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Painting with acrylics

Updated on April 29, 2011

A variety of uses

I love to paint. Wood and canvas are two of the most common mediums, but I have found that acrylic paints work on a variety of surfaces. Though semi-porous surfaces are best for adhesion, many developments by paint companies allow acrylics to act like other high quality paints. I've tried various paints over the years and acrylics are what I keep coming back to because they are easy to clean up (water-soluble!). They also give a layering optical effect similar to watercolors, but are permanent and solid like oils.

I would like to share with you my world of acrylics and colors.

How I've used acrylics on various mediums

I have found over the years that most any surface can be painted on using acrylics. There are enhancers for the craft paints that allow use on fabric, use as a stain, and use on glass though I usually use them directly, but it depends on the intended use of the item. If practical, an acrylic sealer is a must after the items are fully dried. See below for sealant tips.

  • Wood - soft woods require more coats for full coverage, usually 2-3, because they are more porous and will absorb the paint. Pine needs 1-2 coats depending on the color and how thick it is applied. The various wood items I have painted are beads, boxes, plaques, large round wood chips, and even dresser murals.
  • Glass - marbles, shotglasses, candle holders, christmas ornaments, plain glass pieces for see through box lids. The sealer will haze the unpainted areas so be sure to use medium enhancers and any glass paint sealer available at your local craft store if you don't want that to happen.
  • Polymer clay - painting can be done after the item has been cured. If glazing, the painting should be done afterwards as the glaze tends to reactivate the paint and can cause problems. A sealer isn't always needed if it's a small painted area. However, the paint can also be mixed with glaze, at about 1:1 for an appearance like the heart pendant in the pictures below. Less paint will result in a more translucent coloring.
  • Plastic - so many things are made of plastic that the list of possibilities could be endless, but I've stuck mainly to mask blanks available from wholesalers. Plastic is not porous so a sealant is necessary to keep the paint adhered, and a flexible mask should be painted in as few layers of paint as possible to prevent later cracking and peeling from the flexing of use and handling.

(continued below)

Examples of items painted with acrylics

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Painted glass marblePainted and assembled wood piecesPainted wood plaquePainted plastic maskPainted pine boxPainted polymer clay with glazePainted polymer clayPainted boxPainted beads in zebra stripesPainted effects on paper wandPainted wood chipPainted pine conesThe traditional canvas painting using acrylic veil technique
Painted glass marble
Painted glass marble
Painted and assembled wood pieces
Painted and assembled wood pieces
Painted wood plaque
Painted wood plaque
Painted plastic mask
Painted plastic mask
Painted pine box
Painted pine box
Painted polymer clay with glaze
Painted polymer clay with glaze
Painted polymer clay
Painted polymer clay
Painted box
Painted box
Painted beads in zebra stripes
Painted beads in zebra stripes
Painted effects on paper wand
Painted effects on paper wand
Painted wood chip
Painted wood chip
Painted pine cones
Painted pine cones
The traditional canvas painting using acrylic veil technique
The traditional canvas painting using acrylic veil technique
  • Canvas -the traditional paint medium in art, preparation techniques should be followed as usual (stretching and gesso), though ready-to-paint canvases are now available from craft stores. Sealing is optional, and many have offered their experience here.
  • Paper - there are pads of thick painting paper available at craft stores, I made a paper wand shown above out of ordinary printer paper. 110# cardstock is also decent for acrylics. 65# may work too, though it doesn't handle watercolors well.
  • Car interior - I have used acrylics to mix a color match and then added fabric medium to cover cigarette burn marks.
  • Fabric - use the fabric medium available for craft paints and test a small area first to ensure the color is correct after being absorbed.
  • Metal - old cans look better for storing pencils or crayons or paintbrushes if spruced up with paint first! The same reasoning applies as for plastics - use a sealant.
  • Pinecones - can paint anything!

Using an acrylic sealer

I have used both polyurethane and spray acrylic sealant - I recommend the spray.

There are a number of reasons for this:

  1. The spray sealant goes on with a thinner layer
  2. There is less yellowing with the thinner layer and less optical dulling
  3. Painting on the sealant can spread the paint colors

Tips for using spray sealant:

  • Lay down newspaper or something disposable under your item to prevent ruining the surface the item is setting on
  • Use the spray outdoors or somewhere with good ventilation (beware of wind!)
  • Spray the top of the item as directed by the manufacturer (for distance and layer thickness) and then let it dry for at least a half hour before turning it over to seal the other side.
  • Don't touch the wet item - the sealant is stinky, sticky, and possibly toxic.


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    • profile image


      4 years ago

      hi! i hand paint phone cases with acrylic paint. I've been doing this for over a year now and have tried so many different ways to protect my paintings on the case. I usually spray them with the acrylic sealer once they are dry and they look beautiful and protected for a while but eventually the paint starts to wear down, chip and fade in color. I have tried the paint on clear sealer as well and that ruined a large number of my cases because when it was wet it looked perfect but when it dried it hardened and completely cracked through the paint destroying the design lol i have tried everything! clear nail polish has actually worked better than clear acrylic sealer in many cases for me. I was wondering if you have any suggestions or ideas why the acrylic sealer doesn't work for me?

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Can you use acrylic paints on porcelain plates?

    • Alicia M Prater profile imageAUTHOR

      Alicia M Prater 

      6 years ago from United States

      What type of surface is it painted on - concrete, brick, wood, glass? This will change the sealant you'll need. It will also change the type of paint you should use (and whether it needs any medium conditioner). Your best bet is to contact someone who does that kind of work professionally - is there an Art Dept at a local college/university?

    • gamelover profile image

      Meskens Geert 

      6 years ago from Belgium


    • profile image

      John Hughes 

      6 years ago

      I have volunteered to touch up with acrylic paints The Stations of the Cross in my parish church which are flaking in places. I have been told that a sealant should by applied first. Can you tell me what I should use. The flaking is only in small spots.Thankyou.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Great items, lots of talent! I have been using acrylics since they were released in the 60's, and man do I love them! I like to turn off all of the lights, sit in front of one single very bright work light, and paint small pinhole size dots at the very ends of my nipples! I then run full speed into the wall, and jump against it with all of my might, leaving nipple stamps on a nice clean freshly painted wall! Last year, I painted a very large section of wall white, dotted my nipples with two dabs of black acrylic, and jumped into the wall! When I regained consciousness, I had a masterpiece! I call it, "Polar bear in a blizzard!" I think that the next masterpiece I am going to do is to take a raw chicken thigh and leg, dip it in pink and red paint, and slap it against the walls of my house! If anyone asks, I will tell them that we had a vagina storm! Oh, what fun!!

    • nikki1 profile image


      8 years ago

      wOW, awesome artwork. Thanx for sharing.

    • G-Ma Johnson profile image

      Merle Ann Johnson 

      10 years ago from NW in the land of the Free

      I too love can get the textures of oil but it dries faster. although my favorite and most difficult for me anyway is watercolor..I have several paintings in both media's  wish I could share them..especially with Kenny...Nice hub my dear Thanks...G-Ma :o) hugs


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