How to Crackle Finish With Acrylic Paint

Written by m.t. wroblewski
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How to Crackle Finish With Acrylic Paint
Generally, a bold colour is a good choice for a base coat on a crackle finish. (Jupiterimages/Goodshoot/Getty Images)

Whoever sarcastically compared boredom to "watching paint dry" never created an acrylic crackle finish before. For sheer entertainment value alone, this faux finish is one of the most surprising to create. The top layer of paint literally cracks open before your eyes, exposing the base coat underneath. Creating a crackle finish with acrylic paint is a methodical process, so even children can learn to get in on this "magic act."

Skill level:
Moderately Easy

Things you need

  • Dust sheet, plastic or old blanket
  • Water-based acrylic paint in two colours (base coat and top coat)
  • Paintbrushes or foam brushes
  • Acrylic crackle glaze
  • Fine-grit sandpaper
  • Acrylic varnish

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  1. 1

    Protect your work surface with a dust sheet, plastic or old blanket. Review your paint choices, understanding that the base coat is the colour that shows through the cracks. Apply the base coat to your chosen object with a paintbrush or foam brush. Let the paint dry for two to three hours and then apply a second coat. Let this coat dry as well.

  2. 2

    Apply one even coat of acrylic crackle glaze, brushing on the thin liquid in one direction only. Work horizontally if you want horizontal cracks or vertically if you want vertical cracks. Be mindful that the thickness of the coat you apply will determine the resulting finish. The thicker the coat, the larger the cracks form; the thinner the coat, the more subtle the cracks. Let the crackle glaze dry thoroughly.

  3. 3

    If you want a more dramatic crackling effect, apply another coat of acrylic crackle glaze in the opposite direction that you applied the first. Let this coat dry thoroughly.

  4. 4

    Apply the top coat of paint in steady, easy strokes. Do not go over the surface again; the cracks in this coat of paint begin to appear before your eyes immediately.

  5. 5

    Allow the object to dry thoroughly. As it does, more cracks continue to form, further revealing the base coat underneath.

  6. 6

    Sand the object lightly to smooth out any nicks or imperfections. Brush on a coat of acrylic varnish to protect your new crackle finish.

Tips and warnings

  • A crackle finish disguises imperfections, so it's a natural choice for rough or uneven surfaces, including wood, plaster or plastic.
  • Crackle finishes are especially well-suited to smaller objects, such as boxes, shelves and furniture, but not on walls.
  • Do a test piece on poster board. The difference between a white-on-black crackle finish, compared to a black-on-white crackle finish, is dramatic.
  • If you're in a hurry, speed up the drying process with a hair dryer.
  • Work in a well-ventilated room or a room with an open window to prevent inhaling excess dangerous fumes.

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