Acrylic Mediums are substances that can be mixed with acrylic paints. When these substances are added, they work to change the properties of the paint, resulting in increased versatility when painting.
These mixtures can be incorporated into the pigment for many different effects. For example, they’re useful for making the paint thicker, changing the texture, or creating gloss or matte finishes.
What are the types of Acrylic Mediums? The different types of acrylic mediums you can use with acrylic paint are thinner, gloss, matte, glaze, gel, retarder (flow improver), modeling paste, and texture gels.
Here’s a quick description of each:
- Thinner: Dilutes the viscosity of acrylic paint and gives you a thinner, weaker color that is more transparent.
- Gloss: Will also thin the paint and leave it with a shiny finish.
- Matte: Will also thin the paint and leave it with a more dull or matte look.
- Glaze: Results in a very thin, transparent paint that maintains the pigment.
- Gel: Gel will add some body and volume to paint to give it different properties and achieve certain looks.
- Retarder or Flow Improver: This will delay the drying time of paint by changing the chemistry of the paint. It reduces the surface tension of paint.
- Modeling Paste: Adds a textured effect to paints.
- Texture Gels: These can achieve various looks and textures, also sometimes called “technical paints”
I’ll be diving into detail on each medium and their individual uses to help you choose the best one for your project.
What Does Each Acrylic Medium Do?
One of the most common mediums, a thinner will do just what its name implies, thin your acrylic paint.
Oftentimes thicker paint isn’t desirable for your particular project.
You can use ordinary tap water to thin acrylic paint, but thinner mediums generally give a better result in that they will not disrupt the pigment.
They just add more medium and dilute the color. Thinners dilute the viscosity of acrylic paint and give you a thinner, weaker color that is more transparent.
I personally use Vallejo Thinner Medium.
Gloss mediums are great for thinning acrylic paints. If you’re looking to create a more transparent feel to your painting, adding a gloss medium can give your paint a colored glaze.
They are also handy for enhancing the sheen and luminosity in acrylic paint, to give your image a glossy appearance.
Acrylic paints naturally have an overall glossy look. The purpose of a matte medium is to create a more two-dimensional feel by reducing the shine of the paints.
When you add a matte medium to a paint, you’re left with a smooth, subtle look that has little to no sheen. It is also possible to mix gloss and matte mediums in equal parts to achieve a semi-gloss effect.
Glazing mediums can be quite similar to gloss mediums. The purpose of a glazing medium is to create a more transparent look when painting.
You can also use it to add a sheen to your work. A glaze medium is more subtle than a gloss medium as is not meant for achieving high shine.
Be sure not to purchase a glaze medium that contains oils as they are not compatible with acrylic paints.
This is because acrylics are water-based, and as the old saying goes, “Oil and water don’t mix.”
I personally love the Vallejo Glaze Medium.
Gel Medium is white and paste-like. Its purpose is to thicken your acrylic paint. Thickening the paint is useful for painting techniques such as impasto.
Impasto painting is a technique that involves using thick paint and larger brushes such as a hog bristle brush.
This method allows for thicker brushstrokes and adds depth to a painting, keeping the paint in a more stiff and controllable state. Think of Van Gogh’s 1889 painting The Starry Night.
Gel mediums are also great for enhancing the adhesive properties of acrylic paints, making it easier to create textures and adhere items to your work.
They are available in a range of types including gloss and matte.
If you’re looking for more of an oil-based effect to your finish, a retarding medium is the one to buy.
Retarding mediums (also known as retarders) slow down the drying time of acrylic paints to give more of an oil-like consistency, and allow you more freedom to blend colors and mix paints.
Retarders give the acrylics a thinner consistency, which allows for smoother transitions between colors.
Be careful not to use too much retarder in your paints, and follow instructions as most retarding mediums are actually additives.
This means that they lack acrylic binders, which is the substance that keeps the pigment in place after the paint dries. Using too much can interact with the pigment or cause your paint to take a super long time to dry.
A Flow Improver is a very useful tool for thinning acrylic paints to aid in painting large areas and for methods such as wash techniques.
When using a flow improver, you can thin your paints to make them behave like watercolor paints.
Both the acrylic paints and the flow improver are water-based, and therefore, mixing them breaks down the acrylic binder and thins them down reducing color and strength.
Flow improvers are often called “wetting agents” or “flow aids.”
Liquitex makes a great flow improver that I use all the time. I typically water this down to about a 5 to 1 ratio of water to flow improver for my paints.
I just get a dropper bottle, mix in 5 parts water, mix in 1 part flow improver and use that. You can certainly use it right out of the bottle, and see what works best for you.
Modeling paste is a fantastic tool to create three-dimensional paintings.
Often called molding paste, modeling paste allows you to sculpt your work, which can then even be carved or sanded when dry. It is similar to a gel medium but has a thicker and harder consistency.
Artists often use modeling paste to add texture and relief to paintings, applying it with a painting knife or a similar tool due to its thickness.
You can also embed objects and materials and build up your artwork.
If you’re looking to imitate specific textures with your art, texture gels are your best option. They are handy to mimic textures such as sand, glass beads, and ceramic stucco.
They’re a great tool to take your art to the next level, adding a three-dimensional element and allowing you to experiment and think outside the box.
You can also create your own texture by mixing elements into your paint, such as different sizes of sand or gravel particles.
Some examples of what you’d get with texture gels are Citadels technical paints. I loved the Armageddon Dust personally.
This achieves a colored, gritty, sand-like look. Other paints like crackle paint or various other Citadel Technical Paints give a lot of different looks.
What Are Some of My Mediums?
Lahmian Medium has been created by Citadel to thin paints without reducing their viscosity. This allows you to create glazes and blend shades with ease.
Lahmian Medium has no pigment and can be used on its own to create a slight matting effect. It’s fantastic for use in paints, washes, and glazes.
A wash is a term for creating a transparent layer of color. This is great for getting that watercolor paint effect or building up color layer by layer.
Learn more about our Lahmian Medium, by watching this video from Warhammer TV.
According to Games Workshop:
“Contrast is a revolutionary paint that makes beautiful painting simple and fast. Each Contrast paint, when applied over a light Contrast undercoat, gives you a vivid base and realistic shading all in a single application.”
Contrast Medium was created by Citadel to be paired with their range of 34 Contrast paint colors.
It is a colorless medium that is used to thin down the Contrast paints, which layer over the two specially formulated primers (Wraithbone and Greyseer).
If you’re interested in learning more about the difference between the Lahmian and Contrast Mediums, check out this video.
Is It Possible to Create Your Own Mediums?
Creating your mediums is entirely possible and can be a cheap and easy DIY project for when you’re in a pinch.
A lot of forums and sites mention the use of water as an easy alternative to purchasing or creating your medium.
However, adding too much water to acrylic paints breaks down the binder and can damage your painting in the long term.
Water breaks the bonds in acrylics, causing them to lose their ability to bond. Eventually this will cause the paint to flake off.
Making your own medium is a safer option in the long run. Check out this video for a DIY guide.
Whether you’re painting on canvas or painting sculptures such as miniatures, acrylic mediums are a fun way to experiment and take your art to another level.
Investing in mediums to mix with your paints creates endless opportunities.
I’ll leave you with a few final tips:
- Don’t mix oil mediums with acrylics (remember, oil and water don’t mix).
- Always mix the medium into the acrylic after you’ve created your desired color.
- Always check instructions when using retarders to avoid using too much.
- Test your mixture before applying it directly to your painting.
- Experiment and enjoy!