How can you make watercolor paint from acrylics?

Every artist wants to find a style that fits their imagination. To do so, they experiment with different mediums, paints, brushes, techniques, and so on. 

Some prefer the smooth glide of oil paints across a stretch canvas. Others like to spread watercolors on paper. In addition, acrylic pigments attract the interest of new and old artists. 

What Gives Watercolor Paintings Their Aesthetic?

Watercolor paints are known for their fluid nature. That is because when used with water, they create a flowing effect on the painting surface. That is a characteristic feature of every watercolor painting. Unfortunately, such beautiful impressions are nearly impossible to recreate with the strokes of a paintbrush.

Watercolor paints also have an inherent vibrancy to them. As they are transparent, they stand out in a painting. Mixing them with a white pigment, however, mutes this tone. Thus, they appear chalky and dull. To get your desired hue, you typically have to use the organic pigments directly.  

Painting using any medium takes a lot of effort. But with watercolors, this hard work does not manifest in the details. Instead, it goes into creating a pleasant, easy-going vibe for the artwork. You can play around with the colors without worrying too much about mixing up palettes. 

Can You Use Acrylics Instead of Watercolor Paints?

The above attributes define a watercolor painting. But it is often arduous for beginners to showcase the true beauty of this medium. They feel a lot more comfortable working with acrylics. So, if you are a newbie to the world of art, that can be a suitable medium for you. 

But what if you want to capture the essence of watercolor paintings in your creations? Is it impossible to do so without using watercolors? Fortunately, the answer to that question is no! You can create the watercolor effect with the help of acrylic paints. So, if you want to know how to make watercolor paint from acrylic pigments, read along.

As mentioned previously, the free-flowing nature of watercolor paints is what makes them beautiful. So, when you apply them to the painting surface, they go on thin and runny. But if you look at the watercolor paint that comes out of a tube, you will notice they are pretty thick. That is because they are in their concentrated form. So, you have to dilute them with water to get the desired fluidity. 

How Can You Choose the Right Acrylics?

So, if you want to use acrylics in place of watercolor paints, you have to make sure they behave similarly. That means their consistencies, at least upon dilution, should be thin and flowing. Thus, you must start with the correct type of acrylic pigment. 

Acrylic paints come in a large variety of thickness, opacity, et cetera. But in most arts and crafts stores, you will find pigments of heavy body nature. That means they have a high viscosity, resembling oil paints in consistency. Student grade acrylics also belong to this category. 

Heavy body acrylics are super vibrant in their concentrated or slightly dilute form. But when you add more and more water, these lose intensity, looking faded on paper. So, spreading such acrylics like watercolor paints becomes tough, making them an unsuitable option.

Every acrylic paint contains a binder that holds the pigment together. When you add water to increase its fluidity, you dilute this binding substance too. That leads to a loss of pigment. So, start with a small volume of water and increase it gradually up to 30 percent. If your paint is still not runny enough, you might have to swap pigments. 

Look for low viscosity or soft body acrylic pigments, which have a thin consistency due to their formulation. So, you can get them to flow without adding too much water. Fluid acrylics also serve a similar purpose. Companies such as Liquitex, Golden, DaVinci, Utrecht, et cetera, offer these paints. Researching more about these paints will help you understand how to make watercolor paint from acrylic pigments.

If you are looking for something even thinner, acrylic ink might do the trick. Although these are harder to come by locally in some places, you can get them from Liquitex or Golden. 

Regardless of which acrylic pigment you end up choosing, it is critical to dilute it correctly. Never exceed the 30 percent water volume limit. In addition, if you plan on storing the diluted paint for a while, use distilled water while thinning it. That will prevent it from decomposing in the container.

How Transparent Should Your Acrylics Be?

In most painting mediums, the white pigment has a significant role to play. In regular acrylics, it can increase the opacity of the paint. In oil paints, it primarily adds to the luminosity of the artwork. But this is not the case for watercolor paints. White tends to mute the intensity of the other hues, making them appear flat and lifeless. 

So, if you want to use white in your watercolor paintings, you cannot let it mix with the other colors. You can only scoop some out on a thin paintbrush to add highlights here and there or for detailing. 

That makes it clear that watercolor paints are pretty transparent. So, any acrylic pigments you want to use in their place must have high transparency, as well.

Acrylics come in both opaque and transparent varieties. So, all you have to do is pick the correct shades of the latter and get started. Now, this can be tricky. There are thousands of colors out there. So, how do you even begin sorting through them to find the right ones?

But do not worry. It is not as overwhelming as it seems. You only need about five colors (excluding white) to start painting with acrylic pigments. These include:

● Phthalo Blue

● Ultramarine Blue 

● Quinacridone Magenta

● Hansa Yellow Medium

● Pyrrole Red

You can mix and match these hues to create any color you want. As you start painting more and more, you will figure out which shades you gravitate towards often. Then, you can buy those separately for convenience. 

You can find the opacity or transparency of each of these colors on its tube. So, always check before you purchase, ensuring it is transparent enough to create the watercolor effect. Some commercially available pigments, for instance, red, are often too opaque to yield the desired results. 

In such cases, mixing your paint can help. For example, to get a transparent red, you can combine 80 percent Quinacridone Magenta with 20 percent Hansa Yellow Medium.

What Techniques Can You Use to Get the Watercolor Effect Using Acrylics?


By now, with the help of the above guide, you should have some diluted acrylic paints ready to go. But that was the relatively easy part. The true challenge is learning how to make watercolor paint from acrylic pigments with the help of different techniques.

Watercolor paints are transparent. So, every detail on the lower layers of the painting shows through at the top. That creates a beautiful effect if you do it right. However, at the same time, any mistakes you make also stand out, unconcealed. Therefore, painting over them also does not work since the pigment is too transparent to cover anything in the first place. 

You run into the same issue when using diluted, transparent acrylic paints. Does that mean you cannot make acrylics work either? You actually can, and this is because acrylics have an additional advantage. With these, you have the option to use less transparent or more opaque colors. 

Since acrylic paints are not as sheer, they can hide any errors you make. It is, of course, still hard to use an opaque pigment on layers of thin watercolor-like paints. So, you have to apply it carefully, without making it messy. 

The Wet-on-Wet Technique

Among the various well-known watercolor techniques, the wet-on-wet one is a favorite for many artists. In this method, you first wet the paint surface with some water. Then, you apply the paint directly on it, allowing it to spread. You can also do this by putting some pigment on a painted layer that is still fresh. 

You can use the same technique with diluted acrylics. Again, any shapes you create will have a soft, blurry edge, giving an ethereal feel to your painting. These would be typically hard to make with concentrated acrylics as they have a fast-drying time. But upon application on wet surfaces, you can do so with ease. 

The Variegated Wash Technique

You can also utilize the variegated washing technique. Also known as mingled washing, this method helps you create seamless watercolor paintings. In a variegated wash, you put on a second color over a colored base and let it mix in with the others. 

Combining warm and cool tones of the same hue typically works well. But, of course, you can always apply this with your fluid acrylics to get the results you want.

What Did You Learn?

For artists, the beauty of watercolor paintings is at war with the difficulty of using watercolor paints. The transparent effect renders a soothing, effortless aura to an artwork. But if you are finding it tough to use watercolor pigments, you are not alone. 

In this article, you learned how to use acrylics to get a similar effect. So, what are you waiting for? Try out the techniques mentioned above with the corresponding paints and see for yourself

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