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How to Get a Smooth Finish With Chalk Paint

Chalk painting is a very popular DIY activity. It seems like there’s no surface you can’t use chalk paint on! But as you paint, you may notice that the dried paint finish isn’t the smoothest — brush strokes may show and the coat of paint may even be uneven in thickness. While some people prefer the rustic quality of a chalk paint finish, you may want a smooth finish for your paint project.

In this article, we’ll go over how to get a smooth finish with chalk paint.

Closeup of a modern dresser and knobs with a matte gray paint finish.  Knowing how to get a smooth finish with chalk paint opens the door all sorts of paint projects.
Chalk paint isn’t just for farmhouse-style painting projects — once you know how to get a smooth finish with chalk paint, you can use it for modern decor projects as well.

Why Aim For a Smooth Finish?

While chalk paint is usually associated with rustic, farmhouse, or shabby chic style, it is used by DIYers who want a more polished look for their projects. If your style is modern or vintage, then the visible brush strokes and uneven thickness of paint that are common with chalk painting are not part of the look you want the finished work to have. You want that signature, chalky paint job, just with the neat, smooth finish that you’d get if you were using regular paint.

The good news is that you can use chalk paint for projects that you want a smooth, even paint finish on. It just takes a little extra work and some know-how.

Why It Can Be Difficult to Get a Smooth Finish With Chalk Paint

Chalk paint dries fast. Some brands dry to the touch within 15-20 minutes. Taking care to apply the paint smoothly and evenly is the first technique for getting the best-looking chalk paint coat. But even with your best painting efforts, it can still be challenging to get a completely smooth and even coat of chalk paint applied. 

If you aren’t familiar with the properties of chalk paint (it’s thicker and “grittier” than regular paint), you’ll find it adheres and spreads differently than regular paint. It takes experience over time to develop the right touch when you use chalk paint. That’s why it’s a good idea to practice on smaller projects to learn the “feel” of chalk painting.

The tools you use for applying your chalk paint also make a huge difference. Brushes with stiff bristles will leave brush strokes even with regular paint, so it’s guaranteed that you’ll have lots of brush strokes in your coat of chalk paint. But too-soft brushes are also a problem because they can become oversaturated with paint and make it hard to control the thickness of the coat of paint.

The piece that you’re painting may also be part of the problem. If there are nicks, scratches, splinters, cracks, or other surface blemishes, your chalk paint finish obviously won’t be nice and smooth. You’ll have to take some proactive steps before painting to prep your piece so that the surface you’re painting is nice and smooth to begin with.

Closeup of woman's hands sanding a wooden tabletop.  If there is damage to the surface of a piece, it will affect your ability to get a smooth finish with chalk paint.
Damage to the surface of a piece will affect your ability to get a smooth finish with chalk paint.

As mentioned, chalk paint tends to have a consistency that is thick and gritty, compare to regular paint. This consistency is a big reason why chalk paint sticks so well to a wide range of surfaces, but it sets up a challenge for getting a smooth, even paint finish. Fortunately, chalk paint is easy to thin using water. A slightly less thick consistency in your paint will go a long way toward giving you the desired coverage in the coat of paint.

Other factors that can contribute to a chalk paint finish not being smooth are painting on surfaces that aren’t level (gravity will cause the paint to sink to the lowest point, which means it will be thicker than at the highest point), not cleaning your item prior to painting so that dust or dirt gets into the paint, and not sanding in between coats to “knock down” brush strokes.

Finally, leaving chalk paint unsealed will result in a surface that has a rougher finish (not to mention expose the paint to dirt, fingerprints, and risk of chipping and flaking).

Different Methods For Getting a Smooth Finish With Chalk Paint 

Here are some methods that can help you get a smooth finish with chalk paint:

Cleaning and Sanding

Clean before you begin painting. This is standard procedure before any painting project because dirt, dust, grime, spills, dried food, fingerprints, scuff marks, and so forth negatively affect paint’s ability to stick to a surface more than you might realize. Using a good degreaser/cleaner is the first step for getting the best coat of paint on your project.

If the surface has surface damage that needs to be repaired like dents, cracks, scratches, or holes, you can use filler material before you sand. There are lots of products for making furniture repairs. Google can help you figure out which products are best for the specific repairs your piece needs.

Closeup of woman's hand sanding white painted furniture.  Sanding between coats will help give you a smooth finish with chalk paint.

Sanding — either before you paint or once your chalk paint coat(s) dry — is the other thing you can do to get a nice, smooth chalk pain finish. Sanding prior to painting is a must if 1) you’ve used any wood filler or other products to make repairs or 2) you’re painting an item that has weathered over time.

Lightly sanding in between coats of chalk paint with an extra fine grit count sandpaper or sanding block (600 or higher) will smooth out brush strokes and give the paint a glass-like finish.

Change Your Workspace

Make sure you’re painting on a level surface so that the paint will form a coat of even thickness. Protect your paint from dust, dirt, or bugs while it’s drying. 

Change Your Painting Technique

Using chalk paint for rustic projects is easy — just slap the paint on and let it dry. The “messiness” of the paint job is part of the look and charm of shabby chic and farmhouse style. To create a more look better suited to modern or polished decor, you have to take a more careful painting approach in order to get a smooth finish with chalk paint.

While chalk paint does dry faster than regular paint, it still needs a proper curing time for the best results. Read the instructions on the paint can for the recommended drying time between coats of paint and total curing time before an item can be handled normally.

View of a modern kitchen island with painted cabinet doors.  Being able to get a smooth finish with chalk paint means chalk paint can be used even for projects calling for a sleek, modern look.

Chalk paint is manufactured to be thick, which is why many chalk paint projects look rustic once they dry. In order to get a smooth, full coverage coat of paint, you’ll likely need to thin the chalk paint with a little water.

Mix small amounts of water into your paint and stir well. Test the paint on either scrap items that are made of similar material to the piece you’re painting or in an inconspicuous area on your project piece. Once the paint reaches the consistency that gives you the desired coverage, you’re ready to get started on your project.

When you paint, use long continuous strokes with gentle and steady pressure, taking care not to overbrush since chalk paint begins drying very quickly once applied to a surface. Brushing over semi-dried paint will cause brush strokes.

Do not apply too much paint — otherwise you run the risk of drips. If you’re using a roller, it should be saturated, but not dripping.

While a single coat of chalk paint is enough for most rustic and farmhouse-looking paint projects, you’ll need to use multiple coats to get a smooth paint job. Lightly sand in between your dried coats, wipe clean with a damp cloth, and allow the paint to dry before applying your next coat of chalk paint. Repeat until the paint finish looks the way you want it to.

An upright piano painted blue.
Being able to get a smooth finish with chalk paint allows you to think outside the box for paint projects around your home.

Use the Right Tools

While technique is important, it’s only part of the picture. Using the right tools is also key in getting a smooth finish with chalk paint.

Brush

Different grades of brush will have different effects on the paint finish. The coarser the brush, the more likely that the brush will leave brush strokes. Use a spray bottle to lightly dampen the brush before and during painting. 

Rollers

Closeup of a woman using a foam paint roller to apply purple paint to cabinet or bookshelves.  Using the right tools helps get a smooth finish with chalk paint.

White foam rollers may produce bubbles. To get best results, use high-density foam rollers for chalk paint.

Spray Gun

Using a spray gun will eliminate the problem of brush strokes. However, it takes practice to get an evenly applied coat of paint, so you’ll want to try your hand on some smaller projects to develop a feel for how to use a spray gun.

Wax

Sealing the coat of chalk paint with wax is another way to get a smooth finish. Use a cloth to apply the wax sealant and then use another cloth to buff the wax to a sheen. This creates a finish that feels velvety smooth to the touch.

Self-Leveling Chalk Paint

Finally, there are brands of chalk paint manufactured to “self-level,” which results in brush strokes disappearing as the paint dries and cures. With these paints you can skip sanding in between coats and not worry as much about having “just the right touch” when applying your paint with a brush.

How To Fix Streaks In Chalk Paint

Chalk paint can become streaky if it is too dry or thick when it’s applied. Applying chalk paint coats that are very thin will also result in streaks because the paint dries out very quickly and shows the brush strokes. Unevenly applying a wax sealant can also cause streaks in a chalk paint finish.

To avoid streaks in chalk paint:

  1. Thin your paint using water and apply multiple coats of chalk paint. Let each coat completely dry before applying the next. while letting each coat dry on its own.
  2. Make sure you apply and buff wax evenly on your chalk paint finish.
View of a porch swing painted light blue.  When you know how to get a smooth finish with chalk paint, even outdoor projects like a porch swing are fair game.
Even outdoor projects like a porch swing can be fair game for chalk paint.

FAQs

Do you have to use wax to seal chalk paint?

Wax is not required, but it’s highly recommended. Unsealed chalk paint is extremely hard to clean.

Wax seals and protects the chalk paint from dust, dirt, spills, and fingerprints. It also protects your furniture’s paint job from damage caused by everyday use.

Can I get a smooth finish with chalk paint?

When applied with the proper techniques and tools, yes. While chalk paint is normally associated with rustic-style paint jobs, it is possible to use chalk paint for a full coverage, smooth finish for more polished and modern decor styles.

How many coats of chalk paint should I use?

Three coats is usually sufficient for most paint jobs. The good thing with chalk paint is that you can always paint over it if you don’t like the way your project turns out!

Conclusion 

If you thought chalk paint was only for farmhouse, shabby chic, or rustic styles of decor, we hope this article has changed your mind. By making slight modifications in paint consistency, using specific painting techniques or tools, and taking some additional steps like sanding and waxing, you can use chalk paint on projects where you want the polished look of a smooth, full coverage paint finish.

Closeup of a white painted dresser.

If you have any tips to share or questions about getting a smooth finish with chalk paint, leave them in the comments section below. To learn more about chalk paints, visit this link and also be sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel!

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Pam

Monday 2nd of January 2023

Hi..I made my own chalk paint with baking soda and latex paint from a recipe on the internet. It turned out great I thought but as time has gone by the finish is gritty. I wipe it off but it keeps coming back. I put one coat of polyurethane on it but it still keeps becoming gritty. How can I fix this problem??

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