How to Diamond Paint

Diamond painting kits, now all the rage in DIY arts and crafts, are fun and fulfilling projects you can work on in your spare time. If you’ve never seen this fun activity,  imagine what’s essentially paint by numbers, but with color diamonds called drills that you apply to a sticky canvas to fill in a picture. The diamonds, referred to in trade-speak as round drills or square drills, are applied by the crafter with an applicator or tweezers after a protective film that readily peels back is partially lifted to expose a specific area of the picture. Diamond art is a leap beyond standard decorative pictures, which can sometimes begin to look stale and flat after a long time hanging up in the hallway. For something that really jumps off the wall and attracts the eyes of visitors and family members, diamond painting kits are hard to beat.

Imagine having your own t rhinestone cowboy or favorite Disney character outfitted in bright diamond art colors and either framed or hanging for all to touch on the wall in the kitchen, office, or living room. Some companies can even custom-build diamond painting kits with photos submitted by the customer, so you can construct memorabilia, portraits, or eye-catching signage tailor-made to your taste and needs. Custom kits are also a great way to surprise a loved one with a self-portrait or family photo, and pet-owners will always be happy to receive a likeness of their furry friends in brilliant rhinestone color. 

It may seem like a really long process at first, having to work one section of the painting at a time and using the included wax to keep the tip of the applicator sticking to the back of the square drills and round diamonds, but that time is actually part of the attraction of diamond painting and not a negative. Like puzzles and cross-stitching, diamond painting is a good pastime and offers you the opportunity to bond with others or to have some quiet personal time to yourself. There’s nothing as satisfying as having a shining, colorful diamond kit completed on the canvas after lots of hard work and concentration. 


A sign that says hand-made art and design.

What’s inside a diamond painting kit?

While diamond painting isn’t an entirely new craft, it has been steadily gaining popularity as a mindful and relaxing craft activity. They come in a variety of different-sized canvases that are half-drill (or partial drill), which means the background is filled in with color straight out of the box, or the full drill models, which have the color by numbers indicators on the canvas but don’t have any color on them otherwise. Depending on your skill level and the amount of time you have to devote to this new hobby, you may want to buy a smaller or partial drill canvas.

Some diamond painting kits are just a few tens of centimeters across, while others are quite large and time-consuming to complete. If you’re using this guide to get information while you work on your first diamond painting and you haven’t bought the diamond painting kit yet, it’s not a bad idea to start small just so you can get used to the techniques, terms, and pieces of diamond painting kits. 

The first thing to know about your diamond painting kit is that the canvas and the wax are both covered in a protective plastic film. This is because the canvas is sticky and wax will be ruined if it somehow picks up foreign debris. Do not peel the entire plastic film off the canvas! Otherwise, the sticky glue can dry out and it will be impossible to make the diamonds stick. One good general diamond embroidery tactic is to only peel the part of the plastic film off the small section of the canvas that you are going to fill in with diamonds in that sitting and peel the rest away as you complete sections. 

Now that you have that little warning, we can move on to the contents of the diamond painting kit. Every time you buy a new kit, it will include the canvas, the drills, the applicator pen, wax, and drill tray. Occasionally a kit will come with tweezers, but the applicator pen is usually the better option because tweezers can be a bit clumsy to use with the drills. Once you have everything in the diamond painting kit unboxed, lay it all out on a flat surface. When you come to the drills, make sure not to rip open all the plastic packs right away. Leave them as they are and they’ll be easy to keep sorted and access later on during the process. 

Take a quick look at the diamond art canvas and you’ll see a color key or guide filled with letters, numbers, and symbols. On the outside of every pack of drills is a number that indicates its specific shade. In the color key, you can find the number of each drill and a corresponding symbol that will be in each place on the canvas where that specific drill should be placed. Stay organized with your colors and corresponding symbols, otherwise, the final picture could come out different than you imagined. Some diamond painters work with one color at a time to prevent this from happening. 

Diamond painting techniques

Once you have everything unpacked and laid out on a flat surface, it’s time to get started crafting your diamond painting. Take a look at the applicator pen and you’ll notice that one end is large enough for one single drill and the other is slightly longer to accommodate four drills. Special applicators are sold that can pick up up to 12 drills at a time, but if you prefer to concentrate it’s probably better to stick with the one that comes in the kit. 

The protective plastic film should still be covering the red wax. If you peel a small section of the plastic film away from the wax, leaving it intact so that it will easily recover the wax when you’re finished with this step, then you can take the applicator and stick the tip into the wax. This will cause the shallow hole at the end of the applicator to fill with wax, making it easier to pick up drills. Next, examine the canvas and the color guide. In the small section you’ve chosen to start with, check out which of the colors and corresponding symbols are most prevalent. 

Match the right color diamond with the corresponding symbol in the color guide and pour some of the correct color diamonds into the drill tray. You probably won’t need to pour out the entire bag, just enough for the small section you’ve chosen as your starting point. The drill tray has a few small ridges in the bottom to make working with the drills even easier. Each drill has a flat side and a rounded side. It’s much easier to pick up drills if they’re all in the drill tray with the flat side facing down because that’s the side that will stick to the canvas in the end. When you have a small number of drills in the drill tray, give the tray a few light shakes with your hand and you’ll see the drills automatically tend to turn with their rounded side facing up just the way you want them.

For the really well organized and long-term diamond painting hobbyists, a good tip is to invest in some plastic pillboxes that snap shut. You can label each compartment with a color number from the bags of drills and store them in the pillbox, a much cleaner method than constantly searching through open plastic bags. Some prefer Ziploc bags, but the opening and closing of the Ziploc seal can be time-consuming and isn’t as surefire as a pillbox lid is. 

Once you have all your drills organized and the first color of drill is in the drill tray, the process of filling in the canvas is pretty straightforward. As you take each drill with the pen tool, bear in mind that there is no need to apply pressure with your hand because the red wax and the canvas itself are both very sticky and hold on to the drills quite easily. Now is a good time to set the music going if you want some background noise and get a drink if you want to, because once you get started setting the drills to the canvas you officially become a diamond painter. You may get sucked in while concentrating on this task and find yourself so addicted to the simple pleasure of filling in the canvas that you lose track of time, so you may not be getting up from your chair for a while.

Practice using the wider end of the pen tool to place up to four drills at a time to make the working sections go a bit faster. You’ll be grateful to have built on this versatility when you start working on a really large canvas. 

A diamond painting.

Types of drills

There are two kinds of drills to choose from based on personal preference and the specific diamond painting kit you have. Round drills are probably closer to what you picture when you first think of colored diamonds, but there are also square drills that fit flush with one another when applied to the canvas correctly. The biggest advantage to square drills is the ability to apply them to the canvas in a checkerboard fashion, which allows you to then go back and fill in the gaps and maintain a straight row of square drills. 

Perhaps you are a little confused by the seemingly random numbers on the outside of each plastic bag of drills. That number isn’t completely made up. They’re assigned based on a system called DMC, and each number is called a DMC code. It should look familiar to anyone who has worked on embroidery or cross-stitch because those crafts use this same color system. If you want to double the value of your diamond painting kit, you can photocopy your canvas before you get started and use it for a cross-stitch project as well, since the DMC codes will match the thread colors as well. 

Tips and tricks for diamond painting

As you work on applying the color diamonds to the canvas, you’ll want to avoid sliding the canvas toward you. It’s wisest to begin at the top of the canvas and work down. That way, as you progress you’ll be moving the canvas up across the flat surface of your work area rather than toward you off the table and into your lap. You can also use a crafter knife to cut vertical or horizontal slits in the protective plastic film that covers the canvas to open up another small area for you to work on. Another advantage is for right-handed crafters who will want to leave the plastic film covering the canvas even once that small section has been completed to avoid rubbing the applied drills or exposed adhesive with your hand as you work on another section. 

Always recover your canvas with the plastic film, even the parts you’ve completed, to protect the placed drills and the adhesive on the canvas when you aren’t working on the diamond painting kit. Die-hard enthusiasts can invest in some kind of light pad to place underneath the canvas to make it easier on the eyes to read the corresponding symbols in the color guide. It’s especially helpful for people who have most of their leisure time in the evenings. 

Some diamond painters prefer to use other material than the included red wax because they find it is stickier and lasts longer. Feel free to test out similar crafting materials to see what you find picks up the drills the best and lasts the longest. Other enthusiasts have figured out how to make their own drill pens out of household ballpoint pens. There are many ways to customize your diamond painting kits and the tools you use for this fun hobby, it’s up to you and your personal preference to decide how much customization you want. 

Common drill problems

The most common issues people have in the course of completing a diamond painting kit are spilling drills and placing them down in the wrong place on the canvas by accident. There are a few simple solutions to both problems, so if either one happens to you (and it probably will if you do enough of these kits) it’s best not to panic. 

For spilled drills, rather than using the diamond applicator tool to pick up the drills one at a time or even four at a time, remember that the natural oils in your hands are enough to make the drills stick to them very briefly. What this means is you can simply place the pad of your finger over a small group of dropped drills and they will stick to your finger long enough for you to replace them back into your pillbox or wherever else you’ve chosen to store your drills. The drills are too small to sweep across a table and that process will likely be more time-consuming anyway, so this simple trick using the pad of your finger is much more efficient and simple. 

If you really mess up when you paint with diamonds and spill a large amount on the floor or something similar happens, you can place a bit of fabric or pantyhose over the tip of a vacuum cleaner and pick them up that way. Just be mindful of the durability of the material you use for this task, because you don’t want a sudden hole to form and allow the drills to enter the vacuum. 

If you accidentally place a drill in the wrong place on the canvas, the adhesive is fairly forgiving and allows a quick slide with the pen tool. Apply a very slight amount of pressure and the drill will readily slide across to the right spot on the canvas. Hopefully, you haven’t placed the incorrect drill in a wildly incorrect place on the canvas and there aren’t more drills in the way of sliding the drill to its proper place. 


A sign that reads work in progress.

Advantages to diamond painting

Diamond painting is one of the many engaging DIY activities that work really well to improve concentration and relieve anxiety. For a quiet night in or something to do during a rainstorm, diamond painting kits are the perfect mix of crafts and creativity. If you don’t have the skill or talent for drawing and you want to switch over from similar activities like coloring or cross-stitch, diamond painting kits are just what you’re looking for.

One kind of disadvantage to diamond painting kits over coloring or drawing is that the kits aren’t really that portable. They must be done on a flat surface and it is difficult to roll up or otherwise transport a diamond painting kit that is open but still unfinished. However, if you’re looking for a private or small group indoor activity and don’t want to risk being distracted by strangers or the cafe or library staff, not being able to move locations when you paint with diamonds is actually a huge advantage over coloring or drawing. 

Like color by numbers, the DMC codes are already pre-selected so for people who have trouble with color combinations or else simply can’t be bothered with creating them, diamond painting can be a relief and is generally much easier on the brain than other craft activities that require more work. Custom kits also make diamond paintings that much more fun and interesting.

A word to the wise regarding custom kits: if you’re going to try and make one of a portrait or a person’s face, make sure to get the biggest canvas you can reasonably order and work on. The larger the canvas, the better the detail will be. It would be a shame to go through all the effort of making a custom kit and not be able to recognize the people in the photo at the end!

Diamond painting kits are great and easy fun. They make great gifts and personalized decorations for the home, office, and just about anywhere else you would hang a normal drawing or painting. Now that you’ve reached the end of this quick guide on how to paint with diamonds, go out and select your favorite canvas and jump into the dazzling world of diamond painting!