acrylic paint mediums

Acrylic Paint Mediums: A Guide

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With the addition of acrylic paint mediums, you can completely transform your acrylic colours. Mediums can improve the versatility of paint and make it behave in unique ways.

Alter the drying time, finish, surface texture, transparency, the volume or the flow of the paint. 

The great thing about using mediums with acrylic is that they don’t undermine the structure of the acrylic paint. You can thin acrylics with water to make them more fluid, but water weakens the paint film. A medium, on the other hand, will act to help you maintain a strong, flexible film throughout the painting process.

Harnessing a medium’s special characteristics can help you achieve effects in your painting practice that make your work stand out and make the whole process more enjoyable. 

Alter the finish

Some brands of acrylic paint, such as Golden Heavy Body, don’t have additives in them that create a unified surface sheen. Depending on the pigment, you might get a shinier or more matte effect. You can use a medium to alter the reflective qualities of the paint’s film, to level it out across different pigments, or to achieve the effect you want.

Acrylic gloss medium

Liquitex gloss medium
Source: Liquitex

Add a tiny amount to the paint for a satin-like lustre, or a little bit more for a radiant surface that glimmers. The appeal of adding gloss to paint is that it makes colours appear more saturated and increases the colour contrasts. This medium increases the fluidity of the paint whilst simultaneously providing a strong paint film.

This medium by Liquitex can also be used as a varnish, as it dries to a clear hard surface.

Acrylic matte medium

Liquitex acrylic matte medium
Source: Liquitex

The matte medium creates a non-reflective finish when mixed with acrylic paint.

Just like the gloss medium, the matting agent increases fluidity making intricate detail work easier. The matte medium works especially well with opaque colours. If you want to increase the fluidity of your paint without making it matte or glossy, then mix the gloss and matte mediums together to create a satin-like effect.

Surface texture

Acrylic gel medium

Liquitex gel medium
Source: Liquitex

The perfect accompaniment to impasto work, this medium acts as a thickening agent, retaining brushstrokes on your canvas. 

The texture of the medium itself is thick and smooth, use it to create brilliant textures, extend the body of your paint and increase the working time. 

It comes in both matte and gloss varieties and it increases the adhesion of the paint too, so you can use it to build up thick layers of paint.

There are many ways to create different surface textures in your paintings. You could use a tool like a palette knife or a silicone mini-blade. Read about some of the other applicators that help you achieve thick texture in your work.

If you’re interested in learning about some texture painting techniques, The Paint Basket: Online Art Lessons has a tutorial that gives some insight into how to create another dimension in your work. Read our impasto blog to learn about the technique.

Modelling paste

Liquitex modelling paste
Source: Liquitex

This medium dries to a hard, stiff but flexible film. Use it to make your paintings three dimensional. 

It provides the paint surface with a ‘tooth’, aiding the adhesion of the paint to the canvas. For this reason, along with its absorbent properties, it can be used as a ground. Spread the texture onto the canvas as the base layer then apply paint on top of it, or mix it in with paint to create coloured texture.

Dry texture

The brand Derivan produces an extensive range of dry textures that can be added to a gel medium, gesso or straight to acrylic paint. With these, you can create your own custom mediums.

Because they can be added to gesso, you can use these dry textures with a multitude of mediums, such as oil and as a ground beneath pastel. The dry mediums provide artists with the opportunity to create elaborate textures and unique pieces of art. Some of the dry mediums are purely decorative, whilst others have a function. For example, Microspheres give the paint bulk without adding extra weight, allowing you to create 3D sculptural effects.

There are 18 different dry textures, here are some that are available…

Ground marble dry texture medium

Derivan Marble dry medium texture
Source: Jackson's Art

Add tooth, absorbency and fine texture to a paint film. It also thickens the film. It’s quite fiddly trying to get an even surface using marble, as the particles are so fine. Interestingly, if you mix a little of this with a gesso, it could make a good ground for colour pencil or pastel art too.

Mica flakes dry texture medium

Derivan Mica dry medium texture
Source: Jackson's Art

Mix with transparent colours and gels to achieve pearlescent and opalescent effects. The more transparent the mixture, the more these qualities will shine through. To make your painting sparkle, sprinkle on top of wet paint. 

See the full range of dry texture mediums here.

Transparency

Glazing medium

Glazing is a technique used in acrylic painting to create luminosity and the illusion of light. A glaze is a transparent layer that lets previous paint layers show through, creating subtle shifts in hue and saturation.

Acrylic paint can be thinned with water, but the addition of too much water can create a weak paint film. For this reason, using a glazing medium to increase the transparency and fluidity of the paint can ensure that a strong paint film is made.

Drying time

Fluid retarding medium

Acrylic paint dries fast, unless you use an acrylic paint that has been designed to stay wet for longer such as Golden’s Open Acrylics.

A fluid retarder additive will slow the drying process of paint, increasing the open time. This makes paint workable for longer on the palette and the canvas. It makes it much easier to use techniques such as alla prima (wet-on-wet). 

A tiny amount of this medium goes a long way. The fluid retarder will prevent acrylic colours from ‘skinning over’ for longer, as it increases the working time by up to 40%, depending on the thickness of the paint and the amount of medium added.

Mediums to suit different acrylic paint applications

Acrylic pouring medium

Reduce paint viscosity to create a smooth, wet-look pour painting. 

Mix the medium with soft body acrylics, then pour over your chosen acrylic painting surface for brilliantly vibrant abstract effects. The medium maintains colour opacity and you can pour it on your canvas or panel in puddles. 

For best results, take one tablespoon of Soft Body colour to one cup of Pouring Medium (around 5% colour to 95% medium).

Acrylic airbrush medium

Lower the viscosity of acrylic to a water-like consistency ready for airbrush application.

This airbrush medium is designed to modify Soft Body colour for use with an airbrush. It is 100% acrylic binder and is also suitable for use with acrylic inks. The Airbrush Medium can also function as an extender to make paint more fluid and transparent. 

Start by using in a 1:1 ratio with Soft Body Acrylic or acrylic ink, you may need to adjust the ratio depending on the pigment you have chosen—experiment to get the optimum mix. Stir to combine the medium with the acrylic colour… then you’re ready to spray away!

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