How to Paint a Panel Door with a Brush

Do You Want to Know What a Panel Door Is?

All I’m offering is the truth. Nothing more. This post turned out to be much longer than I’d anticipated. Yes, it’s about how to paint a panel door with a brush, but it’s become so much more than that. More than I could have ever imagined. Maybe it’s more than you want. This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You click the BLUE LINK – you skip right to the information you came here for, and believe… whatever you want to believe. You click the RED LINKyou stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes…

Welcome to My Rabbit Hole

Yeah. I heard it.

After painting it a lovely shade of gray, and updating the trim, My Crappy House is more attractive than it has ever been! Which… is really not saying very much at all. The landscaping and driveway still look like hell, but those are big ticket items and I just paid for a big ticket wedding. Who has any big ticket money left? Not me!

Painting a crappy front door is one way to gain a little bit of curb appeal without spending big ticket money. If the eyes in your face are the windows to your soul, then the front door to your home is the portal to… your living room, probably. Maybe a foyer, if you’re fancy. (No, not Narnia. That’s a different door.)

Two cats looking out the glass front door

Terrible analogies aside, I thought maybe you’d like to know how to paint a panel door with a brush. And maybe you’d like me to show you. It’s the least I can do, since no one is going to Narnia…

White front door on gray house with pressure treated wood front steps

Behold, my front door. Just a plain, metal, crappy door. Not so crappy that it warrants replacement, mind you. Front doors are freaking expensive. Maybe not big ticket, but medium ticket for sure. So, what can I do to make it look better? Hmm… What to do…

Hey, I know! Let’s paint it!


WTF is a Panel Door?

Real panel doors are made of separate pieces of wood that all fit together to make one sexy, expensive door. Vertical lengths of wood (called stiles) are attached to horizontal pieces (rails) and shorter vertical pieces (mullions) to make panels. The more rails and mullions there are, the more panels the door will have.

Labeled parts of a panel door

The more you know… ⭐

Prep Your Panel Door

I think we can all agree that I have the smartest, best looking readers on the internet, so I see no reason to insult your intelligence with detailed instructions on how to prep a thing you want to paint. You know how to clean and sand and prime. You’ve probably done it before.

Okay, well maybe you skipped the priming part because who really primes? I mean, you’re supposed to, but… did I? I’ll be honest with you guys. I didn’t not not prime…. I can’t be any clearer than that.

However, I do have a couple of “door specific” prepping tips:

If you’ve got any glass in your door, you’ll want to mask that off with some painter’s tape. You could just wing it with no tape and use a razor blade to scrape the glass later, but I will tell you now that I tried both options on my door and I definitely used more profanity on the side where I didn’t use tape. Just trim the excess with a craft knife.

Applying painters tape to glass on front door window with a plastic scraper

Also, I removed the door knob, deadbolt, and peephole. Yes, it’s possible to paint around them, but your brush lines will be interrupted by those obstacles and… Well, if you don’t care about interrupted brush lines, then you might as well stop reading this post. It’s not for you.

Lastly, in a perfect world, you would remove your door to paint it. For interior doors, this isn’t usually a big deal, but for the front door… Unless you know you will complete the project in one day, it’s better to leave the door hanging. Statistically speaking, bad guys will nearly always choose a home that’s missing its front door to burgle over a home that has one.

Choosing a Color

I find the phrase “pop of color” as annoying as karate chopped throw pillows, but I’m going to use it anyway. Your front door is a great spot to add a freaking pop of color.

There. I said it.

You can literally pick any color that you think looks good. There’s no front door color police. (Unless, of course, you count HOAs, in which case, I guess some of you may not be allowed to “pop” as much as the rest of us. Sorry for getting your hopes up. First Narnia, now this…)

Having chosen a fairly neutral gray to paint my house (Kendall Charcoal, by Ben Moore), I could pretty much pick any color of the rainbow and it would look nice.

GIF showing panel door with multiple color choices

What I chose was the same lovely accent color I have in my kitchen. Kitchen Aid calls it Aqua Sky. I call it… Aqua Sky, also.

Gray kitchen with aqua sky accessories and quartz counters

Kitchen Aid Oven | Tea Pot | Utensils | Tea Cannister | Similar Dishwasher Magnet | Similar Night Light

I took the lid from my tea cannister in to Sherwin Williams for color matching. They mixed up a perfect match in their Resilience exterior acrylic latex paint in gloss finish. (I just love a glossy front door.) I bought a quart, which is plenty to paint a single door.

Sherwin Williams Resilience Paint Can with custom Aqua color mix

How to Paint a Panel Door with a Brush

When painting a panel door, you want your brush strokes to go in the same direction as the wood grain (which is pretty much the rule when you paint any wood piece). But… what if your panel door has no grain? Like, what if it’s faux?

Cats by front door

Because my front door is a metal door pretending to be a panel door, there are no grain lines. That’s OK though. By using a brush, I can mimic the look of a wood door and no one will know my door is just a crappy imitation. (Well, except you guys. Don’t tell anyone.)

The Information You Came Here For

If you clicked the blue link to get to this point, you really missed a lot of good stuff. I’m very entertaining. (Everybody says so…) You’ll never know that though because it’s time to get serious. This is a freaking tutorial, dammit. Pay attention.

You need to follow a specific order when painting your panel door if you don’t want it to look like crap when you’re finished. The painting order is as follows:

  1. The hinge and jamb edges of the door
  2. Trim around any windows
  3. Each individual panel
  4. Vertical mullions between panels
  5. All horizontal rails
  6. The vertical stiles
  7. Repeat steps 1-6 for each coat

For each step, don’t try to be super neat about it. You actually want to paint outside the lines. The paint in each step should overlap the one before it. In other words, step two should overlap the paint from step one. Step three’s edges should overlap step two’s, and so on. Confused? Just look at the pictures for clarity. That’s why I took them.

Step One: Paint the Edges

My door had crappy brass hinges, so I bought new black ones. I swapped them out as I painted the door’s edge, using vertical brush strokes.

Frond door in the process of being painted. The door edge is aqua sky.

If you’re not updating your hinges, just take each one off, one at a time, paint behind it, then reinstall it. The door will hang just fine on the two remaining hinges for a little while.

Try not to get a lot of paint in the recesses where the hinges sit. If the hinges aren’t installed at the same depth that they were, you run the risk of your door not closing properly.

Step Two: Paint Window Trim

If your door has any glass, now is the time to paint the trim around those windows.

Close up of front door window painted aqua sky

Step Three: Paint the Panels

Next, you’ll paint each individual panel.

Close up of a front door panel painted aqua sky
Front door with all panels and window trim painted aqua sky

If your door is a real wood door, then you should follow the wood grain with your brush strokes, which will be vertical. Since my door is metal (and sans grain), I like to paint the panel recesses first; the top and bottom in a horizontal direction and the sides vertically, angling my brush at the corners to miter them, then I paint the center of the panel with vertical strokes.

Close up of mitered corners in panel recess on painted door

Step Four: Paint the Mullions

The next step is to paint the vertical spaces between panels, or the mullions. You’ll use vertical brush strokes, and remember to let your paint get on the rails.

Front door in the process of being painted aqua sky. Window trim, panels and mullions all painted.

Step Five: Paint the Rails

Now you’ll paint the rails using horizontal strokes that overlap the paint from the last step creating a defined edge where the rails meet the mullions, but extending onto the stiles. Are you seeing how this works? It’s like a puzzle.

Front panel door being painted aqua sky. Window trim, panels, mullions and rails are painted with a brush.

Step Six: Paint the Stiles

The last step is to paint the stiles, overlapping the paint from the rails. If you followed the steps correctly, each edge should be clean and crisp.

Final result showing how to paint a panel door with a brush. Aqua door with black knob and peephole
Close up of painted panel door in Aqua Sky showing brush stroke direction

This paint covered really well and I only needed two coats to finish my door. My second coat was done exactly as the first. Once it dried, I installed a new door knob and peephole in black. (Click here for detailed instructions on how to install your very own peephole!)

This concludes the tutorial. You now know how to paint a panel door with a brush. If you clicked the blue pill, then you are free to go. Seriously. Go on. Make like a tree and get outta here. The rest of you, we’re not done in the rabbit hole…

My Finished Painted Panel Door

I’ve got some lovely after pictures to show you, but first these boring pictures of my old and new doorbell. Can’t have my front door looking all pretty next to a crappy, broken doorbell…

This new one is slightly fancier, yet still inexpensive.

Close up of antique bronze doorbell on gray shingled house


And I also bought a new doormat because it was time…

Close up of old door mat

I found this new one on Amazon and it meowed my name….

Close up of cat face doormat with aqua sky door

Doormat | Doormat Frame

Is that not the best doormat you’ve ever seen in your whole life? It’s actually two pieces. There’s a doormat frame and the doormat, which fits perfectly inside the frame. (As the word “frame” might suggest…) The doormat would be fine on its own, but I wanted it to be a little more substantial. The frame is heavy rubber that doesn’t slip around.

Oh, yeah. And notice the painted door? Meowza! Here’s another pic…

Front door painted aqua sky on a kendall charcoal painted gray house

And here it is from further away. Notice how it draws your eye away from the dead tree (remember when I accidentally killed it?) and crappy driveway. Distraction is a useful design tool…

Front door painted aqua sky on a kendall charcoal painted gray house

The Other Side

Are you wondering what the other side of the door looks like? I thought about painting the whole thing “Aqua Sky”, but then I figured it would be crazy to have such a bright color in such a prominent area in the living room.

So I painted it Aqua Sky…

Gray living room with green velvet couch and painted aqua sky front door

I actually love this freaking pop of color! I think it’s an unexpected, yet perfect, spot to tie in my kitchen’s accent color. Yes, it’s bold, but you know what they say… Fortune favors the bold! So, I’m expecting good things to happen around here. Fortuitous things. Hey, maybe I’ll win the lottery!

I should probably start playing the lottery…

Guys, feel free to subscribe below if you don’t already. I promise you won’t regret it. I mean, you clicked the red link, right? You are my people…

***Time Travel Links! My crappy driveway actually isn’t crappy anymore! Check out some truly emotional before and after pictures here. You’ll laugh… You’ll cry…

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  • Em Dirr

    I am DEFINITELY your people!
    And I would be one of your peep hole as well if you offer a tutorial on how you installed that, because even though I dont need a peep hole, it would be interesting to learn how they are installed. Really, I’ve wondered. And if YOU are writing it, it would be fun as well. I will always click the red link.
    (Also, true confession: I could never be an actual peep hole, because that sounds gross, if not unsanitary.)

    Welcome freaking back, you made my inbox happy (which also sounds a little gross in a “that’s what she said context.)

    • My Crappy House

      Yeah, you are! I believe I can arrange a peephole post. I think that has a lot of potential to help peephole… Maybe I’ll try to get it together for Halloween. It’s especially useful for those who don’t want to answer the door for children begging for candy…

      Hey, it’s nice to freaking be back!

  • Barbara H.

    Yes, I can testify to the importance of putting tape on the glass before painting, because I didn’t and the paint is still there on the glass taunting me after several years. It’s the door I don’t use that was kicked in by marauding thieves – well, not this actual door but the prior one which is why this new one needed painting. Peep holes are easy but a tutorial helps. Of course, your beautiful door is now fronted by the porch that might need painting? Sorry….

    • My Crappy House

      Oh no. Freaking marauders! I’m sorry those jerks kicked your door in. I hope the police got them. (Or karma does…) I think I will do a peephole post. I don’t think I will do a painting the porch post though. I kind of dig the weathered pressure treated wood look. Maybe I’ll stain it one day. I don’t know. It could happen…

  • Trollopian

    Ooooh, I went through the color mockups early in the post and thought “I hope she picks the orange!” You didn’t. You picked the aqua. I gotta say it looks terrific, both outside and in; and now you can get an enormous pumpkin which will look stunning against the gray and the white and the aqua and which wouldn’t have “popped” (that word again) at all against an orange door. Excellent choice. The doormat is divine.

    • My Crappy House

      Orange would’ve been cool too! But I kind of like having the door compliment the colors inside and I literally have nothing orange at all in my house. Except for my husband’s Islander jersey… (Go, Islanders!) I should pick up a pumpkin. Or maybe some gourds. I love those weirdo gourds…

  • Lisa Garber

    We moved into our retirement home in January. It’s a brick ranch with a hipped roof and a glossy red front door. It also has a tall flag pole on the front lawn. I deduced that the former owners were patriotic Trump supporters. Turns out, I was right. The fact that I studied at Oxford and fell in love with “Oxford blue” is the reason I will follow your directions when I paint the door. Not that I am a Democrat, mind you.

    • My Crappy House

      Ahh, Oxford Blue is a fine choice. My mother was lobbying hard for a red door, but I wanted something more unusual. If your house is red brick, then I think the blue will look much better than red. I also wouldn’t mind my own flagpole. I’m a little jealous. You can fly the Jolly Roger…

  • Pamela Bergmann

    The door looks so good with that color and your gray siding. I’m into brighter colors like red or deep blue and have painted many an exterior door. It’s such an accomplishment when you finally finish! Thanks for the post; good to have your back!

    • My Crappy House

      My mom really wanted me to paint my front door red. It would’ve looked great, I’m sure, but I really wanted a color that tied into my color palette inside. I love that an inexpensive, easy DIY can make such a big impact. It’s very satisfying!

  • Joan

    Looks great! I was hoping you’d pick blue and you did! (Just not the color I was expecting). Love the new doorbell and welcome mat (though, I might feel bad about wiping my feet on that cute kitty…)

    • My Crappy House

      Yeah, it’s a little sad stepping on his face, but walking up the steps and seeing his face makes me smile every time I come home meow

  • Julie

    First, I got sidetracked while reading this and am now on the hunt for a Ron Swanson clean/dirty magnet, thanks!

    It looks great! I love that color, both from the inside and out!

    We recently had our house painted and had the [metal] front door painted as well. They for some dumb reason picked flat for a dark navy door. Insanity. So we had them come back and changed the finish to satin (I’m not sure why they didn’t go with gloss since it’s superior but it is what it is at this point). Anyways, so now our front door has 4!! coats of paint on it and we can’t close and lock it properly and it’s really difficult to open it back up.

    Tl/dr don’t put 4 coats of paint on your front door haha.

    • My Crappy House

      Oh no! That’s a lot of coats. It’s very frustrating when a door (that formerly worked) won’t close. I didn’t include this in my post because it was already getting so long, but the new hinges I bought for mine were SLIGHTLY thicker than the old ones and I didn’t notice. I switched them all out and the door would no longer close. I tried chiseling the frame to set them deeper, but that didn’t work, so I painted my old hinges black and reinstalled them. Super annoying!

      Also, I am perpetually sidetracked. If I ever wrote an autobiography, I would call it “My Sidetracked Life”.

  • Frances

    Love it and love the color! Been meaning to repaint our front door since it has decided to be a-peeling in a few spots. However, picking a color has stalled the project into a proper hiatus for the time being. Then there’s the shutters that would need to be repainted, too. Ugh.

  • Katherine Davies

    Missed this post, too, which I gleaned from reading the peephole post – but we were in Paris for a couple of days so that’s my excuse. I have wooden panel doors and one was left in the original stain and the other painted by the previous owner. I haven’t a clue as to why he painted it because four years later it’s peeling and needs repainting. In some ways that’s fine with me as I want to change the color and now I have your tutorial to help me! Thank you – this is great, and so helpful, if my schmoopy and I can just agree on a color!

    • My Crappy House

      I’m glad I can help! As for color, just pick it and tell him he agreed to it. “Remember? We talked about it and you said OK…”

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