How to Paint Sheet Metal for Home Decorating

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Painted sheet metal softens the industrial look of unfinished metal. In home decor, painting sheet metal can create a functional yet stylish piece, such as a magnetic board or a back splash or frame. Do-it-yourself decorators can distress and weather the metal for a shabby chic look or keep it gleaming and pristine for a contemporary edge.

Things You'll Need

  • Sheet metal
  • Vinegar
  • Primer
  • Paint
  • Paintbrush
  • Top coat

Study the surface of your sheet metal. If it appears and feels relatively smooth to the touch, you should roughen the surface to create more texture before painting it. Otherwise, the paint will not properly adhere to the sheet metal. You can do sand or bead blasting, or just use very gritty sandpaper or thick steel wool and hand-treat the surface. You can also purchase pre-sanded sheet metal. Clean the sheet metal with white vinegar.

Consider different patinas and treatments you can apply to the sheet metal before painting it. You can use a faux rust patina to age and weather the surface, which proves more archival than painting on actual rusted sheet metal. You can also weld metal embellishments or use weld beads to add dimension or create outlines of images. If you use sheet metal for a construction project, you must treat the metal with an anti-rusting agent, typically a coat of zinc.

Apply a primer coat to the surface of the sheet metal. You can purchase a self-etching commercial primer that contains acids for etching the sheet metal. You can also use another coat of white vinegar, this time diluted with water to about half strength, to prepare the surface for sheet metal finishes.

Paint the sheet metal. You can use a variety of products intended for application to metal. High-quality oil paints can adhere well to a properly primed surface and have brilliant effects. Metallic or glitter paints highlight the underlying material, while bold colors seem to pop off the surface of the sheet metal.

Add a top coat. Some people use an epoxy top coat that is thick enough to seal kitchen counte rtops. If you go this route, mix the epoxy well and use it according to the directions so that it dries and hardens rather than remains tacky. You can also use a clear gesso as the top coat or on any parts of the sheet metal that you wish to remain exposed rather than covered with paint. Note that most top coats, while protecting the paint from peeling, chipping or scratching, also add a touch of gloss to the final finish.

Tips & Warnings

  • Consider powder coat paints for finishing sheet metal. Unlike solvents, powder coat paints leave no film behind.
  • Take care of sharp edges on sheet metal. If your sandpaper cannot smooth them, you might opt to roll the edges.

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