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How to Paint by Numbers: A Step By Step Guide

Painting is not only a great way to express your creativity, but it’s also great for relaxation. In fact, many people use painting as a type of therapy. That’s where a painting by numbers can help! All you need is a ready-made kit (that you can even customize!), plus this simple step-by-step guide. You can then learn how to paint by numbers and create your own masterpiece! Got younger family members who are into art? You could turn this activity into a family affair by getting them a Paint by Number Kit for Kids.

Before You Start Painting

The first step is to make sure you have a bright and comfortable space to paint in. While painting by numbers is easy and fun, a dark or cramped room will not help the process. A dry and clean space is also important, to protect your artwork from damage.

It’s best to place your canvas on a large enough table or desk, where it’ll stay flat. You should be able to easily move around to the different corners of the painting.

Have a cup of water and some cloth handy to clean the brushes with when they get gunky, or when you switch colors. 

Finally, place the reference photo from your kit somewhere you can see it while you work. Remember, this demonstrates what the painting is supposed to look like at the end of the process. But this is your artwork – your personal style and creativity should show on the finished product! 

Next, we’ll look at the paint-by-numbers instructions to make sure you understand exactly what you need to do.

Paint by Numbers – Instructions

Learning how to paint by numbers is pretty straightforward. The painting already exists on the canvas, and you just need to paint each area with the correct color. This is indicated by the numbers on the page. 

There are various methods you could use and tricks and tips to make things easier.

Keep reading for more details on how to paint by numbers on canvas, mixing colors, and what you can do with the finished work.

How to Paint by Numbers on Canvas

On your canvas, you will find the picture you are going to be painting. The different sections are numbered according to the color you should paint them. This gives you clear directions for how to paint by numbers on your canvas.

It’s important to keep your canvas dry and clean, so place it somewhere where it won’t be damaged.

It’s also important to stretch your canvas out so that you can paint smoothly on it. If your canvas comes out of the kit wrinkled, you can spray a light mist of water on it and iron it using low heat. Make sure to iron the reverse of the fabric (not the side with the picture drawn on it), before you paint it.

If you would like a sturdy surface to paint on, you could tape the canvas to some cardboard, wood, or foam. Make sure it’s easy to remove it when you finish your painting without damaging your work.

Paint by Numbers – Mixing Colors

You might find some of the paints too thick to work with. In this case, feel free to mix in a bit of water to dilute the paint. But try not to use too much so that the color keeps its vibrancy. Remember, you can always add more water as you go if needed.

You might notice that some sections of your painting have two numbers on them, rather than one. This means that your painting requires mixing colors to get the correct tone. With paint by numbers, mixing colors needs to be done slowly and carefully. Be sure to use the same amount of paint from each color, and to wash your brush between dips into the color pots so that you don’t contaminate the colors. You might want to use a toothpick to mix the colors (it can also help when painting very small areas).

Tips and Tricks

We’ve put together a little ‘how to paint by numbers’ cheat sheet for you, to help you create the best piece you can:

  • Use dark colors first. This helps you to see the overall effect of the colors and understand the composition quicker.
  • Cover the numbers. To make sure your painting looks clean and beautiful, use enough paint to cover the numbers on the canvas. That’s not to say you need to use lots of paint, as that might make it run into the neighboring section. The best method is to paint one layer, let this dry, then paint another layer on top if needed.
  • Start at the top. This prevents you from smudging the paint with your arm while painting. You can also choose to start on the right or left side of the picture, depending on which hand you use. It’s your choice. After all, it’s your art! 
  • Take care of your tools and materials. It may sound obvious, but it’s very important. Make sure to shut your color pots properly when you are not using them, to avoid them drying out. Also, remember to clean your brushes well after each use.
  • Take your time. Painting should be relaxing and enjoyable. Don’t rush your work, as it will help you to stay accurate as you paint, and allow for a better end result. It’s also important to let your paint dry well, especially if you want to paint more than one layer over a specific section.

The Finishing Touches

What you do with the finished artwork is up to you! You could get it framed or hang it up on the wall as it is. You could even sell it on sites like Etsy. You might make some decent money from it (though you shouldn’t plan that round-the-world trip just yet, not everyone can get rich off of their art!).

The main goal of learning how to paint by numbers is to have fun and create beautiful paintings, in a simple and relaxing way. Whether you are painting a picturesque nature scene for yourself, having some fun learning a new skill with your kids, or making someone a unique present, you can choose the perfect kit to help you release your inner artist.


How do you cover lines in paint by numbers?

Staying within the lines while covering them might be a bit of a learning curve. The trick is to use enough paint to cover the entire area, but not too much, so that it doesn’t run to the neighboring sections. You might have to give this a few goes before you get it right, but that’s half the fun! 

Do you paint light or dark colors first?

According to the paint by numbers instructions, it’s best to paint the dark colors first. This can help you to understand the composition better, and see how the colors affect one another.

Is it better to paint the background first?

The recommended methods are to paint the darker colors first, to paint all the sections of a specific color in one go, and to paint from the top to the bottom of the canvas. But there’s no exact science for how to paint by numbers, so it’s up to you! 

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