cells in acrylic pour paintings

How to Create Cells in Acrylic Pour Paintings

Cells in acrylic pour paintings can be created by using additives to change the density and mixability of paint. The most commonly used additive that acrylic artists use to create cells is silicone oil. However, cells can also form naturally from paints with different pigment densities mixing together.

The key to creating these amazing cells lies in understanding how they are formed and using the right techniques and supplies. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to create cells in acrylic pour paintings.

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What are cells and how are they formed?

what are cells acrylic pouring

Cells are patterns that appear when lower density colours rise to the surface of the paint film, through higher density colours. The patterns look like organic cell clusters, that mimic microscopic biological cell formations.

Cells can be created with just acrylic colour and pouring medium. This is due to the fact that some pigments are denser than others. Pigments such as titanium white and other heavy metals are much heavier and more densely dispersed through fluid acrylic binders, compared to lighter pigments such as hansa yellow or magenta. These denser pigments sink to the bottom of the mix, when colours are poured together in a container or on the canvas. The interaction between the liquids of different densities is what gives way to the cell effect. Swiping the surface of the paint film with a tool like a paint knife can create more cells, where lighter density colours are released from being trapped beneath the denser colours.

Artists can also add additives to create more cells. Additives such as silicone oil have a hydrophobic quality, which causes it to separate from the water in the paint. Additionally the low surface tension of the silicone oil, relative to the high surface tension of water in acrylic paint, causes it to form into bubbles, trapping the paint in them. When the lighter density colours trapped in silicone bubbles rise to the top of the paint film, they retain their shape before bursting. The combination of these properties creates beautiful and unique, colourful pattern effects.

Mediums for creating cells in acrylic pour paintings

There are different mediums that artists can use to create cells in acrylic pour paintings. The most popular mediums include using floetrol and silicone oil. You can use a combination of these mediums to get the desired effect. Other mediums you can use to create cells include dimethicone and other lubricants.

Use Floetrol to create cells

Floetrol is a paint conditioner that helps to reduce surface tension, which can help create cells. Add Floetrol to your cup of medium, colour and distilled water a 1:1:2 ratio (distilled water to colour to Floetrol).

Once your colour and medium is mixed, use your favourite acrylic pouring technique to create your painting. Whether that’s the flip cup or dirty pour. Once the colour is on the canvas, tilt the surface back and forth and side to side. Watch as the cells begin to form. To further release the cells from the paint, you can use a palette knife to gently swipe the surface.

Silicone oil

Tri-Art Liquid Glass Acrylic Pouring Medium - 500 ml

Silicone oil is another popular medium to use to create cells in acrylic pour paintings. Add two or three drops of silicone oil to the mixture of paint and pouring medium in the cup and stir gently. It’s important to note that the less you stir, the smaller the cells will be. However, if you stir the mixture more, the cells will be larger.

When pouring the mixture onto the canvas, the silicone oil will cause cells to form. However, when using this medium, make sure to use a heat gun, or a hairdryer to release cells and pop any air bubbles that have formed.

Techniques to create cells

There are a multitude of acrylic pouring techniques you can use to create cells in acrylic pour paintings. From swiping with a palette knife to creating a Dutch pour, there are endless possibilities.


Swiping with a palette knife, is another technique that can be used to create cells. It involves dragging the edge of the knife through the surface to reveal the lower density colours, allowing them to float to the top.

Dirty pour

The dirty pour is a relatively simple and fun technique, whereby colours are poured from their individual cups to a larger cup. To create cells, mix a few drops of silicone oil into the colours you want to create the cells. Then, with all the colours layered in one large cup, start pouring straight onto the surface. Tilt the canvas to cover the edges, then once the canvas has been completely covered, use a heat gun to pop air bubbles. You should start to see more cells forming when you apply heat.

Dutch pour

A Dutch pour involves mixing the colours together in a separate container with silicone oil, before pouring them into the centre of the canvas. Use air to blow the colours across the surface, creating dispersed cells. You could use a straw, a hairdryer or even canned air to create this effect. Then tilt the canvas until all the paint has spread evenly, and you should see cells popping up on the surface. Use a heat gun to pop air bubbles and optionally a palette knife to spread the paint to the corners.

Flip cup

The flip cup acrylic pouring technique method is an incredibly popular way of making cells. It involves mixing colours with pouring medium and silicone oil in their individual cups, before pouring into a larger separate container. Then, place the canvas face down on top of the container and flip both the container and the canvas over, holding them together. Gravity and surface tension will cause the mixture to ripple outward from the centre, creating beautiful cells along its way. Tilt the canvas and use a palette knife to spread the paint out, as with the other techniques. Then use a heat gun to get rid of any air bubbles and make the cells come to the surface.