How To Avoid Brush Strokes When Painting With Acrylics

If you’re an artist who loves painting with acrylics, you know how frustrating it can be to see brush strokes on your finished piece.

Fortunately, there are several tips and techniques you can use to avoid brush strokes and create a smooth, flawless finish.

I will provide some of the simplest tips paired up with the ultimate information you need when learning how to avoid brush strokes when painting with acrylics.

The first step to avoiding brush strokes is to start with a smooth surface

Make sure your canvas or painting surface is primed and sanded, so it’s free of any bumps or rough spots.

Using the right acrylic paints with different consistencies or in thinner coats can also help reduce brush strokes. 

Another technique to avoid brush strokes is to use a soft brush with long bristles

This will allow you to apply less pressure on the canvas and create a lighter touch.

Additionally, you can try using a painting technique called “wet on wet,” which involves applying wet paint over a layer of wet primer or gesso to even out the brushstrokes and create a smooth finish. 

If all else fails you can bypass using a brush altogether and paint using an airbrush.

If all this peaked your interest then keep reading as I go through each plus more in greater detail.

Choosing the Right Surface

Whether you are planning on painting small or large areas, you need to consider the painting substrate (the surface e.g. canvas, paper etc.).

I’ve put together a table showing various painting surfaces ranked from the smoothest to the roughest, along with the recommended priming methods for each surface:

RankSurface TypePriming Method
1Copper/Aluminum Panels Lightly sand, then apply a thin layer of acrylic gesso or an oil-based primer.
2GlassClean surface thoroughly, then apply a self-etching primer or a glass paint primer.
3Acrylic Gessoed PanelsApply multiple thin layers of acrylic gesso. Gesso is a type of white primer. You will need some apply some sanding lightly between layers for a smoother finish using a 1000 grit sandpaper for best results.
4Smooth Gessoed CanvasStretch canvas on stretcher bars, apply multiple thin layers of acrylic gesso, sanding lightly between layers.
5Linen CanvasStretch canvas on stretcher bars, apply multiple thin layers of acrylic gesso or oil-based primer, sanding between layers.
6Cotton CanvasStretch canvas on stretcher bars, apply multiple thin layers of acrylic gesso or oil-based primer, sanding between layers.
7Wood PanelsSand the surface, then apply multiple thin layers of acrylic gesso or oil-based primer, sanding between layers.
8PaperApply multiple thin layers of acrylic gesso or oil-based primer, sanding lightly between layers.
9Rough Gessoed CanvasStretch canvas on stretcher bars, apply a single layer of acrylic gesso, allowing the brush strokes to remain visible.

Keep in mind that the smoothness of the painting surface can be adjusted by adding more layers of gesso and sanding between each layer. This can help achieve a smoother finish on surfaces like cotton canvas and linen canvas, which are naturally more textured.

What about using Silk?

When I was a much younger artist, I remember being blown away by a hyper-realist artist who painted the smoothest acrylic paintings.

He used silk as his canvas as it was so tightly woven together that it provided the finish results that he was looking for. 

The problem is that painting on silk with acrylic paint will give a smooth finish, but it may not be the most ideal combination.

You see, acrylic paint is generally heavy and can stiffen the silk. This alters its natural drape and softness.

The other thing is that acrylic paint may not stick well to the silk without proper preparation or the use of an appropriate medium.

You can give it a try if you are interested but I would not waste my money on silk, but if you must I have listed some tips below.

To achieve a smooth finish on silk with acrylic paint, consider the following tips:

Use fluid acrylics or acrylic inks with Silk

These have a thinner consistency compared to regular acrylic paint, making them more suitable for silk painting. They can provide a smoother finish and won’t stiffen the fabric as much.

Mix Acrylic with fabric medium for Silk

Adding a fabric medium to your acrylic paint will improve its flexibility and adhesion to the silk. The fabric medium helps the paint to bond with the fabric fibers, reducing stiffness and providing a smoother finish.

Prime the silk

Priming the silk with a clear or white fabric primer can help the acrylic paint adhere better and provide a smoother finish. However, this may alter the silk’s appearance and texture, so test on a small piece of silk first.

Use fine brushes and thin layers

To achieve a smooth finish, use fine brushes and apply thin layers of paint. This will prevent the paint from clumping or creating an uneven surface.

Despite these tips, using acrylic paint on silk may still not provide the same level of smoothness and flexibility as other mediums specifically designed for silk painting, such as silk dyes or silk paints. 

These alternatives are water-based and formulated to maintain the silk’s natural softness and drape while providing the smooth finish you’re looking for.

Preparing the Surface

Before you start painting with acrylics, it is essential to prepare the surface you will be painting on. By doing so, you can avoid brush strokes and ensure that your painting comes out smooth and even. Here are some steps you should follow:

Cleaning the Surface

The first step is to clean the surface thoroughly. Any dust, dirt, or grease on the surface can affect the adhesion of the paint and cause brush strokes.

Use a mild soap and water to clean the surface and allow it to dry completely. If you are painting on canvas, you can use a lint roller or a soft brush to remove any loose fibers.

Priming the Surface

Once the surface is clean and dry, the next step is to prime it. Priming the surface creates a barrier between the paint and the surface, allowing the paint to adhere better and reducing the appearance of brush strokes.

There are several types of primers available, including gesso, acrylic primer, and oil primer. Choose the one that is appropriate for the surface you are painting on.

Apply the primer in thin layers with a soft brush, using long, even strokes. Allow each layer to dry completely before applying the next one. Two or three layers of primer are usually enough to create a smooth surface.

By following these steps, you can prepare the surface properly and avoid brush strokes when painting with acrylics.

Remember to always work in a well-ventilated area and wear protective gear such as gloves and a mask if necessary.

Types of Paints That Help Avoid Brush Strokes

The other critical ingredient when learning how to avoid brush strokes when painting with acrylics is the acrylic paint itself.

Most beginner artists don’t even realize that acrylic paint comes in a variety of consistencies, types and uses.

For most beginners I always suggest not worrying about buying expensive brand of paint until you know you love painting and will continue with it.

I am not saying buy the cheaper paints but do buy a good quality paint that is in your price range and budget.

If you are looking for the best paint to use for acrylic painting then I have reviewed a few here.

Here are some of the types of acrylic paints that can help you avoid visible brush strokes in your artwork. 

Each type has its own characteristics, and choosing the right one depends on your specific needs and painting style:

Fluid Acrylics (also known as High Flow Acrylics)

These paints have a thinner consistency compared to heavy body acrylics. They are designed to flow smoothly on the surface, reducing brush strokes. Fluid acrylics are great for detail work, glazing, and watercolor-like techniques.

Soft Body Acrylics

Soft body acrylics have a smooth, creamy consistency that is ideal for achieving a brush stroke-free finish.

They are versatile and can be used for a wide range of techniques, including blending, glazing, and detail work.

Acrylic Inks

Acrylic inks are highly pigmented, fluid acrylic paints with an ink-like consistency.

They can be applied with a brush, pen, or airbrush, offering a smooth finish with minimal brush strokes. Acrylic inks work well for fine details, calligraphy, and mixed media applications.

High Flow Acrylics

High flow acrylics are similar to acrylic inks but are formulated to have a slightly lower viscosity.

They are designed for smooth flow and leveling, making them perfect for avoiding brush strokes. High flow acrylics can be used with brushes, dip pens, airbrushes, or even paint markers.

Acrylic Gouache

Acrylic gouache is a water-resistant, matte finish paint that dries flat and smooth. It is formulated to reduce brush strokes and is ideal for illustration, design work, and fine art applications.

What about Heavy Body Paints?

Heavy body acrylics have a thick and buttery consistency. They tend to hold brush strokes more than other types of acrylic paints like fluid or soft body acrylics. 

This doesn’t mean that you can’t achieve a smooth, brush stroke free finish with heavy body acrylics it just means you need to work a little harder at making this thick paint work for you to get better results. Here are some tips to help reduce brush strokes when using heavy body acrylics:

Thin the paint

You can thin heavy body acrylics with water or acrylic medium to reduce the paint’s viscosity, making it flow more smoothly and minimize brush strokes. Be cautious not to over-dilute the paint, as this can compromise its binding properties.

Use a painting medium

Adding an acrylic medium like a flow improver, glazing liquid, or gel medium can help improve the paint’s consistency and leveling properties. This can make it easier to apply the paint smoothly without visible brush strokes.

Apply multiple thin layers

Instead of applying a single thick layer of paint, try applying several thin layers, allowing each layer to dry before applying the next. This will help you achieve a smoother finish with less visible brush strokes.

Use soft-bristled brushes

High-quality, soft-bristled brushes can help you apply heavy body acrylics more smoothly, reducing brush strokes.

Try different brush techniques

Experiment with different brush techniques like feathering or blending to help minimize brush strokes. You can also use a dry brush technique, where you lightly drag a brush with minimal paint across the surface, to blend the edges of the paint and reduce brush strokes.

While heavy body acrylics may not be the best option for reducing brush strokes compared to fluid or soft body acrylics, with the right techniques and additives, you can still achieve a smooth finish.

When using these types of acrylic paints, you can further minimize brush strokes by using high-quality, soft-bristled brushes, and applying thin layers of paint.

Experiment with different types of acrylic paints to find the one that best suits your needs and provides the smoothest finish.

Choosing the Right Brush

When it comes to avoiding brush strokes in your acrylic painting, the brush you choose is just as important as the paint you use. Here are some tips for selecting the right brush:

Brush Type To Use

There are a variety of brushes available for acrylic painting, but not all of them are created equal.

Having a few types of paint brushes are the best tools you can have when learning how to avoid brush strokes when painting with acrylics.

The shapes of brushes all serve a purpose and not all will suit your style of painting.

Here are some types of brushes that are best for avoiding brush strokes:

  • Flat brush: Flat brushes have a straight edge and are great for creating sharp lines and edges. For me they are the best brush you can use to apply thin coats of acrylic paint evenly. They are used for blending and creating smooth, even strokes.
  • Fan brush: These brushes have a fan-shaped bristle arrangement and are great for blending and creating texture. They can help soften the appearance of brush strokes and create subtle transitions between colors. I love using fan brushes as the paint is drying to blend and smooth out the layers for a ‘sfumato‘ effect.
  • Round brush: These brushes have a pointed tip and are great for creating fine lines and details. The tip of the brush can be used for smooth, controlled strokes and blending in smaller areas.
  • Filbert brush: This paint brush has a rounded, tapered shape that allows for versatile strokes, blending, and creating smooth transitions. It is a great way for softening edges and achieving a brush stroke-free appearance.

Remember that the quality and softness of the brush hairs also play a significant role in achieving a smooth finish without visible brush strokes.

Synthetic brushes made of nylon or taklon are often recommended for acrylic painting due to their durability and ability to maintain their shape. You do not need to use natural bristle brushes for acrylic paints.

When selecting a brush, pay attention to the bristle type and stiffness. Soft bristles are better for creating smooth strokes, while stiff bristles are better for creating texture. Also, consider the size of the brush. 

A larger brush will cover more surface area, but a smaller brush will allow for more precision.

Remember to clean your brushes thoroughly after each use to maintain their quality and prevent bristle damage. 

With the right brushes and proper technique, you can avoid brush strokes and create a flawless acrylic painting.

Using An Air Brush Instead of Paint Brushes

When learning how to avoid brush strokes when painting with acrylics is to avoid using a paint brush altogether! You can paint with acrylic paint using an airbrush.

Using an airbrush is an excellent method for creating a smooth, brush stroke free finish when painting. 

An airbrush is like a smaller version of a paint sprayer that can fit in one hand and sprays a fine mist of paint, allowing for even coverage and seamless blending of colors.

You can use it to paint small or large spaces, all that you need to change is the airbrush itself and the reservoir that you use to store the paint while painting.

Air brushing is really popular in automotive painting, illustration, and model-making but can also be applied to fine art and other creative projects. You can achieve some really detailed work with an air brush without having to use up too much paint. 

Airbrushing also allows you to apply different effects to large flat areas.

Here are some tips for using an airbrush to achieve a brush stroke-free finish:

Choose the right airbrush

There are different types of airbrushes available, such as single-action and double-action airbrushes. Research and choose the one that best suits your needs and skill level.

Compressor

Most people forget that an airbrush will not work without a compressor.

This is a little pump that is usually powered at the power outlet and will have a small piston that pumps air through to the airbrush and pushing the paint out of the airbrush.

One tip I received from an expert airbrush artist is to not skimp on the compressor.

A bad compressor may sputter air which will make your airbrush splatter paint out rather than getting it out in a smooth flow. Here’s good article on how to choose the right airbrush compressor.

Use appropriate paint

Airbrushing typically requires paint with a thin, fluid consistency.

You can use airbrush-specific acrylic paint, or thin regular acrylic paint using an airbrush medium or acrylic thinner. Make sure to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for thinning ratios.

Practice airbrushing techniques

Familiarize yourself with the airbrush and practice various techniques, such as controlling air pressure, paint flow, and distance from the painting surface. This will help you achieve a consistent and smooth finish.

Apply thin, even layers

Build up the paint in thin, even layers, allowing each layer to dry before applying the next. This will help you avoid paint runs or pooling, which can create an uneven surface.

Clean and maintain your airbrush

Proper cleaning and maintenance of your airbrush are essential to ensure its longevity and optimal performance. Always clean your airbrush thoroughly after each use, following the manufacturer’s instructions.

Using an airbrush can create a professional, smooth finish without visible brush strokes, but it requires practice and patience to master the technique.

Mixing the Paint

When it comes to avoiding brush strokes in acrylic painting, mixing the paint properly is a key factor. Here are some tips to help you mix your paint like a pro:

Adding A Little Water or Medium

Adding a little water or medium to your paint can be a good idea at first as it can help make it smoother and easier to apply.

This can reduce the appearance of brush strokes. But it is important to use the right amount of water or medium.

Adding too much can cause your paint to become too thin and runny, while adding too little can make it difficult to spread evenly.

A good rule of thumb is to start with a small amount of water or medium and gradually add more as needed.

You can test the consistency of your paint by applying it to a scrap piece of paper or canvas. If it is too thick, add a little more water or medium. If it is too thin, add a little more paint.

Types of Acrylic Mediums You Can Use

Another way you can achieve a smooth, brush stroke free finish with acrylic paint is to use various mediums and additives designed for water-based paints. Do not use the ones designed for oil-based paint such as linseed oil. 

These will either help with working with thinner paints or making them flow more smoothly. 

Here are some options for you:

Acrylic Flow Improver

This additive reduces the paint’s viscosity, making it more fluid and improving the paint’s leveling properties. It helps the paint to flow smoothly on the surface, reducing brush strokes.

This is also useful if you are using an airbrush and need to thin your paint a little more.

Acrylic Glazing Liquid

This medium extends the working time of acrylic paint and improves its flow. It allows for smoother, transparent layers, which can be built up without visible brush strokes.

Acrylic Retarder

This additive slows down the drying time of acrylic paint, giving you more time to work with it and allowing the paint to self-level, reducing brush strokes.

Acrylic Gel Mediums

Using a soft gel medium mixed with acrylic paint can help to create a smoother consistency, making it easier to achieve a brush stroke-free finish.

Remember to always follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for the appropriate ratios when mixing additives or mediums with acrylic paint. Experiment with different additives and mediums to find the best combination for your desired effect.

Glazing Mediums

A glazing medium can help achieve smooth finishes in your acrylic paintings. Glazing medium is a transparent and fluid medium that can be mixed with acrylic paint to create thin, transparent layers called glazes. 

These glazes can be applied over the surface of the painting, adding depth, luminosity, and smoothness to the artwork.

I have successfully use glazing mediums to build up layers of smooth brush stroke free finishes that are almost resin-like by the time I’m finished.

Mixing Colors

When mixing different colors, it is important to mix them thoroughly and to use the right amount of paint to avoid uneven results and visible brush marks on the canvas. Here are some tips to help you mix your colors like a pro:

  • Use a palette knife or a clean brush to mix your colors.
  • Start with a small amount of paint and gradually add more as needed.
  • Apply a thin paint layer first then a second coat and continue to build up the layers as you go.
  • Mix your colors thoroughly until there are no visible streaks or lumps.
  • Test your color mixture by applying it to a scrap piece of paper or canvas.

By following these tips, you can mix your paint like a pro and achieve smooth, even results every single time.

Applying the Paint

When it comes to avoiding brush strokes when painting with acrylics, how you apply the paint is just as important as the type of paint you use. Here are some tips for applying acrylic paint without leaving brush strokes:

Using Proper Acrylic Brush Techniques

One of the most important things you can do to avoid brush strokes is to use proper brush techniques.

This means using a light touch and apply thin coats of paint with nice even layers. Try to use long, smooth strokes rather than short, choppy ones.

If you do need to use shorter strokes, be sure to blend them together so they don’t leave visible marks on the canvas.

Another technique to try is using a drybrush method. This involves loading your brush with very little paint and lightly going over the area.

This can help blend the strokes together and make them less noticeable.

Applying Multiple Coats

Another way to avoid brush strokes is by applying multiple coats of paint. Rather than trying to apply a thick layer of paint all at once, apply several thin layers instead. This will help the paint dry more evenly and reduce the appearance of brush strokes.

When applying multiple coats, be sure to let each layer dry completely before applying the next one. This will help prevent the paint from smudging or blending together and creating visible brush strokes.

The final coat of paint should be about ensuring a brush stroke free surface, where you are fixing up any mistakes.

By using proper brush techniques and applying multiple thin layers of paint, you can create a smooth, even finish without any visible brush strokes. With a little practice and patience, you’ll be able to create beautiful acrylic paintings that look like they were created by a professional artist.

Finishing Touches

Now that you have learned how to avoid brush strokes when painting with acrylics, it’s time to add some finishing touches to your masterpiece. Here are some tips to help you achieve a professional-looking finish:

Removing Brush Strokes

If you still have some brush strokes visible on your painting, don’t worry. There are a few ways to remove them:

  • Use a fine 1000 grit sandpaper or a sanding block to gently sand the surface of your painting. This will help to smooth out any rough areas and remove any visible brush strokes. Apply some gloss varnish over the top to restore the color underneath.
  • Apply a coat of varnish or clear acrylic medium to your painting. This will help to even out the surface and give you a smooth, glossy finish.
  • Use a palette knife or a dry brush to lightly scrape away any excess paint or brush strokes.
  • You can use an epoxy resin pour over the acrylic painting. As an epoxy resin is self leveling it means it will eliminate all brush strokes and give your painting a glass like finish.

Adding Texture

If you want to add some texture back into your painting, here are some techniques you can use:

  • Use a palette knife to apply thick layers of paint to your canvas. This will create a raised, textured surface that can add depth and interest to your painting.
  • Add some sand, sawdust, or other materials to your paint to create a gritty, textured surface.
  • Use a dry brush to create a scumbling effect. This involves lightly dragging a dry brush over the surface of your painting to create a subtle, textured effect.

Remember, the best way to achieving a professional-looking finish is to experiment with different techniques and find what works best for you.

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