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An Introduction to Acrylic Mediums for Painting

A look at the various types of acrylic mediums available for acrylic paints.


Acrylic mediums that can be mixed with acrylic paints range from thin glazing mediums to thick impasto mediums, with all sorts in between. The variety of acrylic mediums you can buy can seem overwhelming, but they can be grouped together by type and use. This creates a more manageable number to deal with and explore.

Why would you use an acrylic medium with your acrylic paints at all? To extend what you can do with your paint, to change its properties and try new techniques. Browse through this list to get an idea of the possibilities of mediums.

Acrylic Mediums for Thinning Paint (Glazing or Fluid Mediums)

Acrylic painting mediums. Image: ©2007 Marion Boddy-Evans. Licensed to About.com, Inc.
Image © Marion Boddy-Evans
Acrylic paints are made to be thinned with water, but if you add too much water you run the risk that there's not enough binder in the paint for it to stick properly to the canvas or paper. Acrylic mediums intended for thinning paint basically consist of the binder used in acrylic paint ("colorless paint") and so ensure the paint will stick.

Some glazing mediums seem milky white but dry clear without changing the color. If in doubt, do a test before using it on a painting.

See Also:
How Much Water and/or Medium Can You Add to Acrylic Paints?
How Thick Should You Use Acrylic Paint?

Acrylic Mediums for Making Paint Thicker (Texture Mediums)

Mica flakes acrylic texture paste
Acrylic texture paste with mica flakes. Photo © Marion Boddy-Evans
How thick acrylic paint is when its squeezed from the tube depends on what brand it is (it can vary from a soft buttery consistency to quite stiff) and what type (this ranges from fluid, soft body, to stiff). There are a lot of mediums you can add to make the paint thicker so it retains texture created by brush or knife.

Texture mediums can be mixed with paint or applied as an initial layer you paint over. Some texture mediums have additives to create extra or specific texture e.g. sand, glass beads, or fibers. Some texture mediums are gels that dry to a clear, glossy finish. Others are dry to a coarse, matte finish. Some are designed for carving into. Check the label to see what to expect.

How to Use Acrylic Painting Texture Medium
String Medium

Acrylic Mediums for Slower Drying (Retarder Mediums)

If you're finding your acrylic paint is drying far too quickly (which can be a nuisance if you're trying to blend colors), you can slow down the drying time by adding a retarder medium. This is available in various formulations so you can still have the consistency of paint you want. They work by slowing the rate at which the water evaporates from the paint. Check the label to see how much you can add without affecting the adhesive properties of the paint.

See Also:
• Acrylic Paint Brands with a Longer Working Time: Atelier and M. Graham
Does Glycerin Work as an Retarder for Acrylic Paints?

Acrylic Mediums for Dispersing Paint (Flow Mediums)

Photo of spreader or flow mediums for acrylic paint.
Photo ©2011 Marion Boddy-Evans
If you want to break the consistency of acrylic paint to make a very fluid or runny paint, add a dispersant medium. It creates paint that's perfect for staining and pouring techniques.

See Also:
Is it Okay to Paint with Acrylics on Raw Canvas?
Example of a Painting Done by Pouring

Acrylic Mediums for Fabric Painting (Fabric Mediums)

Fabric Acrylic Paint Medium. Image: ©2007 Marion Boddy-Evans. Licensed to About.com, Inc
Image © Marion Boddy-Evans
Acrylic paint can be used without adding any medium for fabric painting but to prevent the result from being stiff, add a fabric painting medium. The paint will need to be heat set if you're going to wash the fabric; this can be done with an iron (check the safety instructions on the bottle and work in a well ventilated space).

See Also:
Product Review: Golden GAC900 Fabric Paint Medium
Mediums for Silk Painting with Acrylics

Acrylic Mediums for Decorative Painting

Acrylic painting mediums
Image © Marion Boddy-Evans
There are a number of acrylic mediums produced for using with decorative painting to get particular paint effects. For instance, cracking medium is used to deliberately cracking a varnish or layer of paint to get an aged effect. Marbling medium is used to stop paints mixing together, producing swirls of unmixed color. Antiquing medium is used to make something look old and worn at the edges.

To get the best results with these types of acrylic mediums, take the time to read the instructions carefully before you start. With some it's just a matter of adding it to the paint, but with others there's a sequence you need to follow to get decent results.

Acrylic Gessos (Primers)

Acrylic painting mediums
Image © Marion Boddy-Evans
Although gesso isn't strictly speaking a medium in that you use it before you paint, I'm including it here because it's generally on the same shelves in an art-supplies store as acrylic mediums. A 'normal' gesso is designed to be the initial layer on a support, whether it's canvas or board. It both protects the support and provides a good surface for the paint to adhere to.

Various gessos are available, so check the label to see what you're buying. The most commonly formulation is a gesso that dries white, but you get some that dry transparent or have a color in them (such as black) to create a colored ground.

See Also:
You Need to Gesso a Prestretched Canvas Before Using It?
How to Prime a Canvas

Acrylic Varnishes

Photo of varnish for acrylic paintings
Photo ©2011 Marion Boddy-Evans
Although varnish isn't a medium but a final protective coating for a painting, I'm including it here because it's generally on the same shelves in an art-supplies store as acrylic mediums. Some artists do use varnish as a medium, but it's does carry a potential risk if the painting is cleaned at some stage in the future. If a conservator removes the final coat of varnish and the layer of paint immediately below it is mixed with some of the same varnish, there's the risk that some paint will be removed too.

See Also:
Why Varnish a Painting?
How to Varnish a Painting
Know Your Brushes: A Varnishing Brush

Acrylic Mediums for Making Ink-Jet Prints

Acrylics mediums for digital printing and prints
Photo © Golden Artist Colors, Inc.
Golden Artist Colors have a range of acrylic mediums which enable you to use just about any fairly flat surface as a printing surface in your ink-jet printer. Great potential for mixed media and producing prints of your paintings on specialist paper.
Related Video
How to Stretch a Canvas
How to Prime a Canvas

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