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The Ultimate Paint by Number Guide for Beginners

The Ultimate Paint by Number Guide

Step-by-Step Paint by Number Instructions and Everything You Need to Know to Get Started!

Looking for step-by-step paint by number instructions and helpful hints, tips, and tricks? Do you need to use gesso before painting? Is it better to stretch your canvasbefore orafter you have painted? How do you remove wrinkles? There are lots of options for PBN kits. We have answered the most common questions and highlighted everything you need to know to get started on your new hobby!

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~Before Starting your Kit~

  1. Find a comfortable and well-lit room in which to paint. The more detailed the kit, the tinier the numbers and spaces may be. For the particularly small spaces, a magnifying glass and lamp can be very helpful. Our customers swear by this Magnifying Headlamp!
  2. Get a comfortable desk or table in which to paint. Being hunched over for long periods of time can be bad for your neck and back, so try to make sure you are comfortable and change positions frequently. Switching between painting on a flat surface and a tabletop easel usually helps!
  3. Clear a space of anything that should not get wet or dirty! As careful as we think we will be, the paint always seems to find its way onto something other than canvas!
  4. Take a digital picture of your canvas with your phone! This will give you a permanent reference sheet that you can never misplace, spill paint on, tear, burn, crumple, or shred! You can also zoom in on any small numbers or spaces. Now it's time to ditch that magnifying glass!Digital picture of the canvas
  5. Get a small cup of water and a few paper towels. Keeping the brush moist, but not too saturated, is very important throughout the painting process. We highly recommend going 1 color/number at a time as it will ensure your paints stay moist and fresh for the entire kit!. To keep your brush moist and clean, dip the brush in water and dry off any excess with your paper towel. Make sure to clean it well when switching colors/numbers!

Paper Towels, cup of water, brushes

~Preparing your canvas~

There are lots of options for preparing your canvas. Do you need to use gesso before painting? Is it better to frame your canvas before or after you have painted? We have answered the most common canvas prep questions and have outlined the many options for preparing a canvas below.


Quick Summary: Gesso is not necessary for acrylic paintings!

Question 1: What exactly is gesso, and why is it used?

Answer 1: Gesso is a primer that makes paint go on more smoothly and makes the canvas more absorbent. HOWEVER, gesso is not nearly as necessary when painting with acrylic paints versus painting with oil paints.

Traditional gesso for oil paints contains a glue that helps bind the paint to the canvas and prevents the paint from corroding; however,all ofMy Paint by Number's 700+ kits use ACRYLIC paints. Acrylic paints do not corrode like oil paints, which make gesso a lot less important.

Question 2: Should I use gesso?

Answer 2: Totally up to you! We do not recommend it for our acrylic paint by number kits!

Gesso for acrylic paints will make the canvas a little bit smoother and a little more absorbent, but may smudge your numbers and lines and will make it more likely to run out of paint for your paint by number kit!

Question 3: Should I use clear gesso or white gesso?

Answer 3: Only use CLEAR GESSO for paint by number kits! If you use white gesso or any other color, it will cover up the numbers and spaces you need for your paint by number kit!

Question 4:Are you interested in learning more about gesso?

Answer 4:Check out this video from Dina herself: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ShETJURbxzQ

Stretching and Framing

Quick Summary: Stretching a canvas is not necessary for these kits!

Question 1:Should I stretch my canvas? Should I do it before or after I paint?

Answer 1: It is totally up to you! You really cannot go wrong, but we do not recommend stretching your canvas for beginners or first timers. However, if you do want to stretch your canvas, we recommend doing so beforepainting!

Question 2: How do I stretch a paint by number canvas?

Answer 2: Stretching paint by number kits can be a little more difficult than stretching a regular canvas because you need to line up the border of the canvas with the DIY frame. It may take a few tries, but it is totally doable. You can click on the following link to check out our thorough how-to guide on how to stretch and frame a canvas

Question 3: What are the benefits to stretching a paint by number canvas?

Answer 3: Stretching a canvas makes the canvas a bit more portable. We usually recommend it if you have an easel and you want to take your kit outside to paint. (Painting on a beach was one of the most relaxing painting experience we have ever had.)

Question 4: What are the detriments to stretching a paint by number canvas?

Answer 4: Stretching a paint by number canvas takes a lot of patience. It may also be hard to stretch it very tautly without the proper tools, so you may find it easier to paint with a flat hard surface behind an unstretched canvas as a backing.

Question 5: Where is the best place to paint--on a table or on an easel?

Answer 5:Spending too many hours painting with an easel hurts our necks and our arms. Painting for too many hours on a flat surface makes just our necks sore. Switching between the two can help ease some of that soreness! We ranked our 3 favorite options by level of ease:

  1. EASY - Lay your canvas on a flat surface and securely tape it using masking tape. We are addicted to paint by numbers ourselves and found this to be the simplest and most pleasant way of painting. It is also very easy to pick up and move to a different space!
  2. MEDIUM – Tape, tack, or binder clip your canvas to a piece of foam board or cardboard. This method gives you a strong and hard back for your canvas and also makes your project very portable! You can still put your canvas on a flat surface, or stand it up on an easel.
  3. DIFFICULT – Stretching your canvas is the most difficult. We have a separate how-to guide on doing that; however, it makes your canvas less portable and you will no longer have that hard backing, which usually makes painting the canvas a bit more challenging. A stretched kit is also a little harder to frame after you are finished--but it definitely does not hurt to try!


~Starting your kit~

Easy Paint by Number Instructions

  1. Unpack your paint by number kit and lay out the canvas, paints, and brushes on a flat surface.
  2. Unroll the canvas and carefully iron it on high to remove any wrinkles or creases.
  3. Tape the canvas to the flat surface. We recommend masking tape to mitigate any residue that may be left on the flat surface or canvas.
  4. Fill up a small cup of water and lay out a few paper towels. (Do not forget the paper towels, they are very important for cleaning your brushes when changing colors!)
  5. *BONUS STEP* - Take a digital picture of your canvas with your phone! This trick will give you a permanent reference sheet that you can never misplace, spill paint on, tear, burn, crumple, or shred! You can also zoom in on any small numbers or spaces with ease--no more magnifying glasses!
  6. Match each of the numbered paint pots with the pre-numbered area on the canvas. We highly recommend going one number at a time to prevent the paints from drying.
  7. Start with the darker colors first, then go lighter. Go from top to bottom. For right-handed individuals, go from left to right as your make your way from the top to the bottom of your canvas. For left-handed individuals, go from right to left as your make your way from the top to the bottom of your canvas.Dark to light, top to bottom, left to right
  8. Dip the tip of your paintbrush and begin painting! Using just the tip will increase the precision of your strokes and help you stay within the lines. It also prevents paint from drying up in the bristles closer to the handle, which may damage your brush. Using just the tip will also conserve paint so you will have plenty leftover for touch-ups and free-hand kits for fun once you are done!Dip the tip of the brushes



~Expert Tips~

From Novice to NICE!

  1. Acrylic paints dry quickly. Make sure to paint 1 number at a time and close the lids whenever you are not painting to prevent them from drying out! Only open 1 paint pot at a time! Check out our guide for fixing dry paints here!
  2. A paint pod with no number or a gray dot will correspond with the gray or blank area on the canvas.
  3. Always iron your canvas before beginning to paint to get out any creases or wrinkles!
  4. If you want to hang your painting, but do not want to put holes in your wall or all the hassle of framing your canvas, you can use double-sided tape, glue dots, or reusable adhesive tabs! Quick, easy, and a cheap way of displaying your artwork!
  5. Make sure to clean your brushes thoroughly between colors. It helps to dip the brush into your water, then wipe it against the paper towel, and repeating until there is hardly any color left in the brush.
  6. Moisten your brush before putting it in the paint. We recommend dipping the brush in a cup of water and then drying the excess water off on a paper towel before dipping the tip of your brush into the paint pod.
  7. Dip the tip! To make the most precise strokes, conserve paint, and prevent your brushes from getting dried up and hard, just use the tip of your brush! It makes it much easier to paint the fine details in these kits!
  8. Use white out or a white colored pencil to cover the numbers and spaces and ensure they do no show through the paint.
  9. Save any extra paint you have after your kit for future touch ups, or even a masterpiece of your own!
  10. All our paints are acrylic and water soluble. Sometimes paint dry up if they were not sealed well after use. If you find that a paint pod has dried up or a little too thick, add a drop or 2 of warm water to bring it back to life!
  11. Is your paint thicker than you would like? Add 1 part flow improver or flow aid to 20 parts water in your water cup. This will make the paint flow more smoothly off your brush compared to dipping in regular water!
  12. Tiny spaces too small for even your tiniest professional paint brushes? Try using a toothpick!Toothpicks for tiny spaces in painting
  13. Having trouble getting paint off? Try a cotton ball and nail polish remover!


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