What is Crackle Paint?

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  • Written By: Cassie L. Damewood
  • Edited By: C. Wilborn
  • Last Modified Date: 03 November 2019
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Crackle paint instantly creates an aged, distressed, worn, or antique "cracked by time and use" effect on a variety of surfaces. It can be used on wood, particleboard, chipboard, heavy duty cardboard, or paper mache. The paint is applied on the surface like normal paint, but cracks as it dries. It is available in a wide range of colors, just like conventional interior paint.

This type of pain was not originally a paint but a technique used to make painted surfaces look aged and worn. The effect was created by applying one of several transparent varnish-like concoctions, some store-bought and some homemade, to a dry painted surface. Ideally, the colors of the painted surfaces would be highly contrasted to make the distressed effects clearly visible. Although using a base coat that is darker than the crackle finish is most popular, reversing the colors and using a lighter base under a darker crackle finish is also a common choice. Layering several colors of regular paint and crackle paint to add depth to the finished product is another option.


As an alternative to using the colored crackle paint, two of the popular crackle top coats available in stores are clear liquids. One is a chemically-based varnish, and the other is water-based. Both types can be applied with a traditional natural or plastic bristle brush or a foam brush, which provides more control of the paint when it is being applied. Colored crackle paint is increasingly popular, although beginners still often choose the clear variety for its ease of application and simple, straightforward effects.

While the initial application of crackle paint is fairly simple, achieving more dramatic results requires additional finishes and more advanced techniques. Some glazes applied on top of the base coat and crackle layers create the effects of cracked porcelain, weathered paint, or metallic finishes. The glazes can be applied with a variety of brushes, finishing tools, and techniques to create the illusion hairline cracks or large fissions in the painted surface.

The way crackle paint works is quite simple. In fact, the results it produces used to be the end product of a failed paint job that dried too quickly or unevenly. When the paint dries, it creates bubbles, ridges, and cracks that create a three dimensional finish. This can be made more dramatic by adding more coats of clear or colored paint and using brush and stroke techniques to add depth to the finished product.


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