Sand, Prime, Plastic
Not just any paint will stand up to desktop abuse. For longevity, use a durable product, such as plastic-enamel paint. As the name suggests, plastic enamel dries plastic-like or hard, making it scratch-resistant. It's easier to apply than epoxy resin -- another hard-drying finish -- but trickier to use than standard paint. Follow the manufacturer's recommendations for everything, from ventilation and cleanup to temperature and humidity, for the best results. Sand with medium-grit sandpaper to remove deep scratches, and then use fine-grit for an even finish. Apply a suitable primer before applying plastic-enamel paint using a roller or brush. Opt for a color that works with your decor and tie in the desk chair by painting its legs the same hue, if desired.
Let There Be Leather
No matter how deep the scratches, a leather cover is like a face-lift for your desk. Spray adhesive is your go-to for this project. Spray the backside of the leather, place it on the desk smoothly, and secure it with decorative tacks or nailhead trim around the edges. Leather comes in numerous colors or tints. Wink to traditional decor with traditional or natural leather tones -- tan, buff, buckskin. If you're going for a more contemporary vibe, opt for leather with a pigmented topcoat -- red, green, blue, black or white, for example. Semi-aniline or protected leather offers durability, and the hide's grain helps camouflage future scratches.
Artsy Undercover Top
A creative way to cover a scratched desk is with a collage of artwork, photos, old maps, wallpaper or magazine pages. But, obviously, paper isn't going to hold up for long under the desk's computer or even lightweight objects. Decoupage creates a more durable surface, but also, often a somewhat lumpy one -- not ideal as a writing or work surface. Go ahead and lay out an artsy collage on the desktop, and then cover it with durable, 1/4-inch-thick glass -- cut to size and finished with smooth edges. You don't need glue; the glass's weight should keep it and the art in place. If you find that the glass slides or shifts, however, place a small, clear, rubber disc underneath it near each corner.
Quick, Easy, Efficient
You have ways to hide desktop scratches without lifting a paintbrush, packing the desk outside for ventilation from glue or paint fumes, or even having to do much thinking, for that matter. These options include a marble or granite slab held in place by its own weight; 1/4-inch-thick, gray, bronze or frosted glass; a tablecloth on a nonslip mat or fitted with elastic corners; quality shelf paper; or a nonslip, frosted or colored desk mat. Each of these simple covers hides existing scratches, reduces future ones, and is washable.