The beginner’s guide to getting started with rock painting

Perhaps you found a painted rock and getting started with rock painting is something you'd like to do. Or, you're looking for a relaxing activity.

Whether you're brand new to the fun activity of painting rocks or have already painted a few, we share tips and highlight some of our favorite techniques and rock painting supplies.

Got Rocks?

Sure, you may be fortunate enough to have rocks laying around in your backyard. However, if that's not the case, we've got you covered with where to get rocks for painting.

  • Clean the rocks - Make sure your rocks are clean of debris before painting. A quick rinse with water should suffice. Also make sure they’re fully dry before painting, otherwise your painted design may peel away from the rock. Laying them on a large towel helps them to dry quicker.

⚠️Note: Some sources online suggest methods such as boiling your rocks (to clean) or baking them on a low temp in the oven (to dry). Rocks are porous and may explode when exposed to high temperatures. Other online sources recommend washing your rocks in the dishwasher. This may introduce debris and result in your dishwasher getting clogged and/or breaking. We do not support these methods as they may be dangerous and may cause damage or harm.

Stones found at craft stores may be used, but they often have a waxy surface. It's important to prep those rocks before using, otherwise your painted design will peel away.

Choosing the right paint

acrylic paints for rock painting

 

Painting, like any form of art, is about experimenting. Your rock will be a blank canvas and it's fun to play around with various types of paint.

However, the most commonly used paint for rock painting is acrylic paint.

We like acrylic paint for these reasons:

  • It's relatively inexpensive and can be somewhat easily found at most craft stores, big box retailers and online.
  • It brushes on smoothly and dries quickly, which means you can experiment with an array of colors.
  • It's water-based, which makes clean-up a breeze — just use some soap and water.
Recommended rock painting supplies to get started painting rocks

TRY this 18-piece Apple Barrel acrylic paint kit or this 16-piece Craft Smart acrylic value pack — they include every color!

That said, be creative and experiment. If you've tried a different kind of paint, share in the comments below — rock painters enjoy learning from other rock painters what's worked well!

GoRock.com track painted rocks

Choosing the right brush

paint-brushes-for-rock-painting

Again, with the rock being your canvas, it's really up to you what you use to paint on it. We've seen painted rocks adorned with colored pencils, oil paints and paint pens (we'll cover that below). However, many rock painters use traditional paint brushes and acrylic paint for their rocks.

Having the right brush will help you achieve the results you're looking for and make the activity of painting rocks more enjoyable.

Wider bristles are nice when you're priming your rock with a single color and for when it comes time to use a waterproof sealer (see below for our favorite). Brushes with fine, pointed tips are fantastic for adding details. Brushes with a flat tip produce nice, sharp edges.

Recommended rock painting supplies to get started painting rocks

We like this set because it includes 50 paint brushes in a variety of bristle widths and styles, so with this one set, you're covered for most of your painting needs!

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Priming your rocks

If you're just trying to paint the rock a single color, choose a brush with a wider bristle. This will allow you to cover the rock with paint without taking too many trips to the paint jar! Use smooth strokes to apply the paint in an even layer.

➡️TIP: Sometimes colors like yellow, orange and pink need a second coat of paint. Don't try to glob the paint to avoid painting a second coat. Just apply a light coat and after it dries, apply another. If you know you'll be priming your rock with one of those above-mentioned colors, you can also first paint your rock white or black. This will help those other colors go on in a single coat.

When using yellow paint, first prime your rock with white or black paint to get coverage with one coat of paint.

Using paint pens to draw on rocks

Sometimes you want to write words on your rocks or have more precision than paint and a brush will provide. That's where paint pens come into the picture. They're simple to use and allow for a greater level of detail.

We reviewed several paint pens and LOVE Posca paint pen markers! They have several different tips, depending on what you're trying to do with your rocks.

Posca fine point tips provide precision details for your painted rocks

For crisp lines, try these Posca fine point paint pen markers and for lines practically thinner than a strand of hair (great for outlining), try the ultra fine point pens.

Fine point Posca paint pens for detail on painted rocks
painted rock using Posca paint pens

For slightly thicker detail, the medium point paint pens work nicely (especially if your rock doesn't have a smooth surface and you're trying to work within the grooves and pits of the rock).

Posca medium tip paint marker pen

➡️TIP: When first using Posca paint pens, you'll need to prime the pen. Posca offers tips on how to prime your paint pens.

💡IDEA TO TRY: Pre-paint rocks with a base color and keep them in a tote bag. Throw some Posca pens in the bag and keep in the car. Draw on rocks while you're sitting in the waiting room of a doctor's office (this is a great activity for kids because there's no mess with brushes and paints!)

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Painting your first rock

When you're ready to paint your first rock, make it simple and just paint a rock a single color or maybe paint a heart or smiley face. This will give you an idea how the process works (painting on rocks is a bit different than painting on paper or canvas). You'll get used to how much paint to apply to your brushes and how different brushes can give you different results. Our paint supplies checklist takes the guesswork out of what to get.

painting-a-rock

If you're seeing those Posca paint pens and wanting to give those a try, check out our tutorial for a fun word search design for painted rocks. The tutorial is a great way to give those paint pens a try with easy-to-follow instruction.

Labeling your painted rocks

To write or not to write on the back of your rocks — that is the question!
When it comes to labeling your rocks, that's completely up to you. There are a few options:

  • Some rock painters choose to add a signature (as many artists do) to the back of their painted rock. It is, after all, a work of art.
  • Some artists don't write anything on their rock, wanting it to remain an anonymous work of art that's intended to be a random act of kindness.
  • Others belong to a rock painting group and choose to include the name of that group on their rock.
  • And, others like to follow the journey of their rock and add an ID so they can see on a map where their rock has traveled and spread kindness and be notified when their rock has been found.

Option 1: Hand writing on your painted rocks
Of course, you can simply hand write on the back of your rock. And, if that's the case, those Posca paint pens do the job really well, particularly the ultra fine point pen. In our experience, if you give them ample time to dry (30-60 minutes depending on the humidity in your area), they don't smudge when it comes time to seal the rock. When we tried Sharpie markers, they smeared when it came time to seal our rocks, which was a big disappointment. 😞

If you're hand writing on your rocks, skip to the section on "Adding the final sealer"

➡️TIP: Paint the back of your rock a solid color. This will 1. allow the paint pens to more easily glide along the surface of the rock and 2. allow for what you're writing to show up better.

Option 2: Using a paper label
Many rock painters adhere a label to the back of their rocks. This ensures information you're adding to the back of the rock can be easily read by anyone who picks it up.

This label might include:

  • the name of a local rock painting group on Facebook or Instagram
  • a hashtag (e.g. #SmithFamilyRocks)
  • a unique ID from GoRock.com, which allows you to follow on a map the journey of your painted rock.

GoRock even provides printable labels.

Examples of handwritten and paper-labeled rocks

How to label your painted rock

To adhere a paper label, a decoupage medium like Modge Podge works really well. Modge Podge is basically a glue, so don't make that your final finish — it's water-based and after your rock gets wet for the first time, it'll start to look cloudy and become a gluey mess. A waterproof sealant (see below) must be added as a final layer to protect your rock from whatever Mother Nature might throw its way!

Use Modge Podge to adhere paper labels to painted rocks, but not as a final sealer. It's basically a glue and will become a gooey mess if set outdoor in the rain.

➡️TIP: Please make sure you properly adhere the label to the rock. Otherwise, the label might fall off and then it becomes litter. Channel your inner Yoda and allow the paper label to become one with the rock!

This means:

  • brush some Modge Podge onto the rock, add the label, then brush more Modge Podge on top of the label
  • smooth out air bubbles so the label lays flat against the rock
  • let fully dry, otherwise the rock may become tacky (and, the only time that's fun is when you're trying to win a tacky sweater contest!)

➡️SIDE NOTE: *We have tried the outdoor Modge Podge and while it does seem to hold up well to outdoor elements, we found that it took a while (a few weeks!) for it to fully cure (this also depends on the humidity in your area). If your rock isn't fully cured, your painted design may appear cloudy-looking and the label can pull off if the rock gets stuck to another surface or if the rock gets wet. Our advice is to stick with regular Modge Podge to apply a label, then seal your rock with a brush-on acrylic varnish.

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Adding the final sealer

Before you set your rock outside, you'll want to first seal it with a waterproof/weatherproof sealer. This will protect what you've just painted and help the bright colors last as long as possible. Think about the extreme conditions (weather and other) your rock may be exposed to — rain, snow, changes in temperature and maybe even rattling around in a suitcase if your rock travels.

Just as there are many types of paints, there are many types of sealer, including spray, brush-on and resin. We prefer the brushable varnish because it's friendlier on the environment — no smelly fumes, so it can be used indoors year-round.

Our absolute favorite is DecoArt DuraClear gloss varnish!

Dura Clear acrylic sealer for painted rocks

The key to using this product is to apply thin coats of varnish to your rock.

➡️TIP: It can get a little sticky if you try to apply a thicker coat vs several thinner coats. Globbing it on will only leave your rock tacky-feeling vs. smooth and shiny.

The downside is it doesn't easily wash off your hands. We picked up a box of disposable powder-free exam gloves, which has made clean-up a breeze when we're done sealing our rocks. And, the gloves are thick enough that we've been able to get several uses out of them before tossing.

Have rock painting tips? Share below!

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