Painting wood-grain on cabinets calls for a base-coat, one or two layers of ink, and a sealer to protect the ink. A glaze may even be used to shadow or soften the inking effect.
First the laminate must be prepared so all these products will adhere properly.
Clean the surfaces so the primer will stick. A weak solution of trisodium phosphate, Simple Green, or your favorite cleaner and water will do fine. If possible, remove the doors, hinges and handles. This will make the job go faster and look more professional. Apply the cleaner twice, about five minutes apart to allow the product to loosen up the dirt. Then rinse well and let dry.
Sand all the surfaces lightly with 220 (or so) grit sandpaper. This step doesn’t require a lot of elbow grease. Try to contact all the areas at least once. The goal here is not to leave any shiny spots.
Dust everything with a damp towel or a rag moistened with alcohol. A dust free job is a beautiful thing.
Prime the plastic laminate with a quality primer/sealer/bonder. The oil-based ones will usually have the best durability when painting plastic. We like XIM’s Bonder Primer or Bin’s alcohol-based primer. The proper latex primers aren’t bad; they just aren’t quite as good as the oil-based ones. (As of this writing)
Once the plastic has been primed the base coat for the graining can be applied. A short nap disposable three-inch roller is ideal for a quick smooth finish.
After the base coat dries you’ll be ready to ink on the graining. There are tools for applying the ink with a very realistic grain. First blot ink in a moderate pattern on the surface. Then draw the tool from one end to the other slowly changing its angle to the surface.
You’ll have plenty of time for experimenting because the ink stays wet up to 45 minutes. If the color seems too light, blot more ink on the door and redraw the grain with the tool. Do the same if it is too dark, by wiping some of the ink off the surface and redraw the grain.
You don’t have to use a graining tool. Thanks to my mother I learned to use hunks of carpeting and stiff old paintbrushes to produce different styles of wood grain. A good tip is don’t look too close to your work. Once it’s done and viewed as a complete project it’ll look great. Some of my best graining was done fast and without a care.
Once the graining is done the surface will require one or two coats of sealer to protect the ink. Without it the ink will wear off where ever the cabinets are handled. Usually I spray the first coat so the ink isn’t melted and ruined by brushing on a sealer. Then apply the second coat and your white kitchen is now a woody.
To do countertops, prep with the same process but finish with an epoxy finish. A two-part product is usually the hardest of available finishes, but it will still be not nearly as hard as the original plastic laminate. It may buy you time to save up for new countertops.
The procedure of inking over a painted surface to make it look like wood is an old one. In fact it is still very popular on new steel and fiberglass entrance doors to make them look like wood.