Acrylic Paint
Predispersal requirements etc
Attempting to make Acrylic Paint from base ingredients is difficult but the following method based on using pre made acrylic mediums is fairly straightforward. It has the advantage that the same basic technique can easily be adapted to make a huge range of paint qualities and characteristics from thin ink-like fluids to thick textural constructional pastes. Gouaches and Watercolor like paints are easy to make as well as more conventional thicker Acrylic Paints.

Pigments should be predispersed using distilled water and Surface Tension Breaker. About 50/50 liquid to pigment will make a suitable paste. Several pigments will disperse very easy. Ultramarine is probably the easiest, but some of the synthetic organics such as Quinacridone will be unco-operative. The easy to disperse pigments are best dispersed by simpling mixing in a plastic container with a spatula (see below) but the difficult pigments will be best mulled on the slab. Golden sell a product called Universal Dispersant that is particularly good at wetting the pigment and maintaining the long term stability of the pigment dispersion.

There are some problems to watch out for:
  • Foaming. The Acrylic emulsion already contains surfactants. Like dishwashing detergent they foam easily. Use of defoaming agents may be necessary.
  • Drying. Like when making Watercolor drying can occur (especially at the edges) during dispersal  and needs to be avoided.
  • Overuse of modifiers. Too much defoamer can be a problem, same with Retarder, take care when measuring.
  • Maintaining alkalinity. The pH can easily fall as ingredients are added and the paint will cease to be viable paint beyond a certain point. Increase pH with ammonia.
  • The hydrophobic nature of pigments. Use wetting agents or even a little Grain Alcohol to wet the pigments.
You will find a straight sided 1 liter (2 pints) plastic bucket with a flat bottom the ideal mixing container that is not too big, not too small. An eyedropper is valuable for adding small amounts of liquids like ammonia or defoamer. A plastic spray bottle can help keep the paint wet during mulling.

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Ingredients for Acrylic paints


Grinding or mixing Also called dispersal
The proportion of pigment to binder varies according to the pigment from 40% to 60%. It is possible to add more pigment but beyond a certain point this will reduce adhesion and durability of resulting paint films. The trick is in finding that sweet spot that is optimal for each pigment. In general the percentage of mineral based pigments like Ultramarine will be higher, while the percentage of organic pigments will be lower. Manufacturers tend to  be secretive about  their exact formulations so a little personal experimentation is required. The good news is that the latitude is wide in Acrylics and generally if you are going to have a problem with a paint the problem will be apparent as soon as the paint dries.

It is at the initial mixing stage that matting agents should be added. It is advisable to make a couple of small amounts of paint with an easy to use pigment with varying portions of matting agent in order to arrive at the portion that suits you. As always when making paint note everything down as it is easy to forget or get confused about amounts.

Most mineral type pigments disperse easily from the pigment paste into the chosen Acrylic binder by mixing with the spatula in the bucket. Start with 50/50 and then add more as the mixing proceeds. At first the paint will seem to get thicker then after vigorous beating the paint will become noticeably smoother. It is important to make certain that there are no areas of the container on the bottom or edges that are not so well mixed as the rest. Test with a drawdown

Organic pigments may well require mulling. Start in the bucket with a little less than half pigment to binder then add pigment paste as necessary. Use drawdowns as necessary to check dispersal. If necessary pour a little on the slab and mull in a circular motion, scraping the paint into the center and from the edge of the muller as necessary. Work quickly but be wary of foaming. Use a spray bottle to keep moist if needed, but don't over wet. Making Acrylics is often better done at night as the humidity is higher and drying less an issue. Defoamer should never be more than 1% of paint volume. Retarder never more than 15%.

It is important to monitor pH as when the pH falls below 8 the paint can become more like cheese than paint. If this happens just throw it out, it is ruined. To monitor pH it is possible to use litmus papers I guess, but the smell test is easier. At the correct pH the paint will have a distinctive ammonia like smell and will lose it as the pH lowers. Adding ammonia a few drops at a time will retain the appropriate alkalinity, ideally between 8 and 9.

Rheology needs to be considered here. Acrylic paint can vary from thick and honey like, as in automotive paints. This is 'long' rheology. Less resinous, and less stringy paint has 'short' rheology. This is not the exact equivalent of the terms long and short in oil paint where the one kind of buttery quality is sought. In acrylics it may be desirable to make a variety of rheologies.For example  it is possible to have high viscosity with either short or long rheology and the same for lower viscosity paints. Each has a role and only artist preference dictates which is best in any given situation. Fortunately Golden makes thickeners of both long and short rheology that make this kind of formulation choice easy.

The degree of fluidity, the level of surface sheen, speed of drying and so on can all be modified considerably. As this is more to do with personal taste than practical issues such things should be left to individual experimentation. Available products can be found here Technical support is often provided by Acrylic manufacturers.

[ Go to Testing paints  ]

Filling tubes and jars Storing paint
Having made your Acrylic paint the storage method needs to be decided on. Tubes are popular and easy to use but larger quantities of paint may require storage in plastic buckets. Putting a sheet of Gladwrap over the paint surface helps prevent surface drying.

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Studio notes

Basic Ingredients

Detailed Ingredients

Testing paint

Starting to make paint

Making Oil Paints

Making Watercolors and Gouaches

Making Egg Tempera

Making Hide Glue Chalk Gesso

Making Encaustic Paint

Making Fresco Colors

Making Pastels

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