Can you use acrylic paint for watercolor?

By Mandy Moss

Acrylic and watercolor are both popular in the art world. Both types of painting produces beautiful, delicate effects that many artists try to emulate using other mediums like acrylics. But can you use acrylic paint for watercolor techniques?

Yes! With the right approach, acrylics can mimic true watercolors’ fluid look and transparency.

More and more artists started experimenting by combining these two mediums together. To use acrylic paint for watercolor, we needed to thin the acrylic medium to desired consistency.

I love this technique and I am sure you will feel the same.

Can you use acrylic paint for watercolor

Can acrylics be used as watercolors?

It is possible to make acrylics act like watercolors. You need to dilute it before applying it to your desired surface. There are two main dilution ratios; 30% and 60%. One of the key benefits of modifying acrylics to appear like watercolor is the ease of use and they age better and last longer.

More about in my closely-related post: How long do Acrylic paintings last?

What is The Difference Between Watercolor and Acrylic Paint?

These two paint mediums are vastly different in look, feel, texture, variations, and hardiness due to wear and tear over time.

They both have different components and qualities in their makeup as well; acrylic ink is not water-soluble once dried, while watercolor paints are made up of water-soluble colored ink that can quickly become defaced.

The reason that acrylic is able to be modified to mirror the look of watercolor is that when acrylic is wet and undried, it is water-soluble.

While watercolor paint appears transparent and must be reapplied many times to achieve darker colors, acrylic appears opaque yet retains its vibrancy once a painting is complete. Similar to oil paint.

How Do You Dilute Acrylic Paint For Watercolor?

There are two different ratios we use when diluting acrylics to achieve the watercolor effect:

  • A 30% ratio to acrylic will provide you with a thinner version of the acrylic that still holds its color well and dries beautifully.
  • A 60% amount ratio to acrylic paint will develop a very light wash of color. This Is best for backdrops, light shading, or simple watercolor washes.

For some artists, the 30% amount ratio will give them watercolor-edge-looking artwork with the flexibility and ease of working with acrylic. It is crucial to not over-thin your paint, which comes with experience and practice.

NOTE: When you dilute straight from the tube, you are diluting the bonding agents as well, and over-thinning (For example: adding way too much thinner) will make it difficult for the paint to adhere to the contact surface, creating a light watercolor wash.

How to make acrylic paints flow like watercolors?

Too lazy to read? Watch this video from Steve Mitchell:

1. Select your acrylic paint type.

Different acrylic paints have higher or lower velocities. You can buy different qualities for different purposes. Producers mainly grade them like this:

  • Artist Grade – These paint mediums are made for professionals and are made of high-quality materials. They contain higher pigment colors, smoother consistencies, and appear more vibrant.
  • Student Grade – These paints are suitable for beginners and Hobby artists who don’t care that much about perfection. They may dry to a less vibrant hue, making it closer to the same look as an older watercolor picture in hue and color washes.

Recommended Acrylic Paint Brands and Products

When selecting acrylic paints for watercolor techniques, these professional-grade options work exceptionally well:

  • Golden Fluid Acrylics – Highly pigmented and fluid for minimal thinning needed.
  • Liquitex Soft Body Acrylics – Smooth, creamy acrylics that thin well with water.
  • Winsor & Newton Artists’ Acrylics – Top acrylic paint for vivid, transparent watercolor effects.

For retarders and additives, excellent choices include:

  • Golden Acrylic Retarder – Slows drying time and facilitates blending.
  • Liquitex Flow Aid – Reduces acrylic surface tension for smooth washes.
  • Winsor & Newton Acrylic Glazing Liquid – Clear liquid for translucent acrylic glazes.

2. Choose which ratio you would like.

For backgrounds and shading, a dilution of 60% is perfect. However, for the main picture, it is common to dilute at 30%.

NOTE: Diluting the acrylic over 60% may result in the transparency of colors or the solution not sticking to the canvas or watercolor paper as well. If using watercolor paper, may also cause the painting to buckle when drying. You can avoid this with experience and color combination used.

3. Add water or a professional thinning solution.

To dilute, you can either add water or choose a professional-grade thinner.

Each of these professional-grade thinners will have its own directions on how to thin acrylic to the typical 30% or 60%.

4. Mix acrylics or thinning solution or water well

Squeeze the acrylic color you will be using on a palette or in a shallow bowl or cup, and add the thinning solution. Mix it with a palette knife to a smooth consistency and then add the mixture to a palette before using it on canvas or watercolor paper.

PRO TIP: Adding the selected thinning solution a little at a time will keep you from over-thinning to a watery consistency, which you may not be able to thicken.

5. Test your diluted concoction for desired thickness and color

Once you have your acrylics mixed well and thinned, it is time to test on top of the canvas, mixed media paper, or watercolor paper. If you are satisfied with the results, you are ready to begin the painting!

6. Helpful Tips for Achieving Watercolor Effects

Here are some handy tips to use when applying watercolor techniques with acrylics:

  • Use thinner coats of paint for transparent results.
  • Allow ample drying time between acrylic layers to prevent lifting.
  • Work quickly when blending to avoid acrylics drying.
  • Experiment with paint additives that slow drying.
  • Apply acrylic washes only on firmly mounted paper.
  • Have dry paper towels handy for quickly absorbing excess paint.

Don’t be afraid to test different acrylic mediums and painting techniques. With practice, you can master adapting acrylics for gorgeous watercolor styles.

Can you use watercolor paper with acrylics?

On this type of paper, you can, whether you have diluted it to mimic watercolor or in an acrylic natural state out of the tube. Because watercolor paper is meant to absorb the water on top as it dries, this paper can easily be used for acrylics that have been diluted to 60% and can be painted in layers.

An essential part of this is to get the heavyweight watercolor paper – preferably 300 lb. the professional quality that will stay strong as you layer the colors on top.

When using watercolor papers, diluted with water or not, the paper does not need to be glossed on top like traditional canvas.

Questions That You May Ask

Is it okay to use acrylic paint on watercolor paper?

Yes, acrylic paint can be used on watercolor paper. The textured surface of watercolor paper allows the acrylic paint to grip well and dry with interesting distorted textures. Watercolor paper also readily accepts thin veils of diluted acrylic color.

Can I mix acrylic paint with water?

Yes, you can mix acrylic paint with water. Adding water gradually thins down the acrylic paint to create a wash-like consistency reminiscent of watercolor paints. Be careful not to over thin the acrylic paint, which can cause the binder to break down.

Can you use acrylic paint for watercolor on canvas?

Yes, you can use acrylic paint for watercolor techniques on canvas. Prepare the canvas first with a few coats of acrylic gesso to create a surface the thinned acrylic can absorb into like watercolor paper. Use fluid acrylics diluted with water or a retarding medium.

Can you use acrylic paint for watercolor for beginners?

Yes, acrylic paint can be used for watercolor techniques even for beginners. Acrylics are thinned with water and applied in glazes and washes just like watercolors. The acrylic dries permanently and can be layered without disturbing lower paint layers, making it more forgiving for beginners.

Can you mix acrylic paint with watercolor?

Yes, you can mix acrylic paint with watercolor. Allowing sufficient drying time between layers, you can apply watercolor over top of dried acrylic underpainting. The acrylic resists rewetting when dry. You can also mix small amounts of acrylic in with watercolors to adjust opacity.

Watercolor with acrylic paint on canvas

You can paint in a watercolor style on canvas using diluted fluid acrylics mimicking the transparency and flow of watercolors. Prepare canvas with acrylic gesso first. Use retarders to slow drying time. Apply acrylic glazes wet-on-wet. Acrylics on canvas allow bold watercolor effects.

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