Painting rocks is not complicated once you know the basics. The steps are actually really, really simple, which is one of the reasons it’s so fun. Here’s a quick overview.
- Choose and prepare your rock.
- Decorate your rock.
- Seal your rock.
Now, of course there are lots of options in each of those steps! That’s where your creativity will shine. Excited to get started? Great.
Let’s begin at the beginning, with how to find rocks to paint.
All About the Rocks
It all starts with a rock. That seems obvious, I know. But there are some guidelines to help you select the best rocks for your projects. If you know what to look for, you’ll save time, money and frustration, plus enjoy your rock painting more.
How to Select Rocks to Paint
Selecting your rocks is an important step because not all are great for painting. They will either enhance your project or detract from it. Plus, a rock that is perfect for your current project may not work for your next one. The more you select and paint rocks, the easier it will be to know what works for you.
- Smooth, non-porous rocks are considered ideal for painting, especially for beginners. Your art materials will apply more evenly, making it easier to decorate and giving a nicer looking finished result.
- Porous rocks have more pitting, resulting in a rougher surface texture. They can be painted, but will need preparation (such as a good base coat of acrylic paint) if you want a smoother working surface. Also, without base coats, they will absorb more paint than a smooth stone.
- Avoid buying rocks that have a wax coating. Many rocks (especially in craft stores) have a coating to make them appear smooth and shiny. But it needs to be removed for paint to adhere as it should.
- Stones with flat surfaces make applying paint and designs easier.
- Unusually shaped rocks may be trickier to paint, but can produce wonderful pieces.
- How will the rock eventually be used? Sometimes you’ll have an idea and will need to find a rock that will work with it. You may have a specific purpose for the final piece, or a design in mind that you want to create, which will dictate what size or shape or color you need.
- Do you want to let the rock inspire you? Sometimes the rock comes before the idea. Just looking at it will stir your imagination of what it could be.
Best places to find rocks to paint
If you’re looking for just a few rocks, you may want to source them yourself.
Common places to search for rocks:
- You may find just what you’re looking for in your own yard and/or landscaping.
- Ask friends, relatives and neighbors if you can have a few from their yard or property.
- Nature, especially near oceans, rivers, lakes and streams.
Finding your own rocks definitely has limitations, though. It may not yield as many as you need, or the quality you need, or may be too time consuming and inconvenient. Also, don’t assume that a rock is just a rock and they are all fair game.
Be aware of laws and conventions that affect rock collectors.
- Don’t take rocks you find in people’s yards, around businesses, or any other private property. For example, removing rocks from railroad tracks is illegal because the property is owned by a railroad company.
- Check for any laws pertaining to the area where you’re searching. For example, taking rocks from a national park is illegal. According to the U.S. National Park Service, the “collection of minerals or rocks for personal use will be allowed only when specifically authorized by federal law or treaty rights.”
- Although not a law, Leave No Trace principles can apply to removing rocks from their natural environment.
Where to buy rocks to paint
If you’re going to be painting on a regular basis, or want to use more than a few rocks, you may very well end up buying them.
There are several big advantages to purchasing your rocks.
- It’s more convenient, especially online ordering and home delivery.
- There are options for every budget. You’ll find a range of prices depending on where you purchase your rocks.
- The variety you have to choose from is much larger than searching for your own.
- You can find a go-to brand or supplier that you like.
So you like the idea of being able to simple purchase rocks. But where to start? Fortunately, you have lots of good options.
Try these options when you want to shop for rocks to paint.
- Landscaping businesses.
If you’re looking for the lowest cost option, this is probably it. Look to purchase rocks by the bucket or pound, where you can hand select which ones you want. Quality and consistency may vary, but you’ll have a lot of rocks to choose from.
- Garden centers and home improvement stores.
Another good option for finding rocks at moderate prices. Here you may be limited to buying rocks in pre-packaged bags as opposed to selecting each one by hand. The quality may vary but you’ll have several types of rocks to choose from here, as well.
When it comes to convenience, you can’t beat online shopping and home delivery. But there are other advantages, too, including a larger variety. When you purchase rocks that have been selected especially with crafters and artists in mind, the quality and consistency will be higher. Many also arrive cleaned and ready to use. Bonus! And believe it or not, buying rocks online can be quite affordable.
- Craft stores.
You can definitely find painting rocks at craft and art supply stores, and you may have the best luck finding smaller pebble sizes here. On the other hand, you are more likely to find waxed stones in these stores and the prices are usually the most expensive.
How to prepare rocks for painting
With a nice smooth rock, there is one simple step to prepare to paint. You just need to get it clean and dry.
- Wash thoroughly with water and mild soap using a brush, rinse, then allow to completely dry. Some rocks will need more cleaning than others. You may want to let them soak in water first to loosen the dirt.
- If a rock has a waxy coating on it, paint won’t adhere properly. This is sometimes applied to make rocks look more smooth and shiny. You’ll need to remove the wax, or just not use that stone.
- It’s not necessary to add a basecoat of paint to the rock, but you may choose to, depending on the design you want to create.
Once your rock is clean and dry, you’re ready to begin painting!
If you are working with a porous rock that has a rougher, pitted surface, you may need to do a little more. After cleaning and drying, cover the rock with a couple coats of white acrylic paint. Then lightly rub with fine sandpaper. These added steps will prevent the rock from absorbing the paint you use for your design and will create a smoother surface that’s easier to work on.
Best Paints for Painting Rocks
Knowing what kind of paint to use on your rocks is key. After all, you want to choose wisely and waste as little time and money as possible. There are so many options out there! Read on to discover popular products that are used and recommended by rock painters.
What to look for
You’ll probably end up using more than one type or brand of paint to decorate your rocks. Here are some general things to consider that will help make your projects easier and more successful.
What to look for in a paint:
- Great coverage.
Paint that flows smoothly and is highly pigmented will be easier to apply, require fewer coats, and give a more vibrant finished look.
- Non-toxic for kids.
If children will be doing the painting, this is always important.
- Weather-resistant, or not.
If you’re painting rocks that will be living outside you can decorate them with paint that is designed to withstand the elements. Or, you can use non-weather-resistant paint and simply seal them.
Thicker paints tend to give more coverage and are good for base coats. Thinner paints can be better to use for detailed artwork.
- Drying time.
Quick-drying paint has obvious advantages.
What is the best type of paint for painting rocks?
- Acrylic Paint
This is the the hands-down winner for rock painting. In the next section I’ll explain why, and give you some specific recommendations.
Acrylic Rock Paint
Acrylic is the paint of choice for most rock artists, and for good reasons, because it’s:
- Adheres well to different surfaces
- Low toxicity
- Water-soluble when wet (easy clean-up)
- Water-resistant when dry
- Available in different forms (tubes, bottles, pens)
- Available in different finishes (matte, satin, glossy)
- Available in specialty formulas (glitter, glow-in-the-dark, metallic, etc.)
Popular Brands of Acrylic Paint for Rocks
All of the brands listed here are good choices in acrylic paint, but there are differences. Some are heavy body, some are thinner, there are finish options, etc. And there are obvious differences in price as well.
If you’re just getting started, we suggest selecting from DecoArt, Apple Barrel or FolkArt. They are all highly-rated, affordable, and offer lots of color options.
Available in: Metallic, Pearl, Glitter, Satin, Non-toxic. Self-priming. UV & water-resistant.
If your rocks will be in the elements, or you simply want to skip the need for sealer, outdoor paints are the answer. Outdoor acrylic paint (aka Patio Paint) is a “permanent, weather-resistant acrylic paint for outdoor decorating” and great for rock art.
You want an outdoor paint to be:
- Protective from UV light (prevents fading in sunlight)
- Weather-resistant (protects from water and temperature changes)
- Self-sealing (no sealers or varnishes needed)
- Water-based (for easy cleanup)
Popular Brands of Outdoor Paints for Rocks
3D Paint For Rocks
Add a little more dimension to your rocks with 3D Paint (aka ‘Puffy Paint’)! Use it sparingly or let loose for countless effects.
Top Brands of 3D Paints
Watercolor Paint for Rocks
Watercolors can be used to create everything from vibrant & intense to light & serene effects. Although regular watercolor paint does not work on rocks like it does on paper, you can still get that wonderful flowing look.
Three methods to get the look of watercolor on your rocks:
- Martha Stewart Crafts® Soft Gel Watercolor Acrylic Craft Paint
Keeping the advantages of acrylic paint, these soft gels come in a wide selection of colors. They are water-based and non-toxic. For best effect, use them on top of a chalk paint base so that the watercolors are slightly absorbed.
- Dilute and work acrylic paint with water and a brush.
You can do this with any acrylic paint. Here’s a quick tutorial of this method using Posca paint pens.
- Color with everyday washable markers then add water.
This is another easy way to get that watercolor look, and it doesn’t even use paint! See the tutorial below.
Best Markers and Pens for Rocks
Brushes are not the only way to apply paint to your rocks. With pens you can create detailed designs more easily and naturally. Great for writing words, drawing simple figures, sketching scenes, making complex line drawings, and much more.
Best paint pens for rocks
Pens are a familiar way to apply acrylic paint to your rocks. They’re convenient, clean, and are natural for even non-artists to use. Buying high quality paint pens that flow well, give vibrant color, and provide good coverage is well worth the price. It will make your rock painting more enjoyable and your results more beautiful.
Pens come in medium, fine, and extra fine points.
Recommended Paint Pens for Rocks
Liquid Chalk Markers
This is a fun, and child-friendly, tool to add intense color and make your painted rocks really pop. You may not be familiar with the term ‘liquid chalk’ (I wasn’t at first), but I’m sure you’ve seen them in use plenty of times. These are the colorful opaque markers used to draw and write, for example, on blackboard menus in restaurants.
Liquid chalk works on non-porous surfaces, so a very smooth rock or one with a base coat will work best. Note that the tips are bulkier than that of a pen, which means you won’t be using this marker for small details. They are non-toxic with little odor, which makes them a great option for kids.
Top Liquid Chalk Markers for Rocks
White Chalk Markers
Liquid Chalk Markers
Ink Pens For Rocks
Ink pens allow you to be very detailed and deliberate in your designs. But some are also good for applying large areas of a single color. Try different types of ink and experiment with different nib sizes and shapes. If you love pens like I do, you’re in for some real fun.
Top Ink Pens for Rocks
India Ink Artist Pens
Everyone loves a Sharpie. There’s a size and color for pretty much whatever you need. And when you want a pen that will write on almost anything, it’s got you covered. So it’s only natural to ask, ‘Can I use a Sharpie on rocks?’.
For this discussion, I’m referring to the Classic Sharpie Permanent Marker because they are the most common. The company does also make a line of oil-based paint pens that can be used on rocks.
You can use classic Sharpies on a rock, but it’s probably not your best choice.
- The ink will fade over time in sunlight and weather without sealant.
- Aerosol sealants make the Sharpie ink run.
The workaround is an extra step to protect the Sharpie ink.
- Brush a couple thin layers of craft glue (such as Elmer’s) or Modge Podge over the ink, waiting for it to dry between coats.
- Once dry, apply your normal sealant to the entire rock.
Here’s a great video about painting rocks with Sharpies.
White details on a dark background can create stunning designs. For this you’ll want to use a pen with good pigment and enough flow to write smoothly.
White Gel Pen
REMEMBER! Test, test, test *before* you spend a lot of time painting and sealing a rock. Experiment with whatever combination of paint, ink, sealant, or other materials you plan to use.
Rock Painting Tools
Having the right tools makes all the difference no matter what you’re doing. Fortunately, the ones you’ll use for painting rocks are simple and affordable. Brushes, stencils, and dotting tools are common accessories used for bringing designs to life on stone.
Highly-Rated Paint Brushes for Rocks
Rock Painting Stencils and Templates
Stencils can be a really helpful addition to your collection of rock art tools. And if you’d rather not draw freehand, they’re a good way to create nice, clean designs. Any stencil that’s the right size for your rock will work.
Stencils for Rock Painting
Dotting tools for rock painting
It’s amazing what can be created by arranging different sizes and colors of dots. Some of the most beautiful painted rocks I’ve seen have been designed with this technique.
Depending on the style you want to create, many objects can be used to actually apply dots of paint. Paintbrushes (for those with very steady hands!) and pens can be used, as well as all sorts of everyday objects, such as a pencil eraser or Q-tip.
But if you are looking for very round dots with crisp edges, a dotting tool is the answer. Yes, I’m talking about the kind used for nail art.
They are inexpensive and come in a variety of sizes.
Dotting Tools for Rock Painting
This video from Rachel’s Rocks offers a great peek into using dot painting on rocks. And she offers some tips that will be a big help for beginners.
How to Seal Painted Rocks
Another *big* question you’ll have as a beginner is how, and whether, to add a protective finish to your rocks. This will depend on a few things and may vary from project to project. But as you’ll see, sealing painted rocks is really not very complicated!
To Seal or Not To Seal
You may put a good bit of time into designing your rocks, so this is an important decision. Over time, you’ll find your own favorite methods and products to go back to again and again.
If you’re not sure whether to seal your rocks, ask:
- Will the rocks be used outdoors?
If you’re creating any kind of rock that will be ‘living’ outdoors, it needs to be protected against the elements.
- Will the rock be kept indoors?
If the rocks will be staying inside, away from the weather, it’s not absolutely necessary to seal them. However, depending on the materials you use, they could fade over time, become chipped, or be marred in some way. So if you really want to preserve the rock as it appears when you finish designing it, use a sealant.
- Am I using materials that are already weatherproof?
If the rock is decorated solely with self-sealing products, such as Patio Paint or Outdoor Acrylic Paint, there’s no need to add an extra layer of sealant.
- Am I looking for a particular finish?
You may just want the look that a sealant can give, whether it’s gloss, satin, or matte. Each has a slightly different effect on the paint and overall look of the finished rock.
If you decide to seal your rocks, ask:
- Will I be doing the actual sealing indoors or outdoors?
Spray sealants produce dangerous, unhealthy fumes and should only be used outdoors using proper precautions. If you’re limited to working indoors, consider a brush-on version.
- What sealer works best with the materials I’ve used?
Most combinations of paint and sealer work together well, but there are exceptions. This is why it’s important to experiment with your materials first.
- What type of finish do I want?
The finish you choose can have a dramatic effect on the look of your rock. In the beginning, you will need to experiment and find what works best.
Selecting a Sealant
Once your rock is completed and ready to be preserved and protected, it’s time to apply sealant.
What to look for in a sealant:
- UV-resistant (protects against fading if the rock will be in sunlight)
- Water-resistant (if the rock will be outside)
There are two forms of sealers:
- Spray sealers are generally preferred for ease of use.
- Brush-on sealers are preferred for applying indoors and with less ‘mess’.
Assuming whatever sealer you select meets your needs for protection and finish, the difference between spray-on and brush-on is personal choice.
Spray-on Sealers for Painted Rocks
Clear Acrylic Coating
Brush-on Sealers for Painted Rocks
Fun and Helpful Tutorials & Tips
We’ve hand-picked some of the best rock painting tutorials for you to use. Whether you’re just beginning, or are looking for new techniques, you’re going to be inspired. Plus you’ll find great tips that you can put into practice right away.
Getting Started Rock Painting
New to painting rocks? First up is a fantastic, detailed video introduction to rock painting by AmandaRocks. Most tutorials show you how to create a particular design. But this tutorial gives you a step-by-step explanation of the process, no matter what design you’re creating.