6 Secrets to Silky Smooth Paint

By Scott Sidler May 25, 2015

6-secrets-to-silky-smooth-paintOkay, this isn’t really a secret like professional painters are guarding this information jealously, hoping and praying you’ll never find out. There are no secret paint police to prevent the average homeowner from knowing their tricks.

It’s just plain good sense to know how to get a super smooth coat of paint when you need it, and that’s what I’ll show you today. Trim, cabinets, woodwork, these all need smooth paint without brush marks and globs of paint scattered throughout. Follow these tips and you can get beautiful results.


1. Prep the Wood

Sand any bare wood to 120-grit and no finer. This will give the primer good “tooth” to hold on and create the right base to start with. A good paint job is all in the prep before you even touch a paint brush.


2. Sand Your Primer

Without a smooth base, you can’t get a smooth finish. I always use oil-based primer on woodwork and cabinets so that I can sand it down to a super smooth feel before beginning my finish painting. Use 220-grit paper or fine sanding sponges to sand everything down once the primer has dried enough that it generates dust when sanded. If it’s gumming up the paper, then it’s too early to sand. Make sure to blow off any remaining dust when you’re done.

3. Use Additives

I’m a big believer in products like Floetrol and Penetrol, which are additives for your paint that slow down the drying process and make the paint less gummy. Thinner paint lays down better and helps hide brush marks. Thick, gloppy paint will look…thick and gloppy. Fast drying is not a positive thing for paint when you want a silky smooth finish. If you’re not using these already, look into them.


4. Buy The Right Paint

Don’t skimp on paint. It truly does turn out that the more you pay for paint, the better it is. And for finish work like we are talking about, don’t buy bargain paint. For woodwork and cabinets, consider Enamel paint which dries harder than regular paint. Oil-based paints along with water-based options both have their place here, depending on your comfort.


5. Strain Your Paint

The first pour out of the can is usually clean and clear of boogers, but every pour after that has a good chance of globs scattered throughout. You likely won’t see them until they are on your beautifully prepped surface, at which time, it’s too late. Paint stores have lots of cheap strainers in stock for good reason. Don’t kid yourself that this step doesn’t apply to you.


6. Put it On, Leave it Alone

Put the paint on and once it’s smoothed out, leave it alone. Don’t go back and work the paint relentlessly. The quicker you can get the surface covered and “tipped off”, the more time the paint has to smooth out as it dries. Don’t go back and mess with drips that you notice while things are drying. You’ll have to fix it later with the next coat. Put it on, smooth it out and leave it alone. Don’t go back.

Try one of these and you’ll see better results. Try two and you’ll be amazed. Do them all and you’ll have flawless silky smooth paint. Remember that some of these are techniques that take a little practice to get just right, so don’t be frustrated if it takes a little time to get perfect. Even the pros don’t get it perfect every time. But in painting, as in everything else, practice makes perfect.


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60 thoughts on “6 Secrets to Silky Smooth Paint”

  1. While I don’t consider myself an expert I will add several observations and a few questions. I didn’t notice any comment about the best brush to use nor the preferred ambient temperature nor the observation that brands do differ. Always use a high quality brush. On the can I just bought it says temperature should be above 50 deg. Within my house I have trim some of which I painted 30+ years ago and it leveled to an absolutely smooth finish. Today I bought what was labeled the same but the leveling is poor (although it has yet to dry). We all know that formulations of paint have changed and that solvent based paints have suffered the most. Has anyone observed changes in leveling which could be attributed to the paint itself?

  2. Hi. We have cabinets that were sprayed with latex paint before installation. Fast forward a year and we have paint worn areas that need to be touched up. What additive do we need to use to help prevent brush strokes in the latex paint?

  3. Hi Scott- I’m painting kitchen cabinets and they are drying rough like sandpaper. I’ve primed with STIX (2 coats), then BM Cabinet Coat. Using roller to apply and then light brush to finish. Light sanding in between each coat.

  4. Hello, I’m painting my oak cab I sanded them … Then I primed and sanded in between coats 220 wiped off debris and it looks gritty will it look that way after I apply my paint ? Should I sand! Be fore painting again with the actual paint

  5. Hello I am sanding and painting my outdated fake oak-grained cabinets with oil based primer and paint. I found that Floetrol worked better in my alkyd paint them Penetro. Have you had any experience with this because I read Penetrol is recommended but I tried it and the Floetrol worked better in my paint? (Great Q&As btw! Thank you!

    1. Lynn, floetrol is a water based product and will not suspend in an oil-based paint and vice versa for penetrol with water based paint. I suspect that the maybe you are using one of the newer Acrylic/Alkyd paints because otherwise you can have serious problems with adhesion and long term performance if you use the wrong additive in the wrong type of paint.

  6. I just bought a beautiful new higher-end wood dining table. It is painted cream color and I need it white. Do I need to sand a new table before painting? It’s already a very smooth surface.

  7. Hi, I’m painting a large ceiling that has ranch sliders at the ends. The light shows up any variances in texture or sheen. I’ve applied a water-based primer and now want to apply the topcoats. Is it best to apply the topcoats with a generous coat, or would more thinned-down or with paint-extender added coats be better?
    A previous ceiling that I did ended up with blocks and streaks with differing sheen levels even though I used a totally flat ceiling paint.

  8. Hi I painted my cabinets with sw paint and primer and now see yellowing from cabinets I did want prior and clean cabinets before all this. What can I do to fix the problem?

    1. If you used an oil based paint it will yellow slightly over time. If it looks like a blotchy yellow it may require another coat of oil-based primer or a heavier stain blocking shellac based primer.

  9. I have a bathroom ceiling that needs painting. However, some of the previous layer of ceiling paint has chipped off which means my ceiling surface looks uneven. I have sanded it some, but I can still see the “lines” where the two layers of paint are. I want a very smooth ceiling finish. Do have any suggestions on how to make it look even before I start painting with the new coat of paint? Thank you so much!

  10. I have a metal spice rack that is painted white. Unfortuntately, the finish is quite rough. As a result my terracotta spice pots pick up white scratches as I take them in and out of the rack. Do you think I could avoid the problem of white scratches by spraying the rack with enamel paint?

  11. I was.spray painting a dresser with gloss paint
    I accidentally picked up a can of semi gloss and sprayed a second coat with that. It gummed and wrinkled in some spots. I let it dry, very lightly sanded the problem areas and went back to the gloss spray paint. It looks awful, uneven, and wrinkled again in a few spots. I am outside, hot as heck and high humidity. Do I just need to sand everything down and restart?

    1. ““I had this problem trying to paint a new mantle. I primed with oil based primer SW and I think it was too thick and tried to paint on top of that and it looks terrible. My plan is to strip and hire someone to spray it. It anyone has any other ideas please let me know.

  12. I want to paint a “welcome center”… basically a counter height bar that is made of formica. What prep and paint can be used for this very smooth surface?

  13. Just finished bathroom ceiling using a Gliddon ceiling finish paint. Application started well though paint felt a little thick(label said Do Not Thin) and it wasn’t until I was 2/3 finished that it became impossible to roll with out over-loading roller (so dry it was like glue, I couldn’t get complete coverage without double the elbow grease) and now back half of ceiling heavily dimpled?? Never had this happen before(Front half turned out fine)? Do I wait days and sand and recoat? Really gummed up job!(pun intended ?)

  14. Painting my oak cabinets. I filled the grain and sanded and everything was completely smooth. I applied primer with a roller and sanded, but it had an orange peel look. I thought it would be ok when I painted, but there’s still a little texture. Do I need to sand completely down and restart with primer? Or can I sand down what I have to a smooth finish before applying another coat? What grade of sandpaper would I use? I am using oil-based everything.

  15. Scott,
    Thanks for the great site. I’m refacing cabinets with new poplar doors, and existing 90’s oak cabinet frames. I’ll be oil-based priming both. Now I’m trying to decide whether to go with Satin Impervo Oil based or BM Advance waterborne Alkyd. I’ll be spraying HVLP. Any preference or recommendation?

  16. I am painting my kitchen cabinets and have sanded them and primed them with Kilz Premium. Then used Sherwin Williams acrylic latex paint. I have small dimples from the foam roller. How can I smooth the finish? I did this same process on my bedroom doors and they turned out fine. Not sure what I did wrong.

    1. Chris, I would sand the surface smooth and apply another coat of finish paint. This time use as fine a roller cover as possible and add some extra floetrol to the paint to slow the drying and help it flow out better. That should do the trick.

  17. I checked with my local ‘name-brand’ paint store and the two gentlemen working there told me it was not necessary to use an oil-based primer before applying oil-based paint. I had already applied a non-oil-based primer, but after reading several blogs, including yours, I am wondering if an oil-based primer would be best.

  18. Hi Scott,
    I’m from CA and it seems that we may not be able to get Penetrol. Will mineral spirit works the same? Or any other similar to Penetrol that we may get here in CA?

  19. Help! I just primed a the interior side of a new metal door with the original formula Kilz, oil based primer. After it dried, I lightly sanded the door. Then I brush oil based SW interior paint and it gooped up. The more I worked it the worse it became. What can I do now to get back to a smooth finish? I think my paint was too thick…If sanding with electric sander is an option, how long does the paint have to dry before I can sand it? Does it have to cure completely? TIA

    1. You should have no problem sanding an oil-based paint after it has had a few days to dry. Sand it smooth and start again this time, add some penetrol to the mix and make sure the paint is fresh and thin enough to apply a smooth even coat. It happens to the best of us sometimes!

  20. I am painting an old dresser and bed frame with an oil based Enamel. I have done all the steps above (as I have used oil based paint in the past) and everything but the top of the dresser looks great. I’m not sure what I am doing different to the top. Today, I finally wet sanded it and I took a steal wool 0000 grit to smooth out the goopy looking finish. I have sanded and painted the top of this dresser 5 times. I do think that I am using too much paint in this particular area because it is large but the Penetrol seems to make the surface worse, too. Help!!!

    1. Michele, it’s hard to say what the problem is without seeing it. But usually covering large areas results in a goopy finish because the the primer is drying before you are done coating. Penetrol can only do so much. If you’ve got it sanded smooth by sanding then you may have gotten away with it.

      1. Thanks for your feedback. The last coat I applied was better than the first few coats. I do think it was the primer underneath the paint. Still not to my desired finish. I’m on my way to the paint store. I have a liquid poly but I am thinking of doing a wax. Any suggestions? Also, can I use the steel wool to buff it out and then apply the polyurethane? I painted a staircase in my old home and I remember reading about a process used to make the finished coat smooth. I think the gentleman spoke of a pumice board but I’m certain that isn’t the exact name. He also said that you can use a very fine steel wool. I remember using the steel wool and loving the final finish but with this particular paint I am using, I am not getting the same results.

  21. Opps, so adding Pentrol *and* Japan Drier was probably not the best idea? Well, thankfully I only mixed up a small amount, so I’ll treat that coat like a primer and sand it down real good before applying the final layer.

      1. They didn’t just cancel each other out, they actually reacted to create a very small wave pattern in the paint during drying. I was able to just send it down smooth again, so it just used that mix as a primer, but posting her incase anyone else looks to do the same.

  22. Hi We are painting our vinyl siding, any tips for painting over vinyl and also what about outside temperature, we’re in ohio,and in September it can get quite damp at night. Temperatures during the day are 70 to 80 degrees but at night they can dip down to upper 40s and 50s. Thank you!

    1. Penny, before you paint talk to your vinyl manufacturer! You may be the exception to the rule, but typically vinyl CANNOT be painted. The paint will begin to peel almost immediately. Do a little test section first if you insist on painting, but I doubt it will hold paint for long.

  23. do you recommend a finish for interior wood trim? Glossy seems to always be goopy, is eggshell too flat? Satin?

  24. Just read 6 Secrets to Smooth Paint. Great tips I will keep in mind. Just wondering, “drips and HOLIDAYS”. What is a holiday? Never heard of that.

    1. I just learned about this: a holiday is when there is a spot (or several) where the paint missed. I get these most often when painting a textured wall with a roller – after it dries you can see tiny little spots of the under-layer. It would seem this wouldn’t be as much of a problem when using a brush on a smooth surface though, but I’m sure it happens.

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