You’ve probably heard of chalk paint if you’re a do-it-yourselfer. It’s a popular choice for anyone who wants to decorate their home with the “modern farmhouse” or “cottage core” aesthetic. But what exactly is chalk paint, and what is it used for?
Chalk paint is basically a primer-free paint that has a chalky-looking finish to it. It’s quick and easy and covers surfaces easier than traditional paint.
Any brand of chalk paint gives a soft matte “chalky” finish to whatever you’re painting. With a little bit of light sanding, it’s easy to use chalky paint to create a “distressed” appearance on furniture.
It can transform any ordinary household item to give it the look of a cherished antique. For some items, a sealant coat of wax is applied to give your painted item a more velvety matte appearance or to create a soft patina finish.
What’s The Difference Between Chalk Paint and Regular Paint?
Chalk paint is unique and differs from traditional home paints in many ways. The most obvious difference is in its appearance. Once chalk paint dries, it has a matte “chalky” look. There isn’t even a hint of glossiness. It even has a bit of a chalk-like texture when you touch it.
There are plenty of traditional matte finish paints on the market, but they don’t have quite the same velvety look that you can achieve with chalk paint.
Chalk paint is easy to apply, and unlike traditional home paints, you won’t need to do much preparation and rarely need to use a primer coat. In fact, you can use chalk paint right over existing paint with no problems.
This is especially nice if you want to sand edges and let the prior paint color show through for a distressed style. Chalky paint applies smoothly to most surfaces, even glass, and metal, with little to no preparation.
Sometimes a very light sanding will help the paint stick easier, but that’s only necessary if you’re painting a very glossy surface.
Traditional home paints and chalk finish paints are also different in their consistencies. Chalk-style paint is a bit thicker. Because of this, it’s less likely to drip and run while you’re painting. In fact, for many projects, you can probably get away with only applying one coat of chalk-style paint, whereas you might need two coats of traditional paint.
Chalk paint is much easier to clean up, too. It’s water-based, so you can wash your brushes with a gentle detergent and water instead of mineral spirits.
What Do You Use Chalk Paint For?
Annie Sloan first invented chalk paint because she was frustrated with trying to find furniture paint that she liked. Her efforts definitely started a popular trend, with dozens of chalk-style paint brands in a wide assortment of colors now available! All brands of chalk-style paint have been used primarily for refinishing and upcycling wood furniture to give them a “vintage” look.
A plain piece of furniture, no matter how old, can easily be transformed into an eye-catching focal point of any room when refinished with chalk paint. A coat or two of chalk-style paint applied to used furniture from thrift stores and yard sales is an easy way to bring a designer look to your home.
If you’re a fan of the “distressed” look, chalky paint is the best way to achieve it. A light sanding over chalky paint gives that antiqued distressed look that is popular with so many interior designers.
While chalk paint isn’t the best choice for painting entire rooms, you can use it as an accent to your home decor by painting picture frames, shelves, and even light fixtures. Bottles and jars painted with chalk paint become pretty accent pieces in any room of your house.
Chalk finish paint works well for stenciling projects. You can add chalky paint accents on any piece of furniture, even if the furniture is already stained or painted with traditional paint.
When using chalk paint with a stencil, you’ll want to be sure that your stencil brush or roller has a small amount of paint on it. Because chalk finish paints are thicker than traditional paint, your stencil won’t have nicely defined edges if you use too much paint. You can always add more paint to your design if necessary.
Seasonal craft projects, such as wooden signs or table accents, can be transformed into beautiful vintage-looking pieces with the right colors of chalky paint and a little imagination.
Holiday floral arrangements in a chalky painted container are absolutely charming!
How Do You Use Chalk Paint?
Chalky Paint is easy to use for any project! If you’re painting furniture or any other large project, most of the time you won’t even need to sand or apply a primer coat. The only time you might want to sand a surface is if you are painting something that is very glossy. Just a light sanding will be enough for the chalky paint to go on smoothly.
Chalky paints are water-based. If your paint seems too thick, you can pour some of the paint into a paper cup, then thin it out with a little bit of water. It won’t take much water, so add it a small amount at a time until it’s the consistency you want.
For smaller projects, one coat of chalky paint is probably enough for smooth, even coverage. For larger projects, one coat will be okay if you plan to “distress” a painted piece. If you want a smooth all-over coverage, it would be best to apply two thin coats of chalky paint. Be sure to allow the first coat to dry completely before applying the second coat of paint.
If you like the appearance of “distressed” furniture, it’s easy to achieve with chalky paint. Once your painted project is completely dry, go over the areas you want to “distress” with a piece of very fine sandpaper.
You won’t need to sand very long; it should just take a couple of minutes to see results. Lightly sanding along edges, or over uneven places in the wood will turn an ordinary piece of furniture into something special.
The final step for your chalky painted work is to seal it with a wax finish.
For smaller pieces, you probably don’t even need to apply a sealant. However, large items like furniture should be sealed to prevent chipping and scratches. There are almost as many brands of chalked paint waxes available as there are chalked paint choices! It’s easy to apply but does take a little bit of patience. Follow the directions for the specific brand you buy, but the basic steps are to apply a thin coat of the clear wax with a stiff bristle paint brush, let it dry overnight, then use a soft, lint-free cloth to buff the wax. A
second wax coat can be applied if you want a little more protection for your painted object. You don’t want to use a gloss finish sealant on chalk paint; that would completely ruin the beautiful matte finish. There are matte finish spray sealants available, but they’re better suited to smaller painted projects.
Are Chalk Paint and Milk Paint The Same Thing?
You’ve probably seen milk paint while you’re shopping for the perfect paint to spruce up a unique piece of furniture. While there are many similarities between milk paint and chalk finish paint, they’re not the same thing. You can my full article about chalk paint vs milk paint here.
Both milk paint and chalk finish paint will give you similar results.
They both dry to a soft matte finish and both are easy to create a “distressed” finish. Milk paint does have a very subtle bit of sheen when dried, as opposed to the absolutely matte finish of chalk paints.
They’re also both water-based, and have almost no odors. Those are the primary similarities.
One of the biggest differences between milk paint and chalk paints is that milk paint is usually sold in powdered form that has to be mixed with water. It requires quite a bit of mixing to get a smooth consistency. Chalk paints are ready to use; at most they might need a couple of stirs when you first open the can.
Both of these paints are similar in their composition, with one of the main ingredients being calcium carbonate. This mineral is what gives milk paint and chalk style paints their soft matte texture.
Milk paint differs in that it contains actual milk proteins (casein) as one of the ingredients. In the powdered form, milk paint lasts a very long time.
However, you should only mix a small amount of milk paint at a time, because once mixed the milk proteins can start to break down.
You can store unused mixed paint in the refrigerator for a couple of days, but not much longer. Milk paint dries very quickly, and once it dries there’s no risk of the milk proteins degrading.
How Much Does Chalk Paint Cost?
How much you spend on chalk paint depends on the quantity you need, and on the brand. Smaller bottles of paint from craft stores cost under $10.
Larger cans usually 30 ounces, can cost between $20 and $45, depending on the brand. When budgeting for your project, don’t forget to include chalk paint wax to protect larger projects. The wax is fairly inexpensive. Depending on the brand you purchase, the price usually averages between $15 to $25 a can.
Which Chalk Paint is the Best?
There really isn’t a best overall chalk paint in my opinion. There are a lot of quality options to choose from but they are in slightly different price ranges.
Some chalk paints are better at one thing and not quite as good at other things. I wrote a whole review post on the best chalk paints that you can find on this site. I’ve tried them all but it depends on the project you’re doing on which one is actually the best.
Where To Buy Chalk Paint
Chalk paints are readily available from many locations. If you want to try designer options, such as the paints from Annie Sloan or Joanna Gaines, you can order directly from their websites. Large home improvement stores carry chalk finish paints made by large paint companies such as Behr and Rustoleum. Craft stores will have chalky paint in smaller quantities, which are perfect if you’re painting smaller objects.
Chalk Paint Alternatives
Is there anything that makes a DIY project more frustrating than not being able to find the perfect color for your project?
Have you ever tried to match a color you have in mind, with absolutely no luck finding it? I think any home crafter has been there! While there are many chalk-style paints available, there is a way to take any paint and transform it to a chalk finish.
BB Frosch Paint Transformer Powder is an additive that you can mix into any brand/color of latex or acrylic paint and it will dry to a matte chalky finish. It has 100% all-natural ingredients and is relatively inexpensive with prices ranging from $12 to $34 depending on the quantity.
This can be a very economical option for your painting projects because you can mix up as little or as much paint as you need for any project. The transformer powder has a long shelf life if properly stored, so if you find yourself with leftover powder you can save it for future craft projects.
BB Frosch Paint Transformer Powder works best on flat finish paints, although you can use it on paints with satin and gloss finishes. They just won’t look quite as chalky once dried. I
t can also be sanded for a distressed appearance and sealed with wax, just like ready-made chalk finish paints.
Are you ready now to try revitalizing a piece of furniture with chalk paint? Or do you want to create some cute vintage-style home decor items?
Hopefully, this article has given you a good overview of how fun and versatile chalk finish paint can be, as well as inspired you to create something wonderful!