Making translucent paints more opaque

Making translucent paints more opaque

by Esther Kaplan
(Ft. Myers, FL)

Reader Question: I see you use bright colors on most of your work and I am trying to learn through practice with your inspiration, but have run into two issues:

  1. First and most important, have you found particularly bright opaque paints or is there something you do to prep the board (or your paint) to make your colors appear opaque? (My paints come out translucent, and I have found that in some cases the number of coats would still not do the trick.)

  2. Second, when doing your abstracts do you always work from the largest object to the smallest in order to cover the entire board?

  3. Do you lay down a background color to ensure the entire picture is covered with color?

  4. If I haven't already asked too much, will a steady hand come with practice (as in doing detail work, or when making smooth lines and curves).

Thanks for any instruction. It is much appreciated.

Sincerely, Esther Kaplan

response to question
Hi Esther,

I'm happy to help! Here are the answers to your questions, in order:

  1. The paints I use are Liquitex Heavy Body Acrylics and Golden Heavy Body Acrylics, both of which are artist-quality, high pigmented paints. I like them because the colors are strong and vibrant. When I use these paints to create abstract art, I use them straight from the tube and just dilute them with water as needed – I don't use any additives, gels or mediums to make them more opaque than they already are.

    I don't know what brand you use, but if your paints appear translucent on the canvas, it may be due to the paint having more filler and less pigment. The exact ratio of pigment to filler can vary from brand to brand, but in general the Artist Quality paints will have more pigment than the Student Quality paints.

    With that said, there are some pigments that are naturally more translucent than others. For instance, Quinacridone Crimson always comes out rather translucent, regardless of the brand. To make the color more opaque for my abstract paintings, I mix it with another similar color. For instance, I'll mix Quinacridone Crimson with a touch of Cadmium Red to make the crimson appear stronger and more opaque. After it dries, if I want to darken the shade a bit, I'll add another coat of straight crimson over top.

    Any pigments with these in their names will be on the translucent side, no matter what the brand: Quinacridone, Naphthamide, Phthalo, Hansa and Anthraquinone.

    One tip for getting brighter colors with your acrylics is to gesso your surface several times before painting. Try applying 3-4 coats of white gesso to your next blank canvas and see if that makes any difference in the strength of your colors when you paint.

  2. When painting abstracts (such as the one demonstrated in this tutorial), I do in general work from the largest shapes to the smallest shapes. I'll paint a large shape, then over that I'll paint a somewhat smaller shape, then over that I'll paint an even smaller shape, etc. I find that this technique is easier than trying to paint a lot of smaller shapes side by side.

  3. Sometimes I'll lay out a single background color over the entire canvas, but most often I'll fill the canvas with a series of various large shapes in different colors until the canvas is covered with color. You could try it either way to fill your canvas, as both ways are good!

  4. Yes, a steady hand will come with practice as you get used to painting. The more you paint, the easier it will become to do detailed work and to make smooth lines and curves. When I look back at some of my early paintings, I can clearly see that I did not have the same control over my paints as I do now. It just takes practice! :)

I hope that helps! Happy Painting!


Comments for Making translucent paints more opaque

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Feb 08, 2011
by: esther kaplan

Exactly the information I was needing to know to move my process of learning along. Thank you. Sincerely, Esther

Feb 15, 2011
Sometimes Gesso IN the paint works
by: Dar Hosta

Hey Thaneeya, These are great tips... sometimes I add a drop of Gesso right into the color that is too translucent. Not too much, not enough to change the color to a pastel, just to give it some opacity. Do you think this works?

Feb 16, 2011
Adding gesso to make paint more opaque
by: Thaneeya

Hi Dar,

Yeah, adding a touch of acrylic gesso can help make the paint more opaque. That's a great suggestion.

I've also sometimes used a touch of white acrylics to make the more translucent paints become more opaque. There is a fine balance though before the paints take on a more pastel color, as you mentioned.

All in all adding a bit of gesso should be fine!


Jul 15, 2011
by: Anonymous

How about just buying dry pigment and adding it to the acrylic to make it heavier? (Haven't tried, just thinking out loud. I know some artists mix their own paint.)

I also use paint markers (enamels I believe) for some finishing touches since those will cover anything. However, since they're in a marker form, they'll be good for lines and straight-edged shapes, not so much for fades and flares.

Jul 15, 2011
by: Anonymous

I also use Golden paints but if you click on the link you provided, you can see they come with a sample stripe towards the top of the tube (with 3 black stripes underneath to show the opacity) and as you can tell, none of the colors cover really well...:( (you can still see the black stripes through really well)

Oct 05, 2013
Thank you.
by: Anonymous

I've been searching and searching, trying to find an answer to the question about eliminating the transparency in acrylics. You provided a clear and simple answer...thank you.

Feb 03, 2014
Steady hand
by: Michel Ditlovehiccup

If you learn to keep your arm as stiff and straight as possible, and draw from the shoulder, meaning that you don't bend your wrist and use the shoulder in the way you would use a compass, you will get a steadier smoother line. As was said earlier, as you paint and draw more and more, you will get steadier.
In this manner, you will find that you "can draw a straight line" as well as a perfect circle.

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