Can I Water Down My Acrylics?

Can I Water Down My Acrylics?

Acrylic paint is beloved because of its versatility, fast-drying time, easy application, and its approachable nature (at least that's why I love it). No solvents needed to get started, all you need is your palette, your painting tools, a wiping cloth, your working surface, and of course, a jar of water. But what should you use that water for?

Acrylic paint is essentially pigment suspended in a polymer-emulsion mixture, meaning that it functions almost like a a plastic as it dries. Most acrylic paints are water-based; depending on how much of the paint is diluted (and your individual painting style), the paint might take on the appearance of oil paint (thick, textural) or watercolor (thin, transparent, flowing). Since acrylic paint is almost always water based, one can fully assume that thinning the paint with water is the ideal practice, right? Right?

Not so fast, sister. 

Have you ever run low on hand soap, then used water to "fill it" back up? Then what you're left with is a watered down, soupy mess, of ineffective bubbles and broken dreams? Has that ever happened to you?

All paints are made up of a binder (what holds the pigment in place) and a solvent (what breaks the binder down). Acrylic polymer emulsion is the binder to almost all acrylic paints. Water is the solvent of acrylic paint. Just like with soap, when acrylic paint is watered down too much, the binder becomes less and less effective. This process is useful for creating washes, watercolor effects, blending techniques and more. Many artists enjoy the matte, flat, appearance that overdiluting acrylic paint creates. 

Thinning down your paints is an essential skill of the working artist. The experienced eye will know that if paints are watered down too much, you get a soupy soap. If you don't water down your paints enough, you sacrifice blending power. The key is your dilution ratio. And, of course, acrylic mediums. 

Golden Artist Colors have revolutionized the acrylic mediums game. There are dozens and dozens of acrylic mediums available in a variety of sizes. The acrylic extenders are ideal for the artist interested in thinning their paints without breaking down the binder of the acrylic. Paints that are thinned with an acrylic medium instead of water appear glossy, bold, and opaque. By using acrylic mediums to thin paints, no pigmentation is sacrificed while maintaining a viscosity that is manageable. 

Ultimately, the choice to use water to thin your acrylics is entirely up to you. Water is an essential part of the clean-up process of acrylic painting and most industry experts suggest that a 20% ratio of water to 80% paint will not 'wash out' the paint while enabling thinning power. Water is also free.

Nov 5th 2021 M.M. Miller

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