How to paint a Metal Filing Cabinet: 5 Simple Steps
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How to paint a Metal Filing Cabinet: 5 Simple Steps

|Aug 1, 2023

In the previous article, we covered the essentials you need to know before buying a filing cabinet for your office. In this article, we will focus on renovating your old metal filing cabinet by painting it accordingly to your office or home décor. As filing cabinets must match your décor unless you are least concerned with the color and appearance of your furniture.

Painting a metal filing cabinet can be cumbersome if you have never tried your hand at painting. However, this article will provide you with complete information so that you can complete the job successfully in your very first attempt.

Even if you’re looking to re-decor your office, you will need some sense of styling to do because adding a little bit of style in your workplace will never be amiss.

5 Creative Ideas to Paint File Cabinets

Your office space should be a reflection of your personality and style. If you're tired of the dull and uninspiring look of your file cabinets, it's time to get creative and breathe new life into your workspace. Painting file cabinets can transform your office into a vibrant and personalized environment. Here are five exciting ideas to consider when painting file cabinets:

1. Monochromatic Elegance:

Choose a single color that complements your office decor and create a clean, sleek look. This minimalist approach can make your file cabinets blend seamlessly into the office environment while adding a touch of sophistication. Consider shades of gray, navy blue, or a soft pastel for a calming and professional atmosphere.

2. Bold Accents:

Add a pop of color to your office by painting file cabinets in a bold and vibrant hue. Red, yellow, or even a rich emerald green can inject energy and personality into the space. Pair these bold file cabinets with neutral walls and furnishings for a balanced and eye-catching look.

3. Vintage Revival:

Give your office a touch of nostalgia by adopting a vintage-inspired design for your file cabinets. A distressed finish with an antique white or muted pastel color scheme can evoke a sense of charm and history. Add vintage-style hardware for an authentic touch.

4. Geometric Patterns:

Get creative with stencils and painter's tape to create geometric patterns on your file cabinets. Triangles, chevrons, or herringbone designs can add a modern and artistic flair to your office. Experiment with different colors and shapes to achieve a unique and eye-catching look.

5. Nature-inspired Themes:

Bring the outdoors inside by painting file cabinets with nature-inspired themes. Consider a serene blue with ocean wave accents, a forest green with tree silhouettes, or a sandy beige with desert motifs. These natural elements can create a calming and inviting workspace.

Tips for a Successful File Cabinet Painting Project:

  • Preparation is Key: Clean and sand your file cabinets thoroughly before starting the painting process to ensure the paint adheres properly.
  • Quality Paint: Invest in high-quality paint and brushes for a smooth and durable finish.
  • Test Swatches: Before committing to a color or design, test swatches on a small area to see how they look in your office's lighting.
  • Protective Finish: Apply a clear protective finish to your painted cabinets to prevent chipping and wear over time.
  • Personalize with Accessories: Enhance the customized look by adding decorative drawer pulls, knobs, or labels to your file cabinets.

A fresh coat of paint on your file cabinets can invigorate your office space, boost productivity, and make your workspace truly your own. These creative ideas allow you to express your style while maintaining a functional and organized work environment. Get ready to transform your office into a place where inspiration and creativity flow freely.

Importantly, there are a number of essential you must know before working on the idea of painting your metal filing cabinet. These are:

Step-by-Step Guide: Painting Your File Cabinet

1. Preparing the Space for Painting

It is the first step in the process of " how to paint a metal filing cabinet" series. You can use an old cloth or a fabric, to cover the entire floor of your room or office so that your costly equipment including your computer, desk, carpet, and furniture are safe from getting any paint marks.

Professionally, spray painting is always preferred in a controlled environment that involves no direct sunlight, wind or high humidity. It is highly unlikely that you have a dedicated spray painting room at your helm; hence, it is important to prepare one in order to paint file cabinets. To do that you will have to purchase old cardboard boxes from an appliance or grocery store. The cardboard boxes can be assembled and used with newspapers adequately for carrying out the spray paint job.

Preparing space for painting

Further, you must make sure that the room in which you’re going to paint your filing cabinet. Generally, the spray paints available on the market are aerosol-based that can cause respiratory troubles for you, if the ventilation in the room is poor. Besides that, you must always wear proper rubber gloves and a respirator mask to protect yourself against the vapors and fumes of the paint.

2. Prepare the Filing Cabinet that need to paint

This is the second and the most important step in the process of painting your metal cabinet. It involves using a distinct sandpaper (220 or 320-grit) over the surface of your filing cabinet to smoothen it out. Besides, it also ensures that the previous coating of the paint is removed completely. It is essential to note that the new coating of paint will stick perfectly to the sanded surface. In comparison to primer coated or bare metal surface, the sanded surface provides a great level of cohesion with the new paint coating. While sanding, it is important to use a green abrasive pad for molded profiles. It has a better ability to sand in the intricate spots as compared to the normal sandpaper.

Preparing your filing cabinet before painting

Another advantage of sanding is that it comprehensively removes any oil on the surface of the metal cabinet so that the new paint coating can adhere completely to the metal surface. To ensure a smooth painting job and proper paint adhesion, you will have to make sure that all the sanding dust from the metal surface is removed. You can use a soft brush to remove it or you can also use a small vacuum cleaner to remove the dust on the metal surface. After that, you can also paint thinner on the surface to remove any remaining sanding dust.

Many painters use tack clothes to remove the dust on the painting surface. Using a tack cloth requires you to unfold it and bunch it over the surface, and then wipe it to pick up the dust particles. It can be used multiple times depending on the amount of dust on the metal surface. However, by multiple usages, it will lose its dust carrying ability, and you will have to use a new one to remove any remaining dust.

Many times, there are certain pieces of hardware attached to the filing cabinet such as handles, knobs, and locks. It is important to remove them before applying a new coat of paint. However, if you are unable to remove them, you can cover them by using a masking tape that will secure them from the new paint.

While painting a metal surface, you must know if you’re painting a ferrous or galvanized metal. It is an essential consideration before applying the primer coat. Ferrous metals require a clean surface which must be rust-free as well. Scuff pads are effective in removing rust, and thus, can be used to clean the surface. However, there can be areas in your metal cabinet which cannot be reached by a scuff pad. Hence, you have to use certain rust removers to remove the rust from such areas.

Importantly, it is essential to apply the primer as soon as you can, after rust removal to avoid the formation of flash rust on the surface. On the other hand, galvanized metal surfaces can be easily washed with a detergent solution to remove any dirt or oily residue. Many times, galvanized surfaces have some white oxidation which requires you to use a sandpaper on it.

3. Using a Primer to Paint File Cabinets

Primer coating is an essential part of painting metal filing cabinet. However, you only need to apply a coating of primer to the surface if it contains several bare metal spots so that the new coating of paint can stick to the surface easily.

Use a primer for painting filing cabinet

Another important factor while applying a primer is to select the right primer for your surface. You can use a separate coating of primer before applying the new paint, or you can use a paint that already contains primer mixed in it. Many traditional painters prefer to use a fast-drying primer over the metal surface as a first coat. It saves time and streamlines the process of applying subsequent coats.

While using a separate primer for your surface, try using spray paint primers because the manual coating of the primer can leave brush marks on the surface.

Another important step before applying the first coating of paint is to even the metal surface. You can look out for holes, dents, and dings on the surface and fill it with the required filler. It is always a good idea to check the surface under bright light to easily spot and fill any number of holes or dents.

Additionally, dust can settle in the primer coating as it is left for drying. Hence, to ensure a smooth coating, you can use a sandpaper (220-grit) to smoothen the surface before applying the original paint coating.

4. Using the Appropriate Paint for metal filing cabinet

Now, you’re ready to start painting your metal filing cabinet. It is important for you to select the best available paint for your metal cabinet. It is recommended to use a spray paint instead of a brush paint to avoid brush marks. Besides, spray paints are also efficient to secure the surface against rust.

While painting, you will have to make sure to use light sprays evenly on the entire metal surface. Make sure you have enough paint for the entire task. Intrinsically, two or three coatings of the paint are essential to comprehensively cover the surface. However, make sure that you don’t spray too much on every coating as it can cause drip marks all over the surface.

Using appropriate paint for metal file cabinet

Further, the finish coat will need at least three to six coatings. The paint must be applied in thin layers so that smoothness of the surface is intact. Usually, the first coat of paint is always very light. It is also known as ‘tacking’ coat. The first coat never completely covers the entire surface and it is just done to ensure that the subsequent coats adhere well to it.

The following coatings can be a little thicker than the first coat but ensure that there are no dripping marks over the surface. Additionally, using heavy coats of paint can also cause it to sag. Thus, make sure that you apply the paint lightly, evenly, and smoothly over the metal surface.

The spray paints are available in a variety of colors and types including metallic colors, specialty paints, and high-temperature paints. It is important for you to select the right color and type of the spray paint in accordance with your needs and décor. You can use bright colors if your office has no exposure to direct sunlight. On the other hand, dark colors can be used if your workplace has a direct sunlight contact.

5. Implementing the Right Technique

Painting a metal surface involves the use of the right technique. Before beginning, don’t forget to shake the spray can for about 40 to 60 seconds. Besides, subsequent shaking can also be done while painting.

Moreover, when you’re using a spray paint, it is necessary that you use the on/off action method. Usually, expert painters prefer spraying three inches of air before the paint makes contact with the metal surface, followed by spraying till the end of the surface and then leaving the trigger. You can move your hand in the opposite direction before depressing the paint-can trigger again. Thus, passing across the surface and letting go of the trigger again.

Implement the right technique for painting

Intrinsically, spray painting a metal cabinet involves on/off motion accompanied by the left to right and right to left movement of your hands. Still, if you’re in a dilemma to smoothly paint the surface, start painting the back of the filing cabinet first so that you can get the clear idea of how the spray paint works. Besides, it will also allow you to try it multiple times as the back surface will not be noticed by anyone.

Many times, people have the tendency to keep spray painting as long as they can’t see the primer coating. This method shouldn’t be practiced as it can cause uneven paint accumulation over certain areas, which you to have to remove with subsequent sanding. During time to paint file cabinets, you shouldn’t pay much heed to the primer coating below, as it will be gradually covered as you apply new layers of coating.

You can also create a design on your metal cabinet with the help of painter’s tape and masking paper. First, let the base coat dry for at least 24 hours and then use a painter’s tape with masking paper to create the required design. After covering the designated areas, you can use the spray paint to paint the exposed areas with a different color.

When the coat dries, you will have to scuff it and then spray a second coat of paint over it. Then, remove the tape along with the masking paper after the second coat has dried properly. Additionally, you can also utilize a third layer of paint as well. However, you must wait for about 48 hours before you can use the final layer of paint over the surface.

After completing the painting job, make sure to cover the metal filing cabinet and lightly seal it with a masking tape to protect it from dust, bugs, and dirt. You can take your spray paint cans outside and turn them upside down while depressing the nozzle. This will ensure that the nozzle will seamlessly work for the next coats.


1. Can I spray paint a metal file cabinet?

Professionally, spray painting is always preferred in a controlled environment that involves no direct sunlight, wind or high humidity. It is highly unlikely that you have a dedicated spray painting room at your helm; hence, it is important to prepare one to paint file cabinets.

2. What kind of paint do you use on a metal filing cabinet?

The spray paints are available in a variety of colors and types including metallic colors, specialty paints, and high-temperature paints. How to spray paint metal? It is important for you to select the right color and type of the spray paint in accordance with your needs and décor. You can use bright colors if your office has no exposure to direct sunlight. On the other hand, dark colors can be used if your workplace has a direct sunlight contact.


In this article, all the details required to make sure how to paint a metal filing cabinet from scratch are provided. The main focus of this article is to inform the reader about the various requirements, techniques, and conditions related to painting the metal cabinet. As of painting a file cabinet requires proper planning, the reader can benefit from the information provided in this article.

This article is also an important tool for the people who are seeking help related to adding manual designs in painting and ways on how to spray paint metal. The article also provides comprehensive information related to sanding, rust removal and surface smoothening. Besides, information related to various tools and equipment required for the painting of a metal cabinet is also detailed.

Conclusively, the painting of a file cabinet is a patient job. Hence, you must read the provided information carefully and slowly build your knowledge to complete the job successfully. If you want to replace with a new filing cabinet, don’t forget to shop at Autonomous with many smart office accessories which help you improve productivity.

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