Despite their names, chalk paint vs. chalkboard paint are completely different types of paint used for different kinds of projects!
I once was chatting with a friend and she asked me for tips for using chalk paint. I happily obliged because I love talking about crafty things and a couple minutes later, right around the time I got to explaining how to seal the chalk paint with wax she got a very confused look on her face and asked how chalk drawing was going to work on top of wax.
This is, of course, when we realized that we were talking about two different things. She wanted to know about CHALKBOARD paint and didn’t know chalk paint is something completely different. Hence the misunderstanding. And if you have had this question too, don’t feel bad, it’s a completely reasonable confusion!
Chalk paint vs. chalkboard paint is a very normal mixup because they’re names are so similar. But in fact, they’re two completely different kinds of paint! So let’s explain what the difference is between chalkboard paint and chalk paint (or chalky finish paint).
What is Chalkboard Paint?
Chalkboard paint is paint that literally turns the surface you put it on into a CHALKBOARD for drawing on with chalk like in a classroom. It traditionally comes in black or green, but you can find it in a wider range of colors now. Chalkboard paint is most often water-based for easy cleanup. Chalkboard paint also comes in a spray paint version which can be great for larger surfaces as long as you can apply it somewhere with good ventilation. Chalkboard paint should dry for at least 3 days before use.
How to Use Chalkboard Paint
- Chalkboard paint works best on a very smooth surface. Clean and sand your surface before starting. If you want to apply chalkboard paint to a wall, make sure the wall is super smooth. If not, sand it.
- Apply chalkboard paint in a LIGHT even coat with a roller. You can use painters’ tape for a neat edge.
- If you need a second coat of chalkboard paint to cover your surface, follow the drying instructions on the paint can and then make sure your second coat is also light and even. Drips will ruin a chalkboard surface and make it hard to draw on! Some resources recommend up to 4 even coats of chalkboard paint to make the surface as smooth as possible.
- Let your chalkboard paint dry for at least 3 days before use.
- Before you use your new chalkboard surface you MUST condition/prepare it. Do this by rubbing over the entire thing with the long side of a piece of chalk. I like to rub the chalk dust in with a rag or paper towel after that. This not only gives your new chalkboard a nice chalkboard-y chalky haze, it gets the surface ready for drawing. If you skip the conditioning step, the very first thing you draw or write with chalk is likely to leave permanent marks behind.
What is Chalk Paint?
Chalk paint is paint with a…wait for it…chalky matte finish. It’s a mineral based paint that often contains plaster of paris or calcium carbonate to give it its chalky finish. In fact, it is most often called chalky finish paint because the term “chalk paint” is trademarked by the Annie Sloan company, the chalk paint manufacturer who invented this paint in the 90’s. The finished surface of chalky finish paint is kind of chalky and velvety and very matte with no shine.
Chalk paint is most popular in furniture makeover projects and rose in popularity because it’s very easy to apply and gives good results. It’s also popular because it’s easy to distress. The final reason chalky finish paint became so popular is because most chalky finish paints say that you do not need to sand surface before applying it. It is known for good adhesion.
(HOWEVER, I always always recommend sanding surfaces before applying any paint finish. It never hurts and many more paint project fail due to lack of sanding whereas pretty much no projects fail because you did sand. Sanding will also produce smoother, better results. )
Chalk paint is water-based and low VOC which are other reasons for its popularity and which make it even easier to use. Chalky finish paint is most often protected with a coat of clear or slightly colored wax (usually a wax made specifically for use with these kinds of paints) that is then gently buffed. This gives the finish some protection and lustre.
There are also lots of recipes for making your own chalky finish paint often using a mixture of regular latex paint with ingredients like plaster of paris, unsanded grout, calcium carbonate and even baking soda. I like this post from Salvaged Inspirations that compares these different kinds of recipes. (Personally, I’d buy premade chalky finish paint, it’s worth it)
How to Use Chalky Finish Paint
- Check out this list from my friend Bre, she has all the supplies you need to apply chalky finish paints all figured out!
- Prepare your surface by cleaning and sanding it before you start. Yes, even though the whole thing with chalk paint is that you “don’t need to sand”, I still believe you should do it anyway.
- Stir your chalky finish paint well, it can separate.
- Apply with a brush in thin even coats. Repeat when dry.
- Protect your chalky finish paint project with clear or tinted wax.
Bonus tip: what is milk paint?
Milk paint is similar to chalky finish paints in that it easy to apply, water-based and low VOC and has a matte finish. Milk paint is a traditional “natural” paint that’s been around for hundreds of years. Milk paint comes in a powdered form and is made with milk protein usually mixed with pigment and calcium carbonate. Milk paint is usually a thinner consistency and soaks into surfaces more than chalky finish paint. which can result in rich layered tones. Milk paint, once mixed, also has a MUCH shorter shelf life (less than 2 weeks)!
Milk paint is most beloved by furniture restorers who like an antique finish. If you don’t add a bonding agent to milk paint it will usually self-distress over time (that means, chipping, wearing etc.) This can be a pro or a con depending on what you’re going for. Milk paint is also known for being a little unpredictable in terms of finish and consistency which again, can be a pro or a con.
So hopefully we’ve cleared up any confusion regarding chalk paint vs. chalkboard paint (and milk paint). Happy painting!
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