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soften a glaze with a badger blender blending glazes with a round stippler

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  Using Acrylic Polymer (Water-based) Glazes
Instead of Oil

Like most Decorative Painters, I learned how to glaze walls and do faux finishes with mixtures of linseed oil, varnishes, alkyd glazes and other solvent-based mediums. Since I started as a painter I also had many years prior exposure to solvents in painting airplanes, boats, oil tanks, churches, houses etc. All these years of daily exposure have an accumulative effect which I can feel now every time I work in a room with even mild levels of organic solvents.

Thank goodness it is unnecessary to use oil-based glazes any more for large scale wall finishes. These new acrylic glazes will give you as much or more working time than oil-based glazes without a loss of quality as long as you follow a few simple rules and change your methods slightly.

  1. Acrylic glazes must be applied more thickly than solvent-based glazes so they can keep their open time. Use a quality 3/8" or larger nap roller cover. Throw out the foam rollers. Never use water to thin down an acrylic glaze as it speeds up the drying time.
  2. Acrylic glazes need softening. Because the glazes are much thicker than oil glazes, any texture created by a tool leaves too sharp an edge, too much contrast. The glaze needs to be softened out after texturing. Use a badger blender or soft, high quality, square paint brush. Some finishes such as bagging or ragging do not need to be softened but most look better if you do. Negative sponging almost always needs blending because of the bubbles created by the sponge.
  3. Keep all air movement down to a minimum. Stop fans, close windows etc., if the glaze is drying faster than it should.
  4. Just because a base paint is dry does not mean it is "cured". If the latex basecoat is not 100% dry (2 or 3 days), tiny bubbles or "cissing" can occur in your wet glaze. Let the paint dry for a few days before glazing. Try to use the same paints all the time so you will understand their properties. Some base paints (like Benjamin-Moore's Aqua-glo, Aqua Pearl and Velvet) can actually grab on to a glaze like an unprimed surface if they are not fully cured. Best yet, use a paint with a high or 100% acrylic content.

Coloring Glazes

No matter what glaze you use, be sure to read the instructions first to see what is recommended for coloring. Don't pay much attention to what the can says in terms of open time because they all exaggerate to excess.

  • Use pre-mixed colors or mix your own with acrylic pigments. This lets a glaze stay open for the longest time possible. The best acrylic colorants I have found are Golden's Fluid acrylics or Polyvine's colourisers. These are highly saturated, pigmented acrylic paints in a fluid form that can can be added directly to glazes. Their viscosity is almost like ink.
  • Use colored satin or semi-gloss interior house paint at a ratio of no more than 5 parts glaze to 1 part paint (5:1). A good starting mixture is 10:1 and add more colored paint as needed. Too much paint will speed up the drying times. A house paint will always add a chalky or dusty look to a glaze. Satin or higher sheened paint will make for a more durable glaze but adding a flat paint will keep the overall finish sheen down to a minimum.
  • Use care with glycol-based pigments like Universal Colorants, Cal-tints, Tints-all, etc. They can interfere with the carefully balanced chemistry of the slow-drying acrylic glazes and may keep them from curing at all. I can attest to this without going into the miserable details (Golden Glaze). You can use these colorants in the cheaper latex glazes and in some acrylic glazes. Some of the new extender glazes like "Wetedge" can take small amounts of UTC pigments for additional open time but use with care.

Acrylic Glazes

Most quality acrylic glazes dry very clear and durable without any additives. When you use paint as a colorant, acrylic glazes do not shift the color lighter or darker and will dry with out losing the clarity of the color.

The Golden Artist Paint Company came out with a new line of products called the Proceed Decorative Painting System. Two of the new products are glazes called Low Viscosity and Full Bodied Glazing Mediums. The Low Viscosity glazing medium has the feel of an oil glaze and is meant for subtle glazing techniques and the Full Bodied will hold an edge better the texturing techniques like ragging, stria, bagging , etc.

Polyvine's glazes are called Scumbles and they have great open times: Tropical and Regular. They are expensive but well worth it for walls over eight feet high. These glazes can also be used as additives to other water-based glazes to increase working time but never use paint to color these "Scumbles"..., only acrylics. Tropical scumble can take up to three days to dry under humid conditions. One nice thing about the Polyvine line is that they are all intermixable and you can adjust any of their products to suit your needs. They are made in England. About $95/gal.

McCloskies has a line of water-based glazes out and I find their working properties to be identical to Golden's. All of their colors are pre-mixed. The base paints they sell have a high acrylic content and are good for using under acrylic glazes.They will not sell gallons in many states.

Glazes that use Paint as a colorant

I only recommend glazes that give a reasonable working time. This is so that we can duplicate the same techniques we use with oil. This list does not include any of the main stream paint store latex glazes because they dry in a matter of minutes.

Modern Masters has an excellent glaze called "Extender" that is made to be colored with house paint. They only sell quarts in most states.

Polyvine makes "Classic Colour" which is specifically formulated to be used with latex paint as a colorant. It actually needs some paint in it to help it dry. It stays open for a long time even with paint as a colorant and has good working properties. One downside to this glaze is that it is not very durable and needs to be sealed with a water-based varnish if you want the walls to be washed afterwards. About $75/gal.


Increasing "Open Time"

  1. Use a sheened base coat. Some Finishers I know always use a satin paint for their base coats and then finish the project with a dead-flat water- based varnish. Intil you become proficient at applying acrylic glazes, it is best if you apply them over a base paint with at least an eggshell sheen to it. Do not try to work over a flat paint unless you know it is of high quality. Builder's Paint is NOT high quality.
  2. There is a new extender out called "Extend-All" that works very well with acrylic glazes and does not affect their durability. I gave up on Floetrol years ago and am not very impressed by the Zinsser Blend 'n Glaze. Many artist acrylic manufacturers like Liquitex and Golden Artist make available an acrylic extender that works well with care. These are all basically propylene glycol additives.
  3. You can mix and match most of these water-based glazes to suit your purpose. I have also found that by using a quart of Polyvine Classic Colour or Modern Masters Extender to a gallon of water-based glaze, more open time can be gained in very dry climates without the glaze becoming stiff and unworkable. The glaze mixture can then be applied very thinly for more elegant effects like "Chinese Lacquer Paper" or subtle parchments.
  4. Roll the clear glaze on first, then blend the colored glaze into it. This is a good strategy for walls over 12 feet high. This is called a "slip glaze".


The Keys to Color theory book Dean's new book "The Keys to Color; A Decorators Handbook for coloring Paints, Plasters and Glazes is now available at Amazon and at the blog site here
All your decorative painting needs


Edited August, 2012

Good Luck and please write with any questions/comments.

— Dean Sickler

Pingo Ergo Sum