8 oz, what does that mean? What are the ratios of paint to dilution liquid (water I presume).

    • Jack Pauhl Reply

      Carlos, 8oz clean water per gallon as stated on the can.

  • Carlos Reply

    Thanks Jack, I’ve learned much from your website and I now enjoy painting almost as a hobby–though it is still part of “working on the house.”

    Question: would you also add the recommended amount of Floetrol (or the like) in this type of application in addition to the reduction with 8oz water?

    • Jack Pauhl Reply

      Carlos. Floetrol calls for starting with 1 quart per gallon of paint and adjusting from there. I’ve asked a few paint manufacturers the same question and its important to understand the small margin for product to become imbalanced leading to unknowns. We never use any additives besides the recommended reduction of clean water, if any, stated on the TDS.

  • Ian Crump Reply

    Have you ever tested Zinser BIN as a MDF sealer.
    Its technically a shellac based sanding sealer.
    Interested in your feedback mate.
    Cheers JP

    • admin Reply

      Ian, I have not tried BIN for MDF because I do not like the smell of it or the clean up. Currently using STIX over MDF and bare poplar wood. Works great.

  • John Reply

    Just sprayed all of my doors in my house with this product. Love the way it flowed and leveled out. I took photos if interested let me know.

  • Bill in Oregon Reply


    Great site – was looking for information about priming mdf cabinet doors prior to spraying a wb pigmented finish. I’m going to give the Insl-x STIX a try.

  • Joseph Reply

    Hi Jack – Thank you for your website – what a great resource it’s been for me. I’m painting some factory pre-primed pine trim (3 1/4″ wide flat) and am trying to get a smooth, brush mark free finish like you’ve achieved here by using your process but I don’t seem to be getting similar results and I’m not sure what I am doing incorrectly. I first apply the Insl-x STIX over the factory primer. Then I sand lightly with a 220-grit sponge until the surface is nice and smooth. After cleaning with tack cloth, I apply Behr ULTRA Semi-gloss paint reduced with 8oz clean water with a Wooster J4112 Super/Pro 3″ wide angle brush (it’s a fairly soft nylon/poly blend – was not able to buy your favorite BM 65125 locally unfortunately) making sure to keep a wet edge like you recommend. I finish with a very, very light stroke. The first coat has major brush marks for some reason, and even though the surface is quite wet, as I watch the paint never does level for some reason. So then I sand again with a 320-grit sponge as you recommend to a dull finish, but the surface still has very visible peeks and valleys. Then after I apply the 2nd coat of paint in the same way, it looks the same – with brush marks – and the paint doesn’t level. What could I be doing wrong – Any ideas? By the way, I find that I have a smoother finish applying the Behr with a cheap foam brush. Oh, and the room temp is 68F, no wind, and the humidity is about 75%. At this point, I was thinking about changing over to BM Advance with the expectation that the paint would level better, but I absolutely do not want any alkyd yellowing. Any thoughts you might have on what I’m doing incorrectly would really be helpful… Thanks again for your help!

    • Brian Havanas Reply

      Brushes are not designed to produce the finishes shown on the website. We managed to find a good combination between primer paint and the brush mentioned to pull it off. It doesn’t surprise me you are unable to reach the same result with the brush you have. I have come very close with other brushes but they had a trace of brush marks. Everything on the site is product specific. If I had your brush I might be able to offer more by trying it. I suspect you will have the same result using Advance as well. There are a few videos on my jack pauhl YouTube that might further assist you if you have not already looked.

      Work small areas fast and wet then lay it off and move on to next area.

      • Joseph Reply

        Thanks for your quick reply – I appreciate it. Well, just a follow-up for interested readers on how to get rid of brush marks… After spending a “small fortune” trying all different combinations of recommended primers (Insl-x STIX over factory primer, and Zinsser GARDZ over factory), two types of Behr paint (reduced Ultra and PremiumPlus), as well as two brushes (Wooster’s best $19 Nylon/Poly SuperPro, and a cheap foam brush)… I’m an engineer, so that’s 2^3 = 8 different combinations… I have finally figured out the best combination for getting rid of brush marks: throw it all out, go to the Ben Moore Store and buy waterborne Satin Impervo 314, the cheapest brush they’ve got, and apply it directly over the factory primer! Seriously, this stuff blows the doors off Behr in terms of leveling… I resisted b/c of the cost (it’s 2x Behr). If you are a novice diy’r like me and don’t have the insane brush skills pros like Jack Pauhl (or Brian Havanas… not sure) have it’s worth it. I have pictures of both paints side by side on the same board applied with the same loaded brush and the leveling difference is absolutely astounding! Not sure where to post the pic though. Anyways, maybe after painting my home I’ll develop more brush skill like Jack so that I can buy the less expensive paint and save myself some cash, but the cost of the Ben Moore is still far less than hiring a professional. Happy painting everyone! BTW – thanks Jack for the great videos on brush loading and laying off, they were a real help 2me

  • Cheryl Reply

    Hello Jack! I’m a new DIYer remodeling a condo. I have new poplar trim and casings. I have been using bulls eye 1-2-3 as a primer and Behr Premium Plus with primer Ultra White. I did have some difficulties laying the paint on without brush marks. It look three coats to achieve a nice glass look. Any advice? Is 1-2-3 okay?

    After reading your article, I’m going to buy tonight in fact the BM 65125.


  • jeff Reply

    good prep is still the best way to achieve a great finish. I’m just happy not to be getting high on Satin Impervo anymore. love the chat! tx

  • Phil Johnson Reply

    Hi Jack, I’m looking for a good satin trim paint. Something the flows out nicely without drying to quick. I used to love BM Regal Aquaglo, but the they have changed the formula I believe. Now its BM Regal. I was curious what you recommend between the BM Regal, BM Impervo, Glidden diamond 350, BM Advance, Pratt and Lambert Accolade, or even something I haven’t listed. Your help is appreciated.

    • BradleyLarrimore Reply

      As a painting contractor and professional painter for over 17 years, the absolute best interior paint to use for that “oil” look is Muralo Satin Flow Enamel. It lays off so well that with any brush, you have no brush marks….especially if you add a bit of water to it. Too much water added, and you will have runs (like the oil Satin Impervo). In fact, it is one of the ONLY self-priming paints out there! Self-priming, not paint and primer in one (which is an untruth). I refuse to use any paints from a big box store, as they do not measure up!

      • Brian Havanas Reply

        Hi Bradley, One of the patents for a paint and primer in one product is made with two binders, a 100% acrylic “primer binder” and a second 100% acrylic “top coat binder” respectfully a 80:20 mix. That being 80% primer 20% top coat plus letdown additives.

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