If you have a smooth, dull surface that needs a little extra something, try using a crackle paint technique to add character, dimension, and an aged look that can be quite charming. You can achieve a crackled look on furniture, picture frames, and pretty much any paintable surface.
Step 1 - Choose Your Paint and Crackle Medium
Latex and acrylic paints work best for a crackling project. Use contrasting colors for a bold look, or for something more subtle, opt for the same hue in different shades. The base coat is what will show in the cracks, and the top coat will be the overall color of the piece.
While small projects can be crackled with thinned-down white glue, for most projects your best bet is to get a crackle medium, which is available in the paint section of home improvement stores. A crackle medium will result in more predictable crackling and is worth the extra expense. Crackle mediums are clear and do not affect the color of the finished cracks.
Step 2 - Prepare Your Work Area and Piece to be Painted
Protect your work area by putting down newspaper, old rags or a dropcloth, depending on the size of your piece. If you are painting a piece of furniture, it helps to disassemble the pieces—knobs, legs, drawer fronts, rails—and paint them separately. Sand the surface of your piece, if needed, and follow with a damp rag to remove any dust. Mask off any areas that you don't want to paint with painter's tape.
Step 3 - Primer and Base Coat
If your surface has never been painted, or if you stripped away an old finish, you will want to apply a coat of primer first. Once the primer is dry, apply an even coat of your base color, using smaller brushes to get into corners or detailed areas. Allow the base coat to dry. Apply a second coat if you want a stronger color.
Step 4 - Apply Crackle Medium
Once the base coat is dry, apply the crackle medium on top of it. The thickness of this coat will determine the outcome of the crackling—a thick coat will produce large, defined cracks, while a thin coat will result in smaller, thinner cracks. Allow the crackle medium to dry based on the manufacturer's recommended time, which can vary from an hour or two to an entire day.
Step 5 - Apply Topcoat
When the crackle medium is completely dry, begin applying the top coat. Move the brush in one direction, and do not paint over an area you have already painted, as this will lift the paint. You can also use a paint roller to ensure a more even coat. Work quickly, as you can not come back and add more paint later. Crackling will appear as the top coat begins to dry. Do not handle the piece until it is dry.
Step 6 - Protect Your Finish
You may want to seal your work with a clear varnish or shellac, especially if you have painted something that will be handled often. You can apply a spray-on varnish with your choice of finish after the top coat has dried for 24 hours.
Different paint can achieve different effects when making a crackle paint effect. Try using two similar colors for your base coat instead of just one. A metallic base coat with a dark, matte topcoat is a striking combination. Or, for very fine cracks, apply a thin layer of crackle medium and spray on your topcoat. The possibilities are only limited by your imagination.