Nancy’s Painting Blog

How to make acrylic paint look like enamel

When I think of 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.

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enamel-like finish with acrylic paint

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….” View Wiki’s full article click here. 

Here are 5 ways painters can 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 at 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.

(4) 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.

(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. Spray the freshly poured layer lightly with alcohol immediately after pouring and while still very wet to eliminate bubbles. Click for more tips on pouring. My book Acrylic Illuminations has an entire section on pouring techniques, as well as other contemporary painting techniques for unusual effects.

More pouring articles:

Tips on Pouring Acrylic
Acrylic Pouring
Pouring Resin-like Finishes

Nancy Reyner, painter, author and instructor offers workshops, courses, coaching and online consults for artists and craftsman.

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

  1. 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.

  2. 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

  3. 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.

  4. 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!

  5. 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

  6. 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.

    1. 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. 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.

    1. 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

  8. 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!

    1. 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

  9. 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.

    1. 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!

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