How To Paint Shiplap Walls & What To Avoid

how to paint shiplap walls

Shiplap walls are one of my favourite ways to elevate an interior, they add depth to the space and deliver an ultra stylish, and timeless finish to a wall.

There’s no denying it can be a great way to line walls, but if shiplap panelling isn’t fitted properly, and it isn’t painted correctly, it quickly becomes one of the worst interior design decisions.

If you’re serious about adding shiplap to your interiors, this is what you need to do to avoid your shiplap cracking, exposing knots or moving, and ultimately how to paint shiplap walls, delivering a beautiful finish that can be admired for years to come with minimal upkeep.

The Pros and Cons of Shiplap

Committing to shiplap comes with less flexibility than just a paint colour, so it’s important to look at the pros and cons of shiplap in your interiors before you start fitting it.

Shiplap is personally one of my favourite coverings to add to an interior, but we’ve learnt the hard way what can go seriously wrong with it if adequate prep and installing isn’t prioritised in the process.

Pros of Shiplap

  • Easily conceals damaged walls
  • Has long been used as a way to keep heat in, and protect walls from damp
  • It looks amazing, and is a timeless finish to add to any wall
  • Works with a range of decor schemes from coastal inspired to farmhouse style
  • It’s much more inexpensive than pre-cut mdf panels
  • Easy to install, and it can be fitted vertically or horizontally depending on your design needs
  • Colour can easily be changed when required

Cons of Shiplap

  • It easily moves, expands and contracts with heat and exposes joints if installed incorrectly (this is why paint can look cracked)
  • If not primed or treated the knots will expose themselves, requiring frequent re-painting
  • Can require constant painting touch ups if not installed/prepped correctly
  • A magnet for dust, and not the easiest surface to keep free of it
how to paint shiplap walls

Shiplap In The Bathroom

The good news is that shiplap panelling can be used in the bathroom too! In fact, it’s one of my favourite places to use shiplap as it’s perfect for concealing damaged walls, and it can create a gorgeously modern, farmhouse style bathroom.

Of course, bathrooms are subject to a lot of moisture and humidity so the paint you use on the shiplap in the bathroom is going to be slightly different to other rooms.

Always make sure you choose moisture resistant mdf shiplap too. We primed the shiplap for the bathroom in the exact same way as the bedroom with a knot block wood primer.

We then chose a specific easycare bathroom paint which is targeted for high moisture rooms. This will help to retain the integrity of the paint over time, and protect it from developing damp or mould. Check our our farmhouse style bathroom remodel below!

shiplap bathroom

How To Paint Shiplap Walls

From experience, shiplap walls can look incredible and stand the test of time in an interior. But the prepping and painting process is absolutely key to this to ensure that it doesn’t lead to exposed joints that look like cracks, and exposed knots in the wood that need to be constantly covered up.

Paint shiplap before or after installing?

This is entirely down to personal preference and space. If you have the space, it’s always best to prime and paint beforehand so you don’t end up with grooves that are full of paint.

However, if space is a premium it can still be painted after it has been installed. Just ensure you use painters tape to help with cutting in, and use a paint brush to ensure the grooves are covered, but not full of excess paint.

Do I need to prime shiplap before painting?

If you buy unprimed shiplap (raw wood) then it will need to be primed before painting. A standard wall paint primer won’t cut it here, you need to use a wood specific primer such as a knot block wood primer and undercoat.

Skipping this process will lead to exposed knots in the wood later down the line that will require constant touch ups.

A good knot block primer is worth the money and once painted in your chosen colour, no additional ongoing maintenance will be required.

What is the best paint to use on shiplap?

Preparation is key, always use a knot block wood primer beforehand. Once it’s primed properly you can use most types of standard wall emulsion paint, matte paint is one of the most popular paints to use on shiplap, or eggshell which has a slight sheen to it. For modern interiors, matte paint is always the better option. And as far as colours go, any paint shade really does look amazing on shiplap.

My only reservation when it comes to paint colours on shiplap is using a bright white shade on shiplap. Whilst white shiplap walls can look amazing in certain settings like a bathroom, just be prepared that this shade will show every inch of dust imperfection and mark it comes into contact with.

I’d personally recommend that two coats of paint are used on shiplap, especially if you are painting mdf shiplap which you have to prime yourself.

how to paint shiplap walls

Should you use a brush or roller to paint shiplap?

The best, and quickest way to paint shiplap walls is to use a roller, you can then use a small brush to cut in and ensure the shiplap joints are adequately painted with no excess.

If it’s just a small area, i.e halfway panelling above a kitchen sink, then painting the whole thing with a small paintbrush is much easier, and it will give a much neater finish too.

Painting shiplap with a sprayer is another solution, it delivers a fine and perfect finish but the costs of getting a sprayer are significantly more than just using a standard roller/paint combo.

How To Paint Shiplap Cracks

Painting over shiplap cracks is concealing a problem that actually shouldn’t exist. Cracks don’t just appear on the paint, this is a sign that the joints have become exposed, causing that tell take crack down the joint.

The reason these cracks (exposed joints) appear is because shiplap panelling has very little flexibility to move.

You may notice that these cracks appear worse in the summer. This is because when it becomes hot the wood starts to contract and move out of shape, when this happens it causes the joints to become exposed, hence causing the cracks.

So, yes these cracks can temporarily just be painted over with a paintbrush. But it will only reveal the cracks again at a later date. If you choose to do this you should wait until the temperatures are more ambient which allows the wood to contract back.

Painting the cracks won’t stop them appearing as it’s likely to do with the way it has been installed, if it’s been glued to the wall and not put onto a structure, then this is likely why you’re having these issues.

So, the initial prep work before priming is also imperative to getting a beautiful finish on your shiplap that won’t require constant maintenance.

How to clean shiplap

Shiplap is a magnet for dust so it does require regular cleaning. The best way to do this is by simply using a damp micro fibre cloth to rub over the shiplap. This is great for picking up the dust, whilst it won’t affect the integrity of the paint.

Shiplap remains one of my favourite ways to elevate walls in a home, I’d pretty much have it in every room if I could! It especially works well in bathrooms and bedrooms.

As long as you nail the install and priming process without skipping any steps, you shouldn’t run into any issues with your shiplap further down the line. What do you think of shiplap panelling? Have I missed out any tips?

Photo of author


Nicole Sage

Nicole Sage is the founder of Sleek-chic Interiors and is a highly experienced interiors writer and skilled home renovator who has a passion for all things design. She has been featured as an authority at Pinterest, Ideal Home, Daily Mail and in countless other interviews. For 8 years, Nicole has written, observed key interior trends, renovated and undertaken interior short courses at the renown KLC school where she has gained her grounding interior design principles. With a keen eye for detail and a love of creativity, she shares her expertise on the latest interior trends, practical DIY tutorials, and styling inspiration to help others transform their homes into stunning spaces. With a commitment to delivering informative and engaging content, Nicole inspires and empowers readers to explore their own unique sense of style and create beautiful, personalised interiors. Contact her at for interiors advice, colour questions and any commentary.

Leave a Comment