Can You Wet Or Dry Sand Acrylic Paint? (How To Guide)

Acrylic paint is incredibly durable and easy to work with but becomes almost permanent once dry. So, can acrylic paint be sanded? Or what if the texture isn’t to your liking? Can you sand acrylic paint? The simple answer is yes, you can! But you need the right technique and sandpaper to learn how to sand acrylic paint.

Although sanding acrylic paint isn’t a necessity, it can help you reach a certain quality in your project if you’re looking for that. If you sand carefully, you can fix mistakes on your project, control the project's texture, or add effects to the paint without affecting the entire piece. 

Let me first distinguish between dry sanding and wet sanding. Although both achieve the same results (giving your paint a smoother finish), they reach different finish qualities. Depending on the finish you want your project to have, you will be better off using one method over the other. 

Dry sanding is just how it sounds. You take sandpaper and directly apply it to the paint until you reach the finish that you want. It gives you a smooth finish and takes less time than wet sanding, but it also removes more paint than wet sanding. Aside from the finish, the most significant difference between dry and wet sanding is how much mess it makes. 

Acrylic paint produces a lot of dust when you sand it down and releases harmful chemicals into the air. Wet sanding, where you put lubricant (usually water) on sandpaper before sanding, generates far less dust. Although it takes more time and patience than dry sanding, I recommend wet sanding to avoid as much mess as possible. Wet sanding also removes less paint to get you a super smooth finish. It will, however, take more time to do since you have to sand by hand. 

acrylic paint

How Long Should Acrylic Paint Dry Before Sanding? 

It should go without saying that you must wait for your paint to dry before you start sanding it.  

To be safe, wait at least 30 minutes before testing the area to see if it’s dry. If the paint still feels soft, you should continue to wait until it dries completely. Your paint must be totally dry before you start wet or dry sanding. Wet sanding is ideal for acrylic paints since it’s safer and will get you a smoother finish than dry sanding.

The smoother you want your paint’s texture to be, the more sanding you have to do. In this case, I recommend sanding between acrylic coats. This takes more time and requires more patience, but the finish will be super smooth and clean. 

It’s entirely subjective whether you want to apply a clear coat before or after sanding. When you sand a clear coat, you run the risk of sanding away the paint beneath it. When you apply a clear coat over sanded paint, you risk losing that smooth finish you had achieved. If you decide to sand over a clear coat, you still need to wait until the coat is entirely dry before sanding. 

acrylic paint

How To Wet Sand Acrylic Paint Step By Step 

Can you wet sand acrylic paint? Yes, you can! Read on to learn how. 

Step 1. Check The Material You Are Sanding 

The surface you sand might be hard to work with even though you can sand an acrylic painting. Can you sand acrylic paint on wood? Yes! 

Sanding acrylic paint on wood and other hard surfaces like metal and glass is safe. A canvas will give you some trouble, but if you primed with a primer like Gesso, it should be safe to sand on. To be safe, I recommend putting a hand opposite the spot you're sanding to support the canvas. 

Step 2. Gather Your Materials 

Because wet sanding needs to be done by hand, you need sandpaper. The grit sandpaper you need is highly dependent on what you want to do with the paint. 

You can use medium-grit sandpaper to fix big mistakes, but I don't recommend using it for anything other than that. Fine or very fine sandpaper (from 180 grit and above) is ideal. You can use it to eliminate unwanted textures, create texture, repair bumps, and ultimately get a very smooth finish. 

You will also need a mask or respirator. Although wet sanding doesn’t make as much of a mess as dry sanding, you will still be exposing yourself to toxic materials when inhaled. 

Step 3. Wet Your Materials 

I would recommend wetting your sandpaper rather than the paint. You get more control over the areas you want to sand and prevent your paint from getting rubbed off accidentally. You don’t want the sandpaper to be soaked. You want it just wet enough to prevent too much dust from gathering on your canvas material. 

Step 4. Sand 

Don’t apply too much pressure when sanding. Sand lightly, and use soft circular motions until you get the finish you want. This will take a while, so be patient and don’t be afraid to take your time. 

Step 5. Seal Your Work 

Don’t worry about seeing the luster fade in your paint. As dust accumulates, it takes away the paint's glossy look. You can take a damp cloth, wipe it across the paint, and finish the project off with a clear coat. This keeps your project protected from being chipped or scratched and brings back the shine in your paint. 


Tips And Tricks

Although I mention them earlier, here are tricks I use to keep sanding as stress-free as possible: 

  • Use wet sanding for acrylic paint unless you’re correcting big mistakes 
  • Fill in deep grooves in your acrylic paint to keep from sanding too much paint away 
  • Start with grit 200 sandpaper and work your way up until the paint reaches the smoothness you want 
  • Use a mask or respirator to ensure you’re not inhaling toxic materials 
  • Seal your work with a clear coat to bring back your paint’s luster after sanding 

Frequently Asked Questions 

Does sanding acrylic paint remove streaks and textures in the paint? 

Yes. Removing streaks and texture are some of the most common reasons for sanding acrylic. It’s best to use fine-grit sandpaper for this to ensure the smoothest results. 


Can you sand acrylic paint off canvas? 

Yes, although it is a little less stable than sanding off other harder surfaces. When sanding acrylic off canvas, make sure to hold the bottom side of the canvas for extra stability, and, ideally, the canvas should be primed.  


How do you polish acrylic after wet sanding? 

After you’re done wet sanding, go over the surface with a buffing tool that has polishing wax. Alternatively, you can go over the surface by hand with a cotton cloth and some polishing paste. There are other methods like diamond or flame polishing, but these require some skill, and aren’t so well-suited to at-home projects. 


Conclusion

You can sand acrylic paint easily, and it helps you get the result you want in your project. Though you should handle it delicately, don't be afraid to try it when it feels appropriate. 


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