8 tips for how to use acrylic paint

8 tips for how to use acrylic paintI am a long time user of acrylic craft paint. I pretty much paint every Mod Podge project before the Podge goes on, and I use it on projects that I don’t decoupage as well. If I can get away with using acrylic, even on a furniture re-do, I will. Why? Because it’s easy to use and it’s non-toxic. It’s inexpensive and clean up is simple.

I’ve been thinking about my most important tips for decorating a project with craft paint, and I thought I would share them. Hopefully these can help you, especially if you are making home decor projects that need to look fabulous. These are my top tips for how to use acrylic paint.

1. Choose the right type of paint and the right color. Make sure you read the bottle carefully while you are in the store as opposed to just throwing it in the basket. I know the acrylic paint aisle at the craft store has a ton of selection, but you need to look carefully because it’s better than getting the wrong thing and making multiple trips. You should also look at the bottom of a bottle of paint to tell what the color is, rather than the label. While you are looking at the color through plastic, it’s more accurate than the label color because it’s the actual paint.

2. Prepare your surface thoroughly. I’ve found that good surface preparation can make a project. Not preparing a surface can break a project. Here is how you do it:

Wood – Sand smooth with fine grit sandpaper, wipe off sawdust.
Glass – Thoroughly wash in warm, soapy water to remove dirt, dust and grease film. Then rinse in warm water and let it dry.
Canvas – Wipe primed canvas clean; if unprimed, apply 2 coats of gesso primer or acrylic paint.
Plaster – Wipe clean with damp cloth.
Plastic – Clean with soap and water. You will need a special plastic paint though – “regular” acrylic paint doesn’t stick to plastic.
Papier-Mâché – Wipe clean with damp cloth.
Terra Cotta – Wipe clean with damp cloth.
Tin – Wash with soap and water, then wipe with a white vinegar dampened cloth if it’s really dirty.

3. Use good quality brushes and take care of them. It’s important to me to use soft natural bristle or taklon brushes. A cruddy brush will show brushstrokes or leave brush hairs in your project. I have wanted to throw a project across the room because I couldn’t get a brush hair out of it – they are very elusive! Also, wash your brushes between projects and leave them to dry on a paper towel (use your fingers to shape them while they are wet). Well cared for brushes are worth the investment because they will last a long time. The same goes for rollers or sprayers. Don’t scrimp and clean them up throughly afterwards.

4. Don’t put too much paint on your brush. Paint should stay from the tip to the middle of the brush. It’s better to go back and get more paint than to have a ton on the brush. Too much paint can make the brush go wacky and make the paint harder to apply (especially important for detail work). If you need to cover a bigger surface, get a larger brush or use a roller.

5. Consider priming, and definitely basecoat dark items with white. If you don’t, you will spend a lot longer covering an item, and you may not get the adherence of paint or the brightness of color that you are looking for. I recommend using gesso or a highly pigmented white (like FolkArt Titanium White). Kilz is also great if you need a large amount of primer or a product that acts oil-based.

6. Keep water nearby so that you can add it to your brush frequently. Acrylic paint, when put on a palette, tends to dry out somewhat quickly. It’s not THAT quickly, but it’s enough that the paint could start drying while you are painting an item. Don’t thin out the paint too much because you’ll dull the color, but it’s okay to dip your brush into the water and swirl it around into the paint to get it going again.

7. Use a sealer to finish. Acrylic paint has a somewhat chalky feel (well, depending on the finish) without a sealer applied. Some acrylic paints are Satin or Gloss and have a built-sealer, so then you won’t have to add anything on top. If there is no built-in finish, I would use a clear acrylic spray or brush on sealer so that the surface doesn’t scratch easily.

8. Make paint chips. Use cardstock to create “chips,” or small squares that show the colors you have in your stash. That way you know what you have for the next project. Plus, you can take the chips to the store for home decor matching . . . rather than hoofing a table to the fabric store to get those curtains!

Plaid has a great painting education center with more tips and videos. Enjoy – and if there are more questions you have that I can answer, leave them in the comments. I’ll do my best to help you.

PS – my friend Amanda has a great article that includes tips for painting on plastic. Please check it out!

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    Thanks for the really useful tips for paint!! I know all these are really good,I am just bad in cleaning my paint brushes,,because I am tired & Lazy mostly!! Huh

  2. Barb says

    I want to thank you for this article – it’s very helpful! Acrylic paints are the only paints I use in my craft, so it’s good to know these things….thanks again! :-)

  3. Colleen Jorgensen says

    great tips, Amy. I’ll definitely bookmark this page for my readers too!

    One other thing I do to for brushes – I leave a little soap in the brush after cleaning, then shape with my fingers and allow to dry. The soap ‘holds’ a nice shape and brushes last a lot longer :)

  4. Anonymous says

    If you want to paint on plastic , what paint would you suggest ? I know they used to make a paint for plastic but has been discountinued . What would you use instead ?

  5. Jesser says

    These are some good tips. I usually take a bit of the paint and coat the top of the cap for my paint swatch. It makes my colors easier to find too since I store them upright in a basket.

  6. Anonymous says

    great tips! one I do is store my bottles upside down. Doing this allows you to see the color and it keeps the top from becoming clogged with dry paint.
    Works well for me!

  7. Anonymous says

    I put a dot of paint on the lid of each new bottle after its first use and keep them all in a shallow, lidded plastic bin. I can just open it up and see all the lovely shades!

  8. Lynn M. says

    Thanks for the great tips! I’ve been painting with acrylics for several years naow and have a couple other tips that I’ve used and a possible solution for the painting on plastic issue.

    First, I came across this tip years ago for and use it especially for an older bottle of paint that may have been sitting around for a while. Cut a small piece of nylons or panty hose, remove the cap from the bottle and stretch the material over the opening, then screw the cap back on over it. This will help filter out any blobs of paint that may have accumulated while sitting.

    Second, for painting on plastic, I have basically “primed” my surface with some of the “Fusion” for plastic spray paint. Just be sure to use a matte or flat color. Then I painted directly over it with my acrylics. I did this on some plastic flower pots over ten years ago and they are still looking great. I didn’t even bother to seal them and they have been outside ever since.

  9. Anonymous says

    Is it possible to paint a canvas with acrylic paint and use mod podge matte to seal it or would i have to get the spray paint to seal it?

  10. Lindsay says

    Any tips for painting a light color over a dark color? I just put sealer (Triple Thick) over a canvas painting and anywhere I had painted a light color over a dark color the dark color bled through. Thanks!

    • says

      Hi Lindsay, What kind of paint are you using? Typically if the dark paint below is dry with acrylic, you should be able to paint on top with no problem.

    • Lindsay says

      Thanks, Amy! I was using acrylic and I did let it dry. Oh well…I’ll keep experimenting! Maybe I should try sealing with Mod Podge :)

  11. COURTNEY says

    Very useful tips….ill try to care for my brushes better in between projects because i already ruined one :(, but thanks for the tips i use acrylics to paint my wooden jewelry!

  12. says

    i am about to embark on making a shabby chic wooden heart garland for my home, I would like to know whether i will still need a primer for the hearts, they are bought already cut – i will be painting them white and red.

    thank you –

    • says

      Karen, for something so small you don’t need to prep. Even if you have to paint several coats, it won’t take you long – so you COULD prep, but you don’t have to.

  13. Grandma J says

    I used these paints when doing my teracotta pots. My granddaughters started with me at age 3, rather than any other paints, we use acrylics. And I use FINGERS, a child’s finger is perfect for flowers, etc. Pansies are beautiful. Taught the 9 yr old how to ‘clean the brush’ making puff flowers. We take the 4 inch terra pots, paint as a theme and add a Goodwill bought animal that matches paint. Donate to Relay for Life. Everyone wants something painted by a child! I seal all pots with any good brand of clear spray paint. Several layers when using for real plants on the steps. Every couple years reseal.

  14. Dana says

    Can you mix acrylic paint with mod podge to create a colored glaze effect? I am thinking gold or silver paint… Also, have you ever mixed glitter with acrylic paint? Thanks!

  15. says

    Hi Dana! Yes you can definitely do that! and I haven’t mixed glitter with acrylic paint, but you’d probably have issues because the acrylic paint is opaque so it would cover up the glitter. But it’s worth trying!!

  16. Anonymous says

    Hi Amy. I am starting to do my arts and crafts thing again. I was a girl scout troop leader for 7 years (in charge of “creativity”) many years ago. And while I swore off glitter and actually cringe at the very sight of it (;-), I never stopped “creating” things for myself. I am now venturing into the wonderful world of scrap booking and found tiny unfinished wood pieces like stars and clothespins. I am so glad I found you! Your tips are great as I have to paint these little treasures. My question: how can I paint them being they’re so small (1/2 – 3/4 inches) without messing them up! Can I dip them using tweezers? How can I dry them w/o screwing it up!? Help! Thanks for your help and a great site.

  17. The Fritz Family says

    HI, I want to use acrylic paint to paint over a factory printed canvas then I am going to modpodge top it with a design from scrapbook paper and modpodge on top of the whole thing to seal it in good..my question is, can i just paint right over the print or to I need to primer it first?

    • says

      Hi! It depends on how dark the print is. You can use paint, but primer might cover it faster if it’s dark – because primer has more pigment in it 😀

  18. Anonymous says

    I painted a beer mug with acrylics and was wondering if i could put a coat of modge podge gloss over it to seal and make it shiny?

    • says

      Hi Anonymous! If you are wanting to drink out of it (and wash it), you’ll need to use Enamel paints and no Mod Podge. If it’s just decorative, the acrylic is fine, and you can use Mod Podge to make it glossy 😀

  19. says

    Thanks for the tips. I’ve only got in contact with my ‘inner crafty’ the last couple of years! It has been a journey. My FYI is, I paint plastic pots with acrylic paint. Yep. I sand them first (I saw this online), with sand paper from Dollar General, then spray a clear,plastic primer and let dry.

  20. Pam says

    I tried to paint a design on a wooden stool that had been spray painted with a satin finish acrylic. The craft paint didn’t give good coverage…and easily peels off like skin. Do I have to sand it down to bare wood and start over? Any suggestions? I really, really, want this project to work!

    • Amy says

      Hi Pam! Yes, there must have been something in the satin finish acrylic – not sure what paint was used, but yes, you’ll need to sand down. Not to bare wood, but to at least rough up the surface!

  21. says

    I found your blog through google trying to think of a way to “re-color” my heels. I don’t know why I purchased a pair of pink heels. It’s not really my style — maybe I got inspired from looking at someone’s fashion post and thought I could pull it off. I don’t know much about arts & crafts but I was wondering if you could help! My idea sounds like it’ll work in my head, but sometimes they don’t fall through like I planned. I was thinking to use acrylic paint, or some other type of paint, to re-color the leather on my heels black and then possibly using mod podge as a top coat. I don’t think it’s real leather or anything too special since the shoes were very inexpensive, $30 to be exact. I don’t want to leave them sitting in my room anymore collecting dust since they’re a very comfortable pair of shoes! Hopefully your crafty expertise can be of help! :)

  22. says

    It’s one of my favorite types of paint, because it is so versatile and can be used in many different ways to create many different styles of art.yes your tips are really great….

  23. DJEAN1123 says

    I am new at all of this type of crafting, but I have a project in mind and not sure how to proceed. I want to use a canvas and combine both scrapbooking paper and paint to design unique art work. In my mind, I mod podge the paper in place and then after that dries, paint designs, patterns, etc. around and across the canvas.
    Does this sound correct? And if so, is the acrylic paint (Apple barrel, etc) the type paint I should use. If not what kind should I use.
    Thanks for the in put!

    • Amy says

      Hi there! Yes, this would work – You can paint over Mod Podge when it’s completely dry. Acrylic paint will work (Apple Barrel, FolkArt, etc.). How fun!

  24. Natalie says

    I am wanting to decoupage a decorators table that I have and use it as a side table. The top is made of plywood. Do you recommend the acrylic pain to the surface first. I plan on using old wallpaper the size of the top of the table as a backdrop and then putting bright color paper flowers over the wallpaper. Just wanted your thoughts as to which way to go. Thanks

    • says

      Hi Natalie! You don’t HAVE to use paint over plywood – but I always do. If you don’t, sand lightly and wipe away the dust. You don’t want there to be any coating and you want the surface to be smooth and clean.

  25. Rachel says

    Hi! I painted a plywood sign with acrylic paint, and I was wondering if I could use a clear polyurethane sealant over it, or if that would ruin it.

  26. Catherine says

    I’m decorating an old metal teapot using decoupage and acrylic craft paint. Can I thicken up the paint with mod podge so it adheres better and needs fewer coats?

    • says

      Hi Catherine! You can use primer to do that – Mod Podge isn’t intended to be a paint thickener, and because it’s clear it won’t cover better.

  27. Catherine says

    Sorry to bug you again, but what kind or brand of primer should I look for? Thanks in advance!

  28. Tami says

    Hi, was wondering why the acrylic paints (indoor/outdoor)8oz. Bottles become thinner in consistency over time? Why not thicker? Thank-you

  29. Pamela richman says

    I have a pair of metal earrings that are painted from Wal-Mart. The paint has come off of them so I am taking them back. I want to get a new pair and was wondering if I put Mod Podge on them before I wear them, will it keep the paint from coming off? Thanks for your help.

  30. says

    I want to thank you for this article – it’s very helpful! I am a big fan of your blog. I recently have started painting canvas shoes with acrylic paint . But i want to fix the paint, is it ok if I top coat with modpodge and which one of them would u suggest? Also if there is any other thing to fix the paint which I can find in India?? please let me know . It would be great help. Thank you

    • says

      Hi Akanksha! I would use the outdoor Mod Podge on shoes – in multiple thin layers. Unfortunately I’m not quite sure what’s available in India that would also work!

  31. Mikaylaeichman says

    I have painted a canvas with acrylic paint, but I want to put photo prints on the canvas (on top of the paint). What is the best way to get it to stick? Thanks!!

    • says

      If they are “regular” photos with a slick back, then a strong spray adhesive would work best. Otherwise, Mod Podge!

  32. Leila says

    Hi Amy! Your tips are very useful!
    I have two little question (about vinyl material), I hope you can help me :)
    Exactly, how does gesso primer work? Do I have to mix it with water and then use it with a brush, like common paints? I ask you this because I’m worried applying it on a rounded vinyl surface will cause little cracks.
    And, I’ve always heard sealer has to go under the paint, do you think putting it over could give problems? Maybe is there something else I could use to protect a painted vinyl object and prevent it from scratching?
    Thank you!

    • says

      Hi Leila! Gesso primer works by itself – no water required. BUT I’m concerned about putting it on vinyl. Vinyl and acrylic based products typically don’t mix. I’m not quite sure what to do except use a plastic primer and then paint over it . . .

  33. Rebecca says

    I need some help and can’t seem to find an answer anywhere. i have a wooden shape. on the wooden shape i painted a layer of acrylic paint (pink) with no problems. i then placed cut out words made out of contact paper over that. I then painted a layer of white acrylic paint over that. Then, I painted another layer of acrylic paint (brown) over that. When i took off the contact paper to reveal the letters (pink) the brown peeled right off of the white. I’m not sure why it’s doing that or that i can do to fix it :\

    any suggestions?

    • says

      Hi Rebecca – did you let the paint dry thoroughly between layers and before putting the contact paper down? Also what type of acrylic paint was it?

      • Rebecca says

        I did let everything dry. I’m not having a problem with the paint under the contact paper coming up it’s the top layer of brown paint that is peeling off the middle layer of white paint. My white paint is “My Studio” by a.c. moore and my brown is also “My Studio” by a.c.moore.

      • Rebecca says

        I came to the conclusion that it was the white paint. I had painted 3 different projects throughout the weekend with the white below another layer of paint and on all three projects the top coat of the other color peeled right off! I have pictures of all the lovely peeling paint. Needless to say, i won’t be buying ac moore brand acrylic paint….

  34. says

    Hi Amy!
    For about 7 years now I have been aimlessly trying to teach myself how to paint with so~so results. Anyway your guide is perfection, I can’t wait to put these new ideas to work!

    Quick question is there a way to make your own easel?

    • says

      Hi Kalan! Glad you like it! Honestly I have no idea how to make an easel – I would Google it. Sorry I wish I could help you!

  35. says

    Can you give a suggestion of a type of sealer to use on top of acrylic over an unfinished (sanded) wood toy building? The project looks good but definitely has that chalky feel, and also I’d like it to be easier to wipe clean later. I think a paint-on vs. spray one would work best for this project but I’m not sure which kind would be best, I’ve used some bad sealants before that yellowed or distorted the color, or didn’t have a good feel themselves :(.

    • says

      Hi there! Yes, most people I know like Minwax Polycrylic. Agreed about the brush on. Have you tried that one?

  36. Melanie says

    Hi! I used acrylic paint on a canvas and I am going to mod podge pictures and cardstock letters onto it. (Think 20×20 birth announcement for my bedroom wall!) I just finished painting it and it’s drying. Do I need to spray it with a sealer (Mod Podge brand, of course!) before I Mod Podge the pictures and letters, or can I just Mod Podge away? My fear is that the paint is going to smear the colors, because I’ve painted the canvas 2 different colors. Thanks!

  37. crazylibrarian says

    Maybe you can give me a suggestion. I’m redecorating my library and want to make people size paintings of book characters. I’m planning to paint the character on white butcher type paper then use concrete block adhesive to stick it to the wall. Could I then mod podge over the whole thing to give it a more finished look? Any advice would help :)

    • says

      Hi there! You could try it – I don’t know anything about concrete block adhesive so I can’t be sure that they will interact okay. I would try a test first! But you can definitely Mod Podge things to the wall just fine 😀

  38. Sherrie says

    Hi I googled painting with acrylics on unfinished wood and found you!!! Yay!!!
    If I am understanding all the messages before I can find acrylics for exterior uses? I should prime first? I have kilz. I also can seal with water based polyurethane?
    I have my grandchildren coming for a visit and I bought unfinished birdhouses for us to paint. I thought it might be a nice memento of time with grandma.
    I obviously would like them to last as long as possible. Thanks for your help.

    • says

      Hi Sherrie! For painting the birdhouses, I would use FolkArt Outdoor. THEN I’d also put a poly coating on the outside. You don’t need to prime first UNLESS you live in a really wet area – like the northwest. Have fun!

  39. KRISTI says

    Hi, I really enjoy reading all of this great information. I had a question about some necklace pendants that I am making using unfinished wood. I am painting them with acrylic (not with built in sealer) and then using a glaze (diamond glaze) to give the top a glossy shine. I was wondering if I should use a sealer before I apply the glaze? Thank you for any suggestions you may have.

  40. Melinda says

    not sure if you can help, but here it goes, I painted a small wood truck, spent at least 15 hours of very detailed painting, then use polyuathane (?) and now the pale pink only after 3 days has crazy yellow striks…don’t really know what to do…HELP, Please

    • says

      Hi Melinda! Unfortunately I don’t know enough about your project to help you. It really depends on the paint you used and the sealer. :(

  41. Chandra says

    Thanks for the info. I have recently painted some wine glasses with plain acryllic colours and was wondering if I should use a clear spray to seal it? I have read baking helps but dont want to take chances that my paint burns in the oven! Any advice is appreciated. Thanks.

    • says

      Hi Chandra! Are you going to be drinking out of them? You will not be able to wash them unless the paint is enamel/made for glass. If they are just for display, using a clear spray sealer is just fine.

      • Chandra says

        I had thought of using them for drinking – but I realised a bit too late that acryllic is not the right type! Thanks I shall clear spray them.

  42. kara says

    So I can use acrylic paints on glass if I dont plan on washing or wiping the glass afterwards ? and should I seal my paintings after im all done with some sort of sealer spray ?

    • says

      Hi Kara! There are special formulas just for glass if you would like them to be washable (for example, FolkArt Enamels). If you aren’t going to wash the plate, then yes, you could use regular acrylics and just spray seal.

  43. Amy says

    Hi Amy, Great name by the way:-D!!
    I bought a great apothecary jar that’s clear glass with a plackard on the outside that says “Treats” & want to paint it to be used for dog treats (Honey Nut Cheerios! Our vet recommended them because they’re wayyy healthier & not fatt-
    ening & our pups LOVE them). I see that I need to use enamel rather than acrylic, but is it ok for me to paint the inside of the jar as I had planned? And do I need to seal it? If so, what product do you recommend? Thanks so much!

    • says

      Hi Amy! I recommend using glass paint (you can still use an acrylic like FolkArt Enamel) but you should put it on the outside. Technically acrylic paint is not food safe. You wouldn’t need to seal it.

  44. jeanette says

    Hi, I use water based non-toxic acrylic paint and seal with non-toxic mod podge sealer that drys with a shine. I want to try the matte finish sealer and picked up a small bottle (the big craft store only had the large shiny mod podge, found the matte finish at a much smaller store) i don’t like the lines it leaves. I am using a small paint brush to apply the sealer, should I use something else? everything has to remain NON-TOXIC so this is pretty much what i have to work with unless you have better options? Should I try mixing in the sealer with my pain BEFORE i paint? or continue to paint then seal? any advice would be helpful. thank you !!!!

    • says

      Hi Jeanette! This is from my FAQ: http://modpodgerocksblog.com/learn-how-to-mod-podge

      How can I minimize/eliminate brush strokes?

      Use a soft bristled brush and then sand between coats. To do this, apply the Mod Podge and let it dry an hour. Then use #0000 steel wood and lightly sand the entire surface. Do this between every coat. After the final coat, sand and then spray a clear acrylic sealer to finish.

      • jeanette says

        Thank you for your reply. I have not found a NON-TOXIC sealer spray. Its critical everything I use be NON-TOXIC, is there one? I will be thoroughly reading through your entire site as soon as I can!! thank you….

        • says

          The brush on sealers are non-toxic – the sprays all have propellant in them. They are *mostly* non-toxic 😀