Using Acrylic Paints in an Altered Book


Acrylic paints are the paint of choice for many altered book artists.

altered book using acrylic paints In the image to the left, transparent Jacquard Lumiere paint applied to the background pages provides some color, while permitting images and text from the original book to show through.

Acrylic paints contain acrylic resin (a polymer or plastic). Today's acrylics are water-based -- making them safer and more convenient than solvent-based paints.

What It Is

The vehicle is a combination of water and acrylic polymer; the binder is acrylic polymer. Pigments add the color.

Many altered book artists consider acrylic paints to be versatile, economical, safe, and easy to use. These paints stick to almost any surface, meaning you can use them to paint on practically anything. Also, they are flexible, so cracking is less problematic than with oil paints. The colors dry quickly, do not yellow, and have soap and water clean up. Once dried, you can remove acrylic paints with mineral spirits, turpentine or acetone.

Perhaps most importantly, acrylic paints adjust, allowing you to create endless effects with additives or media. With the right additives, you can get an amazing range of effects, from transparent washes to heavy impastos, to marbling, and many others. You can obtain matte, semi-gloss or glossy finishes. You can brush, trowel, spray, pour, splatter, scrape or carve acrylics.

Tips for Using Acrylic Paints

  • Use a minimum of water for thinning. Thinning with mediums is recommended.
  • Avoid mixing with solvents,turpentine or oils.
  • Thin layers dry in approximately 15 minutes. Thick layers can take several days.
  • Sand smooth surfaces (ie board books) prior to painting.
  • Acrylic mediums tend to become sticky over time. To prevent your altered book pages from sticking together, apply a sealer to your finished pages, OR dust with cornstarch, OR place wax paper between the pages to store.

Types of Acrylic Paints Frequently Used in Altered Books

  • Artist grade. These top-of-the-line paints are formulated to provide optimal results and the truest colors. They are more costly, and are recommended for work where fine detail is needed.
  • Student Grade.These paints are formulated to give adequate, but not optimal results. They are likely to be suitable for much of the work done in altered books.
  • Craft Paint. These economically priced little bottles of paint are lower quality than Student Grade paint. (The pigment count is lower and the water content is higher.) They are suitable for making backgrounds, covering pages or making paste papers. If you are using them to color your pages, pressing your book with a heavy weight overnight is a good idea. This minimizes warping and buckling. Place wax paper between your layout while pressing to prevent pages from sticking together.
  • Fabric Paint. Formulated for painting on fabric, this paint is flexible and often a good choice for work in an altered book. Fabric paint is not recommended for crackle finishes, as it is too flexible.
  • Paint Providing Special Effects: Some paints combine pigments with powdered mica or bronze to create iridescent, pearlescent, interference, and metallic acrylics. These make wonderful effects in altered books.

Beginner's Guide to Using Acrylic Paints in an Altered Book

If you're a beginner, here's what I suggest you do to start. You can build upon your skills and your supplies gradually.


  • 1 container soft gel (matte) medium. I use Golden brand, but other brands work well. Soft gel medium is versatile. You can use it as a glue, a glaze, a sealer and a medium. It costs approximately $10 for 8 oz.
  • A few colors of craft paints, costing about $1 each.
  • 1-2 colors Jacquard Lumiere fabric paint, about $5 each (available at Michaels, often found with fabric paint rather than art or craft paint).
  • 3-4 foam brushes (often on sale 5-10 for $1)
  • Hair spray or commercial fixative such as Krylon's Spray Finish (optional)
  • A book to alter.

  1. Locate a double layout site in the book to be altered. When you open a book, the two pages you see are a double layout. Prepare your book by gluing each of these pages to a number of pages behind them. By gluing pages together, you create a stronger area to support your artwork. You can use the gel medium for the glue, and one of your foam brushes as the applicator. Allow to dry thoroughly before proceeding.
  2. Seal your double layout pages by coating with a thin layer of gel medium. Dry. This step is important when working with particularly absorbent pages.
  3. Using a foam brush, apply acrylic paints over your open layout. Experiment and be as wild as you want. You can get any number of different effects. If you don't like what you've done, just paint over it. Dry.
  4. And that's it. You have colored your background pages. Now add whatever other artwork you have in mind. You can use your soft gel medium to glue on pictures and various other elements.
  5. When almost dry, place wax paper between your pages (to prevent them from sticking together), close your book and place a heavy object over it to press. Leave overnight. This minimizes warping and buckling.
  6. When dry, spray a fixative (or hair spray) over your layout. This prevents pages from sticking together over time. If you prefer not to use a fixative, simply leave the wax paper between your two pages.

Brand Names

Artist and Student Acrylic Paints: Liquidex, Golden, Winsor & Newton, Createx, Blick, Lascoux, Pebeo, Chroma, Grumbacher, Lefranc and Bourgeois, Reeves, and others.

Craft and Fabric Paints: Createx, Blick, Plaid, Jacquard Lumiere, Jacquard Neopaque Colors, Delta, Palmer, Folkart, Americana and more.

Where To Find Them

You will find acrlic paints at art stores, craft stores, and various online services. and carry a good selection.

The Acrylics Book: Materials and Techniques for Today's Artist

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