Can You Use Acrylic Paint on Wood? What You Need to Know

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Are you considering using acrylic paint to refresh the look of your wood but unsure if it’s the right choice? Without proper application, it can result in a less-than-ideal outcome, with chipping, cracking, and peeling.

We want your hard work and investment to result in a beautiful finish. So to achieve this, we’ll answer if you can use acrylic paint on wood and alternatives.

Does Acrylic Paint Work on Wooden Surfaces?

Acrylic paint is a versatile and user-friendly option for wood crafts and wood furniture due to its quick-drying and non-toxic water-based paint formula. Its popularity stems from its accessibility, affordability, and its safety to use indoors and for kids. 

With proper preparation, a wide range of woods can be transformed with a fresh coat of acrylic paint. The pigments are suspended in an acrylic polymer emulsion, making them easy to clean with just soap and water. 

To achieve a seamlessly painted wood, we highly recommended priming the surface first before painting. Painting on wood is cost-effective compared to canvas and offers a sturdier surface that minimizes cracking during drying. However, there are some drawbacks to consider. 

acrylic paint

First, wood is heavier than canvas and requires proper preparation to ensure a longer lifespan and prevent discoloration. Framing and hanging wooden pieces can be more challenging than canvas, but acrylic paint work on wood pieces can be created with the proper techniques.

Surface Types You Can Paint

Soft woods like soft maple or poplar are better suited for painting as they are less costly, hold paint well, and do not easily shrink or warp. 

furniture made out of Baltic Birch plywood

On the other hand, hardwoods can be difficult to paint with acrylics and oak plywood should be avoided as it leads to an unattractive result due to paint filling its pores.

Another question is – will acrylic paints stick well to plastic surfaces? Find out next! 

Applying Acrylic Paint on Wooden Furniture

Painting wooden furniture with acrylic paint is a straightforward process, but it requires proper preparation to ensure the paint adheres to the surface. Wooden furniture usually has a top coat such as varnish that must be removed before painting.

Sanding the wood with fine-grit sandpaper will help remove the topcoat, but it’s crucial to sand the entire surface evenly. Dust and residue should be wiped clean, and the wood should be kept as dry as possible before starting the painting process. 

After cleaning, multiple thin coats of primer can be applied and allowed to dry before adding the paint. Finally, a sealer can be applied after the paint dries to protect it from scratches and light damage. 

preparing acrylic paint

To give you detailed steps of the process, here’s a guide from our woodworkers:

Necessary Supplies

To paint a wooden surface with acrylics, you will require some materials, including:

Step #1: Safeguard Your Work Surface

Before beginning the painting process, it is important to properly prepare the work area. Choose a location with good ventilation or open a window. For larger projects, it may be best to work outdoors or in a garage. 

spray painting outside

The strong odor from the acrylic paint may cause headaches, so it is recommended to use a fan or wear a protective face mask if necessary. To protect the work area, place a tarp or newspaper and wear protective clothing and gloves while handling the paint.

Step #2: Prepare the Wood

Before beginning your acrylic painting on a woodcraft project, there are some important steps to consider to ensure that you achieve a high-quality result. 

The majority of local craft store offers wood blanks, and it is possible to paint on them with acrylic paint. However, certain preparations must be made to ensure success.

Sanding the Wood

Sanding the wood is best done with fine-grit sandpaper, typically between 140 to 180-grit. After the sanding process, use a damp cloth or tack rag to remove all dirt and dust from the surface. 

It is recommended to sand with the wood grain to avoid scratching the wooden surface, as sanding against the grain can reveal imperfections. 

sanding cabinet surface

There are some wood pieces that are already sanded and can be purchased for a premium, but if the wood you have already have a smooth surface, additional light sanding won’t be necessary. 

You can also opt for a tack rag or a damp cloth specifically designed for removing dirt and dust, and it can be found in a local hardware store near the sandpaper.

Step #3: Apply the Primer

Before you start applying acrylic paint on wood furniture, start priming the wood surface first. Although not always necessary, priming will help the paint stick better and produce a brighter final result. 

You can choose from various primers, including spray, brush, or roller options. Spraying is recommended for even thin coats. Apply two coats, lightly sanding and cleaning the surface between them, and allow the wood primer to dry overnight for the best results.

Step #4: Tape or Stencil Your Design

If you have a particular design in mind for your wood painting projects, you can use stencils and masking tape to achieve it. Place the stencil on the surface of the wood and use tape to cover any parts that should not be painted. 

yellow paint tape

If you want to transfer a design or pattern onto the wood, you can use tracing paper to do so.

Step #5: Start Applying the Paint

To begin painting your primed wood surface with acrylics, squeeze a small amount of paint onto the surface and begin applying with a brush. We advise having a towel and bowl of water nearby to clean up any accidental spills. 

When changing or mixing colors, rinse the brush in the water. An alternative is to use a sponge brush to cover a larger area. You can also experiment with different brushes and sizes to achieve your desired design. Be sure to allow the paint to dry between colors.

Acrylics dry so quickly, so it’s important to use small amounts of paint and avoid letting it dry on the brush, which could potentially ruin it.

painting furniture with acrylic paint

It’s better to use small amounts of paint as needed instead of loading the brush up with too much paint, as this could result in brush damage or warping of the wood and make it challenging to apply the paint evenly.

Step #6: Let it Dry

Once you have finished painting the design on the wood, make sure to let it dry properly in a secure place. Do not put back any knobs or drawers until the paint has completely dried.

The drying time of acrylic paint can vary and it could take up to 24 hours to completely dry, while smaller projects may only take 2 hours. The paint is ready to be sealed once it is no longer sticky to the touch.

Important Considerations When Painting Acrylic on Wood

Now that you can use acrylic paint on wood, you should take note of certain considerations to ensure the best results.

Use High-Quality Brushes

The quality of the brush is crucial in ensuring a successful wood painting project. We recommend investing in a good-quality brush rather than opting for the cheapest option. Different types of brushes are available, but not all of them are created equal. 

Purdy paint brushes

The better the quality, the longer it will last, and proper care is the only requirement. From our experience, cheap brushes tend to shed hair in the paint, and they often have stiff synthetic bristles that leave brush marks. 

So, we strongly suggest choosing soft-haired brushes that can hold a sufficient amount of paint. Lastly, the paint being used also plays a significant role in the outcome.

Ensure the Primer Has Dried Completely

Before you apply acrylic paint, make sure the primer has completely dried. It’s best not to over-saturate the brush with paint and instead use a moderate amount by not dipping the brush all the way to the ferrule.

If more paint is needed, grab a small amount instead of overloading the brush. For larger wood surfaces, you should use a bigger brush or consider using a roller for better coverage.

Add a Layer of Sealer After Finishing the Project

Applying a sealing layer after completing your wood project can be helpful in preserving its longevity. 

General Finishes Arm-R-Seal Oil-Based Finish

Although not always necessary, the addition of a sealant will protect the paint from damage, such as scratches and peeling, and make maintenance of the wood piece easier.

Use Mod Podge for Small Projects

To extend the lifespan of small art and craft projects on wood, we recommend using Mod Podge as a sealant. You can also use a clear acrylic spray or brush-on sealer. 

For outdoor wood projects, apply multiple paint coats of varnish and make sure to let each layer dry completely before applying the next one.

More creative projects here

Sealing Acrylic Paint on Wood: How to Do it?

To protect and prolong the lifespan of your acrylic paint on wood, it is important to apply a clear sealant once the paint is fully dry. The sealant provides protection against various factors such as water, scratches, UV rays [1], color fading, peeling, etc. 

There are many types of sealers available, including gesso, which is a versatile primer and sealant for various materials, and varnish, which is readily available and easy to apply, but some brands can be toxic. 

bedside table top

Our team recommends applying at least two coats of the chosen sealant for the best results.

Step #1: Apply the First Thin Coat

To start, apply a thin layer of the first coat of sealant. The method of application can vary based on the type of sealant you choose. You can use a spray, paintbrush, or sponge brush. If you’re using a spray sealant, we suggest using short bursts to cover the surface evenly.

Step #2: Let it Dry

Wait for the sealer to dry completely before applying another layer. It may feel dry to the touch after 30 minutes but wait for 6 to 12 hours to pass before adding another layer.

Step #3: Add Another Layer of Sealer

After the first layer of sealer has dried, apply another layer. It’s possible to add more than two layers if necessary, but make sure that each layer is completely dry before applying the next one.

Drying Time of Acrylic Paint on Wood

The drying time for acrylic paint can vary based on the type of paint used and the thickness of the layer applied. Generally, artist-grade acrylics dry relatively quickly, with some types taking only a few hours and others up to 24 hours. 

dresser painted with acrylic paint

It’s recommended to wait for at least 12 hours for the paint to dry completely, until there are no visible moist areas and the paint does not feel tacky when touched.

Do You Really Need to Prepare the Wood Before Painting?

We highly recommend preparing the wooden surface before start painting to ensure that the paint lasts for a long time. Although it is not necessary, using a primer can increase the longevity of the paint. 

It is especially important to use a primer if the wooden project will be exposed to the elements or if it will be frequently used or touched. 

The primer helps the paint stick better and more permanently to the surface of the wood, making it a must for projects that require a durable and long-lasting paint job.

Do You Need to Prime the Wood Before Painting?

Make sure to prepare the wooden surface by priming it before starting to paint. Woodcraft pieces from craft stores often come without a finish, so you have to sand it down and apply primer before using acrylic paints.

applying paint primer

To ensure the best results, choose a primer that is compatible with the paint and surface type you are using. For instance, if you use water-based paint, we recommend using a water-based stain and primer.

If you are painting unfinished or previously painted wood, consider using a stain-blocking primer to prevent paint from seeping into the wood’s pores. This will help to create a barrier that holds the paint in place.

Once the primer has dried, you can proceed to apply acrylic paint.

Will Acrylic Paint Work on Stained Wood?

Yes, it is possible to paint over stained wood, but it’s important to take several factors into consideration for a successful outcome. These factors include:

drying stain

Our Top Picks for Acrylic Paints for Wood

There are two main types of acrylic for woodworking: student-quality and artist-quality. Artist-quality paint is of higher quality and offers a wider range of colors. 

It contains a high amount of pigment, resulting in brighter and more vivid colors. Its smoother texture also makes blending and layering easier.

On the other hand, student-grade paint wood is more affordable because it has a lower concentration of pigments compared to artist-grade paint. The range of colors is also limited and some may contain filler, leading to a weaker, less intense hue. 

If you’re looking for good products to use for painting wood, here are a few recommendations.

1. Crafts 4 All Acrylic Paint Kit

The Crafts 4 All acrylic paint set is the best acrylic paint option for those searching for a budget-friendly set of paints. With 12 or 24 color options, you can choose the best set that suits your needs and budget. 

These paints have vivid and clear colors that are easy to use and safe for different surfaces, such as wood, ceramics, glass, and plastic. Whether you’re a beginner or a professional, this set of paints is a great choice.

What We Like

What We Don't Like

2. Apple Barrel Matte Acrylic Paint Collection

The widely used set of acrylic paint is the Apple Barrel Matte Acrylic Paint Set. This set is favored by artists of different proficiency levels because of its matte finish. 

The water-based and non-toxic paint comes in a range of colors and can be used on different surfaces like Styrofoam, cotta, terra, tin, wood, etc. This paint dries quickly, producing a long-lasting and beautiful color, and is versatile in application. 

It is perfect for all arts and crafts projects and offers effortless blending and you can easily find it in any hardware store.

What We Like

What We Don't Like

3. Castle Art Supplies Acrylic Paint Kit

If you’re seeking an affordable acrylic paint set without sacrificing quality, then the Castle Art Supplies Acrylic Paints Set is ideal for you. 

Offered in 24 and 48-color options, these non-toxic paints can be used on a variety of materials, including fabric, canvas, wood, and paper. It dries quickly, enabling you to apply multiple colors without creating a mess. 

This set is ideal for novice painters who are learning to paint wood on different surfaces.

What We Like

What We Don't Like


Can I use acrylic paint on wood without primer?

Yes, you can use acrylic paint on wood without primer, but it may not result in the best outcome. Primer helps create smooth finish surfaces for the paint to adhere to, ensuring better coverage and durability. The paint may not adhere well to the wood without primer.

But if you don’t like the final result, here’s how you can remove acrylic paint from wooden surfaces.

Will acrylic paint stay on wood?

Yes, acrylic paint will stay on wood. When applied properly, acrylic paint forms a durable and flexible film on the wood’s surface, ensuring good adhesion and resistance to cracking or peeling.

To ensure the longevity of acrylic paint on wood, you should clean and sand the surface of the wood first, and then apply a wood primer specifically designed for porous surfaces.  

How do you make acrylic paint permanent on wood?

To make acrylic paint permanent on wood, you should clean and sand the surface thoroughly and apply a thin primer layer. 

Apply the paint in thin layers, letting each thin layer dry completely before applying the next. To make the paint more durable, apply a clear coat of varnish or polyurethane. 

Can hairspray seal acrylic paint?

Hairspray can seal acrylic paint on wood, but it may not provide the same level of protection and durability as a proper sealant designed for use with paint. It may become yellow over time and can be brittle, leading to cracking and chipping.

How do you paint acrylic on wood without brush strokes?

To paint acrylic on wood without brush marks, you should have a smooth finish surface to begin with, choose a soft brush for application, and use an opaque type of paint. 

Apply the paint in thin and even layers, experiment with fluid acrylics and add a flow improver to the paint to improve its consistency.

Can you apply paint to wood with acrylic paint?

Yes, you can. Acrylic paint is a versatile and popular choice for painting on various surfaces, including wood, due to its quick-drying and water-soluble properties. 

Recommended Readings


Whether you’re an experienced artist or just starting out, you can use acrylic paint on wood easily. Because most acrylic paints offer versatility and ease of use that make them an accessible option for a variety of projects.

However, it’s important to remember that preparation of the surface is crucial in ensuring the best results. Using high-quality acrylic paints and taking the time to properly prepare your wood surface will lead to a stunning finished piece that will last for years to come.

Robert Johnson is a woodworker who takes joy in sharing his passion for creating to the rest of the world. His brainchild, Sawinery, allowed him to do so as well as connect with other craftsmen. He has since built an enviable workshop for himself and an equally impressive online accomplishment: an extensive resource site serving old timers and novices alike.
Robert Johnson
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