I used to think Annie Sloan Chalk Paint wasn’t for me, because all the examples I saw were of layered and distressed finishes. It is really part of the ASCP brand, because the paint works remarkably well for distressed and faux finishes. But, it also has its merits for modern finishes.

modern paint finish with chalk paint

Why Chalk Paint?

I choose chalk paint for my painted furniture because:

  • You do not have to prime first
  • You do not have to sand first
  • You can do different looks with a finish coat (not locked into the sheen of the paint). I finished my media center with a satin sheen, but I plan to do a glossier finish over the same paint for an end table.

Possible downsides of chalk paint:

  • More limited color palette, but there are instructions on mixing paint to extend colors
  • Although you skip sanding and priming, there is an added finishing step at the end (see above why I think that is a bonus)

Tips for a Smooth Paint Finish

Achieving a smooth paint finish depends on several variables. The tool and technique tips below apply to all water-based paints including chalk paint.

1.  Stain Before Paint

If you want to create a two-tone look like I did on my media center with paint and stain, it is best to stain first.  It is easier to stain first.  Apply all coats of stain and allow to dry fully.  Then, you can prep for painting by taping off any stained areas.

painting-furniture-tips-3

2. Paint Type Matters

  • Chalk paint appears to apply with visible brush strokes, but it dries pretty smoothly.  Several thin coats are better than one thick coat.
  • Latex paint is more susceptible to brush strokes, depending on the quality of the paint.  Higher-end paints dry smoother.  You also have to properly prepare the surface by stripping and/or sanding the old finish smooth before painting.  For an extra tip, specific to latex paints, check out my favorite additive for reducing brush strokes (a must for painting trim and cabinets).

3. The Right Tools

Best brush and roller for painting furniture

  • A good quality brush – I prefer the Purdy XL Cub. I always have at least three in service and use them for cutting in walls, painting furniture, and even smaller craft projects.
  • The best roller –  I love Home Depots system for labeling brushes and rollers with good, better, best. I had always heard the white foam rollers were ideal for a smooth finish, but I always got bubbles with them. Well HD labels them “better”, so that got my looking for “best”. These thinner roller covers are labeled “best” and they are best. They say right on the label they are for painting trim and cabinets. Well, I don’t know about you, but I prefer my furniture pieces as smooth as my cabinets. The finish was incredibly smooth. This will forever more be my go to roller for furniture painting.

4. Technique matters

  • Brushing – I prefer to brush first and only use the brush on narrow or hard to reach areas where the roller won’t work. Brush in long continuous strokes and don’t over brush. Paint starts drying as soon as it hits the piece, if you over brush, you will get brush strokes. Also, it is important to properly load your brush with paint. Aim for the bottom 1/3 to 1/2 of the brush loaded with paint. Less than that and you brush will get drag marks and more visible brush strokes. More than that and you will drip and slop paint everywhere.

painting-furniture-tips-1 With the right brush and properly loading paint, even a child can help paint furniture and achieve a smooth finish.  My son helped me paint the front of the media cabinet. 

  • Rolling - Properly load your roller with paint. It should be saturated, but not dripping. Unlike painting walls, where you roll over and over the same area, I prefer to roll in long strokes across the furniture piece. I roll the paint all the way across, then pull the roller back, and finish with one final stroke in the original direction. Always finish each stroke rolling in the same direction. Use one long stroke to cover the entire length you are working on, instead of doing smaller sections.

How to Get a Modern Sheen

Matte or Eggshell Finish (Low Sheen)

If you paint with chalk paint, you need to apply wax or another finish after the paint dries. For a modern finish, I do not use clear wax. Waxing is a multi-step process, applying the wax and then later buffing the wax. It provides a quality result and durable finish, but the sheen is matte. More buffing can make it shinier, but it still won’t achieve a satin finish.

Dipped Chair I used clear wax on my dipped office chair.  It has a nice smooth finish, but it is low-luster.

Satin or Gloss Finish (Medium to High Sheen)

For modern pieces, I prefer a satin finish, and sometimes a gloss finish. For both I use Minwax Polycrylic in the respective sheen. Not to be confused with oil-based polyurethane, Polycrylic is a water-based protective finish that will not yellow.  Polycrylic can also be applied as a finish coat over stain, too, which makes it nice for two-tone (like my media stand dresser) or tri-color pieces (like my tri-color dresser). The Polycrylic requires 2-3 coats. I do not recommend rolling on the Polycrylic. Even on the can they recommend brushing it on. I use my trusty Purdy brush and brush on the Polycrylic in long even coats. I have been happy with two coats on my pieces, but the can suggests three coats.  Make sure to let the Polycrylic dry thoroughly between coats. Also, if you do notice any brush strokes, you can lightly sand with 220-grit sand paper in between finish coats.

Painted Dresser Modern Media Stand On my modern media stand, I applied two coats of Polycrylic in Satin Finish.  I used the same finish on the stained wood drawer fronts.

I am so glad I gave Annie Sloan Chalk Paint a try.  Just because most examples are distressed and layered, doesn’t mean you can’t create a modern look with chalk paint.  Even with the extra finishing step, I prefer chalk paint to latex paint for furniture.  I think the finished result is better.

29 Responses to How to Get a Modern Finish with Chalk Paint

  1. Jenna says:

    It is beautiful, Jackie! I’m like you – I love a modern finish as opposed to a flat / vintage one! Awesome tips!

  2. Thanks for sharing! I am usually drawn to more modern pieces and it is good to know how to do that with ASCP. I even took a class about refinishing furniture with ASCP and we didn’t learn that. Thanks for the tip.

  3. LD says:

    Great tips!!! I use a buffer attachment on my drill to buff my pieces which gives me a nice sheen almost gloss and so smooth. Plus much faster finish, just an FYI.

    • Jackie says:

      Where or where do I get a buffer attachment? I have wondered about that, because there is no way people hand wax those giant pieces of furniture.

      • Chrystal says:

        Any word on the buffer attachment for a drill? I used Polycrylic in gloss on a desk and then a piece of glass on top. It has created weird sticking marks on the glass (looks like when water is trapped under glass) and looks awful. I am wondering if I buff it really good and then put the glass back on if that will help.

        • Jackie says:

          Chrystal, I can’t speak to the buffer attachment. But I am guessing the finish didn’t cure fully before putting the glass on top. You may want to check how long Polycrylic recommends allowing the piece to fully cure (not just dry).

  4. Amy says:

    Thanks for the tips! Did you end up priming this piece? Did you sand between coats of ASCP? And do you sand again between coats of wax or polycrylic? Sorry for all the questions!

    • Jackie says:

      Amy, I did not prime this piece, but I had stripped it before knowing I would use chalk paint. For the sister dresser, I did not prime or strip. You do not need to prime, strip, or sand before applying chalk paint.

      I did not sand between coats of chalk paint. Using a quality brush and roller, each coat applied smoothly. I did not sand between Polycrylic coats. Using a quality brush it applied smoothly over the already smooth paint. I did not use any wax on this piece. Waxing is a whole other process.

      Hope that extra detail helps.

      • Amy says:

        Thanks Jackie! I’m shocked you didn’t have to dilute the paint and got this smooth finish with the chalk paint using your brush and roller. I am definitely going to try this. I’m wondering if you would sand between wax coats?

  5. Jess says:

    Hey Jackie,

    Great article! What color and brand of chalk paint did you use for the turquoise chair? It doesn’t look like any of the Annie Sloan colors.

    Thanks,
    Jess

  6. Darcy says:

    Jackie – I recently purchased this same exact dresser at an auction. My son decided he wanted it as a media center. I was going to paint it all the same color – olive ASCP. When I came across this, I loved it and my son does too. Did you water down the chalk paint any? He doesn’t want brush strokes and everything I’ve painted with ASCP has noticeable brush strokes. Did you actually roll the top of the media center?

    • Jackie says:

      Darcy, I did not water mine down, although I have heard that helps. The key to my success was the small “best” quality roller. I did roll the entire top using long rolls all the way across in the same direction. I brushed the small front parts and the. Went over them with the roller quickly. The only totally brushed part is the frames around the drawers. Also, with ASCP the first coat always looks worst. I do 2-3 coats. Then, I used the same type of roller to apply the polycrylic top coat.

  7. Pat says:

    What colour stain did you use on this?

  8. Mia says:

    Hi!
    I’ve just started using Ascp and I too like the more modern look. This post gave me hope that I can get the finish I want on my furniture! :)
    I just have one quick question. How long did you let the paint to dry before applying the Polycrylic? I was thinking that I might need to let the paint fully cure for 3-4 weeks but who’s got the patience?
    Thank you for a great post!

    • Jackie says:

      Mia, I applied the polycrylic the next day on all the pieces I have done with this method and they have all held up fine. Even is you use ASCP wax, you can apply after paint drys. The wax takes like a month to cure fully.

  9. Katherine says:

    Jackie,

    This was very helpful, thank you! Quick question: can you use the Minwax Polycrylic over the wax? I am painting a TV stand, and texted out the soft wax on one of the doors, and decided I didn’t want a matte look. I am definitely looking for something more modern/shiny. Am I able to use the Minwax Polycrylic over the door I already waxed? Thanks for your help!

    • Jackie says:

      Katherine, I am not sure. I do not know how the Minwax would perform over the wax. I would ask for guidance at the home improvement store or try to contact Minwax.

  10. Joanne says:

    Very comprehensive info on chalk paint. One question, cabinets in manufactured home usually have wood doors but the frame is particle board covered with a type of contact, wood look vinyl paper. Can chalk paint be applied to that?

  11. Rachel walker says:

    Does the satin finish give a sort of coloured wood/laminate wood finish? I have found some in the uk but not sure what finish to get that or semi gloss. I just want a slight sheen not too gloss like. Also is it hard wearing or is wax better for that?

    • Jackie says:

      Rachel, The satin finish is a low-sheen clear finish. Semi-gloss will have a higher sheen more like laminate furniture. I think the finished look of the satin finish is similar to a waxed piece, but the waxed piece will feel different. The satin finish wears well, so does the wax. The thing to remember is the wax has to be applied correctly and takes several weeks to harden to a durable finish, so there is some open time while the wax cures. The satin polyarcylic cures much quicker.

  12. Rachel walker says:

    Thank you. I’m so unsure on what to go for. Found out is £30 for 1/2 pint here in the UK so cheaper to buy from the states and have it posted but either way no chance of a sample. I don’t want a high gloss finish like gloss paint used for doors – would the semi gloss be like this? I’ve also never done it before so expect the minwax might be easier

  13. Rachel walker says:

    Hi Jackie one last question if that is ok. What sort of roller did you use. I have found high quality ones in my local DIY store but one says for normal emulsion paint and one says for gloss or varnish and I wasn’t sure which would achieve a smooth finish. Thanks :)

  14. Jennifer says:

    Thanks for confirming that it will really be OK to put Polycrylic over chalk paint. I want to use chalk paint on my kitchen cabinets, but I am uneasy about how well wax would block the inevitable grime that will land on them. While I absolutely love media center, I really wanted to comment on your handsome young helper. I just LOVE the determined concentration that is etched on his face!

  15. Elizabeth says:

    Hi can you answer this question please, I made my own diy chalk paint I just did not like how the color looks on the dresser, can I apply latex paint over it or do I have to sand it down and prime? By the way your media piece came out awesome!

    • Jackie says:

      Elizabeth, Oh no. I am sorry you didn’t like it. I can’t advise you on painting latex over chalk paint, because I have never tried it. I would call your local chalk paint dealer and ask.

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