You will have likely heard the term ‘pouring medium’ used in acrylic pour painting, but what is a pouring medium, is there more than one kind and why do we use it?
Folks with art backgrounds may already know about mediums, but we know from personal experience that most newcomers have lots of questions about this topic. With that in mind, we wanted to address some of the most common questions, including the following:
What is a pouring medium?
Why do we use pouring mediums instead of just adding water?
Are all pouring mediums the same?
What are the best ones?
Should I stick to one or use several? And how do I choose?
Read on to find all the answers and to see the pouring mediums we recommend to artists of all levels!
What is a pouring medium?
A pouring medium is an additive used to improve paints. By “improve,” we mean that the pouring medium makes acrylic paints pour more smoothly and improves their consistency. It acts as both a diluting agent and a binder.
Pouring mediums give us smoother flow and help paints with a mix of colors act more uniformly. They also improve the overall integrity of your paints, so that they dry and finish without cracking, separating, or fading. Essentially, a pouring medium makes acrylics easier to work with and more suitable for the pouring techniques we love so much!
Why do we use pouring mediums instead of just adding water?
We’ve all used water at one point or another to thin acrylics. It’s a simple, easy, and inexpensive way to make paint easier to work with–especially when you’re pouring!
However, using water has some big downsides. It dilutes colors, so your paints look washed-out when they’re on the canvas. It also dilutes the binding agents in your paints, which means they won’t stick as well to canvases—and God forbid you try to use watered-down paints on tougher surfaces like driftwood!
Water can’t completely bind with paint, either, so it results in an uneven consistency when you start working with your thinned acrylics. With water, you may find that your paints flake and lift off the canvas when they dry. Layers won’t stick to each other, either.
Overall, your paintings probably won’t have the same vibrancy, consistency, and quality that they ought to. What’s more, they won’t stay looking good for long. Water affects the pigments, binders, and finish when dry.
A good pouring medium gives you the fluid dynamics you want from water-thinned paints while making sure the paint retains its integrity and vibrancy. When you use a pouring medium, you won’t need much water, if any, to make your paints flow the way you want.
There are a number of advantages to working with these additives. Pouring mediums actually bind to the paints, unlike water. There’s no separation or weakening. In fact, mediums can strengthen paints and prevent cracking/crazing!
They don’t sacrifice color, either. As long as you stick to reasonable ratios of paint to medium, you should see results with very satisfying color depth!
A pouring medium may also extend the drying time of the paint, making it easier to work on your painting for a longer time or to create faux finishes. You get a valuable window to perfect your cells, finish up the edges of your canvas, and do any last-minute tweaks that strike your fancy!
Are all pouring mediums the same?
Not at all! There’s quite a range of pouring mediums out there for you to try. Mediums vary widely, and while their primary purpose is to improve the fluid dynamics of your paints, they also serve some other practical purposes.
You might add a glossy medium to change the way your piece looks when dry. Or, you might just stick with your primary medium and add a glossy varnish later.
Most pouring mediums fall under the “all-purpose” category. They’re general “improvers” for your paints. They’ll help with consistency, flow, and binding. Floetrol and Liquitex, two of the most common pouring mediums, are good examples of all-purpose products.
There are also a number of more specific products on the market. They’re usually intended to be used alongside an all-purpose medium. These are mostly preservatives (for adding longevity to archival pieces), or more visually oriented products, such as a gloss medium.
So, which mediums are the best?
Liquitex Pouring Medium – Liquitex is the best-known brand and product on the art market. It’s specifically aimed at artists, unlike Floetrol and some of the other products. You’ll find that a lot of painters use this and won’t consider anything else! It’s generally considered to be the best all-purpose medium, though opinions vary as wildly as prices!
As acrylic pouring has become more popular, Liquitex has had trouble keeping up with demand. This product has often been out of stock. Artists are also reporting that prices have risen sharply because of the demand, as retailers realize that it’s become a very popular product.Click to check current prices
One could also make the case that Liquitex comes with a fairly steep markup simply because it’s an “art” product, while the comparable Floetrol (considered more of a “contractor” product) is sold cheaply and in large quantities at most hardware stores. So, if you’re on a tight budget, you might want to opt for Floetrol instead of Liquitex.
Floetrol– This is the hardware store alternative to Liquitex, GAC800 (see below), and the other “art” brand offerings. Floetrol is sold primarily as a paint extender for contractors and house painters.
It thins paints for spraying and extends drying time for creating faux finishes. It’s totally inert when dry and has excellent longevity. Floetrol is available quite cheaply and in larger quantities than Liquitex.
While most experts will make the case that Liquitex is a better medium, Floetrol will work just as well for beginner and intermediate artists. Many pourers use this as a standalone all-purpose pouring medium.
You can also use it as an additional additive along with one of the other all-purpose mediums, since it promotes the formation of cells. A lot of experienced artists will use Floetrol alongside Liquitex for that purpose!
You can learn even more about Floetrol, and see how to use it in practice by visiting our guide here: https://acrylicpouring.com/acrylic-pouring-floetrol-recipe-included/
Novaplex 233 – This product is offered by a small company in California. It’s a fairly popular and economical alternative to Liquitex. Shipping prices can be quite high, though. You’ll also have to deal with ordering directly from the company, since Novaplex isn’t sold on Amazon.
Note: This company also has a great range of paints! They’re a preferred brand of YouTube favorite artist Caren Goodrich.
GAC800 – This is Golden brand’s equivalent of the Liquitex Product. It’s especially designed for pouring techniques and artists like us. The Golden product sets itself apart from Liquitex in that it’s formulated to be used in a very high ratio compared to paint, up to 10 parts GAC800 to 1 part fluid acrylic! Most of us don’t work with ratios that extreme, but it’s certainly a reason to try the Golden product out as you experiment! Golden has their own formula for pouring that includes GAC800 and alcohol here. Like Liquitex, GAC800 will prevent or limit cracking and crazing and thick layers of paints.
PVA Glue – This common glue is what you’ll find in most art classrooms. It’s used by several popular YouTubers, though it’s not particularly popular in the working artist community. PVA glue, such as Elmer’s Glue All in the US, can be used to make a very inexpensive DIY pouring medium. It does all the basics fairly well, and has all the binding ability you’d expect from an adhesive!
If you’re trying to be thrifty or you’re just starting out, this is a good way to experiment without investing much money. Having said that, you should know that this product is slightly acidic, and your resulting paintings will not be “archival quality.” There are any number of reasons that experienced and professional pouring artists tend to choose a “real” medium over glue.
Book Binders Glue –This is a neutral PH alternative to the regular PVA glue, and suitable for archival quality paintings as a result. If you like working with glue instead of a special pouring medium like Liquitex, this will help you keep doing so without sacrificing the longevity of your pieces!
Sargent Art Gloss Medium – This is a less well-known product which is one of those more specialized mediums we mentioned above. It’s an excellent clear coat for finishing pieces, but you can also mix in a splash along with an all-purpose medium to add some extra sheen to acrylics.
Lineco 901 This product helps preserve acrylics for archival paintings, so it’s a good thing to add to pieces you’ll sell. With that said, Floetrol and Liquitex do a good job of preserving a piece’s integrity by themselves. Some artists may consider Lineco overkill for that reason.
Should I stick to one medium or several? And how do I choose?
As you start your acrylic pouring journey, it’s a great idea to experiment with a range of different mediums. You’ll want to use paints from different brands to find your favorite colors, and you’ll want to play with a range of pouring mediums for the same reason! Eventually you’ll find one that clicks with you and your process.
Most experienced pour painters will have their favorite product or favorite paint “recipe” and will usually not deviate from it. That’s because they can be sure (as much as you can be) of getting a repeatable and consistent result when they pour.
Our advice to you: Start with either whatever medium is available to you logistically or what’s within your budget, and test it out with your favorite brands of paints to see if you like the results. Try a few of your own side-by-side comparisons and see if the premium products work better and are worth the extra investment for you.
You probably don’t want to use more than two pouring mediums or additives, as a general rule. For example, most people use an all-purpose medium (such as Liquitex or Floetrol) and then a more specific additive, like the Sargent Art Gloss to give a shiny finish or some silicone oil for better cells.
When you start mixing lots of different mediums and additives, it becomes much harder to predict how your results will turn out. There’s also a point at which the various products overlap and serve the same purpose. You could get the same results with a simpler recipe.
Overwhelmed by the options? Let us break it down:
For beginners on a tight budget: PVA glue, such as Elmer’s.
For the average beginner or intermediate artist: Floetrol.
For the ambitious beginner, or for anyone who simply wants the best all-purpose medium: Liquitex
Note from Deby Coles, AcrylicPouring.com founder:
I tend to stick with one, or maybe two mediums in my recipe, although I’ve seen some painters use six or more different additives in their paints. I don’t personally see the need for that although each has different properties and you might want to mix and match and get the properties of each. You will find it much easier starting out to just use a single medium, get used to working with that one and then switch out or change your mix once you are more experienced.
A Note on Costs
Many of these mediums, and others are available on Amazon. We’ve made a handy comparison page which lists many of the common choices. Included are Floetrol, GAC800, Liquitex Pouring Medium, gloss mediums from Sax and Sargent Art, PVA glue, bookbinders glue, and more.
Remember to shop by unit price! It can get super confusing when you start seeing different bottle sizes and value packs, so keep your eyes on the unit price—the price per ounce, for example—to make sure you have a way to gauge prices between brands, bottle sizes, and so on!
We hope we’ve answered all your questions about pouring mediums! They can be a confusing subject for many beginners, but they’ll make your pours much easier to work with and your results that much better. Let us know if you think we’ve missed something! Feel free to share in the comments about your favorite pouring mediums or any differences you’ve observed working with these products.