Sunday, May 12, 2013

Can you smooth out your painting results with an acrylic additive?

We all use alot of acrylic paints on our miniatures, acrylic paints are easy, they clean up with water, and most of them dont stink(but some do!).   But some recent posts and questions on the various painting forums made me realize alot of people don't know how to get the most out of thier paints.

Im not talking about getting the last drop out of the bottle,  but rather the best performance.  Making your paint easy to work with-so you can paint faster, and get better results rather than waste time fighting against your paints limitations.

What limiatations? Well, as soon as you open the top or drop it out of the bottle- its starting to dry.   And while a quick drying time is a good point in some aspects- while you're trying to put that paint on the miniature its a nuisance to have it start getting goopy, tacky and even a little chalky.

Theres a few ways we can work around that, the first, and one people are starting to do more often these days is thinning thier paint.  Most paints out of the pot are just too thick.

But, since we're still dealing with the nonsense era where almost everyone was told priming black was the 'right' way to paint,  no one wanted to thin thier paints because 'thinned paint won't provide good coverage over black'.    Thats of course mostly nonsense from a few boneheads that primed black and tried to paint Imperial fist space marines(yellow)  or White Scars,  and then cried about how bad the paints covered.  Dont blame the tools when you use them poorly >.<

However, since we've moved past that-and better techniques have surfaced,  like wet blending, thinning your paints is more common than ever.

But- you can do more than just adding water.  To some of you this is going to sound like its either too good to be true,  or its 'I already knew about that'.

Wargaming painters have a severe tendency to have tunnel vision when it comes to what products they will use.  If its not sold at the game shop many will act like it doesnt exist.  Which, is quite sad since thees an enormous amount of art supply products out there that the gaming paint  lines will never sell-  yet, theyre incredibly useful.

And Acrylic Flow Release is one such product.  I first found this stuff back in 2003.  And at the risk of sounding a bit dramatic,  it was like finding a magic potion to add to my paints.  At that time I had a few old Citadel pop tops I was still using, a whole batch of still new Vallejo model colors I had ordered from Spain in 01(no one was selling them online back then!).  And I think I had 3 GW screw tops that were still sort of working.

Acrylics Flow Release- also called flow aid or flow enhancer,  gets mixed with water, about 10 parts water to one part flow release(and some brands its more/less).  And I just use it in a dropper bottle to mix with my Vallejos when I drop them on the pallette.

And you're wondering what does it do besides make the paint wet?   Well,  acrylics can get a little rough and chalky when theyre going on sometimes.   This stuff- its sort of like adding a lubricant to the paint.  It makes it spread,  or flow,  much smoother.

If you're thinking about trying any advanced highlighting or shading techniques like wet blending,  I'd strongly recommend picking up a bottle of this stuff.  It makes your paint alot easier to work with,  less frustrating and more fun when you dont have to fight against the limits of the medium!

If you're just going for a tabletop level paint job, working off of a drybrushed base and maybe some hard edge highlights & washes- this stuff will still improve your results.  It can smooth out your drybrushing results well enough that with a little practice it can look more like a wet blend than a drybrush because the color is smooth rather than the usual rough chalky paint appearance you most often see with drybrushing.

I prefer the Golden Flow Enhancer,  but the Liquitex I currently have seems to be doing a decent job(but its mostly been used for making washes lol).   The Golden was what I bought in 2003  and was a 4oz bottle I used just for painting,  and it lasted through my comission army painting phase- so its probly thinned enough paint to cover 30 or 40 armies,  and made several batches of thinning solution I gave to freinds when I saw thier rough results.   If you decide to get some of your own you'll find it in your local art supply stores, if you've ever been in there to buy the good stuff like some brush cleaner or a big bottle of matte medium- it will be in the same section.

If any of you guys have used it, or get some and it helps you out, or gives you some problems, drop a comment a below and let us know about your results :)

I imagine some people are wondering why I didn't talk about drying retarder as an additive.  And thats pretty simple- while it does extend drying times- every drying retarder I have used has had a serious detriment to paint performance when you add enough to actually extend the drying time.   It might work great for acrylics being applied on a canvas,  but I've had zero luck with it on miniatures- so I categorize it as a performance reducing additive ;)


  1. Wonderful and informative post. Thank you! Some of us aren't so much 'tunnel vision' as much as we are just new to advanced painting. I could go get some right now but I may not exactly know what to do with it other than just adding it to my paints. I'd love to see a few tutorial posts or videos from you showing first hand some of the basics that can be achieved with this stuff.


  2. I've been using my own variation of Dannys Magic Wash since he first posted it way back when. I say my own because over the years I have tweaked the ratios and add airbrush thinner/ cleaner to the mix. I kept the retarder in the mix because I also use a (store bought) wet pallette and it will help keep paint wet for days on it.*updated*-magic-wash-and-wet-palettes

  3. @papaspanky Wow, blogger totally failed on sending me an update about replies here!

    Flow release is actually pretty much the same stuff as airbrush thinner- but airbrush thinner is designed to atomize(evaporate) very quickly so I don't use it for my general brush on additives. But- it does have a really interesting effect on the viscosity- since its designed to make paint more liquid to pass through tiny airbrush nozzles. It might be very useful for making washes to get into the recesses and details- and it dries fast. So its something I've been wanting to experiment with but havent had the opportunity since I dont have any actual commercial mix airbrush thinner.

  4. HI there .
    First id like to say i'm a novice painter. I've done alot of research about mini painting.I started to use flow improver just recently vs. using distilled water. Went out and got a winsor and newton brand. So i mixed a batch up in a dropper bottle, and started trying it out and i really like it! But a downside unfortunately after doing a paint stoke when i lift up sometimes there are tiny bubbles. The problem is easy to correct just blow on it and they go away ,which i do anyway. But a few times i've missed the bubble and by the time i notice its too late to correct. So my question is am i doing something wrong?

  5. Very interesting. I don't use acrylics (I still use Humbrol enamels) because they are too garish, dry too fast and I don't like the texture. Interesting to see your solutions...

  6. Thank you for sharing this interesting and informative article, painting with airless spray gun will be faster and more interesting!

    Paint Spray Gun

  7. Great knowledge, do anyone mind merely reference back to it Acrylic Painting