Does watercolor stick to acrylic paint?

Watercolor and acrylic are both beautiful and unique painting mediums on their own, and it makes sense to use them together. However, will watercolor stick to acrylic paint?

Watercolor can be painted over acrylic paint, but it won’t last very long. Since watercolor pigments are just on top of the paint, they can be wiped away with a finger. A varnishing would also be problematic since it might smear the watercolor.

color, watercolour, color palette

Why do watercolors not adhere to acrylic paint?

Watercolors are mainly pigments with binding agents and some other ingredients. These pigments, etc., are transferred to paper or other surfaces using water.

The wonderful thing about paper is that it can absorb both paint and water. Eventually, the fibers will dry up and the pigments will remain in them.

As a result, you end up with a watercolor painting that can only be destroyed by applying water, which would reactivate the paint. 

Acrylic paint does not have the same surface as paper.

As soon as an acrylic painting dries, it turns into a plastic surface that won’t be able to absorb paint or water. On top of that, you can only paint with acrylic paint, not watercolor.

Palettes work the same way whether they are made of metal or plastic, the effect is the same.

Once watercolor has evaporated, all that is left are pigments and binding agents.

Due to its lack of security, you could wipe your finger across it and all the paint would come off. 

After watercolor is painted over acrylic paint, you can simply wipe it away once it is dry, since the pigments wouldn’t have any place to soak in. The paint would just be a layer over the plastic.

On a side note: If you’d like to know whether watercolor is safe for face painting, check out the guide I wrote about it.

Is it possible to varnish the watercolor over acrylic paint?

Wouldn’t it be better if you varnished the painting afterward so that the watercolors couldn’t simply be wiped away?

It is theoretically possible, but extremely risky if done incorrectly.

Even experienced artists can have trouble varnishing dried up watercolor on an acrylic painting, since the watercolor isn’t really affixed.

It’s likely that the paint will just smear across the painting as the varnish is applied and spread.

It becomes a problem fairly quickly, since a painting cannot be repaired once it is varnished, due to varnish’s inherent properties.

I would strongly advise against varnishing an acrylic painting or painting watercolor over an acrylic painting in general.

Click here, if you’d like to know whether watercolor paintings can be laminated.

How to create the watercolor effect on acrylic paint

There is another way to emulate the effect that watercolor can create on an acrylic painting.

You can paint an acrylic wash over the painting. 

You can do this by mixing lots of water with acrylic paint in the color you want to paint over the painting.

Make sure to mix the paint with water carefully, as clumps in your wash will ruin it.

Once it’s all mixed together, you can use this acrylic wash the same way you would paint.

Just use a brush; if the area is larger, you should use a larger brush and spread the wash evenly over the surface. 

For this process, I like to use a flat brush since it allows for an even distribution across the painting, but you should try it for yourself and choose what works best for you.

I would also suggest only using a tiny amount of paint when applying the first wash, rather than painting another one on top of it.

And be careful: An overly thick layer of paint might cover everything underneath.

One of the best things about it all is that it will stick to the painting immediately and you won’t have any problems varnishing it.

If you’d also like to find out, whether watercolor paper can handle multiple layers, I would advise checking this article out.

watercolor painting equipment on a table

What can watercolor be painted on?

In general, I would recommend painting watercolor on watercolor paper or pretty thick paper.

You can also use some sketch papers as long as they’re thick enough to absorb all the paint or you only use them for watercolor sketching.

For those kinds of papers, you would have to use gesso, as the paint might spread too far when painting without it.

Personally, I am not a big fan of using gesso for watercolor painting, as it doesn’t really work well for absorbing the pigments and therefore bringing out the colors the way they should be.

In terms of canvas, you could either use a regular canvas coated with gesso or a watercolor canvas. Canvases also don’t work particularly well in my experience, as they are more suitable for acrylic or oil painting.

There are also pre-primed canvases, which sometimes work better, but I’m not a big fan of.

As for me, traditional paper works best.

But in the end, everyone must decide for themselves what suits their style best.

If you’d like to dive deeper into the watercolor and acrylic paint mixture, you might want to check out Are Watercolor brushes Suitable For Acrylic Paint? and Can Watercolor And Acrylic Paint Be Used Together? Because there actually is a way.


Watercolor paint does not adhere well to acrylic paint, so wiping across the painting will remove the watercolor again. It’s also a bad idea to varnish the painting, since the varnish might smear the watercolor across the artwork, which would destroy it, so it’s not recommended. I would suggest doing an acrylic wash instead, by using acrylic paint and a lot of water, which will create a similar effect.

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