Pricing for Painted Versus Stained Cabinet Finish

Painting involves additional steps, and can cost more than staining. October 27, 2009

I recently was asked to bid on a kitchen with painted cabinets. I've done numerous stained jobs before but have no experience with paint in either pricing or product. Any help would be much appreciated.

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor K:
Why not get an estimate from a painter as to how much they would do it for, and use that estimate as a starting place? If you don't know how to paint I would strongly suggest subbing it out anyhow. Painting is a PITA with no experience.

From contributor P:
Hand brushed or sprayed? Inside or just the faces? Oil or latex? Sorry forget to ask - do you have the proper equipment to spray or the ability to brush? Or do they just want paint and donít care what it looks like?

From contributor S:
We finish our cabinets in-house. I used to pass on the painting, but now I do it for the obvious reason of trying to stay busy. The cost to paint seems about the same as stained cabinets. The paint grade materials are cheaper, but painting is more time consuming. One thing to watch out for is the scuff sand paper or pads. If you scuff stain grade cabinets with paper that was used on painted cabinets you may not notice until the next coat goes on, then you are screwed.

From contributor B:
I charge approximately 10% more for changing cabinets to paint grade from an economically priced stain grade specie. I don't actually use paint, I use a tinted vinyl base with a conversion varnish clear coat. If you are going to get it right, you will need to spend more time with it. Issues such as what to do with the nail holes, etc. need to be addressed. Touchups are more difficult.

From the original questioner:
Contributor K - I have not yet been able to find someone able to do a spray finish in the area that is willing to do the work. As far as interior, exterior and frameless I do have the equipment and space as I generally use precat lacquer over wiping stain using an HVLP gun.

Contributor S - I've learned to be very careful not to mix prep materials etc. I owned a body and paint shop for over ten years and much of the experience is transferable. Thank goodness for the experience! Thanks to all for the input.

From contributor B:
Oh, by the way, I definitely recommend not using outsourcing for this aspect of the job, unless you completely know and trust your vendor to do at least as good or better job than you. I never let the homeowner or contractor do their own finish or paint work on the cabinetry or millwork I supply unless they use a person or company pre-approved by me, and I have some stringent standards for approval, of which few painters pass the test. There is more than one reason for this - your reputation, your warranty, etc (unless, of course, you don't care too much about the finished appearance).

From contributor O:
I am doing quite a bit of it right now. Actually right now all my current work is painted jobs. Iím doing a beaded face frame kitchen with two different colors and then I am doing a bunch of smaller jobs that are all painted also. I use a pigmented lacquer material - lacquer based only with the paint pigment mixed in. It works great as the customer gets a paint chip they like and then I take it to my supplier and get a lacquer made in the same color. It works great for high wear areas also. I charge a 15% upgrade over staining for the darker colors and 25% for the lighter colors because it usually takes an extra coat. That percentage is just on finishing as I figure out the cabinet material in my cabinet pricing. In the end though for painted cabinets it comes out to the same price as oil based wiping stain on cherry or maple.

From contributor G:
The last cabinets I built were painted with oil-based, high-gloss enamel, with lots of light sources that provided plenty of reflections. I primed the cabinets with a matching colored primer so that a chip in the topcoat might not be as noticeable. I used maple as the customer did not want any grain showing through the paint. Oil-based paint takes a long time to dry, so cleanliness and overspray can be serious issues.

I also used a product that I'm sure you're familiar with - the putty that looks like toothpaste that fills small voids in Bondo and also fills sanding marks. I can't think of the name, but it works on primed wood the same as Bondo'd/primed steel. As contributor A alluded to, a glossy paint job will show every imperfection in your work and/or the material itself - just like a car. All stile and rail joints will eventually crack through. Your customer needs to know these things ahead of time.

All told, I would guess that I spent ten times as much time painting those cabinets as I would have had I stained them. That includes on-site painting of the boxes, elaborate crown moulding, chair rail, sanding, sanding, sanding, etc. I don't claim to be a painter, but the job turned out really nice.

From the original questioner:
Thanks for the great input everyone. I just talked to my paint sales rep about this and he mentioned that one of his other customers is upcharging $100 per running foot for uppers and the same for lowers $200/ft total)! I will probably use a tinted lacquer as I am most familiar with it, the primers, fillers, and etc. unless my rep has a suggestion for a harder finish. I prefer to pre-finish before assembly and at least there are no face frames joints to worry about cracking. I think I now have a pretty good idea what to consider in my bid and the customer is well aware of the issues with the finish etc. Somewhere in there I should find an acceptable price for both of us.

From contributor U:
Figure what you would charge for stained. Now add the cost of the paint and about 20%, for the extra work involved. People are always amazed that it costs more for painting than staining, then I explain all the extra work involved. I guess they think I'm going to drag out the roller and brushes and a can of latex wall paint.