Many new artists just starting out in the world of painting will reach for acrylic paints because they’re cheap and easy to use. Acrylic paints are a great painting medium for beginners who need a lot of paint to test out new skills.
Acrylic paint does have some downsides, though. One of them is that many acrylic paint colors tend to be transparent or semi-transparent. When you’re trying to create a beautifully layered landscape, this can take away from the overall image.
So, how do you make acrylic paint more opaque? To make acrylic paint more opaque, you can try to paint multiple layers of the desired color, mix in white or black with your desired color, use a base layer of white or black on the canvas, incorporate gesso as a primer layer or mixed in with the paint, and a few other methods.
In this article, we’ll provide our best recommended methods for making your acrylic paint more opaque. This will help you not only with layering, but also with achieving brighter, more vibrant color in your artwork.
How Can You Tell If An Acrylic Paint Is Opaque Or Transparent?
Not all acrylic paints are transparent, so you won’t need to use the methods below with every acrylic paint color in your arsenal. Most acrylic paint brands will have some sort of indicator as to the paint’s opacity or transparency on the label.
Search for an icon that looks like a circle or square and is either fully filled in, fully empty, or half-and-half with a diagonal line through it. These symbols, though they may vary in design, generally refer to the opacity or transparency of the paint.
If you don’t see a symbol on the label, try searching for that brand and that color name online to see if you can find its level of opacity on the company’s website.
Methods To Make Acrylic Paint More Opaque
Below are our top 7 recommended methods for making your acrylic paints more opaque.
1. Paint Multiple Layers
Your first choice, and probably the most obvious, is to just paint multiple layers of your chosen color.
This can be a bit of a tedious task because you’ll have to wait for each layer to try before painting on another, but it’s the best way to ensure you’ll get the pure color you’re looking for with a more opaque look.
You can do this directly on the canvas, or on top of other colors.
If you’re painting multiple layers of violet on top of black to try and get the violet to show more, just remember that it may be difficult to see where you painted your violet.
When painting other colors on top of black, try outlining your shapes with a white pencil before you start layering. This will help you stay within the desired shapes and paint your other color exactly where it goes.
2. Mix In White Or Black Paint
The major drawback with using this method is that adding white will make the color lighter, and adding black will make it darker.
To use this method, you’ll have to mix in white or black only for the first layer you apply to your canvas. After that first layer of mixed color has dried, apply another layer of pure color on top.
The advantages to using this method is that both white and black acrylic paints are opaque. Each of these will add a great level of opacity to your color.
It also helps you to maintain the pure color you’re going for. When you use the color mixed with white or black paint, it may not look right on the first layer, but it will look great by the second or third layer when you’re only using the pure color.
This is because you were able to still incorporate the color in your base layer, even though it was mixed. It helps the pure color to pop more once you’re done with the layers.
3. Use A Base Layer Of White Paint
Instead of mixing your desired color with white or black, you can use a pure layer of white paint underneath the transparent or semi-transparent color.
White is always a good base to make other colors more. That’s why paint primers are all white – because the white will cover up anything underneath and help whatever you’re putting on top shine.
If you’re painting a transparent or semi-transparent color directly on the canvas, you won’t need a layer of white paint underneath because the canvas is already white.
Using a base layer of white paint would be for when you’re layering a transparent or semi-transparent color on top of another color. This will help the bottom color fade and the top color appear more vibrant.
4. Incorporate Gesso
Incorporating gesso with your painting can also help your acrylic paints appear more opaque.
There are two ways you can do this. The first is to use gesso for its intended use and paint a layer or two onto your blank canvas as a primer. The second is to mix in a little gesso with your paint color.
Gesso is an artistic medium that’s created to be a primer for acrylic and oil paints. Generally, you only need to use one coat, but sometimes artists use two or three coats to reach the desired base layer before painting.
It works by filling in some of the holes and divots in canvases to give you more of a smooth surface to work on. Once you have a smooth surface, your acrylic paint can be applied more evenly, creating a more opaque color layer.
You can also try mixing a little bit of gesso with your acrylic paint. Be careful when mixing, as gesso won’t mix well with every brand and type of acrylic paint. The Liquitex brand gesso that we linked above should only be used with Liquitex Professional acrylic paints.
5. Don’t Dilute With Water
Some artists like to squeeze a small dab of paint from the tube onto their palette then add a little bit of water and mix it.
Mixing your paint with a little bit of water can give you a smoother consistency and help the paint to glide on better, creating a softer look.
However, diluting your paint with water, even if it’s just a small amount, can cause your paint to look even more transparent than it might have before – even if it is an opaque color.
To prevent adding more transparency to your paints, simply avoid mixing your paints with water. You can still squeeze a small dab of your paint to your palette and mix it before using, which can help warm up the paint and give you a smoother consistency without adding water.
Just avoid adding any water to your paints as this can thin the paint, loosen and break down the pigment, and give it a more transparent appearance.
6. Use Professional Or Artist Grade Paints
Although it can be tempting to buy the cheapest paints you can find to save money, it’s worth investing in higher quality paints if you want to have better colors and opacity.
If you want to try and go for more opacity in your acrylic paints, use professional or artist grade acrylic paints.
These will usually say “professional” or “artist” on the label or in the product description. Winsor & Newton, for example, is a brand that includes “professional” on the label, so you know it’s a higher quality paint.
Professional and artist grade paints can be harder to find and more expensive to buy. You can surely find some at your local craft store, but you’ll have a better selection at an art supply store.
While the higher price tag may feel painful at the check-out, you’ll be glad you splurged when you see the difference on your canvas.
Artist and professional grade acrylic paints will still have transparent and semi-transparent colors, but they’ll appear better than other brands and can more easily be layered to create an opaque color.
7. Mix Your Own Colors
The final method for making your acrylic paints more opaque is to mix the colors yourself. Rather than buying every color you can find, stick with the basics: red, yellow, blue, white, and black. These colors, mixed together in various combinations, will create any color you need.
We’ve recommended earlier mixing your color with white or black to create more opacity. When you mix paints together, the combination will create a more opaque result because you’re using more pigment.
Instead of reaching for a bottle of pre-mixed orange, make it yourself by combining red and yellow, adding in a little bit of white or black to get to your desired hue.
Mixing the colors yourself is probably the easiest and quickest way to make your acrylic paints more opaque, because you don’t have to wait for layers of paint to dry and you don’t have to add in any other medium or use a primer or base layer.
It’s as simple as mixing your color, adding it to your brush, and painting! If you’re not sure how to mix your own colors, take a look at this video from Sarah Renae Clark on YouTube explaining color theory.