How to make acrylic paint look like enamel or resin

by | Jan 27, 2014 | Blog | 29 comments

 

The Look of Enamel

The words enamel or resin usually bring to mind beautiful smooth glossy surfaces. While these terms are often used for a variety of different paint types, in this article I share five easy ways to use acrylic to achieve this visually exciting painting effect.

acrylic paint looks like enamel pouring techniques
Wikipedia’s definition of enamel
 “… 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….” read Wiki’s full article 
Five easy ways to get acrylic to look like enamel or resin

So how do you get that surfboard finish so popular on paintings? You know, that super clear, glossy, smooth top coat. The best results can be obtained using commercial resins. They come in two parts – a resin and hardener. They are, however, very toxic to work with. I prefer to use acrylic non-toxic fine artist alternatives that may not look as perfect, but come very close, and will also last without yellowing or cracking. Here are five ways to do it.

1. Use paints optimal for this effect
Start with a paint that is naturally of 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 will produce a smoother application with less visible brushstrokes or texture. The thick acrylic paints that come in tubes and jars will not always hold their color when diluted. These thick paints are great for adding texture, but will take more effort on your part to get them to look smooth. By starting with the Fluid or High Flow paints you still have strong color, but won’t have to work so hard to get it applied smoothly.

 

2. Customize your paint
Instead of purchasing thinner paints, you can use what paints you already have but customizing them for better results. Instead of diluting with water to thin, add thin mediums to the paint to make a thinner color mixture.  Some suggestions of thin mediums are: Golden’s GAC500 or GAC100. Add the GAC100 to the thick paints to thin them. Adding GAC500 to your thin paints such as Fluids or High Flows will make them appear more like enamel. by making them glossier, increasing refraction and increasing leveling capabilities. Additionally add up to 15% retarder to this mixture to slow down drying, enabling even smoother applications.

 

3. Apply paint smoothly
Position your 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 at a low angle to your surface for smooth applications, instead of a 90 degree angle or perpendicular to the surface which will do the opposite and create more texture.

 

4. Layer the Paint
Alternate layers using some layers with paint and others with medium. First apply a thin layer of your choice of a paint color in a thin consistency onto your surface and let dry. Keep any water or medium added to a minimum so you can get a substantial paint application. 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 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 color and medium you can achieve a very smooth brushless highly refractive surface. If your layers are holding brush strokes you can lightly sand each layer when dry with waterproof sandpaper. (The waterproof sandpaper is a non-toxic method when used correctly by sanding into a puddle of water. This way sanded particles avoid going airborne. Wipe off the sanded areas while still wet with a soft rag.

 

5. 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. Immediately after pouring, spray the freshly poured layer lightly with alcohol while the medium is still very wet to eliminate bubbles.

My favorite technique to imitate resin (the deeper clear coat finish) is to pour in a deeper layer. To do this, lay the painting flat and very level. Prop it up on containers to get it lifted off the table or floor. It is easier to do this technique with rigid surfaces like panels instead of canvas. If you are using a stretched canvas then you need to prop up the center of the canvas too, to keep the canvas from sinking downward with the heavy weight of the pouring medium while laying flat.

You will need to purchase an acrylic pouring medium. Not all acrylic mediums will pour with good results. I like to use Golden’s GAC800. Pour this medium without diluting it with water onto the painting’s surface. Spread it out evenly with a plasterer’s knife, and then immediately spray lightly with isopropyl alcohol to eliminate any bubbles. This takes a day or two to dry but has a smooth glossy finish.

The GAC800 is the only pourable acrylic that I know of that can be poured in deep layers without crevising or cracking. This means you can pour deeply in one pouring session. One trick I like to pour deeply is to create “walls” around the surface. Take duct tape and place the tape around the outside edges so that some of the tape is on the surface edge and some stands out from the top surface of the painting. Apply a small amount of a thick acrylic gel where the tape and painting meet to keep the pour from leaking out.

While the gel is still wet pour the GAC800 into the pool or well that’s created by the tape. You can get a very thick layer this way. The thicker the pour, the longer you need to keep the painting level and flat while drying – which may take weeks if it’s more than an inch thick. When the GAC800 is used thickly it will appear slightly yellow and cloudy, and is favored by artists that like the “wax” or encaustic appearance.

If you are pouring thickly and don’t like the cloudy look of GAC800 you can use other pourable products but you can’t pour them thickly in one pour, or they might crevice as they dry. Instead pour several thin layers, letting each dry before pouring the next.

 

More resources

Best Artist Tips For Pouring Acrylic Paint

Acrylic Illuminations, Book on special acrylic painting techniques, including pouring and other luminous effects.

5 Best Acrylic Pour Painting Techniques

 

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29 Comments

  1. Anais

    Hiya Nancy,

    Thank you for this. Very helpful. What brushes/tools do you recommend using?
    Thanks.

    Reply
    • Nancy Reyner

      Hi Anais, Thanks for your comment. Sounds like you are getting your studio in order to paint! That’s great! For this technique to create something smooth, I recommend getting a couple of smooth bristle brushes. I like using a flat wash brush made with synthetic bristles. You don’t need to get expensive brushes to apply paint smoothly, but they do need to be soft. Use a wide one for larger surfaces. I like using a 2″ width brush for anything over 20″ on any side. Plastering spreaders are great for pouring, when the pour doesn’t reach all the edges you can use the spreaders to help.

  2. Hannah J Parrish

    Here is some great ideas on how to make acrylic paint look like enamel !!

    Reply
    • Nancy Reyner

      Thank you Hannah!

  3. Rachel

    Hello — I’d like to do some brush calligraphy on glass and have it be permanent. I understand that enamel is probably the way to go, but i was wondering if enamel paints are thin enough — like high flow acrylics? If they’re thicker (like regular acrylic paint in a tube), then will adding one of those Golden’s mediums you mentioned thin them out enough to act like a high flow acrylic? I’d love some help before i go buying a bunch of stuff. Thanks so much.

    Reply
    • Nancy Reyner

      Hi Rachel, To have paint on glass more permanent the best approach is to sand blast the glass. By adding some tooth or grit the paint will grip better and last longer. If you don’t want to do that because the glass will lose some transparency, you will need to use a very strong commercial grade clear primer. High Flow acrylic paints are NOT enamel, they are acrylic, and you will need to add some strength to them to stick well to glass. You can add GAC200 to the glass and then apply paint. You can also add GAC200 to the paint to strengthen the paint, and then apply that to the glass. However, adding GAC200 into your process is still not as strong as using a commercial grade primer. So its not about the paint as much as it is about adding adhesion strength between the paint and glass with primers. If you go to Golden’s website they offer suggestions to commercial grade primers or you can search online. Sorry I don’t have these details on hand but know they are available elsewhere. Hope this helps!

  4. Bri Shae Designs

    Hi Hazel~
    I’m semi new to acrylic pour painting(a little over a month)which is 1 part blessing, 2 parts frustration in terms of creating something worthy of displaying in my own home-let alone my lofty goal of one day selling. I mostly do antique/furniture restoration & interior design so I’ve had very little experience using acrylics or enamels on anything other than an interior wall, etc. In fact, most of what I’ve learned has come from YouTube/Google so my knowledge is a bit lacking when it comes to the finer arts(i.e. paint theory + the components of various paints,thinners & their appropriate mediums), & I believe that NOT knowing the scientific makeup of paints/mediums is mostly to blame for inconsistency’s in my art. I’ve said all of this as a lead up to my actual question, which has to do with exactly that-my lack of technical knowledge & the plethora of it that u have!!:)
    I had an 11×14 canvas that had 2 or 3 failed re-pours to it name(as well as a few other less than stellar painting attempts), so before pitching it I thought I’d use it to test out some small bottles of paint I’d unboxed after a recent move-the small bottles are labeled“Delta”Air-Dri enamels, in 7 gorgeous colors! At one time I must’ve had some grand project in mind…..so grand that I’ve long since forgotten😏, so why not see if they’re any good & actually DO something with these beautiful colors?! I straight poured the enamels from the bottles in stripes onto my test substrate(which sounds so much better than my”thrice failed”test canvas;), taking note of the brilliancy, the almost perfect”pour”consistency & the unique cell action that occurred, before using the technique that never seems to fail me…..I swiped em!!! What I had in front of me was my most beautiful pour yet but as I said before, I only know a bit more than the average person about fine art Acrylic & Enamel application & try as I might, I’ve yet to find an answer on Google/YouTube about the pros or potential perils of pouring w/Air-Dri enamels on CANVAS or WOOD/MDF panels.🙇🏼‍♀️I’m worried it’s because it just isn’t or hasn’t been done(aside from pouring on tiles, glass, etc.)….but I’d sleep much better at night if I just knew WHY….cuz I really, really wanna!!!🙇🏼‍♀️
    It’s now 3 days post pour and the painting’s just as shiny & brilliant as the moment it was set out to dry & the surface is dry to the touch. I’m dying to use these in another pour but my lack of knowledge & the practical fear of wasting my precious canvases is holding me back. It turned out so gorgeously in fact that IF I can figure out a way to use them I’d have a hard time going back to my somewhat dull/muted results w/Acrylics when dried. Can you help me with this? Is it ok to use them as long as they’re given sufficient time to dry, & if so what should I protect them/finish them with?
    Finally…..is there a medium that would stretch out the paint a bit w/out dulling the finished/dry result? I imagine it would get to be expensive without some form of medium because the bottles I have are only 2-4ounces(& I’m working up to painting on much larger panels/canvases).
    Thanks so much for taking the time to read this too long & slightly discombobulated, rambling post🙏🏻😉
    PS….I love your site!

    Reply
    • Nancy Reyner

      Hi! It sounds like you achieved an excellent result with your pouring method. It also sounds like you know how you got the result and can definitely repeat it. If you want to know more about your Air-Dri enamels I suggest calling that companies tech department to let them know how you are working with it and get some good (and free!) tips. I am not familiar with that brand, but I do know that these days products called enamel are actually acrylic made with a thin enough binder to pour out evenly. This means you should be able to combine them with other acrylic paint, and to use them the way you are.

      For pouring, it is often recommended to add a pouring medium with the paint to make it more pourable, and to reduce cracking. Mediums are also less expensive then paints, because they don’t have pigment in them (that’s the costly stuff), so by adding medium into your paint, then pouring you are saving money. Where I live, if I poured straight paint, it would crack (or crevice) because it is very dry here. Since you got a nice even pour from straight paint, your environment is helping that.

      Acrylics are naturally glossy. You mentioned dull finish on your acrylics which leads me to believe you are either adding too much water, or using a craft quality paint, or both. Craft quality paints have filler in them and use cheaper polymers for the binder, which often look dull and matte. They will also use cheap pigments which dry muted.

      So the best results are usually obtained using a higher quality paint (I recommend Golden) and high quality mediums (I recommend their pouring medium called GAC800). Liquitex has a pouring medium that works well too (probably called “Pouring Medium” but I’m not sure as I always use the GAC800.

      I hope this helps answer your questions! Good luck with your next pour, although is sounds like you’re well on your path and don’t need “luck” anymore.

      Best,
      Nancy

  5. Hazel Vrgs

    I faux painted a small side table top with acrylic paint to imitate turquoise stone and am ready for the final finish. I want it to look super smooth and glossy. Can I wet-sand it with 2000 grit without removing the last layer? I will topcoat it with several layers of polycrylic varnish later.

    Reply
    • Nancy Reyner

      Hi Hazel,
      Your table sounds beautiful! Since it is a table, I think you will get a super smooth and glossy finish just by applying several topcoats of your varnish without sanding. The more topcoats you apply the smoother and glossier it will be. I suggested sanding for fine-art paintings where you might not want to apply that many varnish coats. Hope this helps!
      Nancy

  6. Leeann

    I paint bisque with acrylics what resin should I use to give a high gloss to the paint

    Reply
    • Nancy Reyner

      I am not familiar with painting on bisque. I recommend contacting your clay supplier to ask if they offer a gloss finish coating that can be applied over acrylic painted bisque.

  7. kingsley

    i appreciate your effort in writing this article but i want to know more about acrylic paints.

    Reply
    • Nancy Reyner

      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.

  8. Karri B

    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!!

    Reply
  9. Andrea

    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??

    Reply
    • Nancy Reyner

      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

  10. JudA

    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

    Reply
    • Nancy Reyner

      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!

    • L

      Are these mediums safe to be oven cured?

    • Nancy Reyner

      I am sorry I cannot answer your question. I have no idea if they are safe to be heated. You can call the product manufacture and ask them for the most accurate answer.

  11. Jason

    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.

    Reply
  12. Patricia

    Very helpful.

    Trish

    Reply
  13. Nancy Reyner

    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!
    Nancy

    Reply
  14. Pamela Crosby

    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.

    Reply
  15. joecparler

    Nice.

    Reply
  16. Student Acrylic Paint

    Informative post. It's really useful for beginner artists. Your methods are great. Love to try them.

    Reply
  17. Elizabeth Merchant

    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.

    Reply
  18. Jace

    Nice article Nance

    Reply

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Professional fine artist Nancy Reyner created this blog about art, painting and creativity from her career of over 30 years. She lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Subscribe below for free tips on art and painting.

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