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How to Get a Smooth Finish with Chalk Paint

Love chalk paint, but not the brushstrokes? Learn how to get a smooth finish with chalk paint with these easy tips. If you enjoy flipping furniture, these tips are for you!

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A can of paint resting on the open drawer of a dresser with the words, "How to Get a Smooth Finish with Chalk Paint."

One downside of using chalk style paints is that the finished look often has deep brushstrokes. While this can add charm and a rustic quality to a piece, sometimes we are after a smoother finish.

I’ve gathered together several tips for you to help minimize brushstrokes. I’ve painted a lot of furniture and used a variety of chalk paint/chalk style paint, so these tips come straight from my own trial and error!

Chalk Paint versus Chalk Style Paints

Before we get started, I always like to include a little note about what Chalk Paint actually is. Chalk Paint is the original creation of Annie Sloan. All other brands of “Chalk Paint” actually have to label their paint as “chalk style paint” or something similar to avoid encroaching on Annie’s trademark.

It’s worth noting that Annie’s original Chalk Paint is a totally unique paint product. Most of the “chalk style paints” available seem similar to Annie’s (extra thick, matte finish paint), but are often just a modified latex paint.

Annie’s Chalk Paint (and many of the successive copycat products) adheres well without sanding or prep, dries to a matte finish, requires a top coat to seal, and distresses easily for a rustic or farmhouse-style look. 

How to Minimize Brushstrokes When Using Chalk Paint

Alright, let’s get started with the tips! Chalk paint is quite thick and depending on the brand you use (Annie’s original Chalk Paint is probably one of the thickest I’ve used), you will almost always want to thin it down just a bit.

Thin Down the Paint

This is my favorite way to reduce brushstrokes. It’s quick, easy, and it helps the paint go further too! I have a longer post about watering down chalk style paints, but here’s the quick version:

  1. Pour some paint (let’s start with about 1/2 cup) into a separate painting container. A red solo cup works great. Add about 1 teaspoon of water at a time and stir it in with a paint stick.
  2. Adjust the consistency until it’s smooth and slightly thinned down to your preference. Don’t add too much water because it will become more of a “wash” than a paint. A few teaspoons is usually about right.

Don’t forget to jot down how much water you added so you can repeat the process as you paint. You want each coat on your piece to be painted completely with the same mixture of thinned down paint.

This is also handy if you are running low on paint, but need just one more thin coat. Try thinning it down and see if you can stretch it all the way to finishing your piece.

Inserting a drawer back into a painted dresser.

Use a High Quality Brush

While chalk style paints are incredibly popular, one of the characteristics they leave behind is brushstrokes…and not everyone loves brushstrokes. Short of using a paint sprayer on your piece, you will likely have some brushstrokes no matter the paint or brush you choose. However, using a high-quality brush will help eliminate some of the distinctive texture.

I wrote a whole post on my favorite furniture painting brushes with lots more details on my go-to brushes and why I like them.

Using an old grungy brush is a sure way to get frustrated as you paint. You will get a lot of texture and likely even up with paint brush bristles in your piece!

I have tried a handful of brushes and I really like the Wooster shortcut brush, the Country Chic Paint brush (please note for full disclosure that I previously received a free brush from Country Chic Paint), and Purdy brushes. Experiment to discover your favorites.

I’ve found that brushes sold in specialty shops (such as Annie Sloan’s brushes) are quite nice, but they are pricey if you are just starting out. Feel free to stick with the more budget-friendly options I’ve listed above. They work great!

Woman holding three different paint brushes and a can of chalk paint.

Don’t Brush Over Areas That Have Begun to Dry

It’s important to work methodically through your piece so you don’t end up painting back over areas that are starting to dry. You will end up creating smudges and brushstrokes unintentionally.

I find that when painting used furniture, each piece is always a little different. Before I start, I mentally plan through the way I will paint the piece. There can be lots of nook and crannies that are hard to paint without affecting areas already painted.

An old wood dresser with vintage brass hardware.

If there are areas that are going to be tricky, I may even decide to paint in sections while letting the paint dry in-between sessions. There is no rush with furniture painting. It’s okay to take the time you need to get great results.

If you are interested you can also try using a paint sprayer (which I talk about more below), but the idea of using a paint sprayer has always been too much of a hassle for me personally.

Allow the Paint to Dry Completely Between Coats

Read your can before you begin painting. Each paint can will instruct how long you should wait before applying a second (or third) coat. Follow this sage advice!

Don’t assume that because paint is dry to the touch that it is ready for a second coat. Paint needs to cure to achieve its full durability. Sometimes this is several hours, sometimes it is overnight.

If my paint can doesn’t have information about this, I usually play it safe and will wait until the first coat cures overnight before I apply another one.

If you attempt rushing the process and applying multiple coats before the piece is ready, the successive layers will pull up the paint that has already dried on the piece and ruin the finish.

Think of it like this. Have you ever tried to give yourself a quick manicure and rushed to apply multiple coats of nail polish? Likely this hasn’t gone well as each successive layer becomes gunky and gloppy as the wet polish reconstitutes the semi-dried polish. Not good!

So, don’t rush, and let that paint dry!

A white and taupe stenciled dresser with a thick creamy cabled blanket falling out of the middle drawer.

Sand Before Adding Another Coat

Now, I’ll be the first to admit, I don’t usually sand between coats. I don’t mind some brushstrokes in my finished piece and I find that following the previous tips listed gives my pieces a smooth-enough finish for my liking.

However, if you want that perfectly soft, extra smooth finish, sanding is your game plan. Sanding chalk paint is quite simple and it helps you get that smooth finish (no brushstrokes!).

Allow a coat of paint (and/or primer if your piece needed it) to dry completely and then use a very fine sanding block to gently buff it smooth. This will create plenty of sanding dust, so do it outdoors and wearing full protective gear (mask and safety goggles) to avoid inhaling the dust.

You can also add distressing while you are at it. I wait to distress the piece until I’ve painted the final coat of paint. Then I distress, then I add my top coat.

Distressing a painted dresser with a sanding block.

You will want to sand every single coat you paint. The exception is of course the top coat. Whether you opt to wax your furniture piece or use a brush-on polycrylic, this will be the the final coat and you will leave it unsanded.

If you sand between coats and use a wax (which is generally brushed on and buffed in) you can get an incredibly smooth finish with chalk paint. It’s a really nice finish. The downside is that it’s extra work (and dust!), but it’s worth it if you are looking for that ultra-smooth finish.

Use a Paint Sprayer

If you are looking for a factory finish, you should consider using a paint sprayer. I have not used a paint sprayer on my pieces for a few reasons. Mainly, the whole point of chalk paint is that it’s quicker and easier than a typical furniture refinish.

For instance, for a typical chalk painting job, you can basically clean up a piece of furniture, maybe give it a little sand or some primer if the piece requires it, and then open your can of paint and start painting.

But, with a paint sprayer you have a lot of setup to do. You need to practice using the sprayer so you get a quality finish on your piece. You need an area to spray (a spray tent of some kind usually). Worst of all perhaps, you have to clean the paint sprayer when you are done. Ugh.

Now, if you are working on furniture to sell, or have a lot of pieces to do, this process might be worth it! However, if you are just an casual furniture painter looking to refresh a few pieces for your home, I personally would keep it simple and stick with a brush.

So, to recap, to get a smooth finish while using chalk paint, I would suggest doing the following:

  • Thin down your paint slightly
  • Use a high-quality brush
  • Don’t brush over areas that have begun to dry
  • Allow the piece to dry completely between coats
  • Sand between coats
  • Consider a paint sprayer, but only if you want to!

I hope that you found these tips helpful for achieving that smooth finish on your next piece of chalk-painted furniture. I love painting furniture and it’s so rewarding to get a professional result. Best wishes to you as you paint furniture!

More About Furniture Painting

If you are learning about chalk paints and how to refresh furniture with paint, you’ll also enjoy the following blog posts:

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