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How To Layer Acrylic Paint

Layering acrylic paint will allow you to create stunning visuals and textures that can’t be achieved through any other medium.

From building up colors in bold shapes and patterns, to creating blended background nuances, there are endless possibilities for the artist who takes their time with this versatile medium – and today, we’re going to discuss how to layer acrylic paint.

If you want a beautiful, creative way to express your artistic talents, look no further than layering acrylic paint.

What Is a Painting Layer?

In painting, a layer refers to a single coat of paint applied on top of a previous layer or base.

The layering technique involves applying many layers of paint to create depth, texture, and complexity in a painting.

Each layer can vary in thickness, color, and transparency, allowing artists to manipulate the visual effect of their work.

Building up layers also allows for corrections, adjustments, and refinement of the painting as it progresses.

The number of layers used and the order of application impact the final result of a painting.

Can You Layer Acrylic Paint?

Yes, you can layer acrylic paint. Layering involves applying many coats of paint on top of each other to create depth, texture, and complexity. Acrylic paint dries fast, which lets you build up layers and make corrections or adjustments as they work.

Advantages of Layering Acrylic Paint

The following are some of the benefits of layering acrylic paint:

i. Builds texture

By layering acrylic paint, artists can create texture and depth in their paintings. You can build players in varying thicknesses and textures, such as impasto or scumbling, to add visual interest and complexity.

ii. Corrects mistakes

Acrylic paint is forgiving and allows for corrections to even after the paint has dried. Layering will cover up mistakes or make adjustments to the composition.

iii. Enhances color vibrancy

Acrylic paint is good for its vibrant colors, and layering can enhance the saturation and depth of these colors.

By layering with transparent or translucent colors, you create luminosity and richness in your work.

iv. Allows for experimentation

Additionally, you can experiment with different techniques by layering with acrylic paint.

It also allows for the exploration of different layering styles and order to create unique effects in a painting.

v. Increases durability

Building up layers of acrylic paint increases the durability and longevity of a painting.

The layers protect the surface from wear and tear, and the acrylic paint resists fading, cracking, and yellowing over time.

Color Theory and Palette Selection

Color theory and palette selection are essential for artists working with acrylics, oils, or other mediums. It refers to the principles of mixing and how different colors interact.

Understanding color theory can help artists create harmonious and visually appealing compositions. When selecting a color palette for a painting, I consider different factors.

One of the most important is the mood or emotion I’d love to convey. Warm colors like reds, oranges, and yellows can create a sense of energy and excitement.

Yet, cool colors like blues and greens can create a sense of calmness and tranquility. Neutral colors such as grays and browns can balance out brighter colors or create a sense of sophistication.

I also check on the color contrast. Complementary colors (colors opposite each other on the color wheel, such as red and green) create a sense of tension and energy when used together.

Analogous colors (colors next to each other on the color wheel, such as blue and green) create a sense of harmony and unity.

How to Layer Acrylic Paint on a Canvas

This section provides step-by-step instructions on how to layer acrylic paint on a canvas and achieve stunning results.

Use Gesso for Priming Your Canvas

Using gesso to layer acrylic paint

Before you begin painting, prime your canvas with gesso. This will create a smooth surface for the paint and help prevent the colors from bleeding together.

Apply two coats of gesso, allowing each coat to dry completely before applying the next. Cover the entire painting on the canvas.

Cover the ‘Ground’ with a Broad Brush

Start by covering your canvas with a broad brush and thin layers of color, working from dark to light. Then, lay down an underpainting that will form the groundwork for your painting.

Remember that this layer should be loose and gestural, creating a ‘ground’ for the painting.

Block in the Basic Shapes

Next, draw the basic shapes of your composition with paint. Keep the brushstrokes simple and direct, as you still block the main elements. Don’t worry about small details or shading at this stage.

Start at the Top

When working with acrylic paint, start from the top and work your way down, layering one color over another.

This will help ensure the colors stay vibrant and don’t mix together too much.

Paint Dark Before Light

When adding layers of color, start with the darker colors first and layer in lighter colors as you go.

This ensures that the dark colors don’t get lost in the lighter hues and provide a base for the highlights.

Draw Quickly Before the Paint Dries

Acrylic paint dries fast; so work faster when layering the colors. Draw your brushstrokes boldly before the paint has time to dry.

Seal it with a Glossy Layer

When you are finished painting, seal your acrylic paint on canvas with a glossy layer of varnish. This will protect the paint from scratches, fading, and dust. Make sure to use a good-quality varnish for best results.

Layering Acrylic Painting Techniques

Here are some of the basic acrylic painting techniques while layering:

1. Acrylic Paint Washes

Acrylic paint washes are created by diluting acrylic paints with water. This allows a thin, translucent layer of paint to be applied all over the surface.

It is pivotal in creating subtle gradations in color and texture and layered with other techniques for more dynamic effects.

When using this technique, be sure to layer your washes so that the underlying layers can dry before continuing.

2. Glazing

Glazing is a technique where multiple thin layers of transparent acrylic paint are applied on top of one another to create more depth and richness in color.

Each layer should be dry before adding the next one, allowing the colors to mix and mingle.

This technique is often used to create a sense of atmosphere and luminescence in the artwork.

3. Scumbling

Scumbling is a dry-brush painting technique with thin acrylic paint layers applied in an irregular, crisscross pattern.

The resulting texture can represent foliage or other natural elements within a painting.

4. Blending Acrylic Paints

Blending acrylic paints involves mixing colors together and brushing the paint on in a single continuous motion.

This creates a smooth, blended surface. This technique is perfect for creating landscapes or other subtle scenes where you want to represent depth and distance.

5. Sgraffito

Sgraffito is an Italian word meaning “to scratch”. This painting technique involves scratching off layers of dried acrylic paint to reveal the colors beneath.

It is often used to create texture and pattern in a painting and fun effects like cartoon-like outlines or shadows.

6. Acrylic paint stained onto raw canvas or fabric

This technique involves applying acrylic paints direct onto a canvas or fabric surface.

The resulting texture is often mottled, featuring raised areas and unpredictable color gradations. The method is ideal for creating landscapes abstract paintings with a rustic.

7. Short, loose brushstrokes

Short, loose brushstrokes are created by if you sweep the brush across the surface too fast.

This technique best suits abstract art as it allows unexpected textures and color combinations to be created without trying too hard.

8. Impasto

Impasto is a painting technique where thick layers of acrylic paint are applied directly onto canvas or other surfaces.

An uneven texture is used to create shadows and other dramatic effects.

Related Post: How to Make Acrylic Paint Thicker

9. Acrylic color over color with unthinned paint

Applying thick layers of acrylic paint directly onto the canvas in different colors without thinning it with water or mediums. The result is a vivid, colorful surface that creates bold and vibrant works of art.

10. Pointillism

Pointillism is a painting technique where you apply tiny dots of color to the surface to create an image.

This method allows you to mix and combine colors in unexpected ways, creating a sense of vibrancy and energy.

11. Washes over dark-painted lines

This method involves applying washes of acrylic paint over dark-painted lines to create a unique and interesting effect.

This is often used for creating organic or abstract shapes and adding layers of texture and pattern to a painting.

12. Splattering

Splattering includes flicking or throwing thinned acrylic paint onto the canvas to create a textured, dynamic background.

This technique is great for creating abstract art and adding interest and movement to any painting.

13. Brayer painting

This technique involves rolling a textured roller, known as a brayer, across the canvas or paper to apply paint.

The brayer transfers a thin, even layer of acrylic color onto the surface, creating interesting and unique textures.

Use soft pressure when using this technique because it can lead to air bubbles and unwanted results.

For best results, use a different layer for each color and ensure they are clean between colors.

14. Paper towel blotting and wiping

You lightly hold a paper towel against the canvas or paper as you apply wet paint. This creates an interesting effect that is usually unpredictable, leading to beautiful and unique results.

Paper towels are great for wiping paint off the canvas or paper when desired. Use very light pressure to ensure you achieve the desired result.

15. Scraping

While Scraping, use a palette knife or other hard object, like a putty knife. Scrape off excess paint from the surface of the canvas or paper while it is still wet.

This creates an interesting texture that you can manipulate and enhance with more layers of paint. Practice this technique on a separate paper or canvas before using it on the final work.

16. Dripping

This technique involves dripping wet paint from a brush onto the canvas or paper. As such, you allow the thin layers of color to run and mix together in unique ways.

Practice this technique on a separate piece of paper or canvas before using it on the final work, and use a variety of sizes of brushes and drips.

17. Quick Monoprints

Apply a thick layer of wet paint onto a non-absorbent surface, such as a plastic sheet or glass, and then transfer it onto the canvas or paper below.

You can do this by pressing the paper or canvas onto the paint-covered surface or placing a hard object between the paper and the paint-covered surface.

While this method is unpredictable, it can create interesting and unique effects on the final artwork.

18. Masking

This layering acrylic painting technique involves using masking tape to cover up portions of the canvas or paper as you apply wet paint.

The tape will protect those areas, preventing them from becoming part of the painting. This creates interesting textures and contours on a piece of artwork.

19. Hyper-Realism and Photo-Realism

These techniques need you to create realistic depictions of people, objects, or scenes.

You’ll apply many layers of paint and intricate details that you need to apply to achieve the desired effect. You need a great deal of patience, practice, and skill to master them.

Read also: How to sketch on canvas.

Tips for Layering Acrylic Paint

Thin Layers: When layering acrylic paint, use thin layers of paint to get the best results. Applying too much paint at once can lead to clumps, blobs, and an uneven finish. Start by adding a thin layer of paint and let it dry before adding more if necessary. In case you experience clumps, here is how to fix chunky paint.

Allow Layers to Dry Before Adding More: Let each layer dry completely before adding more layers of paint. Acrylic paints dry fast, but if the layers are too thick or not given enough time to dry, they can cause cracking and unevenness in your painting.

Experiment with Different Brushes: Layering acrylic paint can be done with various brushes. You can experiment with different brush sizes, shapes, and textures can help achieve different effects.

Use Different Techniques for Different Effects: There are many techniques that can be used to layer acrylic paint, such as dry brushing, wet on wet, fading, and more. Each can be used to create a different effect, and it is important to practice these techniques to get the desired results.

Use Gels and Pastes: For an even more dramatic effect, use gels or pastes to add texture and depth to your painting. You can apply this on top of already dried paint layers or mix it with the wet acrylics to create interesting patterns and textures.

Add a Final Layer of Varnish: Once you have achieved the desired effect from layering acrylic paints, protect the paint with a final layer of varnish. This seals your work and keeps it safe from dust, dirt, and other environmental factors.

Experiment: Don’t be afraid to experiment with acrylic paints. Try different techniques and layering processes to discover new ways of creating beautiful art.

See Also: Can You Dye Clothes With Acrylic Paint

Creating Special Effects

Layering acrylic paint can create various special effects that can enhance the final visual appeal of a painting.

Adding mediums and additives to the paint increases viscosity and alters drying times, resulting in different textures and finishes.

Acrylic mediums such as modeling paste, gel mediums, and impasto mediums can create thick, textured layers that add depth and dimension to the painting.

Impasto effects can be achieved by applying thick layers of paint and creating brush strokes that are visible on the surface.

This is achievable by layering acrylic paint using a palette knife, squeegee, or other tools.

Applying successive layers of paint with varying thicknesses and textures creates interesting and dynamic effects.

Using additives like sand or glass beads in the paint mixture can create unique textures that add interest to the surface of the painting.

You may decide to create to mix acrylic paint with water, alcohol, or other solvents to create a range of finishes, from matte to glossy. (Here’s how to mix acrylic paint with water).

Troubleshooting Common Layering Issues

The following are some of the common layering issues and suggestions to fix the problem:


If you are experiencing cracking in your acrylic layers, it could be due to a few different issues.

One possibility is that you are applying thick layers, which can cause the paint to crack as it dries. Another possibility is that you are not allowing enough drying time between layers.

To prevent cracking, try applying thinner layers of paint and allow each layer to dry fully before adding another.


Your acrylic layer is peeling off because of poor adhesion. Higher chances are you have not done enough surface preparation on the painting surface, or you’re not using a primer.

To fix this issue, try sanding down the surface and applying a layer of primer before adding your layers of paint.

Colors becoming muddy or blended together

This can happen when colors mix too much on the palette or when you add too many layers without allowing each to dry completely.

Avoid this by mixing colors bit by bit and allowing each layer to dry before adding more colors.

Uneven or patchy coverage

If you are not using enough paint or not applying it evenly you will have uneven or patchy coverage.

So, use more paint and apply it in thin, even layers, letting each layer dry each layer to dry completely before adding the next.


Imgae of Brush strokes on acrylic Paint

If your layers of acrylic paint show visible brushstrokes, it could be you are using a low-quality or an old brush.

Get yourself a good quality brush and try to apply your layers of paint in even, smooth strokes.

You can also try switching to a different medium, such as spray paint or airbrush, to help reduce visible brushstrokes.

Drying and Curing

Acrylic paint drying and curing are two different processes. Drying is the time it takes for the paint to dry on the surface while curing refers to the time it takes to harden and form a durable film.

During the drying period, handle the painting with care to avoid smudging or disturbing the surface.

Placing the painting in a dust-free and well-ventilated area will help prevent dust and debris from settling on the wet paint.

Please note that thicker layers of acrylic paint will take longer to dry and cure than thinner layers.

Using a hairdryer or heat gun to speed up the drying process may cause the paint to bubble or crack.

The curing process of acrylic paint can take up to several weeks or even months, depending on the thickness of the layers and the environment.

Once the paint has fully cured, it will be more resistant to moisture, heat, and other elements.

Proper handling and care during the drying and curing period can help ensure the longevity and durability of the painting.

Avoid exposing the painting to extreme temperatures, humidity, or direct sunlight.

Varnishing and Finishing Touches

Varnishing is a crucial step in the painting process as it helps to protect the acrylic layer from dust, dirt, UV light, and other environmental factors that can cause discoloration and damage over time.

It also helps to enhance the painting’s colors, contrast, and texture, giving it a more professional finish.

There are different types of varnishes available for acrylic paintings, including gloss, matte, and satin finishes.

Gloss varnish provides a high-shine finish, while matte varnish gives a flat, non-reflective finish. Satin varnish offers a mid-range between the two.

Choose a varnish that complements the style and aesthetic of the painting. When applying varnish, ensure that the painting is completely dry and cured. Varnishing too early can cause the acrylic layer to become cloudy or smudge.

Use a clean, soft brush or roller to apply the varnish in thin, even layers, allowing each coat to dry completely before applying the next.

Related Post: How to Get Dry Acrylic Paint Out of Brushes

Layering Acrylic Paint Abstract

To create a layered abstract painting, as an artist, you should start with a primed canvas and apply several layers of paint. This way, every layer adds to the complexity of the final image.

I create my layers with different transparent acrylic painting techniques, such as dripping, scraping, or applying paint with a palette knife.

One of the advantages of layering acrylic paint in abstract art is that it allows the artist to experiment with color and texture.

By layering different colors and adding texture, the artist can create a unique piece of art full of depth and interest.

In abstract art, the layering of acrylic paint can be used to create a range of effects, from bold and graphic to subtle and nuanced.

It allows you to play with the interplay between colors, shapes, and textures, creating dynamic and visually engaging artwork.


How to layer acrylic paint for pouring

To layer acrylic paint for pouring, prepare the canvas or other surface you’ll be working on. Once the canvas is ready, pour a thin layer of clear medium onto the area you want to work with. Next, mix your desired colors together in small cups, but only mix a small amount of paint in each cup. Then, layer the colors onto the canvas by carefully pouring each color from its cup into the area you want it to cover.

How to layer acrylic paint for carving

Layering acrylic paint for carving involves building layers of paint on a surface and then carving away the top layers to reveal the colors underneath. To achieve this technique, choose colors that will contrast well. The first layer should be light, with each followed by darker ones.

How many layers of acrylic paint on canvas

Applying 2-4 layers of acrylic paint for most canvas surfaces is the best. However, the number of layers depends on the type and texture of the canvas as well as the desired effect you want to achieve. If you’re using a thicker, textured canvas surface, then you may need to apply more than 4 layers.

Can you layer acrylic paint over oil paint?

It is not advisable to layer acrylic paint over oil painting. Acrylic paints are water-based, while oil paints are oil-based, and the two mediums do not mix well. The acrylic paint blending is not guaranteed, and the layer may not adhere to the oil paint. Over time, the acrylic layer may crack and peel away from the oil paint surface.

How long does it take for acrylic paint to dry between layers?

The drying time of acrylic paint depends on the layer’s thickness and the area’s temperature and humidity. Thin layers of paint will take 15-30 minutes to dry completely, while thicker layers may take up to a few hours. If the temperature and humidity are high, you may need to wait longer for the paint to dry.

How to create layers in a black canvas painting

To create layers in a black canvas painting, start with a base layer of black paint and let it dry. Then, add additional layers of different colors or shades on top, allowing each layer to dry before applying the next. Repeat this process to achieve desired depth and dimension.


Now you have the essentials to create a bold and beautiful work of art with layers of acrylic paint. Before getting started, prepare your canvas by priming the surface first.

You can then layer your acrylic paint with varying water pressure and consistency and experiment with tools like airbrushes or sponges to achieve distinct textures.

Create something new and unique each time, as it will be fun to learn and explore while playing with different effects. Layered acrylic painting offers endless possibilities—you need the stage and some basic practice.

So unleash your creativity and show off what you can do when creating depth in your artwork.


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