Do you have to wet the brush before acrylic painting?

As a beginner, acrylic painting methods and techniques can be a bit overwhelming. In these cases, you might wonder if you need to wet the brush before painting with acrylics.

As a general rule, wet the brush before painting with acrylics and dab off the excess water onto a paper towel, unless you are doing a dry brushing technique. Removing excess water on the brush will prevent water droplets from hitting the painting and the risk of lifting the paint off the canvas.

Wetting the brush, or using water with acrylics depends on the technique you are using, the painting surface, and the quality of the paint. Hence it is important to know what is best in each of these cases.

Why do we need to wet the brush before acrylic painting?

Wetting the brush before starting a painting is important for smooth paint application. Otherwise, your paint will have a hard time going over the surface smoothly. With a dry brush, you will have to use a lot of paint to apply over the canvas smoothly.

This is only a case with heavy body acrylics. With soft body or fluid acrylics, you can use the paint with either a dry brush or a wet brush. Because the consistency of the paint is already fluid and has a smooth application.

Also, if you are painting on a piece of board or paper, the acrylic paint will run smoothly even without water or wetting the brush. Maybe because they are smooth surfaces. But on the surface on the rough side like a canvas, water is needed to run the paint smoothly.

The following image has color swatches I did with acrylics, without wetting the brush, wetting the brush, and with different percentages of water.

Difference effects you can get with acrylic paint, with and without water

To get a better understanding of the process, you can watch the following video I have recorded. It shows how I use a wet brush, different percentages of water, and a dry brush.

How to use water with acrylic paint, wet brushing, and dry brushing

Wetting the brush can be done, before painting, when you switch paint colors, and when washing the paint off from the brush.

You can wet the brush by dipping the brush into a cup of water. Dab off the excess water onto a rag or paper towel. If you want your brush to be wetter, dip the brush in water and dab off the excess water onto the rim of the cup of water.

Dabbing the excess water in the brush onto a rag
Dabbing excess water off the rim of the water jar

Do you have to use water with acrylic paint?

Using water with acrylic paint helps smooth paint application and saves paint. Mixing only 25% water with paint retains the color intensity and paint properties. Adding more water up to 80% gives a watercolor effect that is best for glazing. Watering acrylic paint will not affect sticking to the canvas.

Adding only 25% water to acrylic paint theory is generally only applicable to artist-quality paint. Student or craft acrylic paints, already have fewer pigments and less intensity. Therefore if you add more water to them, they will be more transparent.

Try to add less water with low-quality paint. You can experiment with the amount of water you added and the look of paint on the canvas.

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.

How do you use water with acrylic paint?

Use water for wetting the brush before doing acrylic painting and mix 25% or less water with paint for smooth application on the canvas. To get a watercolor effect with acrylic paint, add up to 80% of water. If using craft or student quality paint, dilute the paintless to maintain the color intensity.

There is a concept of chipping or peeling paint if you dilute acrylic with too much water. This is because diluting with too much water makes it harder for the acrylic polymer binder to hold the paint together. Thus there will be less adhesion to the canvas surface.

But with my experiment, I had no issues with over-diluted acrylic paint with 80% water and peeling. No matter how much water you add, it will not damage the painting, peel off the paint or crack the paint. You only need to consider the paint effect you want with different percentages of water.

Even if you use low-quality paint and diluted them, there will be no issue with peeling the paint, if you finished the painting with a coat of varnish. The painting is then durable and protected.

Adding water up to 80% gives a watercolor effect. It looks more like a wash and is best for glazing. It sticks well to the canvas regardless of over-dilution. If you want more control over the paint and thin it, use a matte or gloss medium. You can also use a glazing liquid.

Acrylic mediums have acrylic polymers in them. So, you can dilute the paint as much as you want with mediums, without worrying about breaking the paint. Also, you can use a free source like water to thin down acrylic paint.

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.

I have written a whole article about using water with acrylic paint. You will know the safe limit of adding water and ways to eliminate those limits, in that article.

Acrylic painting without wetting the brush (dry brushing)

As you can see in the above image or the video, With the dry brush, the application was not very smooth. Also, I had to use a lot of water to get better coverage. Another thing I have noticed is by using a dry brush the colors are more intense because there is only paint with more pigments when compared to wet brushing. Also, the dry brushed paint swatch dried very quickly.

I have tried this painting technique called dry brushing. Again, it is important to wet the brush before you paint, unless you are following a technique like dry brushing. With dry brushing, you can get a pastel mist-like effect.

Following are some images where I have tested dry brushing on the color swatches and a sample painting. You can watch me doing dry brushing at the end of the video.

Dry brushing on a paint swatch

You can get a mist-like effect with dry brushing. However, dry brushing takes a toll on your brushes due to the scrubbing on the canvas and rags. So, it is always good to use your old brushes for this technique.

In the following painting, I have tried dry brushing some of the bushes on the ground with pinkish-white color paint. You can see the detailed process of this in my video.

Dry brushing technique for bushes

When dry brushing makes sure you use only a tiny bit of paint at the end of the brush. You need to dab off any excess paint, onto the palette or rag.

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.

Conclusion

Wetting the brush before doing the acrylic painting is an important step of the painting process. It helps smooth paint application. Mixing water with acrylic paint is also important. According to the amount of water we mix with, we can get a matte opaque finishing to transparent watercolor finish. You can use a dry brush without wetting the brush, to get a misty pastel-like effect. However, it is a special painting technique.