How to Thin Acrylic Paint: 3 Easy Ways

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If you are just getting into the world of acrylic painting, you may not realize that acrylic paints can be found in a variety of consistencies. Some are very thin-bodied while others can be as thick as paste for those who wish to use the impasto technique.

It may be that you accidentally bought paint that is too thick for your particular needs. That’s okay, it won’t go to waste!

You can easily thin your acrylic paint so it has just the consistency you are looking for. Doing this can also help you to create some pretty cool effects.

Today we are going to take a look at a few ways to thin acrylic paint that is too thick, including using a couple of acrylic paint thinner substitutes. Let’s get started.

What is In Acrylic Paint?

Before we talk about how to thin acrylic paint for canvas, I thought it would be a good idea to talk about what goes into making acrylic paint. This type of paint can be diluted with water. It is made with color pigment agents. Sometimes it also includes other agents for durability.

The color pigments are used to create the right color intensity. The binder helps the paint to dry quickly and evenly, with a glossy finish, as well as ensures that the paint is waterproof when it dries.

The strength of the binding depends on what type of acrylic binder is used. There are often shelf-life enhancers that ensure the colors will last for a long time. But, these enhancers are in question because they may be hazardous to the health of those using the paints.

In the highest quality paints, you will find little to no shelf life enhancers. What you will get are paints that have a large proportion of color pigments.

Can You Thin Acrylic Paint?

Acrylic paint can be thinned through dilution. There are a few ways that you can do this, either with special agents such as pouring mediums, or a paint thinning substitute, such as water or even pouring medium.

Unlike oil paints, you won’t be able to use turpentine or other solvents to thin the paint. There are a few rules you need to be aware of when it comes to thinning acrylic paint properly

If you don’t follow these rules, there is a good chance that you won’t get the result you are looking for.

#1. Using Water: An Acrylic Paint Thinner Substitute

Many people don’t realize that you can indeed thin acrylic paint with water. In fact, this is the easiest and least expensive method of thinning paint.

Water will dilute the binder and pigments in the paint. So, you will have to sacrifice some of the color intensity. Diluting acrylic paint with water is an ideal way to create a glaze that is transparent and/or translucent.

You can even dilute acrylic paint to the point where it can be used just like watercolor paint. This is perfect for painting backgrounds that you want to appear soft and for painting color gradients.

Once these layers are dry, you can paint over them quite easily.

It may be that you don’t want to use the paint right away after you have diluted it with water. In this case, I suggest you use distilled water. That way there is no risk of mold developing in the paint.

Be sure not to use too much water to thin your acrylic paints. Too much water can ruin a painting by causing it to crack. It can also lead to other surface defects that can happen while the paint is drying.

#2. Using an Acrylic Binder to Dilute Acrylic Paint

If you would rather not use water to dilute your acrylic paint and make it thinner, you can also use a regular acrylic binder. This binder will not affect the intensity of the paint color or any of the other paint properties.

Acrylic paint already contains an acrylic binder, so it only makes sense that you can use it to thin your paint because it is compatible with the paint. In fact, an acrylic binder is compatible with all acrylic paints, no matter which company manufactures the paints.

What the acrylic binder does is change the viscosity of the ink so it is more of a liquid instead of a paste. The color pigments are not broken down, so you end up with even more radiant colors and a glossier surface after the paint has dried.

This is because the more binder you use, the less the paint is going to absorb into the canvas. You can also use a gloss medium to make your painting even glossier. Even if you choose to use a coat of varnish to finish your painting, it will still have a uniform surface.

#3. Dilute Acrylic Paint with Pouring Medium

We hear a lot these days about paint and pour projects. A special pouring medium is used to thin the paint so it can be poured. You can use this medium to thin out your acrylic paint for regular painting as well.

The end result will be much like that of the result you get when using an acrylic binder. The only real difference is that if you use a pouring medium it will take longer for the paint to dry. This is a good thing because it will give you more time to blend colors and use other techniques.

It is best to use about 10% to 20% pouring medium and 80% to 90% paint.

What If the Paint Has Dried?

Did you know that you can also thin paint that has been dried? Let’s say you have a jar of paint, or you put too much paint on your palette and there is a lot left over. If it dries out, it is sometimes possible to rehydrate it with water and acrylic binder.

You will need to use a lot of elbow grease for this because it will require a lot of stirring. If the dried acrylic paint is on your palette, another option would be to place a piece of damp paper towel over the paint to keep it from drying out quickly. Or, you can spray it with a little bit of water.


Knowing how to thin your acrylic paint is a blessing for any artist who wants to preserve their paint, have a thinner consistency, and make it last longer. You can play around with a lot of interesting techniques once you have thinned your acrylic paint.

No matter what method you use, I recommend only adding a little bit of medium or water at a time. Remember, you can always add more if you need it, but you can’t take it out once it has been added.

Check my guide on acrylic paint blending for more tips.

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