Contact paper is a type of vinyl-coated paper with a pressure-sensitive adhesive backing that can be applied to flat surfaces to decorate, protect, cover, or line them. Since the paper is quite affordable and waterproof, it is commonly used for lining drawers and shelves in the kitchen.
With a huge variety and patterns available in the market, you can also use them on countertops, walls, or furniture to add a pop of color and pattern.
I once painted my friend’s contact paper cabinets in his apartment’s bathroom, and the overall project worked pretty well. The paint colors on the cabinet shelves and doors were bright and held up well to repeated cleaning.
The process, however, wasn’t straightforward as contact paper needs careful preparation before painting so that the paint adheres properly.
Can Contact Papers Be Painted Over?
Technically, you can paint over contact paper, but only after the quality primer-sealer has been applied. Because then only you will get a perfect paintable surface that can adhere to oil or latex paints.
There are standard contact papers that are used on walls and wardrobes. Then there is fabric-based contact paper which is usually used on expensive furniture. Also, there are clear or transparent contact papers used for decorating glass surfaces.
Each type of paper will require a specific kind of primer, such as oil-based primer, water-based stain-killing primer, white-pigmented shellac primer, etc., to help the paint adhere better.
Also, to ensure success with the project, it’s essential to avoid using chemical-based paint that may react chemically with the plastic and seep into the seams, which can dissolve and weaken the glue causing the paper to peel off.
How to Prep and Paint the Contact Paper Surface?
As we have seen, painting over contact paper is possible, but it requires specific steps and patience to be followed correctly. Here is a detailed guide on how to proceed so you do not ruin your contact paper.
Step 1- Clean and Score
Start by ensuring the contact paper is clean and free of dirt or debris; otherwise, the primer and paint will not adhere properly.
Cleaning the contact paper is easy as it only needs a sponge dampened with soapy water; wipe the paper and let the surface dry.
Once the contact paper is clean, use a putty knife or any other sharp object to score the surface lightly. This will roughen up the smooth paper where the primer and paint can stick better.
Step 2- Prime Contact Paper
Remember, the success of the adhesion of the paint to contact paper will depend on how well you prime it. So do not try to skip this step; choose the primer sealer wisely and apply it patiently.
Use a brush or roller to apply an even primer layer over the entire surface and allow it to dry completely for at least two hours before painting.
Step 3- Paint Over the Contact Paper
Once you are sure that the primer has dried completely, you can start painting over the glued contact paper surface.
I would generally suggest using acrylic paints on contact papers. Not only it’s cheap and straightforward to apply, but the available bright colors will help transform the space naturally.
Paint the entire surface with a brush or roller to ensure the same color is used throughout, including the seams and joints. You can even try a sponge to paint creatively. Just make sure that you apply it in thin, even coats and allow the paint to dry thoroughly.
Can you use chalk paint over contact paper?
Chalk paint usually works best on porous surfaces. Since the vinyl-based contact paper is smooth and not absorbent, it’s good to avoid using chalk paint or chalkboard paint over it. If you do so, the paint will not adhere correctly to the surface, eventually peeling off, or can easily be wiped away while cleaning.
Do You Need to Put a Sealer Over the Contact Paper?
Applying a clear topcoat is not necessary after the paint has dried on the contact paper because the material is already waterproof. However, it’s recommended if you want to protect the vibrant colors of the paint and make the paper last longer without worrying about the seams and edges peeling up.
Mod Podge (all-in-one glue), water-based polyurethane, and clear acrylic are some suitable options that can be used to seal and protect the contact paper surface.
Among all, water-based polyurethane with a gloss finish is what I recommend most. It’s a bit pricey but is worth the money as it protects surfaces from moisture, scratches, and even fading due to sunlight.
Using a paintbrush or roller, apply a thin layer of clear sealer (or any other topcoat for the purpose) and wait for it to dry completely before using the surface again.
Will Contact Paper Take Off the Paint When Removed?
If ever needed, the easiest way to remove contact paper is to use a putty knife or razor blade to peel it away slowly. If the paper is old or has been on the surface for a long time, use a heat gun or hair dryer to soften the adhesive before peeling it away.
Fortunately, contact papers, removable wallpapers, wall stickers, or wall decals do not ruin the paint when removed. If you remove them gently, they come off quickly without taking the underneath paint along.
Moreover, if you are not removing them all at once and leaving some patches here and there, they will not damage the paint either and can be painted over.
But be aware – although you can spray paint over contact adhesive, it is not recommended. The reason is that the contact adhesive will eventually break down, and the paint will start to peel off.
Removing the contact adhesive by sanding and scouring the surface is better. Then clean and prime the surface before you apply the paint.
Is Peel and Stick Wallpaper the Same as Contact Paper?
Peel and stick wallpapers are very similar to contact paper. Both are vinyl-based materials (with a decorative front surface and adhesive backing) that can be applied to a surface in a few easy steps.
The critical difference is that peel-and-stick wallpaper is designed to be pasted on vertical surfaces like walls. In contrast, contact paper is chiefly used on horizontal surfaces like countertops or shelves.
However, if required, you can use contact paper on your walls for temporary decoration, just like wallpapers – thanks to its relatively lower cost and non-permanent adhesiveness.
The other main difference is that peel-and-stick wallpaper is thicker than contact paper. This makes the wallpapers more durable and better suited for high-traffic areas like entryways and hallways.
|Contact Paper||Peel and Stick Wallpaper|
|Thin paper that is very easy to remove||Thicker paper that’s removable but not very easily|
|Mostly for horizontal surfaces||Designed for vertical wall surfaces|
|Generally waterproof due to vinyl coating||Generally, it’s not waterproof|
|BPA-free and cost less||BPA-free but costs more|
|Last for a few years if installed correctly and cared for||Relatively more durable if installed correctly and cared for|
The Bottom Line
Contact paper is an affordable and temporary solution to refresh your home décor, safeguard surfaces, and add a stylish finish to old furniture. This inexpensive and easy-to-work paper is a popular choice for various DIY projects thanks to its different sizes, shapes, patterns, colors, and styles.
The added advantage is that you can customize and prolong the life of contact paper by painting over it. However, the success of the paint job relies on how well you clean, prime, and paint the paper.
Cleaning and working with this paper might be easy, but a few mistakes can lead to an awful result. So be sure to take your time and enjoy the process while following the above steps meticulously to achieve desirable results.
Jack Luis is a semi-retired painter who loved painting his clients’ ideas on their walls.
He had worked as a painter for over a decade serving customers in areas such as Charleston, Mount Pleasant, Beaufort, and Georgetown, SC (South Carolina). Today in his free time, he likes to read and write about the newer techniques implemented in his profession. You may read more about him here or get in touch with him here.