Painting with Acrylic Skins

by | Oct 17, 2012 | Blog | 39 comments

What is an acrylic skin?

It’s a separate piece of acrylic without any backing or support.  Any acrylic fine art product (paint, medium, gel, paste) can be used to make a skin. Apply the product to a non-stick surface and let it dry. Then peel it off. Now you have a piece of acrylic with no backing called a skin. Skins can be used as collage items in a painting, or as an entire layer applied over a painting you are working on.

Which non-stick surfaces to use

There are several surfaces that acrylic paints and mediums will easily peel off from. Here are some: plastic garbage bags, plastic painting drop cloths at home improvement stores that are whitish and cloudy, plexi sheets called HDPE (High Density Polyethylene), Freezer Paper (found in grocery stores – not to be confused with wax paper) and protective report covers that are plastic found in office supply stores.

Which acrylic works best to make a skin

Any acrylic product will make a skin. But to delve a bit deeper, let’s start by thinking of acrylic in two broad categories. In the acrylic realm, there are paints and binders. Acrylic paints have color pigment in them and we use them for their color while painting. Acrylic binders come in three basic types: mediums, gels and pastes. You can make a skin with any paint, medium, gel or paste. You can also combine the paints with binders to customize your skin. For example, add a gloss gel to a paint color and now it is thick and more transparent. If you add paste to a paint color it makes the color lighter, and dries absorbent, so the skin can appear like a colored piece of paper. So any paint, medium, gel or paste can create a skin. And you can customize by making your own unique combination. This means a skin can be made in any color, opacity or transparency, thickness, sheen or texture.

acrylic paint skins layering and veiling
acrylic paint skins layering and veiling
Painting ideas with skins
  • Make a variety of skins and store them for later use by stacking them together with freezer paper in between so they don’t stick together.
  • Cut the skins into specific shapes with scissors and glue them onto an acrylic painting using acrylic gel as glue.
  • Roll them into shapes to add a three-dimensional relief onto the painting surface.
  • Create large sheets of translucent skins by using matte gels, or thin layers of paste, which you can later adhere over a painting, as a separate layer, to create the illusion of depth. Optionally you can continue to paint over this skin, or even add another skin layer.
  • Create large sheets of clear skins, paint something different on each one, then arrange one on top of the other to create different effects
These ideas and more are included in Nancy’s book, Acrylic Innovation.

Nancy Reyner, painter, author and instructor offers assistance to artists in a variety of ways. Read more

Special Offer

Complete Painting Instruction

Learn everything you need from your first brushstroke to the finished painting. Acquire techniques and ground breaking concepts to shape your artistic vision.
Hand painting pink wall with sponge.

Special Offer

Complete Painting Instruction

Learn everything you need from your first brushstroke to the finished painting. Acquire techniques and ground breaking concepts to shape your artistic vision.


  1. Anne

    I am very enthusiastic about doing acrylic skins but wondering how you lift them off the surface used without damaging them

    • Nancy Reyner

      Hi Anne,

      I’m glad you like the idea of acrylic skins. They are fun and can add a great deal to a painting. If you use the specific surfaces I mentioned, you should be able to peel the skins off without damaging them. Use freezer paper (not waxed or parchment paper), plastic sleeves from office supply stores, or HDPE plexi. Make sure you wait long enough for the skin to fully dry. In cold and wet climates you may need to wait several days. If your skin is thick you may need to wait a week. Start by peeling a small portion from the edge. You will know right away if it is ready to peel off. When it is still wet it won’t be easily removed and then can be damaged.

  2. Leslie Pruneau

    I want to varnish my finished skin collages, but am not happy with how the two coats (isolation coat and varnish) fill in the raised textures of the layers on the finished works. Any suggestions?

    Also, have you ever tried running skins through a sewing machine? I enjoy the challenge of working with acrylic skins, and your site has really inspired me! Thank you :))

    • Nancy Reyner

      Dear Leslie,
      If you want to varnish surfaces that have a high relief texture, such as what you are mentioning here, then I recommend spraying the isolation coat, as well as the varnish.

      To make a spray isolation coat, use a Preval. If you haven’t heard of these I think you’ll love them. They are available at Home Depot and other paint supply stores. They are inexpensive (about $15 since I last checked) and come with an empty glass bottle and sprayer. You put anything you want in the glass bottle, then screw on the sprayer and spray! Very simple. You can buy the two parts separately too.

      Mix 1:1 Golden’s GAC 500 with Golden’s Airbrush Transparent Extender (just changed to new name called High Flow Medium). Put in Preval and spray this as your isolation coat over the surface. Let dry at least one day. For varnishes, you can spray a varnish using the Preval but you can also purchase varnishes already in spraycans. Spray your first varnish coat using a gloss. When dry, if it is too glossy, apply a second varnish coat using a satin or semi-gloss spray but spray this lightly as heavy coats will decrease the color contrast of your painting.

      Hope this helps! And thank you for your comment, I’m glad you found my site inspiring for your work.


  3. Andrew Picklesimer

    Hi Nancy, I am doing a school project in Art class, and I’m very interested in these skins. The project is to paint in the style of another artist, and I want to do an acrylic skin so I need to talk to an artist who does skins. If you could please email me at [email protected], I would greatly appreciate it. Thanks.

    • Nancy Reyner

      Hi Andrew,
      Sounds like a fun project you are doing for your school class. For more information on acrylic skins, you can go to Golden’s website I have also written about skins in several of my books, ie Acrylic Revolution. I would be glad to provide more assistance via private consultation. Please email me if interested for my prices and we can schedule an appointment via phone or a facetime session on Zoom. Thank you!

  4. Jazz Farmer

    Just a quick thank you. This blog post and subsequent questions gave me all the info needed for experimental work on a college project. Thanks


    • Nancy Reyner

      Hi Jazz, Cool name by the way, and glad I could help!

  5. Amelia

    Hi Nancy,
    thanks for the great post!
    I would like to ask you if it is possible to create a collage out of acrylic skins and then paint on them with oil colors.
    I’m asking because I usually paint in oil and I’m more comfortable with them.

    • Nancy Reyner

      Hi Amelia,

      A good way to think about using oil and acrylic together in the same painting, is to remember that Oil paint can be applied over acrylic without any issues. However, the reverse, applying acrylic OVER oil is not recommended because the adhesion may not be strong enough. So your question was about applying oil paint over acrylic skins. It doesn’t matter what form the acrylic takes (skins, layers, washes, thick texture, etc) you can apply oil OVER them, but not under them. Hope this helps!

    • Amelia

      Thanks Nancy, this is really helpful 🙂

    • Leslie Pruneau

      It is also good to remember that acrylic surfaces are flexible (they take about a year to cure) so it is possible that the oil paint will crackle (craquelure). In traditional painting, it is recommended to use oils only over a thin layer of acrylic (underpainting). But…it always good to experiment! I would suggest adding extra linseed oil (stand oil) to your oils.

  6. Judy Devore

    Thank you for all the great info and ideas…….

  7. Berni

    Does anyone have a good way to store your skins? I have a lot of them from making acrylic pour paintings but I’m not sure if I should just sandwich them between dry way paper or just what. I’d love to hear how you all do it.

    • Nancy Reyner

      I like to use freezer paper in between skins. The acrylic will not stick to that. But it WILL stick to wax paper.

  8. Bethany

    In that last photo on the blog post the large paint skin looks super clear and smooth with no brush marks in it from the Acrylic Binder used to make the skin. Did you use Acrylic Gel Gloss Medium to do this? Did you brush it on the plastic? I am trying to figure out how to create paint skins that are large, super clear and super smooth. Also, I am trying to figure out how to adhere the large skin to a hard panel without air bubbles. Any advice would be appreciated!

    • Nancy Reyner

      Hi Bethany, There are two ways of getting a smooth surface on your acrylic skin. First, apply your acrylic product (medium, gel, paint, etc) onto a smooth level surface using a material that the acrylic will not stick to, such as a sheet of freezer paper taped to a board or table. You can apply the product in any way, using brush or knife, and not worrying about texture, because once the product has dried and become a skin, if you peel it up you will notice that the side facing the freezer paper is smooth, while the side open to the air will take on the application texture. So this method will give you one smooth side and one textured side. If you want both sides smooth (I’m not sure why you would require this because only one side will be seen while the other is glued down) then I recommend pouring an acrylic medium (not a thick gel but something pourable in fluid form) such as Golden’s GAC800 (my favorite choice for this process, and the one I used in the blog article). Pour it on a very very level surface so it won’t move while drying. Pour it, spray it immediately while wet with a light spray of alcohol before it starts to dry to remove any bubbles, then let dry. Acrylic shrinks down in volume by 30% so if you pour acrylic too thinly it will be too thin to peel up without tearing. When you glue the skin down onto another surface use a spray adhesive, or brush apply a gel. Lay the skin down and smooth it out as best you can with a brayer going from the center outwards to the edge, and repeat again from center moving out to all corners and edges. When the glue dries there will always be some bubbles that remain in the skin. But bubbles in the glued skin can be popped using a push pin or razor blade, then smoothed out with more glue underneath the popped bubble area.

  9. Lisa

    Hi Nancy
    A few years late to the table, but I love this! I have been looking for a way to dirty-pour and peel using pouring medium and voila – you answer!!
    I spilled glass paint on my glass table once, and it peeled off very nicely and remained quite pliable. Would this be possible with acrylic & gel mediums? Could I line a painting with them then roll them for transport later, or would they crack?
    LOVE you work – many thanks!

    • Nancy Reyner

      Hi Lisa, Glad you like the idea of using acrylic skins. You ask if making skins and peeling them off a surface is possible with acrylic mediums and gels. Yes! That should be clear in the blog article you are commenting on, which does mention that ANY acrylic product will work. Acrylic is flexible, so yes you could roll them and transport and they will not crack. That is if you follow some technical protocol. For example, acrylic should be allowed to air dry for 2 weeks before wrapping and storing, to allow the acrylic to fully cure. And in this 2 week period, acrylic should not be exposed to temperatures below 55 degrees. After fully cure, then it will be fine in any temperature. Hope this helps! Nancy

  10. Annie

    Hi Nancy

    This is really interesting. Is it possible to carry on painting with acrylic once the skin is stuck on the canvas to enhance the image? Also can you use acrylic inks in the process.

    • Nancy Reyner

      Yes it is! Think of this – acrylic sticks super well to acrylic. So once you use acrylic paint, or skins, you can layer them in any order. So you can paint on canvas, apply a skin using acrylic gel as glue in between, then don’t even need to let it dry but can continue applying more paint, gel, skins, etc with no worries about any issues. You do want to let any acrylic dry for 2 weeks before packing and shipping it. It takes 2 weeks for acrylic to fully cure, and it needs air to dry fully. But any amount of layers will eventually dry.

  11. Eleanor Mahood

    I want to create 3-6 mm thick layers of acrylic paint, alternating colors. Then I intend to cut the layers into 1/4 strips and and stand them on their sides. love any advise on how to do this. Thanks, your tips have been really helpful

    • Nancy Reyner

      Those are fairly thin strips. You may need to embed a wire into the strips in between colors if you want them to stand upright in long stems. If you mean to use short strips and lay them on length sides, and don’t need them to be self supporting, then you won’t need the extra support. I guess I need more details to fully understand what you plan to do. But acrylic layers very well, and can be cut into shapes easily.

  12. Cool Acrylic Painting Ideas !!!

    These are really really good ideas. I thank you for for sharing these. Is there any preview for your book? I`ve just found your blog but I must say I really like it !

    • Nancy Reyner

      Glad you are finding the ideas useful. My new book, Create Perfect Paintings: The Artist’s Guide to Visual Thinking, will be released March 2017. I will post a blog with a preview this fall. Thank you!

    • Ruth Geiger

      How do you prepare the canvas before you adhere your skins?

  13. art supplies

    nice and attractive post have done an excellent job.thanks for sharing your valuable painting ideas.

  14. Nancy Reyner

    Kristin, HDPE plexi sheets can be found at large size industrial plastic suppliers. It is difficult to find locally in small towns, but can be found in large cities. I found mine at a place in Denver – can't remember it now, but found it on-line.

    Linda, if your skins are sticking and hard to remove then this can mean two things. First, if the skin is not dry enough (sometimes this takes days or a week) it will not remove easily. But probably you are using the wrong plastic. First test the plastic by applying a small amount of acrylic. If it is easily removed it is the correct surface. Not all plastic will be a good removable surface.

  15. Linda

    Hi, try and I might cannot seem to get the skin to stop sticking to the plastic, I have created some beautiful skins only to start removing them and they will not come away. What am I doing wrong? I have been using polyethylene sheets, Liquitex pouring medium and liquitex matt medium and Jo sonja acrylic paints. Please help 🙂

    • K F

      Have you tried freezer paper? Works for me. Paint on the shiny side

    • Nancy Reyner

      Yep, Freezer Paper is what is pictured in the demo photos, and is in the list of removable surfaces. Very cost effective and works well.

  16. Kristin

    Great suggestion! Nancy, where do you find sheets of HDPE? I've checked several hardware stores and can only find polycarbonate.

  17. Jason

    Nancy, I love your book. I am addicted to "Acrylic Innovation". Recently, I have been playing with acrylic skins. I found a glass shelf by a dumpster and cleaned it well with window cleaner followed by methylated spirits. I have also used parchment paper and a pallete. The glass is my favorite substrate because I get the smoothest and glossiest skins. But sometimes it is better to have matt wrinkly ones too.

    I plan to use them on my metal art and also make abstract paintings with them as well. The clear skins with some color sound intriguing especially in layers as you get the affect of floating colors. It is kind of like flying in a commerical jet looking down out the window and seeing 3 or 4 separate layers of clouds beneath you.

  18. Jason

    Love your books Nancy! I am building up a supply of various skins. I have good luck with parchment paper as a nonstick surface.
    My desire is to cut these skins into various shapes and glue them on to my metal sculptures that have beened primed and coated with acrylic base coat. I am also considering embedding skins into other skins for different effects.

  19. oil paintings

    Wow… Thanks… I'm at the first time on your blog! And I like it! Thanks for sharing info. Keep up the good work.

  20. Nancy Reyner

    The sheet of acrylic (or skin) once it's dry can be easily removed from a non-stick support (see my suggestions for non-stick supports in the blog article). If it's not fully dry then it will not release very easily. Wait at least 24 hours to attempt to remove it, allowing more drying time if the atmosphere is cold or wet. You can keep it on that support until you are ready to use it. If you want to reuse the support and save the skin for later use you can just pick it up with your hands, and place it on another non-stick support that's easy for storage, like a garbage bag. These skins on garbage bags can be stacked on top of each other for easy storage for later use. When you want to use it on a canvas or other painting support then just glue it using a thin layer of gloss gel as glue.

  21. Sharon

    How do you transfer the sheet of acrylic to a canvas or other support? Will reg. medium work? I love this idea… I've been trying to take the realistic perfectionist out of myself and think this might be fun.

  22. Mary Manning

    Hi, Nancy,
    I plan to try some of these to enhance paintings already in progress and some yet to be born. Love the idea of a 3-D effect and how beautiful it would make in a painting.

  23. judith waterman

    I used some to 'decorate' a plastic pail I can take painting items to class or workshops.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

The maximum upload file size: 5 MB. You can upload: image. Drop file here

About Nancy

Professional fine artist Nancy Reyner’s blog about art, painting and creativity. Her career spans over 30 years. She lives in Santa Fe in the US. Subscribe below for free tips on art and painting.

Join Mailing List



Painting Courses



Free pdf



Watch Painting Videos

Left Menu Icon