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Ultimate Guide to Using Silicone for Beautiful Cells in Your Acrylic Pours

While there are lots of different factors that make up a great piece of art (color, texture, finish, etc.), for acrylic pouring, no single aesthetic feature is as sought-after as cells. Silicone, as most experienced pour artists will tell you, is the key to creating dynamic cells in your acrylic pour paintings. While technique can certainly make a difference, it mostly comes down to using the right materials. You need to use the right mix of paints, mediums, and additives—specifically silicone—to create a space for cells to form.

Review of which forms of oil will make beautiful cells in fluid acrylics and acrylic pouring.

In this guide, we’ll explain why we love silicone so much and outline the different types available to you. We’ll tell you which ones we’ve found to work best, and give you some general advice for using silicone in your pours. Let’s get started!

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Why Use Silicone for Acrylic Pouring Cells in the First Place?

There are several different dynamics that need to occur in your paints for cells to form. You need the paints to be flowing smoothly, for one thing. That’s why we always start by mixing paints with a good pouring medium, such as Floetrol or Liquitex.

To learn more about pouring mediums, check out the acrylic pouring medium guide we’ve written all about them. The better your paints are flowing, the better you’ll be able to create all kinds of effects, including cells.

You can certainly get some cells using just a pouring medium (and perhaps a splash of water), but most pouring mediums bind too well to the paints. Since they’re designed to maintain as perfect a consistency as possible, they don’t usually create the layered separations and sliding effects that produce the most striking cells.

However, they definitely help you get there! Pouring mediums also extend drying times, which gives you more opportunity to work with cells once they’ve formed. And Floetrol helps to level the craters of the silicone, so you get the look without having such an uneven texture at the end.

What you really need to get those killer cells is something that doesn’t mix well with your paints. Enter silicone! Any kind of oil won’t mix in with water based paints, so adding an oil or other lubricant to your paint can help the layers separate and slide against each other. That’s a perfect recipe for cells! You will most likely be able to create at least some cells just by adding the oil to your paint without even needing to torch it.

We consider silicone to be the best type of lubricant for acrylic pouring because it’s predictable, neutral, and durable. It’s easy to manipulate, unlike water. It doesn’t affect color or turn rancid like many natural oils. It’s also chemically inert, as long as you get pure silicone. That’s why it’s perfect for archival and commissioned pieces.

Types of Silicone for Acrylic Pouring

As we’ve mentioned, silicone oil is the preferred tool of many painters. It’s light and concentrated, and it works well to make cells for most paints and pouring applications. However, not all silicone lubricants are created equal! You can get it in a number of forms and varieties, including the below:

Spray lubricants

These are common in hardware stores and home tool sheds. Brands include Blaster, Liquid Wrench, and CRC Heavy Duty, or even the version of WD-40 that contains silicone (but not the regular one in the blue can, which is silicone-free).

These can be inexpensive, and most folks have something along these lines lying around the house to experiment with. You can use all of these straight from the can by spraying them directly into the cups as you mix your paint.

However, we prefer to spray the oil into a separate bottle or a container with a lid and then add it to the paints with a dropper. It’s more accurate and less likely to make a mess. Do your spraying outside to avoid the fumes! Once you have a small dishful, you can mix some into your next pour to try out the effect.

The downside of spray lubricants is that they contain other chemicals and mystery ingredients besides silicone. They also smell really bad, leave many people feeling dizzy, and have a slightly yellow coloring to them, which will definitely be visible in your pieces.

You can use these in a pinch, and many of us start out this way, but it’s preferable to upgrade to a pure liquid silicone oil.

Liquid silicone oils

Liquid silicone oils are what the vast majority of us use to create stunning cells. We recommend treadmill belt lubricant because it’s 100 percent silicone oil with nothing else added. It’s completely clear, doesn’t smell bad like the sprays, and usually comes in a convenient dropper bottle, making it easy to dispense the right amount into your paints.

You can certainly find other products in this category, since silicone oil is used to maintain everything from locks to sewing machines. Just be sure to choose 100 percent silicone.

You don’t want any additives or mystery ingredients to throw off your pours by discoloring or reacting with the paints. One hundred percent silicone will be perfectly clear without any coloration, clouding, or inconsistency.

Dimethicone Products

Dimethicone is a skin-friendly form of silicone oil commonly found in hair care products and also sometimes in personal lubricants. It usually doesn’t have any smell.

You can buy a hair product rich in dimethicone to use, or better yet, buy the pure product to use in your paints. As with silicone, you want to steer clear of any mystery ingredients or compounds that might throw off your paint colors.

We’ve had good results with the Coconut Milk Hair Serum, and we have a video here showing it being used. You might also want to consider the KY True Feel personal lubricant. There’s a video reviewing and testing this one here.

While we’d consider dimethicone products to be on par with silicone for creating cells, some folks swear that they give them larger cells. As always, be prepared to experiment with different options and see which works best with your paint recipe.

It’s also worth considering that dimethicone tends to be pricier than silicone. Silicone is sold cheaply and in bulk, because it’s generally used for maintenance tasks. If being able to work without gloves is important to you, dimethicone is probably worth the extra cost. If not, stick with silicone.

Personal Lubricants

You can find personal lubricants in the pharmacy or in the supermarket near the women’s hygiene products. The best way to go, though, is to buy them online to save your blushes at the store!

Look for silicone-based lube, or products where dimethicone is used instead. Just make sure that silicone or dimethicone is the first or only ingredient.

Can’t I Just Use Water?

Most pouraholics will tell you that you really need to use an additive to create the best cells. While there are some painters who claim to be able to create nice big cells using just paint and water, many of these folks water down their paints very thinly to get their results.

Using a lot of water can make the materials hard to control, so that the finished pieces are as much a result of chance as technique. They’re also prone to cracking or crazing when the watered-down paint dries.

For reasons we explain in our guide to pouring mediums, these watery mixes are much more likely to flake and come away from your painting in the long term. Stick to using a pouring medium and a silicone additive for the best results!

The surest way to create beautiful cells, depth, and movement in your painting is to use additives.

What About Other Oils?

You might already have things around the house that seem like they could work for creating cells. We’ve done lots of experimenting ourselves and can confidently tell you that while many things look tempting, they won’t work very well. Here’s what we’ve found:

A lot of new artists think they can use common cooking oils. That’s fairly logical: You’ve heard that a certain type of oil is used to make cells, so why not grab the olive oil or coconut oil from your kitchen? Not so fast. These oils are much too heavy to create cells on the surface of your pieces. They’ll also go rancid over time because they contain organic ingredients.

But what about other oils like baby oil? Some painters have used it and reported that it did create small cells for them—but they also said it was very greasy and made the paint too runny to work with.

If you have oils from the beauty aisle like this at home that you want to try, give it a go. Often, no one answer is right for everyone. Give these sort of products a quick test and see if you get the results you’re looking for. You just might be lucky. Still, most folks will prefer to stick with silicone or dimethicone.

Isn’t Alcohol Good for Cells?

Some painters on Youtube and in the blogging community report getting great results with alcohol in place of silicone. We’re not convinced. Here’s what Acrylic Pouring founder Deby Coles has to say about using alcohol:

“I gave this a good try and found it only worked for me in a very limited range of colors from one brand. Strange, but those colors made cells really well and other brands really didn’t seem to react much to the alcohol. So this is another area where I say don’t be afraid to try it for yourself—you never know, your paints might love it!”

You can see Deby’s YouTube playlist for experiments with alcohol to learn more about her results.

You can also check out Deby’s comparative experiments with different additives, in which she tries lots of different approaches to creating cells:

Types of Additives Used to Make Cells in Acrylic Pouring

So, How Much Silicone do You Need to Add for Cells?

We wish there were a simple answer to this question! There are as many answers as there are painters out there. You simply have to experiment with your brand of paints and additives and see what works best. A good recipe to start with is:

You might like to add the lubricant to all of your colors or only some. Experiment with side by side tests and see how it affects your pour.

To Torch, or Not to Torch?

Most folks who use silicone also make use of a culinary torch, to help finish up the cell-making process. When you run the torch lightly over the surface of your painting it serves two functions:

  1. Air bubbles are heated, come to the surface, and pop, so when your painting drys, you won’t end up with holes and defects in the paint (fingers crossed!).
  2. The oil is heated, causing it and the surrounding paint to flow even more. The silicone oil rises to the surface, bringing colors with it and creating movement in the paint, which creates cells. Typically torching leads to lots of small cells, rather than fewer, larger cells.

If you’re going for fewer, larger cells, you may not want to torch. You’ll also find that using a good amount of Floetrol in your mix helps level the materials, so that torching isn’t as important. Still, you should definitely have a torch in your toolbox!

Wrapping Up

Remember, the products above are the ones we use and recommend, but there are no rules with acrylic pouring. If you have a light oil product at home that you think might work, give it a try. And don’t forget to let us know how it goes! Better still, share a video of your process and results with our Facebook group.

If you’ve tried some of the products listed above and have a preference about any of them, we would love your feedback! Did you find dimethicone gave you bigger cells? Do you prefer using a particular spray over pure liquid oil? Which has worked best to give you some interesting cells in your pours, and how exactly do you use them for the best results? Please leave us your comments and advice for other pourers below.

You can also let us know if you think we’ve missed something above. If there’s a question we haven’t answered or a topic you wish we’d covered, leave us a comment below!

Ultimate Guide to Using Silicone for Beautiful Cells in Your Acrylic PoursUltimate Guide to Using Silicone for Beautiful Cells in Your Acrylic Pours

32 thoughts on “Ultimate Guide to Using Silicone for Beautiful Cells in Your Acrylic Pours”

  1. I wanted to try and make cells and we had an old can of WD40 in the garage, try as I might I couldn’t get any cells. Then I read the can and found it to be “silicone free”!!! I later got some hair oil and I’m finally starting to get cells. Please watch out for the “silicone free” type of WD40.

  2. Do you have to wash off the silicone residue after the painting has cured and before you add a protective coat? I have caught little hints of this on some YouTube videos but no clear instructions. (Related: How long do you have to wait before you can paint over a painting you don’t want to keep? Thank you for all tyke god information!

    1. Here’s what I do. Before using the protective coating, I wipe my painting down thoroughly with face/baby wipes to remove dust and all oil. I dry it and then use the coating.

    2. I find that if I wipe my dried painting with a make up pad and rubbing alcohol, my glaze or “finish medium” will stick better and not leave “pits” in my finished painting.

    3. Until cured. The time will depend on the conditions- heat and humidity and the like. If you are in a hurry you can scrape the paint off and start again immediately.

  3. Thanks for the useful information! Are you suggesting that we have to use gloves when we use silicone oil like treadmill belt lubricant? I thought silicone oil is supposed to be non toxic?

    1. Margaret Momparler

      Hi, I did a Dutch Pour and then dropped some silicone drops on the paint at various points. The painting is dry but the silicone is slick and I”m concerned it won’t dry.
      What can I do? Can I wipe it down with alcohol?
      Does the silicone ever dry so I can put Mod Poge on it for protection?
      HELP!

  4. I’m not sure I want any cells in the painting I want to do-do I really have to produce paintings with cells?

    1. You don’t have to have cells in your paintings. If you don’t want cells then just make sure the paints are similar consistencies and weights, and don’t use any additives

  5. if i do the course do i get the videos or do have to watch on my computter i really want the video for home asi dont know how to take of my computer i am 76 years of age

  6. Moro no Brasil e aqui não encontro o Floetrol, que acredito ser ele o maior componente responsável para ativação das células. Alguém poderia por favor me passar quais são os materiais que compõe o Floetrol para que eu busque algum produto semelhante aqui no meus país ?

  7. I love the cells that silicone brings, but I also love using 2 part resin to make my paintings have that glassy finish. I have read all kinds of tips of how to clean paintings , but still get ‘pits’ from the silicone. I’ve tried using varnish and an isolation coat first — nothing seems to work, so I end up resining twice…. help.

  8. Loving the information. he silicone recipe is giving a ratio of 2 parts paint to 1 part floetrol along with water and silicone. Other info presented here gives a 1 part paint to 2 part floetrol and 1 part water. Why the big difference in ratios? Thanks.

    1. The most important thing in ratios is not to water down the paint mix so much that the structure of the paint is compromised. I hear people say no more than 30 percent of the mix should be water. Personally I think it depends entirely on what kind of paint and how old it is. Cheaper paints tend to break down with way less than 30% water added, plus they crack more when mixed thick and dried. But even if cheap paints are less versatile than many professional artist paints, they still work great to experiment with and still can yield professional looking results. I like creative inspirations brand personally, not just because it is cheap and doesn’t seem to crack for me like many other inexpensive brands have. It just feels like a more expensive paint while I’m using it. The color selection is pretty limited compared to some of the higher end brands. I just got a bunch of 1.8 liter jugs on sale for labor day for 15 dollars a piece. Even within that single brand, some colors seem to accept far more water than others. So I try not to exceed 25 percent water without a good reason, like the paint mix is still too thick for what I’m trying to accomplish or I just want to see what happens.

      Floetrol, amongst other things, slows down the paint drying process. While there is no right or wrong ratio for paint to floetrol, paint definitely acts weird with lots of floetrol in it. Since it can’t dried, paint will just continue to crawl right off the sides no matter how level the canvas is.

      Of course you don’t have to put any floetrol into your mix. Some artists use just paint and water with no other medium and no silicone. Because their paints are the right consistency and their techniques are on point they still get cells if they want cells. Some people use Elmer’s glue or acrylic glaze as a pouring medium. Some add dish soap for the bubbles, to make cells, and to condition the paint. Some add alcohol, alcohol inks, or acrylic inks, and dry pigments into the mix. You can also mix in all of that and add floetrol and silicone. Different additives and ratios yield different results. It all just depends on what your goals are for your project.

      I have tried all sorts of things over time been messing around with acryllics since for about 35 years now and tend to settle for a while on something that I like. Then when I have seen how that ratio mix works when using various different types of pours, and different brands and types of acrylics paint like pearlescents and metallics and color change acrylics, I might decide to try another ratio for a while. I just learn as I go, constantly discovering. I don’t believe there is such thing as a bad pour or a failed result so long as I learned something new.

  9. I ordered some 100% dimethicone and tried ot but barely got any cells at all 🙁 I tried the recipe. Would different acrylic brands matter? I use folk art and apple barrel mostly. I’m a beginner also. Does the treadmill oil work better?

    1. The brand shouldn’t make that much difference. Be careful of Apple Crate white though. It is notorious for cracking. There are so many horror stories about that out there I think there must be a curse on the formula. I also had bad luck with getting a bad batch of red from the same brand once. I don’t use that brand anymore. If you stick to Folk Art white you should be good to go. I do suggest you try creative inspiration brand. It will feel like a huge step up in quality but it is still pretty inexpensive. Do you use floetrol? If you do and aren’t seeing cells then make sure all your paints are getting mixed to the exact same thickness. That should help. Wishing you big beautiful cells!

  10. Kim Horn Blanda

    I think it’s important to let beginners know the painstaking task of cleaning paintings after they cure.

    1. If you are using floetrol and treadmill oil and are still not getting cells, it sounds to me like your paint may be the problem. When you stir and drizzle paint off a stick into the cup, the string of falling paint mix should disappear immediately onto the surface of the paint mix in the cup. If it mounds up first before settling into the surface, the paint is too thick, so add just a couple drops of water at a time and stir well and keep drizzling the surface until you see it get to the right consistency. If the paint string falling off the stick causes an indentation into the paint in the cup before leveling out, the paint is too thin. Add a little more paint and mix well and drizzle. To get a lot of cells, all the colors you use need in the pour need to be the same perfect consistency. Sometimes adding exactly the same amount of water to each paint mix just doesn’t work because some paints are thicker because of the brand or are more pigmented colors or are older and more dried out than others. Hope some this helps you to make beautiful cells!

  11. How long will treadmill oil last when mixed in paint/floetrol, or when I use the left over mixture in a week or so should i add more treadmill oil ?

  12. Cindy Spearman

    I have been painting for 2 years now. Yes, silicone does make great cells but I have also produced great cells without silicone and just torching. I think it is important to let your readers know that when you use silicone, you cannot add a varnish to your painting unless you wash your paintings with soap and water to get rid of the silicone. The varnish will not sit well on the painting and appear dimpled as silicone rejects the varnish. Now I have been able to remove silicone using this method but I have some paintings where I am unable to remove all the silicone and therefore cannot varnish. Also if you want to add a resin finish to your painting do not use silicone because resin and silicone do not mix at all.

  13. You can get pure silicone oil for about 7 dollars off amazon or half that from a hardware store. Why use cancer causing chemicals like b’laster that are also more expensive? If you want to cut the amount or extend the use of the oil, just put a drop of silicone oil in some pouring medium mixed with water. Then use that squirt bottle of spiked medium instead of adding straight silicone oil to your paints.

    1. By the way, to remove silicone, once the paint is completely dry ( I wait at least 3 days) wash with dish soap and water then wiped down after with plain water. Let the surface dry again completely then sprinkle with cornstarch. Shift it around all over the surface. The cornstarch should indicate any remaining silicone. Then you can give it another good wash and rinse concentrating especially in those areas. Eventually, usually after 2 or 3 washes, the surface is free of loose silicone and once completely dry again ( I tend to wait another whole day,) is ready for varnish or resin. You might want to do the cornstarch test one more time in case more silicone has leeched out. It happens occasionally. I have only experienced very minor spotting where the varnish did not adhere. No big deal though. I always give it another coat anyway.

  14. Is there a way to remove silicone that has already been mixed in? I have some premixed pouring paint but accidentally added too much. Can ‘sieve’ it out with cheesecloth maybe?

  15. I’m new to pour painting and having a problems on my canvases getting “holes” in the paint showing bare canvas. Where the paint runs off the sides, these blank spaces are occurring also. Any advice will be greatly appreciated.

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