How to Use Acrylic Paint on Wood: [ Varnishing Tips Included ]

For every beginner artist or the people who have an interest in painting, acrylic paint brings quite some excitement. It brings out the beautiful pigmentation of vibrant colors on a wide variety of materials including glass, wood and more.

Today we will specifically focus on how to use acrylic paint on wood. Even though its fast-drying trait is an advantage for many, it can also become quite troublesome.

That is why there are some extra steps you need to take in preparation. We are here to explore those precautionary steps and more!

Can You Use Acrylic Paint On Wood?

Acrylic paint is well-known for its capability to dry up fast. Many of you may wonder if its chemical composition will go well with wood. Although it is easily soluble in water in its original form, the paint becomes water-resistant after drying up.

Before use, sometimes it needs to be diluted as required by the painter to achieve the effects of watercolor or oil painting. But applying water on wood can damage its quality and durability.

So you may often wonder - does acrylic paint work on wood?

The answer is - YES!  However, you will need to use the right kind of wood and take the necessary precautions to keep it protected.

That is why it is important to understand and remember the steps of applying acrylic paint on wood.

Acrylic Paint On Wood - The Applying Process

A. Tools You’ll Need

Before starting the process of painting the wood, you need to gather all the required materials for carrying out the job. For applying the acrylic paint of your choice on the wood, the necessary tools will include-

  • Wood primer
  • A bowl of water
  • The paint palette
  • Some sandpaper
  • Some paper towels
  • A paintbrush

Besides, make sure you are doing all these in a place where there is enough ventilation. So choose a room with more windows and outdoors than usual, or just arrange everything on the balcony! This is important to let the strong odor of acrylic paint to be displaced by the fresh air of outside.

If your project is relatively small and can do with extra support, you can also rely on an easel to place the plank on it. This will help you with applying the paint with more accuracy.

B. Preparing Wood For Acrylic Painting

Wood is a popular choice for painting since its natural texture and smooth flat cuts make the perfect surface to brush off your strokes. However, it requires some preparation to ensure that this work of art will persist for a long time and will not damage the material.

Start by cleaning up the surface so that there is no dirt stuck to the paint later. Rub it with a clean paper towel or cloth.

Then go for sealing the wood in order to keep it safe from discoloration or SID (Support Induced Discoloration). SID is one of the scenarios which only happens with acrylic paints where the color becomes amber yellow over time.

The reason behind it is the impurities present on the support. These elements come in contact with the transparent acrylic paints or their softer shades. That is why you should seal or size the wood which prevents it from getting warped because of humidity shifts.

So prepare the wood for acrylic painting by applying two or more coats of the sealer. When it dries up, use primer over it for improved adhesion. Make sure the primer has filled all the pores on its exterior. This will ensure an even coating later.

C. The Painting Process

Trace The Design

If you are thinking of doing a particular design on the wood, get its blueprint first and then trace it on the plank using a graphite paper. Put the tracing paper on the primed wood such that the black side facing down and then place the pattern over it.

Take a pencil and start following the outlines of your design so that you can replicate it bit by bit on the main surface.

Arrange The Equipment

Now it’s time to set up all the tools one by one. Start by squeezing out some paint of the first color on the palette. If you already know which other colors your painting will need, then squeeze bits of them here as well.

Fill up a bowl halfway with water. Keep a few paper towels close-by so that you can clean the tainted brush with it between strokes. Otherwise, two distinct colors may mix up and create an undesirable shade.


You can use a sponge to start the painting if it is a large or elaborate design. It can also be used for giving a unique texture to your painting background.

For the smaller designs, a paintbrush is the safer and more effective option. It comes in many varieties and helps with precision. So you can implement an intricately detailed design on wood or create an abstract painting of broad strokes instead. If you want some matte effects, you can rely on a foam brush.

In order to make blended colors, clean the brush after applying the first color and then go for the second one. Just make sure that it is still wet when you are dipping it into the new shade.

Flip The Side

After you are done with one side, let it dry fully. Then flip it for working on the other side. Like the first surface, this one also needs to be properly primed. If there is a base on the wood surface, make sure to be done with that part first and give it time to dry.

Wait And Seal

When the entire painting is done, leave it alone for at least 24 hours to dry. Since there are many variations of acrylic paint, this waiting period can vary.

When it does dry up completely, use a sealant so that the design does not get damaged later. If you mean to use it quite often, apply multiple coats and hard shellac.

How Long Does Acrylic Paint Take To Dry on Wood?

Compared to other types of paint, acrylic does dry on wood quite fast. However, it is not always as quick as you would probably like. It would take at least 24 hours before you can start using the painted wooden craft.

It may come to you as a surprise since the paint does seem dry to the touch after only a few hours. However, the layers underneath still need more time to harden. Not waiting long enough can lead to the paint being cloudy after a while because of the trapped moisture.

For the best results, keep it out to dry for a week. There are some passionate acrylic artists who go on to wait for even six weeks to guarantee the finest quality!

The ideal time to wait for its drying depends on the details of your work, the atmosphere and the waiting room’s air circulation system.

Thick coatings of the paint will take a longer time than the thin strokes. Low humidity, healthy room temperature and natural air condition are essential for maintaining the quality of an acrylic painting.

How To Varnish Acrylic Paintings For Wood

Varnish Acrylic Paintings

Ensure further protection of your acrylic painting and extend its lifespan by using varnish over it. This coating will keep it safe from UV rays, discoloration and dust. You can choose from matte, satin and gloss variations of varnish for this task.

Clean And Dry

Start by making sure that the painting has dried through and through. Otherwise, your beautiful painting can be the unfortunate victim of streaks caused by a mixture of varnish and wet paint. Also, check if it’s fully clean or not. Get rid of all the dirt, dust and lint to make the surface clear.

Separate Tools

Remember to keep a separate container and brush for varnishing purposes. Using the same jar or brush from the painting stage can easily cause undesired stains on the artwork. That is because a minuscule amount of paint stays stuck to the brushes.

Rinse And Blend

Before varnishing, rinse the container and the brush in water to eliminate the most conspicuous dust particles. Then blend water and varnish in the ratio recommended on the bottle. It is a good idea to pour out a little bit more than what you initially estimated. Because adding more varnish later can lead to issues.

Tips And Cautions

If your work, unfortunately, becomes victim to pencil or charcoal marks, use white gesso to paint over those carefully. So you need to use a small brush to refrain from letting the gesso reach areas other than the marks. Apply it in two or three coats so that the marks truly get out of sight.

Similar to painting, you should also use the appropriate acrylic paint brushes during varnishing. Go for larger brushes having 2 to 4 inches of width for a large wood painting. Otherwise, the hairs of your brush may remain stuck in the painting.

It can get difficult in acrylics to achieve the same shade by blending colors again. That is why a good idea would be to measure the two individual colors in teaspoons before mixing them. Of course, smaller spoons will be even more accurate.

Always wait for a layer to dry up completely before going for the second layer. This will make your paint glaze with pride because the lower layer is not getting lifted off while working on the second layer.

However, if you wish to attain other effects or experiment with them, you can apply a new layer on the old wet one.


So as you can see, working with acrylic on wood requires a bit of precaution, attention to detail and lots of patience! But before all, you need to know how to use acrylic paint on wood properly.

When you are finally done with your work, you cannot show it off to friends and family immediately. You must wait a day, a week or even longer for it to be dry enough for regular use.

However, the beautiful designs and unique effect you can achieve with acrylic paint is quite worth the wait!

It is well-known for its incomparable appeal. Get ready for some heartfelt praises after being done with one!

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Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 1 comments

Thanks for the tips! I am working on a small project using the top of an old bookshelf as the canvas, My plan was to clean or and use a clear gesso on it, then paint on it with acrylics. I don’t want use sandpaper, as the dark wood grain is a veneer over particle board. Will this work?

Btw, I’m a longtime gallery sitter and am doing this for our annual member’s show in Dec., which is our only nonjuried show. I’m an artist, but rather a musician and writer rather than one with your talent with visual art, please instruct me like the beginner I am. Kek!


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