I have been testing different magnetic paints to find what products, or combinations of products, work the best for different applications, and I’d like to share some tips.
Magnetic paint is essentially iron filings in a paint primer and it’s been around for a long time. The idea behind it is that you can use magnets instead of nails to decorate or get organized. With a few coats of magnetic paint/primer and then a topcoat with your color selection, you’ll be ready to hang picture frames, posters, art, decorations and collections – really almost anything – on your walls. Magnets are easy to move around so it lets you create, and recreate, amazing photo walls, get organized vertically, and decorate your space in ways you never thought possible. You can just reposition items until you get them just the way you want them, and there aren’t any holes to fill so you don’t have to repaint when you want to redecorate.
I have used magnetic paint in the past, but have been very frustrated by it because I couldn’t find any magnets that held on with much strength. I was all excited about the concept but then was frustrated because I wasted a bunch of time painting and the magnets could barely hold themselves to the wall, much less a photo or frame.
But here I am trying magnetic paint again because I have found some new super strong magnets that actually hold really well on magnetic paint. They’re called Polymagnets and you can purchase them on Amazon.com. I’m really excited about magnetic paint again – I think it’s going to really change the way people decorate their home, apartment, dorm, offices, retail stores and more.
Here are tips and techniques I’ve figured out on how to best apply magnetic paint because, like me, I think people are going to be inspired to paint whole rooms and houses with it.
Pre-Mixed vs. Additive
Magnetic paint comes as a pre-mixed primer and ready to paint on the walls (after a good stirring), or as an additive made from iron filings that you add to any regular paint primer. If you add the iron filings to a white primer it will tint it grey but still provide a light colored base/primer coat. The pre-mixed comes in both water-based and oil-based and is usually dark grey in color. Both can provide the same result but I prefer the additive approach because I can add as much as I want to increase the concentration of the iron filings which lets me reduce the number of coats I need to paint. Plus, you can add the additive to any color primer so you can get close to the color of your topcoat which makes it easier to cover.
Here are all the magnetic paint additives that I have found, which are simply iron filings. All of these appear to be exactly the same and all are available online.
- Magically Magnetic Additive from lyt.com
- Iron100 from ChemicalStore.com
- Magnetic Paint additive from Bloxshop
Here are all the “pre-mixed” magnetic paints that I have found on the market:
- Magnetic Primer from Rust-Oleum
- On the shelves at Lowe’s and Home Depot and available online
- MagnaMagic ActiveWall from Visual Magnetics
- Available at Sherwin Williams’ commercial stores or mail order it via the MagnaMagic website
- Magic Wall from Kling Magnetics
- Available online
Getting enough magnetic paint on the wall is the key to success.
The more iron filings on your wall, the better a magnet sticks to it, and there are two ways to achieve this: paint thicker coats or paint more coats. So, let’s talk about the pros and cons of the different approaches.
I prefer the additive mixed into regular primer over pre-mixed magnetic paint because I can increase the concentration of iron filings. I have gotten magnets to hold really well with only two coats on the wall, though sometimes it requires more, where as pre-mixed magnetic paints often require four or more coats to get enough iron filings on the wall to have a magnet hold well.
If you are planning on using an additive and are up for increasing the concentration, my recommendation is to use up to a 2:1 ratio of primer to iron filings by volume. In other words, mix up to two quarts of additive (which is 16 lbs. if you’re buying it by weight) with each gallon of primer. This is twice what I’ve seen recommended from manufacturers and, as I said, it does make it harder to paint with. You’ll find you will have to do some smoothing in places with your roller, a brush, or even a trowel, putty knife, or your fingers. You want your magnetic paint to have the consistency of, at most, a thick batter, but not so thick that it’s sludgy or like plaster. If you make it too thick you can always add more primer to thin it out. One gallon of a 2:1 mixture should allow you to paint two coats (which should be enough) over 150 sq. ft. of wall space. And you should get good magnetic holding power with Polymagnets with two coats that you then cover with one or two coats of topcoat.
For pre-mixed magnetic paint, I prefer the ActiveWall and Magic Wall products because they come in gallon cans and are water-based, so they clean up pretty easy. The Rust-Oleum magnetic paint only comes in 30 oz. containers, which is fine for painting a small area but it isn’t going to be very efficient for painting a room, hallway or staircase. It also has a strong smell of solvent and requires paint thinner to clean up so it’s not as easy to use as the water-based products.
Regardless of the type of magnetic paint you use, make sure to stir (not just shake) very well before each use because the heavy iron filings want to settle to the bottom. The goal is to make sure there aren’t clumps of iron filings on the bottom of the bucket and that the paint has a consistent feel to it. Remember to stir between applications as well, and if you’re using a roller, stir the magnetic paint before adding more to the tray.
Equipment and Tips
Primer: I’ve been adding the iron filings additive to Zinsser Bulls Eye 1-2-3 Water-Base Primer, but any should work.
Bucket: You’ll want to use a bucket if you use an additive because you’ll need plenty of room to add the additive to the primer and be able to stir well.
Roller: I’ve found that a thinner foam roller works better than a regular roller. I use a 1/4-inch closed-cell foam roller. I didn’t have good experiences with fiber or higher napped rollers as the iron filings get trapped and don’t go on smoothly.
Stirrer: For stirring, you can use a stir stick and stir by hand or buy a paint mixer attachment for an electric drill.
Amount of paint: How much magnetic paint do you need? Don’t just measure the size of your walls to calculate the amount of magnetic paint you’re going to use, because you don’t have to paint a whole wall with magnetic paint – just the areas you plan on hanging things. Sometimes I paint a wall from my knees to above my head, and not all the way to the doors, windows or corners, because I’m not expecting to want to hang picture frames or anything else so high, low or close to the edges. In other rooms, I’ve painted to almost the top of the wall if we want the option to hang higher on the walls (great for holiday lights). Keep in mind though, that magnetic paint does add some texture to your walls, so if you start with smooth drywall and don’t paint the entire wall, it will leave a discernable line. If your wall has a medium to heavy texture on it already, you should be able to fan out the edges of the area you prime and blend it into the rest of the unprimed wall.
Clean walls: Before you start painting with any kind of paint it’s good to be sure your wall is clean. Paint won’t adhere as well to dirt, grease, leftover wallpaper paste and other stuff. Wipe down your walls and let them dry thoroughly.
Drop cloths: Painting a wall with magnetic paint – like any painting – is messy. So you’ll want to tape off your trim, put down drop cloths and wear the right clothes.
Test Walls with Polymagnets After Each Coat
Before you start any magnetic paint project, it’s really important to have some of the right magnets on hand, because you’re going to want to test your walls in between each coat of magnetic primer to see if they’re strong enough to hold the kinds of things you’re going to want to put on them. I recommend putting a piece of paper towel on the wall under the magnet you are testing as it might pull off some of the magnetic paint if it is not completely dry.
The worst thing that can happen is that you find that you don’t have enough iron filings on the wall, and your magnets therefore don’t have the strength to hold what you want, after you have painted your topcoat. Keep in mind that adding the topcoat(s) will reduce the strength of the magnetic attraction to the wall a little bit.
Use the Right Magnets
The only magnets I’ve found that work well on magnetic paint are the Polymagnets, which are not only super strong, but also have a grippy surface on them that doesn’t slide down a painted wall and protects the wall from scratches. They come in packages of four magnets with double-sided tape you can attach to the four corners of a picture frame, or with a hook to hold up a frame’s picture hanging wire.
And, as weird is this may sound, don’t use these Polymagnets on metal, like your refrigerator. The magnetic attraction is so strong that they are really, really hard to get off, and if you do try them on metal, like I did, use a plastic paint scraper to try to get under it and get it off. If you use something metal like a knife or screwdriver, you might make a scratch.
Once your magnetic primer is as strong as you want and it’s thoroughly dry, you can use some fine grit sandpaper and take down any rough parts on your wall. I’ve heard some people use a Scotch Brite green scrub pad but I haven’t tried it. Be careful to not take off too much of the iron filings because, again, your magnets won’t stick as well.
Let’s also talk about clean up. I don’t like the idea of putting magnetic paint down the sink or tub drain because the iron filings are heavy and might build up in the curve of the pipes. When I use the water-based paints and primers I clean my rollers and tray outside with a hose on gravel. Oil-based versions can be cleaned with paint thinner and mineral spirits and the unused paint should be stored for future use or allowed dry out and/or be disposed of at your local hazardous waste facility.
Now, it’s time to paint with topcoat. You may need two coats to cover the magnetic primer depending on the color of your topcoat. Flat paints work better than glossy because the finish is not as smooth/slick and will have more friction to keep the magnets from sliding.
Get Ready to Decorate!
After all your satisfyingly hard work, your magnetic paint is on your walls, and it’s time to get to the fun part – decorating! I’m putting together some more videos and blog posts on how to decorate with magnetic paint, and I’d also love to hear from you about things you’ve done with it. Creativity inspires the creative!