How to Prime Wood for Acrylic Painting

Acrylic paints can be painted onto wood. It could be a great experience and a piece of art. But you have to prepare your wooden surface properly before you start if you don’t want to redo it later (which is not so easy as painting on canvas).

If you have an idea to paint acrylic on wood, you might wonder how to prepare and how prime wood for acrylic painting. The recommended way is to sand it, apply at least 2 coats of sealing, 2 coats of priming, and start painting. That’s all.

Some people say you can paint directly on the wood which is not true. In this article, I’d like to share why it’s vital for a wooden surface to be sealed and primed and how to do it step by step I will also give you 6 examples of the best-recommended product to prime and seal your wood before applying acrylic paint.

Table of content:

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Primer or sealer: what you should know before you start?

Sealers are often confused with primers. Here is a simple table that explains the difference.

SealerPrimer
sealer protects the wood. It creates a barrier and doesn’t let the wood soak paints or be altered by environmental factors.

The sealer applies BEFORE primer.

Sometimes called sizing in order to not to confuse with sealing which we apply to finish and protect the painting when it’s done.

Example: PVA glue, Golden CAC, etc
A primer is a foundation layer. It makes paint adhesion stronger and also helps us to create the painting as we imagined it.

The primer applies AFTER the sealer.

Example: Gesso
How to prime the wood for acrylic painting
Understanding primer and sealer

6 reasons to prepare the wood before acrylic painting

If you are going to paint acrylic on the wood you definitely need to seal and prime the surface first. This step can’t be skipped in any case. Why? The understanding of the nature of such material as wood and the consequences of not preparing it will help you create your next masterpiece, protect it, and save your time and money.

Here are 6 reasons why you should prepare, seal and prime your wood before acrylic:

  1. Sanding the piece first will get rid of any ridges and make the surface smooth.
  2. Priming lets acrylic paint apply easier. The wood is a porous surface, without prep, it will just soak the paint you put on and you won’t have desirable colors and effects. It also prevents the paint from becoming patchy.
  3. Priming makes lighter colors appear more vibrant.
  4. Without sealing the acids of your paint can seep into the wood and destroy it.
  5. Sealing protects wood from the shifts in humidity, stains, rotting, or peeling
  6. Sealing eliminates Support Induced Discoloration (SID).
SID occurs only with acrylic paints. The impurities contained in support can cause an amber yellow discoloring to any light colored or clear acrylic layer.

If you decide to skip the primer, the results might look fine for a while, but in a couple of years the paint can just start to flake, and you’ll lose your beautiful painting.


How to prepare and prime wood: 6 easy steps

The procedure of preparing wood is very simple. I’ll guide you through the detailed instructions.

Go through 6 quick steps to prep wood for acrylic painting. Sanding the piece first will get rid of any ridges while priming it will help the paint stick on better. Adding a coat of sealer will protect all your hard work, and help it last for years to come.

Clean

Clean the surface, sides, and back of the wood panel pr piece. You can use a vacuum or air pressure if very dusty. Wipe it clean with a lint-free cloth slightly dampened with water.

Place the wood

To make the process easier consider placing each corner of the wooden piece on a jar, wood props, etc.
If you have a large piece of wood, consider reinforcing its back with a couple of strips of wood. It will stop it from warping. (Glue and clamped in place)

Sand

– if your wooden piece is pre-sanded and it is completely smooth, skip this step.
– If it wasn’t sanded down, use 140 to 280-grit sandpaper or a sanding sponge to sand down your wood.
a sanding sponge will work the best on curved surfaces

Always follow the direction of the wood grain. Sanding across the grain will break and fluff up the wood fibers, making the job more difficult.

DO NOT use coated stock sandpaper (orange or blue or green or another unnatural color)What is the right sandpaper to prepare wood for acrylic painting

Clean

Wipe all dust and grains with a tack cloth and make sure that now the wood is smooth and clean.

You can also remove sanded particles using a lint-free cloth soaked with paint thinner, as the humidity of the cloth will pick up all loose sand.

Seal (2 coats)

Apply the first coat of sealing on all sides and let it dry (until it’s no longer tacky).
Wipe the surface clean (*If the side you wish to work on feels grainy you can sand it again with 220 sandpaper)
Apply the second coat

Usually, 2 sealing coats are enough, making the wood appear slightly satin or glossy in sheen. Optionally apply more coats if you desire a more saturated seal. Let it dry

If there are knots in the wood, as often found in pine, seal them with a knot sealer. If this isn’t done, over time the knots will leak sap, which will penetrate the paint looking like a surface stain.

Prime (1-2 coats)

Apply the first coat of primer and let it dry thoroughly before applying acrylic paint but don’t leave it more than a few days beyond that time before you apply the topcoat. Prime the front and sides first, let them dry, then prime the back. You can use a brush, roller, or spray.

You can sand the first coat of primer, wipe it clean, then apply more primer over it. Do this a few more times until there are no ridges remaining.

I recommend applying 1 or 2 coats of primer.

Once the wood is dry to the touch it is ready for the application of acrylic paint.

If you skip any of the steps or mess up the drying time, you can face some problems later.

Here is some advice for artists on what to do, which is not “traditional” but could still work for you personally:

– put down a basecoat of white acrylic paint first as it typically leads to fewer layers of whatever color you are using,

– apply a coat of rabbit skin glue to the bare wood, or at least a very slightly watered down coat to make sure the wood is sealed, and add topcoats when it has dried (normally 2–3 hours)


I made for you a table with prices and quick notes and before you’ll deep into studying it I’d love to say that you can use your own, homemade gesso (with any chalk you like). Considering sealants you can choose a spray or brush-on sealant including matte, gloss, satin, and many more.

*Prices are listed for this specific volume. Each product can be purchased in different volumes.

TypeProductPriceLink Notes
SealerGOLDEN’s GAC10024,23$ for 32 ozClickA glossy acrylic medium. It has a special thin formulation of polymer acrylic, soaks in quickly, and minimizes brush strokes and texture.
SealerGOLDEN Acrylic Gloss Medium25,19$
for 32 oz
ClickThis medium works (as the brand says) better as a seal than GAC100. It can create brushstrokes though as some artists mentioned.
SealerPVA glue, e.i. Mont Marte PVA Glue24,99$ for 1LClickYou can dissolve it with water or H2O and put 1-2 coats to seal the wood (on each side).
PrimerGesso Old Hollands28,25$
for 0,5L
ClickIt’s a universal gesso. You can also dilute it with water (up to 20%). If you apply more than 1 layer, let it dry for 3-4 h between layers.
PrimerGOLDEN Acrylic Gesso24,23$
for 32oz
ClickAdds adhesion strength between the sealed wood and your first layer of acrylic paint. The lesser quality primer, though, does not have a high pigment content for the extra adhesion strength that acrylic paints require.
PrimerLiquitex white acrylic gesso22,35$
for 32oz
ClickA popular choice. Adds an ideal level of tooth. It’s suitable for wood and a large variety of mediums. Available in different colors.

Below are 2 reference charts made by manufacturer GOLDEN to show typical product applications to properly prepare the support to accept paint. GOLDEN notes that there are general guidelines and certain circumstances will require additional products and procedures.

Helpful video

Here is a nice video on how to seal and prime wood panels using PVA glue and homemade gesso (the recipe is not included!) to give you an idea.

12 thoughts on “How to Prime Wood for Acrylic Painting”

    • Hey there! Synthetic brush is a way to go. I love flat brushes (I paint with flat brushes and I apply primer with a large flat brush too). The size will depend on how big is your project. Just make sure it is a clean brush, or even better a separate brush, that will not meet paint. By the way, if you’re painting furniture, some may use round brushes (check chalk brushes guide on my website), and if you have a very large surface you can even go with a roller. Hope it helps!

      Reply
    • Absolutely! Just make sure it’s properly primed and take extra time to go along with all tiny curves. I would use detail brushes to get into the smallest parts of the carving. And let it dry completely! For protection, I would definitely use spray!

      Reply
  1. Hi Masha! I know you are probably very busy, but I have a quick question.

    I’m not a painter…I draw. However I am beginning a “peace pole” or just garden art project (for outside, obviously).

    I bought Liquitex basics and plan to use them. I have played around with them and am learning the properties of various brushes and how to use the. My issue is that I primed the pole after sanding it and I never sealed it because I did not know at the time I needed to seal first. So I’m wondering if I can do more primer coats to accomplish similar results…I cannot turn back now. I have 3 coats of primer on the pole and thought maybe I could just do another couple of coats. I don’t want to start over…is there a way to proceed without worrying about the sealer? Thank you so much…I’m learning a LOT from your site!

    Reply
    • Hi, Edward! I think it will be alright. Not everyone does that, but for sure it is more forgiving when you’re painting an indoor project. If you like how smooth and even the surface is, proceed to paint. The problem with outdoor projects is that we will have to deal with the environment. Sun and moisture are the worst enemies, so you need to make sure you either place your pole in a “safe” zone or just use a very good protection finish. It is very likely you will have to renew this protective finishing over time. Liquitex Basics are not outdoor paint, so they won’t have so much acids and ingredients that will damage the wood (and I don’t think it will soak through the primer layer, honestly). Back to protection – choose good UV and moist resistant one! Hope it helps 🙂

      Reply
  2. Hello,

    Thank you for your helpful post.
    I’ve had trouble finding a definite answer for how long should you wait between coats of GAC 100.
    I would love any input. Thank you

    Reply
    • Hi, Bree! It also depends on the temperature and humidity in the room, as well as the thickness of the coating. Even Golden as a manufacturer doesn’t provide exact times. I would suggest a few hours between coats and at least overnight once the final coat is applied. I know some people have had Golden dry in 30 min.

      Reply
    • Hi, Frank! Do you find any of these 25+ advice useful no strokes-free painting? https://acrylicpaintingschool.com/27-tips-how-to-paint-without-brush-strokes-or-marks/
      Of course, you can just use roller instead of paintbrush! Or sprayer (if you have experience with it). It also helps to make thin layers without pressing hard on the brush and maybe go with more layers than if you would paint it thicker. If you use acrylics and you see brush strokes, sometimes it is also the case when we stretch the paint or paint over semiwet paint – acrylics are fast-drying so we need to quickly make a thin layer and let it dry before we apply the second one. Let me know if it works or not and we can think of a solution :). If it is painting already and you don’t like strokes in one particular sport – slightly sand it and paint a thin layer over.

      Reply

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