Painting on wood: Primer, Sealer or do I use both?

Oil, acrylic and mixed media paints can all be painted onto wood. But you must make sure you prepare your surface before you begin.

Preparation does take a bit of patience but if you don’t prepare the oils and acids of your paint can seep into the wood and destroy it.


Preparing to paint on wood


I started to look into painting on wood because we are running a Pebeo workshop.  This time we are painting/ filling, wooden trays with an oil based paint.

The whole tray needs to look great so, we need to make sure it is usable as well. How we achieve this is by sealing the wood so that nothing can seep into it.

Sealing or sizing a piece of wood greatly reduces the chance of stains, warping and rotting wood from your paint. Yes, this can happen! You should apply two coats of sealer and let it dry thoroughly in-between each layer. Sealing also provides an easier surface to apply subsequent paint layers starting with a primer.

Sealing is important to acrylic painters to remove any chance of Support Induced Discolouration. Supports naturally contain impurities that can cause an amber yellow discolouring to any light coloured or clear acrylic layer that is applied to the wood, unless the support is sealed properly.

If you are a beginner and want to experiment with acrylic on wood then following this step may not be necessary but it is a good practice to follow.

  • When acrylic mediums are used as a size for primed cotton, linen, wood or hardboard, the water content of the paint may draw impurities out of the support as it dries.
  • A yellow or brown discolouration in the medium may occur over time. I It occurs with all acrylic mediums currently used by major fine art paint manufacturers.
  • If you wash the canvas before you use it. This can greatly decrease or eliminate SID which is why step one is dedicated to cleaning.

Painting with oils


Sealers Vs Primers

  • A sealer protects the underlying layer or material, in this case, the wood
  • A primer is a foundation layer that improves paint adhesion onto the support

The best rule to adhere to is to apply at least two coats of sealer directly onto the raw wood. This will protect the wood and create a barrier. Then apply primer to enhance adhesion, return tooth to the surface, and whiten the surface for optimising paint colours you plan to apply over it.


Wooden pallet with acrylic paint

  1. Clean your surface: dust and sawdust may affect your sealer and leave an uneven surface. Wipe with a damp cloth and let it dry completely.
  2. Apply a coat of acrylic medium to seal the wood
  3. Let it dry, if it is still tacky it will need longer
  4. You need to seal both sides
  5. If the side you wish to work on feels grainy you can sand it with 220 sandpaper
  6. Wipe the surface clean
  7. Apply second coat
  8. Let it dry completely
  9. Prime the area using gesso
  10. If painting with oil paint allows a few days before priming and painting

If you miss any of the steps then you will encounter issues. Especially if you don’t let each layer dry properly. I hope you found that helpful. You can basically paint on absolutely everything. You just need to make sure that you prepare your surfaces properly.

Now get painting

 For more information on workshops please click here

Pebeo painting on a wooden tray

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