Do You Need To Sand Between Coats of Oil Paint?

Correcting mistakes after applying paint isn’t rocket science. All you need is to grab a piece of sandpaper and rub it on the paint until the imperfections come off. You just need to watch the grit and force to avoid damaging the artwork.

Sanding can also help you achieve a smooth, shiny look in many artworks that involve paint. But is it always necessary? For example, do you need to sand between coats of oil paint?

You don’t need to sand between coats of oil paint because, since it dries slowly, correcting mistakes is easy. This means you have enough time to fix it. However, if you decide to sand, be careful not to inhale the dust as it contains toxic materials.

Although we prefer not to sand our oil paintings, you can consider using sandpaper to create interesting textures.

Louise Fletcher ArtOpens in a new tab.

The article will discuss if sanding is necessary between coats of oil paint and other ways to correct mistakes after applying paint. Let’s get started!

Do You Need To Sand Between Coats of Oil Paint?

Sanding may seem like a great idea to give your painting a smooth look by scraping off imperfections and bumps. When you paint crafts, sanding can help you achieve a nice finish or prepare the surface to accept paint by creating fine scratches.

When you use oil paint on a canvas, you may not be satisfied with your strokes, or the brush’s fine hairs leave marks that make the painting bumpy. In such cases, you may decide to sand the paint down to make the surface smoother. 

However, there’s no need to do that because you can repair the imperfections in other ways. In addition, oil paint contains toxic materials that get released into the air with sanding.

Plus, oil paint takes much longer than other types to dry and cure. As a result, sanding may not give the same effect as it would with other paint types. If you sand wet oil paint, it will leave smudges on the canvas, making your painting look messy and difficult to cleanOpens in a new tab..

You only need to sand oil paint when you’re not satisfied with a painting and want to clear the entire piece to paint another picture. Even in such a case, you should also make sure the oil is completely dry and wear a mask and goggles to block toxic dust.

No matter what surface you use oil paint on, you don’t need to sand between coats. To achieve a smooth look, you need to prepare the surface before applying paint and use the right brush type and size.

The Odd Nerdrum Technique

Although sanding oil paint isn’t necessary or recommended, you may come across specific painting styles that use sanding as a technique to create effects. For example, the Odd Nerdrum techniqueOpens in a new tab. involves scraping layers of oil paint by sanding between coats to achieve an antique style.

The technique requires scraping off parts of the paint to give it a blurred look and texture. However, it needs skill and practice to get it right. Additionally, you should only sand the areas that absolutely need it to create the effect to avoid scraping the entire canvas and damaging your work.

How To Remove Oil Paint Imperfections

If you want to sand oil paint between coats to correct your mistakes, you can use other methods. The malleable nature of oil paint makes it easy to remove the imperfections even after the paint has cured. 

To remove imperfections when the paint is still wet: 

  1. Use an object with a sharp blade, such as a painting knife, to scrape off the paint. 
  2. Remove the remaining paint with a piece of lint-free cloth. You could also dip the cloth in linseed oil and rub it on the spot to clean the paint completely.

If you need to fix a small part of the painting, or you may get paint into the surrounding areas by scraping it off, you can try the tonking method. It’s easy and doesn’t make any unnecessary mess. 

Follow these instructions to remove imperfections using the tonking method:

  1. You need a piece of paper cut to the size of the problematic area. 
  2. Place it on the area and press it with the palm of your hand. 
  3. Take the paper off, and you’ll see some paint sticking to the paper. 
  4. Do the same with another piece of clean paper and repeat until there’s no paint left.  

If the paint is cured, you can sand down the paint using fine-grit sandpaper. Be careful not to scrape the canvas because it will make it unusable. However, you need to make sure that the paint is completely dry, or you’ll ruin the painting. 

You may need to wait for hours or days until the paint cures. If you reach wet paint after sanding the top layers of paint, scrape off the remaining paint with a painting knife.

You could avoid sanding by dipping a cloth in turpentine and rubbing it on the paint until it softens up. Then, remove it with a painting knife. 

How To Create a Smooth Look on Oil Painting

You may want to sand oil paint between coats to achieve a smooth finish. That’s particularly challenging to achieve due to the texture of oil paint, but other factors also affect the final finish of an oil painting. 

These methods include brush strokes and the amount of paint you use in each layer. As a result, you’ll need to use brushes with fine hair to minimize the brush marks on the paint. Applying the fat over lean technique, which involves starting with thin layers and going to thicker layers, is another way to get a smooth surface.

The canvas is one of the most important factors that help you achieve a smooth look with oil paintings. An unprimed canvas has bumps and grooves that give your artwork an uneven look. 

The best way to prime the canvas is to use a coat of gesso. Before applying gesso, clean it with a cloth dipped in rubbing alcohol.

Apply the gesso with long, consistent brush strokes in the same direction and wait for it to dry. Sand the surface and repeat the process until you get your desired smooth texture.

The best sandpaper grit for this purpose is 220Opens in a new tab., and remember to rub the sandpaper with gentle pressure to avoid damaging the canvas surface.

Final Words

Sanding a surface while applying paint can give it a smooth look, no matter if it’s on canvas or any other material. However, sanding oil paint between coats can be tricky and unnecessary since oil paint doesn’t dry as fast as other paint types.

With oil paint, you have more time to remove imperfections with other scraping methods. In addition, oil paint contains toxic materials that can be dangerous if breathed in. You need to be careful, wear a mask and goggles, and clean off any dust after sanding dried oil paint.


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Ines is a self-taught artist based in the UK. Originally from Caracas, she has dabbled in the world of arts and crafts in a diversity of ways participating in city intervention projects, sustainable practices’ open exhibitions, and her illustrations being featured in anniversary editions of literary magazines.

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