Acrylic Washes and Glazes: What, When and How? | Just Paint (2023)

As acrylic painters we thin our paints with water to lower viscosity and make thin washes. Many of us also use mediums to alter consistency and viscosity and make translucent glazes. But, it is not always obvious how and when to use these mixtures, or how versatile they can be. Acrylics’ natural versatility allows for a wide range of uses for both, and this article seeks to describe the differences, similarities, characteristics and attributes of washes and glazes, and when one might be better or more useful than the other.

The primary similarity between washes and glazes is the translucent color effects possible with both, which allows the undertone of the color to show itself. Typically, washes soak into a surface, while glazes sit on top. Most of the washes and glazes shown here were made with about 1 part paint to about 90 parts water or medium, but there is a wide range of ratios possible.

What are Acrylic Washes?

An acrylic wash is made by thinning paint with a lot of water. Thinning reduces both the amount of acrylic and pigment in the mixture. When a wash dries you end up with widely dispersed pigment particles settled down into and on the painting surface, with a very small amount of acrylic binder. With washes, pigment particles can meander and collect in concentrated areas depending on how it is applied and how absorbent or non-absorbent the substrate is. These flowing, changeable and sometimes hard to control effects, can be both challenging and exciting to work with. While you can thin our Heavy Body Acrylics with water to make washes, it is easier to use our Fluid Acrylics or High Flow Acrylics for this.

(Video) How to Glaze with Acrylics

We have seen very thinned out Fluid or Heavy Body Acrylics of ours function very well in terms of film stability and water sensitivity. One can be fairly free with the amount of water used. If there is a concern about the wash being too weak a film, then a small amount of thin medium such as High Flow Medium or Fluid Matte Medium can be added. Or, a thin layer of a Medium can be used on top of the dry wash to create a more durable surface. More details about how much water can be used to thin our acrylics can be found in this article:

How Much Water Can you Safely Add to Acrylic Paint?:

What are Acrylic Glazes?

An acrylic glaze is made by extending paint with any transparent or translucent Medium. A glaze is a binder rich mixture typically having a very small amount of paint blended with a much larger amount of medium. Many mediums can be used to create a glaze, including thinner mediums like High Flow Medium or Glazing Liquid all the way up to very thick Gel Mediums. Opaque mediums like Molding Pastes or Pumice Gels will not work well to mix effective glazes. While traditionally glazes were thought of as thin films, acrylic glazes have much broader potential and can be thin or thick, and everything in between. You can freely blend either our Heavy Body or Fluid Acrylics or even our High Flow Acrylics with any GOLDEN transparent or translucent medium or gel medium to create glazes.

Glossy mediums dry with the greatest clarity or translucency, while semi-gloss or matte mediums will dry translucent and with some level of cloudiness due to the matting agents present. When used to make glazes, these lower sheen mediums can yield some very beautiful effects that take advantage of their foggy and misty qualities. For additional information, here are articles on encaustic effects with acrylic, and glazing with acrylics, oils and watercolors:

(Video) Glazing with Acrylic

Encaustic Effects with GOLDEN Acrylics:

Encaustic Look with Acrylics:

And this article also shines some light on the topic: Glazing with Acrylics, Oils and Watercolors:

When to Wash or Glaze?

Acrylic washes work well when you want thin paint to absorb into the surface like a stain, and to create effects reminiscent of watercolor. Raw canvas, primed canvas, an absorbent ground, or paper are all suitable options for substrates where washes can create a stained effect. Washes can be used on dry or pre-moistened absorbent surfaces. In some cases, washes can be used on less absorbent surfaces. GOLDEN Wetting Agent can be added to the wash mixture or also mixed into water and used to pre-wet an absorbent surface, which can allow for deeper staining effects. Only very small amounts are necessary and Wetting Agent is optional. Often, the acrylic paint itself will include enough surfactant. Here is more information:

(Video) The difference between a wash and a glaze & paint options for both -question & answer series 3 13 20

Wetting Agent:

Acrylic Wash and Stain Painting on Raw Canvas:

GOLDEN High Flow with Acrylic Flow Release (Wetting Agent) for staining on canvas:

Glazes are useful when you want a translucent color effect in a discreet paint film allowing more control over the dry surface sheen, and how the paint can be handled on the surface. The viscosity of a glaze combined with the pigment held in even suspension allows for both sheer and graduated color effects, and also sharper controlled edges, depending on how you manipulate the glaze. Some of the most intense color effects can be created with glazes, especially when using certain synthetic organic colors like Quinacridones or Phthalo Blues and Greens. Glazes with these colors used over white grounds will show the very high chroma undertones and can create brighter colors than tinting with white or using full strength colors opaquely.

Glazes can be used on less absorbent or more absorbent surfaces. They can be thin or quite thick, applied with brushes or spreading tools such as palette knives or squeegees. They can even be poured if you use a thin medium, keeping in mind that some thin mediums will tend to craze if applied too thickly. A brushed on glaze can often dry with very visible brush marks due to the darker drying of the raised areas within the brush mark. If this is not desired, use a thinner medium to make the glaze and apply with a palette knife or other spreading tool, or a soft, flat synthetic bristle brush.

(Video) Painting Lesson - How to Glaze With Acrylics

How Do I Make and Use Washes and Glazes ?

There are no rules for ratios with either water for thinning, or medium for extending, as it all depends on the level of translucency, color intensity, specific consistency and dry surface sheen. While thinning acrylic paint with water to make washes is pretty simple and direct, mixing glazes can be a bit more complex, both in the options available and in how they can be used and function in a painting. Experimentation, as always, will be the best way to learn how to use these mixtures. The natural versatility of acrylic paints and mediums allows for a wide range of uses. As mentioned at the start, most of the washes and glazes shown here were made with approximate 1/90 ratios of paint to water or medium, but the possibilities are really infinite.

Acrylic washes or glazes can be used on raw or gessoed canvas or on a range of other acrylic painting grounds. Acrylic washes can be layered much like watercolor and glazes can also be layered with a broader range of effects possible due to surface texture variations, a more discreet separation of the layers and the way light filters through translucent acrylic films. Optical color mixing is possible with both washes and glazes, and there is typically no limit to the number of layers you can use, other than diminishing color at a certain point.

Sometimes it is best to pre-mix larger amounts of a wash or a glaze and store in plastic containers with lids, so that you have enough of the mixture to use for a painting or a series of paintings. A swatch of the glaze or brush out of the wash on the lid works well as a label and will remind you of the inevitable dry color change that occurs with glazes. You may need to first apply some Absorbent Ground on the lid to show a wash or simply attach a piece of paper or raw canvas to the lid.

Washes are typically applied by brush but can also be applied with sponges or by dripping, pouring or splattering. Glazes can be applied with brushes when they are thin and as they get thicker, spreading tools of various sorts can create lovely, sheer and consistent veils of color. Experiment with palette knives, scrapers and squeegees.

(Video) HOW to GLAZE Miniatures | Differences of INKS, Washes and Glazes

Some very interesting and beautiful effects are possible by combining and layering washes and glazes. You can work wet into wet with glazes on top of washes, or thin glazes with water to create something in-between a wash and a glaze. Very translucent glazes can be layered with more opaque painted marks to create very rich and complex surfaces and visual effects. Below are some details of paintings using various combinations of washes and glazes.


What is a wash in acrylic painting? ›

An acrylic wash is made by thinning paint with a lot of water. Thinning reduces both the amount of acrylic and pigment in the mixture. When a wash dries you end up with widely dispersed pigment particles settled down into and on the painting surface, with a very small amount of acrylic binder.

Should acrylic paint and glaze be mixed? ›

For this article, the glaze needs to be transparent, so you need to mix only a very small amount of pigment or acrylic paint color as the paint pigments have very powerful tinting strengths. Remember that you need to mix in enough water so that the glaze mixture is thin and pourable.

How do you do an acrylic wash? ›

Dip your brush into the water and dribble water into the paint. Stir. Keep going until the water/paint mixture is runny. Brush the watery paint onto the canvas, covering the whole surface if you are doing a background.

Do you paint before or after glazing? ›

Wait until the glazing putty has formed a skin (3-4 days for Type-M putty or 2-3 weeks for Dual Glaze putty) before you attempt to paint. Do not prime the glazing putty after you have glazed your window. Just add 2 coats of a quality enamel paint.

Do you top coat over glaze? ›

*Does Glaze Effects Require Topcoat? Absolutely. All stains and glazes require a sealant. Think of the stain or glaze as the color and the topcoat as protection.

Can you put glaze on top of acrylic paint? ›

In most cases, acrylic mediums are too thick to create an effective glaze, so water is often added. Mediums are not required to create a glaze. Simply adding water to the paint often results in an effective glaze. Glazes subtly change the color within the painting as they are applied.

What paint do you use for glazing? ›

Glazing is a standard technique in painting, whereby a thin layer of paint is applied on top of the main colour, resulting in rich, iridescent colours. The glaze technique requires special semi-transparent paints. During the Renaissance, many artists used glazing as a way of mixing paints.

How long should glazing dry before painting? ›

The glazing must set a skin for at least 7 -14 days before you can prime and paint. The glass should be cleaned so that all of the putty oils are removed. It is important that in painting the glazing, the paint flows onto a small part of the glass to make a weather tight seal.

How many coats of clear glaze should you brush on? ›


Apply one even coat, let the “wet” look disappear, then apply a second coat in the opposite direction.

How many layers of paint is enough? ›

Generally, you will want a minimum of two coats of paint – this is a good rule of thumb for any wall or ceiling you're painting. You'll rarely get a seamless finish from just one coat of paint, and even if you do, coverage isn't the only goal when it comes to painting a room.

How long should you wait between layers of acrylic paint? ›

Latex, water-based, and acrylic paints need at least four hours between coats, but waiting eight hours or longer is even better. Oil-based paint and primer need at least 24 hours between coats. Recoating too soon can lead to poor adhesion, peeling paint, and uneven color.

How do you paint glaze evenly? ›

Apply the glaze thinly to your surface then lightly blend it to obtain an evenly applied transparent layer of color. If getting a smooth application with a brush is difficult for you, use a soft lint free rag instead of the brush. Move the rag in circular motions until smooth.

How long should a glaze sit? ›

In most cases, you simply apply the glaze to strands after shampooing and leave it on for anywhere between 5 to 20 minutes before rinsing.

How many coats of glaze coat do I need? ›

0.47 L kit 0.94 L kit 3.78 L kit Not all styles/sizes/colors available in all areas. Most applications require two coats for a deep, beautiful finish. More than two coats can be applied for obtaining a deeper finish. Surface must be level, dry and free from oil, dust and wax.

How long do you let acrylic soak? ›

Pour acetone into a small bowl and submerge your fingers. It will take about 20 to 30 minutes to break down your acrylics. "While your fingers are submerged, use your thumbs to rub the other four fingers — it helps break down the product faster," says Johnson.

How long does an acrylic wash take to dry? ›

Professional Acrylic: Thin films of Professional Acrylic will dry in 20 to 30 minutes and thicker films can take an hour or two. This will vary according to environmental conditions.

What temperature should acrylic be washed at? ›

Wash on a cold water cycle, at a temperature no higher than 30 degrees.

How do you paint a washed look? ›

A wash will add color without sacrificing the visual interest of the wood's texture; all you need to do is dilute paint with water. Start by adding one part water to two parts paint, and test the wash on a wooden swatch before working directly on your surface. If you want to see more wood grain, continue to add water.

How should acrylic soak off? ›

Pour some acetone-free nail polish remover into a bowl, making sure to pour enough so your nails can be fully submerged, and put your fingers in. Let them soak for 30 to 40 minutes or more if needed. When the nail starts to loosen, reach for your tweezers once more to pull the acrylics off your actual nails.

Does acrylic wash off with water? ›

Yes, acrylic paint can be washed off with water while it's wet. If the paint dries down, the paint solidifies into a stain and begins to resemble a substance similar to plastic.

Do you rinse your brush when using acrylic paint? ›

Rinse your brushes thoroughly with tepid water.

Try to remove as much of the paint residue as possible. You may need to shake off excess water, blot and rinse again to get rid of particularly stubborn paint. Using a brush tub for this initial cleaning is great as you can loosen the paint with the ridges on the tub.

What happens if you paint window glazing before it dries? ›

Once you have painted the glazing putty skin, it will actually take longer for the glazing putty to cure but the coat of paint will protect it.

What should you always do before glazing? ›

Clean your Bisqueware - Try to avoid handling the area that will be glazed, especially with dirty/oily hands. Clean off any dust before glazing. I wipe everything with a damp sponge before glazing.

Do you glaze windows on both sides? ›

Bed the glass in a thin line of putty and secure it with glazing points. The rule of thumb for installing glazing points is to use one on each side and add an additional glazing point for ever 12″ of glass size.

Do you wax over glaze? ›

Use Wax over glaze to create patterns when layering glazes. Let your wax dry for several hours (when applied over glaze) before layering a second glaze. Often it is best to apply wax the day before you will dip the second glaze. Cover the wax jar so it doesn't dry out.

What do you put on top of acrylic paint to make it shiny? ›

To achieve even more gloss, apply a high gloss varnish once the painting is finished and the paint is dry. There is a product by Liquitex that is both a gloss medium and varnish, so you could use it to mix with the paint as well as use it for a final coat of varnish.

What happens if you put oil over acrylic? ›

Oil over acrylic is fine with certain caveats, but acrylics over oil paints and oil grounds should be avoided. Oil paints form tight, water-resistant films that provide poor adhesion when acrylics are painted on top of them. We recommend avoiding this combination.

What is the best medium for glazing? ›

Practice Transparency with the Best Glazing Mediums for Acrylic...
  1. Liquitex Professional Glazing Fluid. ...
  2. Golden Acrylic Glazing Liquid (Satin) ...
  3. DecoArt Americana Glazing Paint. ...
  4. Benjamin Moore Studio Finishes Acrylic Glaze. ...
  5. Winsor & Newton Professional Acrylic Glaze.
19 May 2020

What kind of brush do you use for glaze? ›

Hake brushes hold the extra glaze that is needed to cover the pottery evenly, making the coverage easier and more even than other brushes. These brushes hold the glaze really well and make the application of glaze go on faster and smoother than any other brush I have used for overall coverage.

Can I paint over glaze? ›

In most cases, the glaze is water-based and will cause no problems if you paint over it with a latex, or water-based, paint. However, if the glaze was thick or a dark color, a few steps are necessary to ensure a professional-looking paint job.

Do you have to sand before glazing? ›

Do not sand until you are ready to glaze. When you are ready to glaze, sand surface with 320 or 400 grit sandpaper. Apply glaze as desired. (When applying over whites or pastels glaze will change the overall color of your piece.

How long does it take for acrylic glaze to dry? ›

Acrylic paint is fast-drying and a thin acrylic paint layer will dry in 10-30 minutes, while a thick acrylic paint layer can take up to 2 hours to dry to the touch.
Drying time of 30+ Acrylic Paints.
BrandDrying time, minType of paint
Folk Art Texture Paint24 hrs curing 48-72 hrscraft paint
42 more rows
9 Feb 2021

How many washes does a glaze last? ›

Typically, a glaze will last one to two weeks, depending on the number of times the hair is washed.

Why is clear glaze not clear? ›

The main factors that turn a clear glaze cloudy are under firing and applying glaze too thickly. Glaze can also be milky if its chemical balance is not quite correct. Clear glaze is transparent if it is free from particles and bubbles that prevent light from passing through it.

What do you mix with acrylic paint to make a glaze? ›

The paint can be thinned using acrylic fluid or gel mediums. In most cases, acrylic mediums are too thick to create an effective glaze, so water is often added. Mediums are not required to create a glaze. Simply adding water to the paint often results in an effective glaze.

What are three ways to apply glaze? ›

Fire It Up Series: Glazing Techniques
  1. Dipping. Dipping is the easiest way to cover pottery and is done by most at some point. ...
  2. Dripping or Pouring. ...
  3. Brushing. ...
  4. Spraying. ...
  5. Splattering. ...
  6. Stippling. ...
  7. Sponging. ...
  8. Glaze Trailing.
11 Feb 2022

What does a glazing medium do on an acrylic painting? ›

The Glazing medium will make acrylic paint more transparent and enables subtle glazing techniques. Glazing medium has different sheens: gloss, satin and matte. Once you have finished you art work you can apply an overall glaze to your painting.

How long does acrylic glaze take to dry? ›

I suggest a minimum wait time of one week, but some acrylic artists wait as much as 6 weeks, just to be sure the acrylic paint is fully dried through and through.

How many coats of glaze should you use? ›

Apply two to three coats. Make sure you wipe off any glaze from the base of your piece before setting it aside to dry.

How many coats of glaze are applied with a brush? ›

Brush glazing is a slow process. A brush-on glaze takes longer to dry than dipping. To get the best results when brushing, you need at least three coatings, and you should let the first coat dry out before applying the next layer.

What kind of paint do you mix with glaze? ›

A glaze is a liquid medium that can be mixed with regular wall paint or acrylic paint.

How many coats of glaze do you need for solid color? ›

One coat will look more like watercolor and you will see the brushstrokes. Two coats will look a little more filled in. Three coats will look filled in/solid and the color will be brighter.

How thick should glaze be applied? ›

Just right is about 'postcard' thickness. Rough guidelines: one dip 'instant' to 8 seconds, or two dips ('instant' to 2 sec. each), or a single pour, or 2-3 coats with a brush with each coat brushed in a different direction and waiting for the first coat to firm up/dry before second coat.


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