Can You Use Acrylic Paint for Watercolor?

Watercolor painting

Acrylic paint generally isn’t used for watercolor paintings. The main reason behind this is watercolor and acrylic paint is quite different. Acrylics are thick and have higher fluid consistency. They don’t provide the same transparent texture as watercolor, which may not appeal to everyone’s fine art sense. But Can You Use Acrylic Paint for Watercolor?

Yes, you can. The fact that acrylics are used as opaque paint only isn’t entirely true. These are often used as watercolor paint too. While watercolor isn’t the easiest medium, acrylic can make it easier. In this article, we’ll discuss how you can use acrylic paint as watercolor paint.

How Can You Turn Acrylic Paint in Watercolor?

If you’re new to using acrylic paint, even then, you won’t face any challenge in using acrylic paint as watercolor paints. The main reason is that acrylic colors function more or less like regular watercolors. In fact, some special acrylic colors act like watercolors out of the box.

Just like regular watercolors, acrylic colors are water-soluble paints. That is why they can be dissolved and thinned in water. However, acrylic colors are much more opaque in contrast to watercolors. That is why they must be thinned much more than watercolor paints. If thinned adequately, even opaque acrylics will turn transparent.

How to Choose the Right Surface and Additive for Acrylic Watercolor?

You shouldn’t use watercolor paper for acrylic watercolor. We always recommend going for heavy papers that are of high quality. You should look for papers made of 100% cotton rag. Why?

It’s because these surfaces are superior water absorbents. They not only hold more water, but they will allow you to add multiple washes of color on top of the base layer. Furthermore, these don’t warp either. Their characteristics make them the best possible papers for acrylic watercolors.

Another critical factor is the additive. Additives are great for enhancing the paints. We recommend adding Flow Aid to water in a ratio of 1:20. It will make the stains much deeper, and it’ll also provide a stable print film.

Still unsure what additives are? Click here for more on additivesOpens in a new tab..

We highly recommend going for the Liquitex Airbrush Medium if you’ll be painting on a non-absorbent surface. This medium will not only thin the acrylic, but it’ll bind the colors as well. Overall, you’ll get an even application.

A Few Pointers Before You Start Painting

Acrylic can be thinned out to give the look of transparent washes. Yet, using the same accessories and techniques with acrylic as you would with watercolor yields the best results.

This section will discuss some factors that you must notice before watercolor painting with acrylic.

One – Make Sure to Pick Concentrated Paint

There are many different types of acrylic inks out there, and these vary significantly in concentration. We highly recommend picking highly concentrated paint.

It is because when you watercolor with acrylic, you’ll need to thin out the paint as much as possible. However, if you do that to an acrylic color of regular concentration, you’ll find minimum tint on the washes. This problem gets solved completely if the concentration is high.

Getting concentrated paint provides another benefit. As the paint is highly concentrated, you won’t have to use a lot of paint to cover a certain area. Thus, you’ll be able to save some paint.

Two – Acrylics Can’t Be Fixed Once They’re Dry

This is another issue most watercolor artists face when they first start painting with acrylics. Acrylic paints can’t be fixed or rewetted when they’re completely dry. This is why we recommend getting all the fixes done before the paint dries.

Three – Choose the Right Brushes

Acrylic colors don’t suit natural brushes. It’s mostly because the binders in acrylic paint don’t go well with the natural animal hair on these brushes. So, acrylic painters use synthetic brushes.

However, synthetic brushes aren’t that suitable for watercolor. If you don’t want to end up with a different texture while water coloring with acrylic paints, we recommend picking synthetic brushes that mimic the texture of natural brushes.

It would provide the texture you’d expect without ruining the brushes. Plus, you would get the fluid flow control over the brushes necessary for watercolor. With that, you’ll be able to use watercolor techniques without any problem.

Four – Use a Different Palette

One of the major mistakes people who are new to acrylic colors make is using the same palette for both acrylic and watercolors.

After the acrylic color dries, you won’t be able to tell which color is acrylic and which one is watercolor. This is a confusion that you want to avoid, as you may end up mixing the two colors later on.

We would suggest using a plastic palette. There are many one-time-use palettes on the market. Using these will save you from ruining a quality palette.

Why Should You Consider Using Acrylics for Watercolor

Watercolor is one of the most fun mediums. Yet, it comes with a range of problems. These problems can be so severe at times that they might even end up ruining your entire painting.

One of the biggest problems with watercolor is that it can often make the painting muddy. Learn all about muddy painting hereOpens in a new tab.

There’s an absolutely minimum scope of overworking with watercolor. This problem arises due to the rehydrating capacity of watercolors.

After you put a layer on top of another existing layer, the previous layer will hydrate itself with the water of the second layer. As both the layers get wet, the colors tend to mix together. Thus, you’ll end up with a muddy patch on your painting.

Due to this, you’ll be limited by how many layers you can put on top of the other layers.

There are some other problems too. Firstly, watercolor tends to get paler once it dries. So, often artists find that the color looks completely different from what they intended it to be. Then again, the colors can’t be fixed once they dry up.

Now, the bright side is acrylic colors behave completely differently. So, using acrylic for watercolor can solve these problems. Plus, it can offer some extra benefits as well. Let’s go over the benefits water coloring with acrylic can provide.

One – Acrylics Allow You to Put Multiple Layers

The first thing that most painters love about acrylics is that they allow us to put multiple layers on top of one another. So, you get the scope to overwork your painting. It allows us to add intricate details to the painting. Also, it’ll help you paint without any risk of making it muddy.

Two – Colors Don’t Pale Upon Drying

This is perhaps the most remarkable benefit of acrylic colors. Unlike watercolors, these don’t pale once they dry. Thanks to this, you’ll find the painting showcasing vibrant colors even after they’re dried up.

Three – You Can Wash the Background Later

With traditional watercolors, you’d have to wash the background first. That creates friction in creativity, as many people prefer painting the subjects before the background.

With acrylic as the paint of choice, you’ll be able to paint the background later. How so?

Once the acrylic is painted and dried, it doesn’t wear off. Furthermore, it becomes completely insoluble, which is why the paint won’t become muddy if another layer of wash is painted on it.

Things are taken even a step further as a thick layer of acrylic behaves like plastic once it dries. So, you can always paint the subjects with thick acrylic paint to give them a dark color.

Once you’re done, you can paint layers of washes with thinned acrylic of a lighter shade for a semi-transparent background. The new wash layers won’t stick to the dried paint as the acrylic becomes plastic. That will allow you to paint the background afterward without changing how the subject looks.

It’s necessary to note that this can only be pulled off by using thick acrylic layers to paint the subject. It’ll only get covered with the wash if thinned acrylic is used. 

Art Apprentice OnlineOpens in a new tab.

Final Words

Acrylic paintings are easier to produce than traditional watercolor paintings. That is why most tend to begin painting with acrylic.  If you choose acrylic painting, we recommend picking a suitable canvas first.

Make sure to get a quality brushOpens in a new tab. as well. In the initial stage, experiment with different colors to understand how they work.

A more detailed later article has been published at a later date as How to Use Acrylic Paint for WatercolorOpens in a new tab..

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Caraca's self-taught artist based in the UK, Ines explores unconventional materials and sustainability.

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