Acrylic painting is all about layering. Sometimes you will need transparent paint layers to bring out the painting. Transparent acrylic paint can be used to glaze over other colors and blend colors seamlessly. There are many ways to make acrylic paint translucent.
Acrylic paint can be made translucent by diluting with more water, mixing with acrylic mediums such as matte medium, gloss medium, glazing mediums, using acrylic paint with transparent pigments, using low-quality paint with fewer pigments, and not mixing translucent colors with opaque acrylic colors.
Following I have included some useful links to the products I have mentioned in this article to view on Amazon. These are my recommended products for this purpose.
- Liquitex Professional Fluid Medium, 16-oz, Matte
- Liquitex Professional Fluid Medium, 8-oz, Gloss
- Liquitex Professional Fluid Medium, 8-oz, Glazing
- Liquitex Basics acrylic colors
- Liquitex Professional Heavy Body Acrylic 6-Pack – Color Set
No matter what opacity your acrylic paint has, you can make them transparent. In this article, you can find all the best ways to make acrylic paint transparent in detail.
I have written an article series about common acrylic paint questions and answers: part 1 and part 2. You can find answers to questions like this in the articles even before you face them.
1. Dilute acrylic paint with water for transparency
Water is a great free way to make your paint transparent. To make the paint transparent you need to add around 60% of water with acrylic paint.
I experimented with using water to make the paint transparent. Here I have applied burnt umber as a transparent paint layer over the orange-colored ground, to get a look of burnt sienna. So I experimented by using only paint, applying paint with a wet brush, adding 40% water with paint, and adding 60% water with paint. Following are my results.
The acrylic color I wanted to make transparent is burnt umber which is an opaque pigment. That’s why you cannot see any transparency without any water and even with a wet brush. However, as you add water up to 40% and 60% there is transparency. You can get that glazing effect with 60% or more water.
The best thing is it doesn’t cost you anything. Although you add more water, the paint will have no problems sticking to the canvas. The only little caveat with this technique is, it makes the canvas a little damp. Thus the area with water will take more time to dry.
But with mediums to make acrylic paint transparent, you will not have this problem. The canvas will not be damp and the paint will dry quickly. Also, the application is very smooth just like natural transparent acrylic paint.
I wrote a whole article about how to use water with acrylic paint. There you will find different effects you can get when changing the percentage of water used.
2. Buy acrylic paint with a translucent pigment
You can also get transparent acrylic paint by buying acrylic paints with transparent pigments. Different brands have different opacities or transparencies to their acrylic paints. Always check the label for opacity when buying. You can buy opaque, semi-opaque, semi-transparent, and transparent acrylic colors.
Another important thing is, to choose only pure pigmented acrylic colors. If you see several pigments like “PV23RS • PW6” on the label, it is a pigment mixture. If you see only one pigment like this “PW6” on the label, it is pure pigmented acrylic paint. Also avoid colors that have ‘hue’ at the end of the name, as they are a mixture of pigments.
You can choose pure pigmented transparent acrylic colors from different brands. Otherwise, it will be a waste of your money. Following I have included a table where I have categorized acrylic colors from Golden and Liquitex according to the opacities.
I have only included pure pigment colors and not a mixture of pigments in the table. It will make it easier for you to choose high-quality transparent acrylic colors.
Even if you only have pure opaque pigmented acrylic paint you can make them transparent by the methods I have mentioned such as using acrylic mediums.
|Burnt Umber Light|
|Transparent Brown Iron Oxide|
|Green||Chromium Oxide Green|
Chromium Oxide Green Dark
|Phthalo Green (Blue Shade)|
Phthalo Green (Yellow Shade)
|White||Titanium White||Zinc White|
|Yellow||Cadmium Yellow Dark|
Cadmium Yellow Light
Cadmium Yellow Medium
Cadmium Yellow Primrose
|Bismuth Vanadate Yellow|
Hansa Yellow Opaque
Benzimidazolone Yellow Medium
|Nickel Azo Yellow|
Transparent Yellow Iron Oxide
Benzimidazolone Yellow Light
|Violet or magenta||Violet Oxide||Primary Magenta||Dioxazine Purple|
|Orange||Cadmium Orange||Vat Orange|
|Red||Cadmium Red Dark|
Cadmium Red Light
Cadmium Red Medium
|Naphthol Red Medium|
Pyrrole Red Dark
Pyrrole Red Light
|Naphthol Red Light||Quinacridone Red|
Transparent Red Iron Oxide
|Blue||Cerulean Blue, Chromium|
Cerulean Blue Deep
Cerulean Blue Deep
|Phthalo Blue (Green Shade)|
Phthalo Blue (Red Shade)
I wrote an article about why acrylic paint is not covering the layers underneath. You can find the best ways to make opaque acrylic paint that covers well in that article.
3. Mix acrylic paint with matte acrylic medium
When you are a beginner, you might think mediums are not necessary. Those were exactly my thoughts in the beginning. But when you get hands-on acrylic mediums it’s the total game-changer. Of course, you can use water to make transparent paint in the beginning. But, as you grow remember to get your hands on acrylic mediums.
Here I will show you an example, of how easy it is to make transparent paint with a matte medium compared to water alone. It provides you with a seamless transparent glazed look. It feels like actual paint and dries a lot quicker than using only water.
In the above photo, I used both acrylic medium and water to make a glazed look on the red background. I got the best results with an acrylic matte medium. To make a glaze with water I had to use so much water with little pigment. But with acrylic medium after mixing 1 part of paint with 5 parts of acrylic medium, I got the perfect glazed look. It is so much easier than glazing with just water.
As you can see in the photo I have a green glaze on top of the blue glaze. I used only acrylic matte medium for that on both sides and got the best results.
Matte medium is a great choice for you to make glazes or transparent acrylic paint that have a matte look. It is the best option when compared to water.
I have written a whole article about the 17 pros and cons of acrylic paint. You can find all the important aspects of acrylic paint there.
4. Mix gloss acrylic medium with acrylic paint
The acrylic gloss medium acts the same as the matte medium. The only difference is in their finishing. Acrylic matte medium has a matte finish and acrylic gloss medium has a glossy finish to the transparent paint. In this case, I used an acrylic varnish and/or a gloss medium.
Acrylic gloss medium or varnish has two purposes. One is protecting the painted piece as a varnish. The other is acting as a gloss medium to give shine and increase the intensity and depth of acrylic colors.
Below I have added an image with results of both matte medium and gloss medium or varnish so that you can compare the difference better. I have used the same amount of acrylic medium and pigment in both cases.
Here you can see acrylic gloss medium or varnish increase the color intensity and depth. It is so visible when compared to the matte medium. The finishing of gloss medium transparent paint layer also has a glossy finishing.
Acrylic gloss medium or varnish is best when you want to have intense colored transparent paint layers with a glossy finish.
I have written a whole article about why acrylic paint becomes thick and the best ways to fix it. You will learn about different consistencies of paint and adverse environmental factors that make acrylic paint thicker than usual.
5. Mix acrylic gel medium with acrylic paint
Acrylic gel medium is also a great choice to make transparent acrylic paint. However, using gel medium depend on your needs. Acrylic gel medium is very thick and it is best to create thick transparent paint layers. Below I have included an image of using acrylic gel medium with pyrrole red on canvas.
I used an acrylic gel medium to make transparent paint layers. As the gel medium is very thick, first I tried using water with gel medium and pigment. This was not very successful as you can see, there is a ring of darker color paint around the transparent paint.
Gel medium looks best when used thickly as it is supposed. You can see the effect of the transparent thick paint layer, in the above right side image. It is best to use acrylic gel medium with a palette knife to make a transparent acrylic paint layer with body and volume.
6. Mix acrylic paint with a glazing medium
Glazing mediums are specially made for glazes or very transparent thin paint layers. It is best to use when you need maximum transparency with luminosity and depth in your paintings. Glazing mediums work even better when used with transparent acrylic colors.
Glazing mediums dry quickly and are best for rapid transparent layers of acrylic paint. Also, you can increase the opening or working time of the glazing medium by mixing it with an acrylic retarder or slow dry medium.
7. Buy cheap paint with fewer pigments
Buying cheap paints is another option to get transparent acrylic paints. You can buy cheap paints in student grade or craft qualities. These paints usually have less pigment concentration or they have a mixture of different pigments. They have more fillers than pigments. Most colors are available as hues that indicate a mixture of pigments.
If you are doing a painting that needed to be permanent for a long time, then use student-grade paints from a high-quality brand such as Liquitex. You can check the transparency on the tube or bottle of paint. Liquitex basics mostly have semi-transparent or transparent pigments.
This is a good option if you use transparent acrylic colors frequently and you don’t want to bother buying carylic mediums to thin high quality acrylic paint or dilute the paint with just water.
Following is a table showing different opacities of colors from Liquitex Basics. I have only included colors with a single pigment. You can also buy colors with a mixture of transparent pigments.
|Yellow||Yellow Oxide||Transparent Yellow|
|Violet or magenta||Dioxazine Purple||Quinacridone Magenta|
|Red||Pyrrole Red||Naphthol Crimson|
8. Do not mix transparent colors with opaque colors
Color mixing is one of the important aspects of acrylic painting. However, when you want transparent acrylic paint, be a little cautious about mixing colors. If you mix opaque colors with transparent colors the mixed color will become more opaque.
Especially when mixing titanium white with other colors, the mixed color will become opaque. It is one of the ways you can make acrylic colors opaque. If you want to mix with opaque colors, then you will have to thin the paint as described before, with either medium or water to make transparent acrylic paint.
Acrylic paint is a very versatile painting medium. You can make acrylic colors opaque or translucent as you want. The best way you can make acrylic paint transparent is by mixing it with acrylic mediums and there are many different mediums you can you to make acrylic paint transparent.
The best acrylic mediums to make acrylic paint transparent are matte medium, gloss medium, glazing liquids, and gel medium. They give matte finishing, gloss intensified color finishing, very translucent glazes, and translucent acrylic paint layers with body and volume respectively.
There are also other options if you do not like to use acrylic mediums. You can use water to make diluted transparent paint films, buy acrylic colors with transparent pigments, and buy cheap paint with more fillers.