How to Apply Polycrylic Without Streaks

Learn how to apply polycrylic without streaks.

There’s nothing worse than spending hours painting a piece of furniture, only to feel like you’ve messed up the top coat.

Read my tips and tricks for avoiding brush strokes and bubbles, plus how to fix them if they occur.

how to apply polycrylic without streaks

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Polycrylic is my favorite top coat when painting furniture for many reasons.

Polycrylic is pretty easy to use, easy to find in stores, inexpensive, easy to clean up (water-based) and most importantly: polycrylic doesn’t yellow over white paint or light colors!

How to Apply Polycrylic without Streaks, Brush Strokes or Bubbles

How to Avoid Brush Strokes and Streaks

Keep a wet edge. This means only touch wet paint that you’ve just painted. Touching paint that has sat for even a few minutes can cause streaks. It picks up what you’ve already painted and drags it a bit.

Instead, skip that part and get it in the next coat. You won’t be able to see it when you’re finished.

applying top coat without streaks
Skip the wet areas and move to a dry area. The next few coats will cover these spots.

Use a good brush. I prefer this brush for painting polycrylic. The soft bristles minimize brush strokes, but it’s still large enough to get good coverage.

Paint in one direction. Only paint in one direction so that you don’t accidentally touch an area where you already painted.

brushing long streaks of polycrylic on dresser

Use a new can of polycrylic. Polycrylic only lasts so long before it gets too thick to use. For this reason, I prefer buying smaller cans.

Avoid painting in humid weather. Although polycrylic does better than any other top coat in humidity, it makes your job so much harder because it takes forever to dry.

If you can’t avoid painting in humid weather, give it plenty of time to dry between coats and don’t paint over wet spots.

Use thinner coats. Thinner coats of paint dry faster.

Use a matte finish. Shiny finishes show more flaws. A matte finish will minimize any flaws.

Sponge application. I’ve had mixed results with this technique, but I thought I would share it.

You can wear gloves to avoid getting polycrylic on your hands, but I’ve found that it’s easy to clean up.

Dense sponges work better. A cheap sponge may cause bubbles!

applying polycrylic with sponge
  1. Wet the sponge.
  2. Dip it into the polycrylic can.
  3. Wipe it on the surface slowly.
  4. Avoid touching previously wet places.
  5. Let dry and apply more coats for full coverage.

How to Avoid Bubbles

Do not shake the can. Gently stir it to mix the contents so that you don’t work air into the mixture.

Don’t use a roller. Rollers can cause bubbles and other textures.

Use a good brush. A cheap brush (like a foam brush) is likely to cause bubbles.

Paint slowly. Sometimes bubbles form from painting too quickly.

brushing on polycrylic

How to Correct Streaks or Bubbles

  1. Let the polycrylic dry completely.
  2. Sand lightly to remove the texture.
  3. Reapply polycrylic using the tips above. Remember to not touch wet paint!

Polycrylic FAQ’s

can of minwax polycrylic

Can polycrylic be rolled on?

In most cases, I don’t suggest rolling polycrylic. On furniture, a foam roller will produce an undesirable, bubbled texture.

Brush or spray it on for best results.

How long should paint dry before applying polycrylic?

It depends on the humidity levels and temperatures. Most paint can be covers in about 2 hours. Allow more time on humid days.

Allow polycrylic to dry for several hours between coats.

Will polycrylic yellow over time?

No. This is one of my favorite features about polycrylic.

If you are seeing yellow, it’s not caused by the polycrylic. It’s caused by tannins that have bled through the wood.

Click here to read a post on how to seal tannins when painting white furniture.

What’s the difference between polycrylic and polyurethane?

Polycrylic is water-based, so it’s easy to clean up, dries fast and doesn’t smell bad. It also doesn’t yellow over time.

Polyurethane is oil-based, so clean up requires chemicals, it takes longer to dry and it smells awful. It DOES yellow over time.

Do you have to sand between coats of polycrylic?

Yes and no. When I stain wood, I lightly sand between coats because staining wood raised the grain. Sanding smooths it out and allows you to get a buttery soft finish.

Paint doesn’t raise the grain of the wood, so I typically do not sand between coats of polycrylic over paint.

However, if it feels rough to the touch after a coat of polycrylic, you can sand with 400 grit sandpaper to make it smooth. Make sure you clean the surface after sanding.

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