How to Paint on Metal Art


Painting metal can be a tricky task, but following a few simple steps will make the process simple and as efficient as possible. These techniques can be applied to metal art projects like painting appliances, mailboxes, old tins and anything else metal. Always practice safety from chemicals in this process by wearing thick gloves and working outdoors or by an open window.

Things You'll Need

  • Your metal art project
  • Residue-free metal cleaner
  • Stiff wire brush
  • Oil-based/Anti-corrosive primer
  • Semi or high gloss paint


  • First and foremost, prep the metal to be painted by removing all of the rust and dirt. This is important because if the piece to be painted isn't smooth, the paint will not adhere correctly. It will also cause an uneven, gritty appearance. The removal process is completed by using a wire brush to scrub off the dirt and rust, then cleaning the piece with a strong, residue-free cleaner. If you're not comfortable using chemicals and cleaners, scrubbing with soap and water is also effective.

  • Use an oil-based or anti-corrosive, latex-free primer. Allow the primer at least 24 hours to dry, due to the fact that primer is generally heavy and thus takes a little longer to dry out. The 24 hours will guarantee a dry finish. Remember primer will not always feel wet or tacky if still wet. This is due to the composite and heaviness, so be patient and wait the full amount of time. It's better to be safe than sorry.

  • Use a good-quality brush to apply two coats of paint to the piece once you've decided the type of finish you want. Remember to use a high-quality paint. A quality semi gloss or high gloss will go smoothly over the primer when it is dry. Two coats is the general rule here for a long lasting paint job. Applying only one coat will compromise the color and quality of the paint job. Be sure not to over-do it, though. Three or more coats of most paint will cause unevenness in color and make the piece darker or heavier than intended. The drying time will also be much longer.

Tips & Warnings

  • When priming your piece, use your custom paint colors to tint your primer. This will allow for fewer coats of paint and thus a more expedient finished product.
  • Always wear gloves and use proper ventilation when working with any chemicals.

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  • Photo Credit metal image by Kirill Zdorov from
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