How To Get A Smooth Finish With Polycrylic

How To Get A Smooth Finish With Polycrylic

If you work with wood in any capacity then you will know the importance of treating it to protect it. Skipping this step will lead to the wood disintegrating and ultimately being rendered useless far more quickly than if it were treated.

Polycrylic is a well-known treatment for wood that is incredibly effective. However, a lot of people have problems when it comes to the application of this product. Most commonly, DIYers struggle with brush strokes and marks in the finish which doesn’t provide the wood with the aesthetic they were hoping for. But surely there’s got to be some secret on how to get a smooth finish with Polycrylic?

There are several things you can do to ensure a smooth Polycrylic finish including using a high-quality brush with a new tin of product, applying in one direction and only applying on wet paint.

But there’s a lot more to learn so in this detailed guide, we will tell you how to get the best Polycrylic finish so that your project is as perfect as you intended.

What Is Polycrylic And What Is It Used For?

Polycrylic is a type of water-based protective coating which is designed to give wood additional protection. It will stop the wood from sustaining damage from things like water, which is imperative but also gives an attractive finish to your piece.

Speaking of finishes, one of the great things about Polycrylic is that it comes in a wide range of finishes. There are high gloss Polycrylic products, matte ones and even satin. You will also notice that Polycrylic comes in a choice of colours which is great if you’re really keen to improve the aesthetic of your wood.

Normally, you would use Polycrylic for things like doors, wooden flooring, furniture, wood cabinets and many other things.

There are two different types of Polycrylic; a spray version and a roll-on version. The spray Polycrylic is great if you only need to apply a thin layer. It’s also perfect if you’re in a pinch for time as the application process is much quicker.

It comes in an aerosol so it’s also very easy to apply and this is one of the main selling points of this type of Polycrylic. However, it is not uncommon for you to get pressure marks so while it’s easy to spray on, there’s an art to mastering a technique that will ensure an even finish. On the plus side, since the coats are much thinner, the Polycrylic will dry very rapidly. That said, we’d really only recommend spray-on Polycrylic for smaller projects.

You might also wish to consider that the use of aerosols isn’t great for the planet. So if you’re looking to create an eco-friendly workshop, it may be best to steer clear of this type.

The other type of Polycrylic is roll-on which comes in a can. What’s great about these is that the large cans are perfect for bigger projects. Moreover, there are a lot more varieties of the roll-on version so you get much more choice in the type of finish you give to your wood.

The biggest problem with roll-on Polycrylic is that brush strokes and marks are incredibly common. Some people use a roller but there are a lot of experts that recommend against this and would say that a brush is best as long as you do it correctly.

How Can I Apply Polycrylic Smoothly?

If you have ever attempted to apply Polycrylic then you will know how infuriating it is when those brushstrokes appear. But you don’t need to settle for second best and there are ways that you can get a smooth finish, it’s all in the application. Here are our top tips for success.

Applying To Fresh And Wet Paint

It might surprise you to learn that applying Polycrylic to paint that has been allowed to dry even just for a few minutes could result in unwanted brush stroke marks. For this reason, you will need to make sure that you apply the Polycrylic directly onto the paint you have just applied.

This is because, when you try to apply Polycrylic over paint that has started to dry, your brush will drag some of that tacky paint and this creates marks. Alternatively, you can wait until the paint is completely dry.

Brush Choice Matters

There is nothing worse during Polycrylic application than using a bog-standard or cheap brush. You need to invest in high-quality brushes that have soft bristles as these will limit the appearance of any brush marks.

Also make sure that you choose the right size brush that will allow for good, even coverage. The less you have to go over a piece, the less chance there will be of stroke marks.

You will need to store your brush correctly in between Polycrylic coats and this is just as important as anything else. Using a small plastic bag is a great option as it will prevent them from drying out which will certainly result in brush stroke marks.

Choose A Direction…And Stick With It

If there’s one thing that we were all taught it’s that when applying paint, you go in one direction. Well, the same applies when you’re working with Polycrylic. Primarily, this will stop you from making contact with an area that you have already treated but it will also prevent stroke marks in all different directions which will ruin the appearance of your wood.

Use Fresh Polycrylic

Polycrylic doesn’t last an enormous length of time so if you open a can and notice that the product has thickened, throw it out and open a new one. Generally speaking, if you reseal the can, you should be able to store it for around 12 months without any problems but if you aren’t sure you’ll use it, it’s probably best to buy a smaller can.

Don’t Apply Too Much Too Soon

We know you want to get your project done as soon as possible but applying thick layers of Polycrylic isn’t the way to go. In fact, you’ll find out that it ends up taking longer as you’ll have a lot of remedial work to do.

Instead, apply thin coats. These will dry much faster and there is less chance of drip marks and other imperfections.

Choose The Right Finish

If you have your heart set on a glossy finish then you need to keep in mind that these shiny paints will show up imperfections far more easily. It is possible to avoid this but you’ll need to be really careful and follow our tips to the letter. If you want to make your life easier, go for a matte finish as this will naturally go on more smoothly.

Think About The Conditions

Painting in humidity can make life much more difficult. Polycrylic will perform and dry better than other treatments in humid conditions but it’s still best to avoid this where possible. You’ll notice that it’ll take much longer to dry when compared to applying in other conditions and because of this, there is a chance that you may paint over a half-dry spot, causing brush strokes.

How Many Coats Of Polycrylic Do I Need?

Normally, you would need to apply between two and three coats of Polycrylic. This will give you the right amount of protection and will be long lasting. However, if you are applying Polycrylic to a surface that’s going to be put through the wringer such as a table or wooden floor then you might need to add an extra coat or two.

How long it takes for each coat to dry will depend on several things including the humidity levels and temperature in the room. In the most humid environments, you could end up waiting several hours, or even overnight for each coat to dry.

In normal conditions, however, you will find that your Polycrylic coats should be ready for another layer after around 30 and 60 minutes.


If you want your wood to be well protected and have an appealing finish then applying a topcoat such as Polycrylic is a must. However, so many DIYers find that their application is messy and has a lot of brush stroke marks.

There are a lot of things that you can do to avoid this and by combining all of the tips we have talked about in this guide, you’ll be able to apply Polycrylic smoothly and evenly.

How To Get A Smooth Finish With Polycrylic

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