Why Is My Acrylic Paint Streaking

Most of the time I prefer a smoother even finish for my painting. So it’s important to know how to stop the paint streaking. Sometimes you get streaks with acrylic paints and want to know why this is and how to correct it. 

There are several reasons why your acrylic paint might leave streaks and brush marks on your painting. These include your brush type, the type of paint you are using is too thin or too thick, the size of the area you are painting, how thickly you are painting, and your paints drying out.

Knowing why your paint is streaking is only half the battle. It’s also important to know how to stop it from happening before you have the issue and how to correct it while painting.

Why Your Acrylic Paint Streaks

Sometimes streaks work in your favor and artists want to take advantage of that and work with it. Sometimes you just don’t want them, they don’t look right, they are in the wrong place or they are just not your style. To find out how to correct streaks you need to know what caused them in the first place. There can be several reasons for streaks appearing in your painting. Sometimes there can be more than one reason.

If you are painting large areas of the canvas with one color paint this can lead to streaking and patches if the paint isn’t covering the area very well. This can be because the paint is drying too quickly while you are working or because it is being absorbed into the canvas as you paint.

There are so many brushes to choose from it is difficult to know which ones work for you. If you are using a stiff-bristled brush with short bristles this can cause streaks in your painting.

The type of paint that you use can help to increase your amount of streaks. Thick paints or cheaper paints can all contribute to streaks. This is because thick paints hold shape better and are more likely to reflect the brush marks. Cheaper paints dry out faster and as the paint dries you are more likely to see brush marks and streaks. Also as the paint dries it is less fluid and the paint pulls also causing streaks.

On the reverse side if you paint too thinly with water or other thinners that can also cause streaks.

Is your paint drying out too fast? There are lots of reasons for the paint to dry out quickly. I have touched upon one above and that is cheap paint dries out quicker. There are others like where you are painting, temperatures, and painting speed. This is a whole issue in itself.

How To Stop Your Acrylic Paint From Streaking

If you are having any of the above difficulties with streaking the solutions below can help.

If you are painting large areas and having difficulties you can do the following to correct it.

  • Don’t paint large areas at once. Try to break up the areas that you are painting. You can always blend in wet on dry if needed.
  • Use different paint that is thinner or more liquid. There are fluid paints on the market. 
  • For future paintings prime your surface with gesso before you paint even if you have a primed canvas already. It helps stop the paint from being absorbed as much and will lessen streaking, brush dragging, and patches. 
  • Add a medium, flow enhancer to your paints so that it covers smoothly.
  • Paint more quickly so that you cover a larger area before the paint starts to dry. 

If you are having difficulties with your brush marks causing streaking because it is stiff try this:

  • Try a different brush. You need a good brush which is softer. Make sure its bristles are longer as short stiff bristles leave streaks. 
  • Think about the area that you are painting. If you have a larger canvas you need to use a larger brush to cover more area faster, this helps to reduce streaking and brush marks.
  • Think about your brush technique. If you are using lots of small strokes this is more likely to cause streaking and marks. Use longer smoother strokes to cover more ground. Try to keep your layers to a minimum of about two should be enough. You can always add more later when that layer is dry. 

The type of paint you use can have a big impact on the painting. There is a paint type and paint quality. 

  • If you are using cheaper paint it will have more additives in it and it is more likely to dry out faster. Fast-drying times are a big issue with acrylic paints. This does not mean you have to pay out for artist-quality paints just get a good-quality student paint. 
  • There are lots of different types of acrylic paints. These range from very thick impasto acrylics, your standard tube acrylics to liquid and even airbrushing acrylics.  Some people prefer to use liquid/fluid acrylic paints for a smoother finish and better coverage. 

If you paint too thinly this can also cause streaking. Make sure you are not over watering down your acrylic paints. Use no more than 50/50 water to acrylics when you dilute. Remember that your brush may also be wet so take that into account.

When your paint dries out this causes streaking. There are lots of reasons this can happen which makes it harder to pin down than most of the solutions here. There are a few quick fixes you can use to stop this from happening or at least slow it down.

  • The easiest and best way to do this is to use a stay-wet palette. You can either buy them or make one yourself. These are brilliant for keeping paint wet and prolonging your painting time. This, in turn, reduces your chances of streaks due to some of the other issues mentioned here.
  • Another is to use one of the acrylic paints that are designed to rewet so you can rework them. This gives you a chance to rework and smooth out your paint.
  • Check your paint’s drying time and if it is short, consider getting a longer drying time paint.

Other TIPs to Help Stop Streaks and Brush Marks in your Paintings

If you correct your work as you go it is easier to sort out the issues at the time. Although you can add another layer to cover up patches or streaking. 

Fluid acrylics are heavy-bodied acrylics that are thicker this makes them more likely to streak and leave marks. If you don’t have a fluid acrylic add a medium to increase the fluidity of your paint so that it flows better. 

Use a glazing medium or flow enhancer this helps with your blending and details, it is much smoother than paint alone which reduces streaking and brush strokes. More fluid minimizes streaks. Be careful though as too much fluid weakens your paint and can also cause streak issues.

You can also add water to reduce the thickness of your paint and help it flow. Again too much water can also cause issues including streaking. I use water quite happily however many artists caution against it and say you should use flow mediums. It’s up to what works for the individual artist. If you have issues with water switch to a flow medium or a more fluid paint.

If you paint more layers but thinner layers this gives you more control and less streaking.

When you work quickly you can use a harder brush to start with then swap it out for a softer one to reduce the visible brush marks.

If you spray the canvas to moisten it this also helps with your paint flow to reduce streaking. Be careful not to overdo it especially if you are using either water or flow mediums. 

Work quickly as once your paint starts to dry it can feel quite sticky, this is when you start to have issues blending and the brush starts to drag and stops covering your canvas so well.

If you are not using a stay-wet palette don’t put out too much paint onto your palette at any one time this stops it from drying out and prevents any brush dragging or streaking.

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