Nancy’s Painting Blog

How to make acrylic paint look like enamel

enamel-like finish with acrylic paint

When I see the word “enamel” a vision comes to mind of a beautifully smooth brushless glossy surface. The word is now commonly used for a variety of paint types, and I’ll avoid getting too technical here, (as I’d rather focus on the point of this article, which is how to customize fine art acrylic paints to create a brushless, smooth and glossy surface) by using a simple description from Wikipedia:

 “… the term “enamel paint” is used to describe oil-based covering products, usually with a significant amount of gloss in them, however recently many latex or water-based paints have adopted the term as well. The term today means “hard surfaced paint” and usually is in reference to paint brands of higher quality, floor coatings of a high gloss finish, or spray paints. Most enamel paints are alkyd resin based….” (For more information on enamel click here for the full Wikipedia article.)

 Here are several ideas for painters, to obtain an “enamel” appearance on a painting using fine artist’s acrylic paint:

 (1)  Start with a paint that is naturally or formulated in a thin consistency: Use the fluid acrylic paints that come in bottles, or the new super thin (but with highly saturated color) High Flow acrylic paints. Thinner consistency paints offer a smoother application with less visible brushstrokes or texture. The thick acrylic paints that come in tubes and jars have thickener added to them to look and act like oil paint. These are great for adding texture, but will take more effort on your part to get them to look smooth. By using the Fluid or High Flow paints you still have strong color, but won’t have to dilute with water or medium to thin to reduce texture.

(2) Customize your paint by adding thin mediums to make a thinner color mixture:  Add to your paint color some hard, clear mediums like Golden’s GAC500 or GAC100. These can be added to thick paints to help thin them, although the color will become less intense, so if possible use thin paints to start with as stated previously. Adding these mediums to your Fluid or High Flow paint colors will make them harder and glossier, increase refraction and increase leveling capabilities. Additionally add up to 15% retarder to this mixture to slow down drying, enabling even smoother applications.

(3) Position brush properly for smooth applications: Apply paint or mixtures onto your surface using a soft wide flat brush, spreading thinly by working in small areas at a time. Keep brush positioned on a low angle to your surface for smooth applications, instead of a 90 degree angle or perpendicular to the surface which will create more texture.

(3) Alternate layers of paint with medium: Another option is to first apply a thin layer of pure paint color undiluted onto your surface and let dry. Do not add any water or medium to the paint color. If using a thicker paint sand smooth after drying. Over this dried paint color layer, brush apply a thin layer of GAC500 (or any thin undiluted gloss acrylic medium). Let dry. Repeat by applying another layer of paint color, then another layer of medium. Repeat as many times as you like, waiting until each application or layer is dry before applying the next. By building up in layers alternating between paint and medium you can achieve a very smooth brushless highly refractive surface. If your paint color layers are holding brush strokes you can lightly sand each layer when dry with waterproof sandpaper, using water to keep any sanded particles from getting airborn. Wipe off the sanded areas while still wet with a soft rag.

(4) Pour the paint: Add some paint color to a glossy pouring medium, and apply onto your surface by pouring. This eliminates brushstrokes and easily creates the perfect enamel look. Spray the freshly poured layer lightly with alcohol immediately after pouring and while still very wet to eliminate bubbles. Click here for more tips on pouring. Also, my new book, Acrylic Illuminations has an entire section with many techniques on pouring. Click here for easy (and discounted) purchase through Amazon.

15 thoughts on “How to make acrylic paint look like enamel

  1. Acrylic offers so many avenues to an artist, especially one who wants the drying time over oil painting. And your method generating an enamel like quality is to be applauded.

  2. Thank you so much for this fantastic blog! I have been pouring acrylics by adding clear tar gel but found that it tends to form fissures when poured to any depth other than VERY thin layers. While this is occasionally desirable for the purpose of adding texture, I have recently been considering attempting a smooth, glossy finish in some areas of my paintings but wasn't sure how to go about doing it since I wasn't aware of the GAC mediums or the retardants. This information will finally let me accomplish with paint what I was considering trying to do with found objects such as pieces of glass or plastic film. Do you have any techniques for working with glass beads textured gel? I've found it to be cumbersome and frustrating and wondered if there was a way to make it easier to manipulate. Thank you in advance for any information you can supply and again, thank you for taking the time to make this blog so informative and helpful.

  3. Dear Pamela,
    I'm glad you found my blog helpful for your painting. You asked about Glass Bead Gel. Coincidentally I just finished a new video on acrylic painting techniques over gold leaf, that uses Glass Bead Gel as one of the overpainting techniques. The video should be available by March 2015. Basically I apply the Glass Bead Gel thinly (well as thin as the beads let it) and when it is dry I apply washes (acrylic paint color heavily diluted with water) over it, and let that dry. The colors sink into the areas around the beads and I like the effect alot. So this means I am using the Glass Bead Gel as a ground or surface, but I apply it over a painted layer since it dries transparent.
    Hope this helps!

  4. I paint over primed steel and aluminum mostly as I make metal art. Acrylics really have color pop. I am especially fond of the reds. Will try some of these techniques.

  5. Hi awesome tips thank you Nancy
    I have a quick question… I’m painting wine glasses with regular acrylic paint and curing them in the oven and they are great but I want to know if there is a way to make my paint more glossy without buying an enamal glossy paint ? I’m getting a flat look right now using the regular acrylic paints . I would really appreciate any advice to achieve a little gloss to the finished product thank you

    1. Hi Judy, To make your paint glossy, first I’d like to explain what makes them unglossy because acrylic is naturally glossy. There are two types of pigments used to make paint – organic (synthetic paints such as Phthalo, and Quinacridone) and inorganic (usually made from natural sources such as Cadmiums and Oxides). Paints made from organic pigments will be glossy when dry, while paints made from inorganic pigments will be matte when dry due to the chemistry of paint making (I won’t get too scientific here). So first, notice which paints you are using. If you are painting something red, then use Quinacridone Red or Quinacridone Magenta instead of Cadmium Red. If you are using one of the organic paints already and it is still looking matte, then pay attention if you are using water in your paint mixture. The more water you add to paint the more you are diluting the glossy acrylic binder, and the more matte the paint will be when dry. If you are adding water, then add mediums instead, such as Golden’s GAC200 or GAC500 which are both very thin (without any water in the formula – just naturally thin) while these mediums add strength and transparency. Both these mediums are recommended for extra adhesion – so would be good to add into the paint since you are applying them onto glass. If you are using the correct paint choice for gloss, and not adding any water (even unconsciously by using a watery brush), and your paint is still drying matte, then you can always overpaint using a gloss medium to add the gloss back in – again I recommend the GAC200 or GAC500. Hope this helps!

  6. Hi Nancy,

    I’ve used GAC800 for a pouring medium, and when I pour, the paint is glossy. However, when it dries, it becomes dull and looking just like acrylic paint on a canvas. How do I keep it glossy and make it continue to have that enamel shine??

    1. HI Andrea, GAC800 is naturally glossy when it dries. There are three reasons it becomes dull. If you are adding water to dilute the medium, it will get duller. Secondly, if you apply a very thin layer of the medium onto an absorbent surface, the medium may be absorbed into the surface with not enough to remain above the surface to be glossy. Its important to realize that all acrylic will reduce in volume by 30% once it dries. This means that you need to pour it much thicker than you want it to be. Lastly, if you are adding too much acrylic paint into the pouring medium, the gloss of the medium will be reduced. Try pouring the medium undiluted, adding only 10% paint color to medium, and applying it thickly enough so once it dries and reduces in volume it will still remain substantially on top of the surface. Then let me know if the results are better. If you are pouring the me

  7. Ha… I’ve been wondering why they look so much better when still wet… a 30% loss in volume would explain why I go to bed looking at something beautiful only to wake up and find something dull, flat and lackluster…. Thank you for saving me many head and heart aches!!

    1. Glad you asked! I will have a complete acrylic course available as an online package by beginning of next year. It is called The Best Acrylic Painting Course, and will include 30 videos and 3 books. The course covers everything you need to know about acrylic paints, products and techniques. If you sign up for my mailing list (button is on every page on my website) you will find out about it as soon as it becomes available.

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