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How to liquify craft paint that has hardened

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How to liquify craft paint that has hardened
September 29, 2018 Books 4 comments

This particular spackling consists of 65.0-70.0% Calcium Carbonate 0.1-1.0% crystalline silica and 1.0-5.0% polygorskite or attapulgite. THE MSDS safety sheet reports potential health effects of overexposure to these chemicals as: Inhalation: Nose irritation. Skin Contact: Dry skin. Eye contact: Eye irritation. Ingestion: None.

It is also not going to
achieve a gaseous state in this process which I imagine would be a
requirement for any contamination to occur.

Exciting it in the microwave really only does one thing.. heat up the water,
making it easier to mix. You could alternatively just use hot water
(microwave the water in a coffee cup before mixing it into the plaster)
or boiling the water. Or you could not heat it up at all and just mix
it with the water but you'll be putting a lot more effort and time into
it to achieve the same result.

Side note:

If you want to do similar with Plaster of Paris. It consisting mostly of calcium sulfate hemihydrate
(CaSO4•1/2H2O) and is generally non-toxic.

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How to Thin Acrylic Paint

Thinning Your Acrylics with Basic TechniquesRevitalizing Hardened Acrylic PaintUsing Thinned Acrylic PaintArticle SummaryQuestions & AnswersRelated ArticlesReferences

This article was co-authored by Kelly Medford. Kelly Medford is an American painter based in Rome, Italy. She studied classical painting, drawing and printmaking both in the U.S. and in Italy. She works primarily en plein air on the streets of Rome, and also travels for private international collectors on commission. She founded Sketching Rome Tours in 2012 where she teaches sketchbook journaling to visitors of Rome. Kelly is a graduate of the Florence Academy of Art.

There are 23 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page.

Acrylic paint is a medium commonly used by artists. You can thin acrylic paint to achieve differences in consistency and color, allowing you to attain effects that would have otherwise been impossible. These can range in appearance, with some thinned acrylics imitating the look of watercolor or even oil painting. All you need are some basic thinning techniques, an understanding of how to revitalize hardened paint, and some methods for painting with acrylics.


Part 1

Thinning Your Acrylics with Basic Techniques

  1. 1

    Apply a small amount of paint to your palette. You might also use a mixing container, like a bowl or plastic container. Keep in mind that acrylics dry in 10 - 30 minutes, with professional grade acrylics often taking longer to dry than student grade.[1] As this is a quick-drying kind of paint, using too much from the tube can result in expensive waste. To avoid this, always start with a small amount, adding more on an as-needed basis.[2]

  2. 2

    Add water to your paint. When only thinning your paint slightly, take your brush and wet it in clean water. Too much moisture can leave your acrylic paint looking thin; too little may not have much of an effect at all. To significantly thin your paint, pour water into a container with your paint and use your brush to mix the water and paint together.
    • Be sure you thoroughly distribute the water throughout your acrylic. Failing to do so can result in clumping or an uneven color.
    • Have paper towel on hand for blotting brushes once you are ready to begin painting. Too much moisture on your brush, or too much remaining moisture after you've cleansed your brush of a previous color, can severely thin your paint, which can lead to drips forming in your painting.[3]


    Kelly Medford is an American painter based in Rome, Italy. She studied classical painting, drawing and printmaking both in the U.S. and in Italy. She works primarily en plein air on the streets of Rome, and also travels for private international collectors on commission. She founded Sketching Rome Tours in 2012 where she teaches sketchbook journaling to visitors of Rome. Kelly is a graduate of the Florence Academy of Art.

    Kelly Medford
    Plein Air Painter

    Use water or a gel medium for different results. Gel gives the paint more body, but it also makes the paint more transparent. Water makes the paint thinner, but it can also make it washy and runny.

  3. 3

    Mix in a thinning or anti-congealing agent. You can use one of these substances in place of water for a more controlled thinning of your paint. You can buy ready-to-use thinning/anti-congealing agents at your local art store. These will keep your paint from drying out too fast and thin it in the process. Always add your thinning agent according to its directions, but generally, you should apply your agent in small amounts using your brush.[4]
    • The composition of each of these thinning agents will likely react differently depending on the kind of acrylic paint you are using. It's best if you add your agent little by little, until it has the desired effect.[5]
  4. 4

    Check the consistency with your palette knife. You should have a section of spare canvas or a surface on which you can check the consistency of your paint. As you thin your acrylics, you'll find tint and thickness also change. Take your palette knife and spread paint after adding your thinner to check if the consistency is as desirable as its hue.[6]

  5. 5

    Add gesso to the paint and water mixture. Gesso is a primer for the painting surface. It makes acrylic and oil paints adhere better to canvases and other surfaces. But you can also use gesso to thin and extend the paint, tinting your paint slightly with the color of the gesso.
    • You can add gesso by stirring it in with your paint using a clean paintbrush. Using gesso with water or another thinning agent may cause your paint to become too thin.[7]

Part 2

Revitalizing Hardened Acrylic Paint

  1. 1

    Identify paint you can save. If your paint has hardened completely, it won't be possible for you to revive it.[8] However, paint that has thickened and has become firm but is still somewhat tacky or malleable can often be restored. You can gauge your paint with a poke from your finger or a tap from your brush or palette knife.[9]
    • For paint that is especially solid, press onto it firmly with your finger, the handle end of your brush, or your palette knife. If you notice an indentation form, this is a good sign that you may be able to revitalize your paint.[10]
  2. 2

    Use a palette knife to revitalize stubborn acrylic paint. If you notice your acrylic paint has begun to solidify, you may still be able to bring it back to a workable state. Add water or a thinning agent and firmly mix it into your paint with a palette knife. Make sure you have a good grip on your palette before attempting this; this may take some extra oomph, and accidentally knocking your palette on the ground can create a big mess.
    • You may find it easiest to set your palette down on a sturdy surface before attempting this. You should still maintain a good grip, as the smooth surface of your palette will be prone to slipping or sliding as you grind at the paint with your palette knife.[11]
  3. 3

    Use grinding motions for especially hard paint. If your poke check has revealed that your paint, while significantly hardened, is still malleable, you may not be able to revitalize it by mixing it as you would conventionally. In these cases, you should grind your palette knife to mix water into the hardened paint on your palette.
    • This motion will force the water throughout the thicker, hardened parts of the paint. If after some minutes you notice no difference in the consistency of your paint, it is likely too dry to revitalize.[12]

Part 3

Using Thinned Acrylic Paint

  1. 1

    Know the limitations of your chosen acrylic. Art supplies can be very expensive so, when starting out, you'll likely want to use student grade paints. These will be most affordable, but will also offer less coverage and greater shift in color as the paints dry.[13] Artist grade (professional) acrylics, on the other hand, have higher levels of pigment, a wide array of colors, and limited color shift when drying.[14]
    • Student grade acrylics are not necessarily less useful or desirable than artist grade paints. Student grade paints are excellent for large scale projects or any under-painting you may have to do.[15]
  2. 2

    Understand the constraints of the media. Beyond the well-known fact that acrylics dry quickly, there are many other considerations you should be aware of when choosing your acrylic paint. Generally, you can expect that acrylic paint not fully dry can be revitalized by water, but it will not be able to be rehydrated after it is fully dry.
    • This is important to take into account, because if you plan on using a color-lifting technique, as you would with watercolor paints like gum arabic, it will not work with acrylics. Once the acrylic has been used in a wash and dried, you will not be able to rehydrate the paint.[16]
  3. 3

    Practice creating your target tint or effect. Acrylics can give the appearance of many different styles. You can use your acrylics to create artwork that resembles watercolors or even more elaborate oil paintings. This, however, will require experimentation on your part. Different paints are made from different ingredients, and these will all have unique properties.
    • With experience, you'll likely begin to develop an intuition for how much a certain kind of paint needs to be thinned to achieve your desired color. To do this consistently, you should note the process you used when you achieve a particularly desired shade through thinning.
    • One of the most common kinds of acrylic paints, and the one you'll most likely be painting with, has a satin sheen, also called a semi-matte sheen. Other finishes common in acrylic paints are gloss and matte.[17]
  4. 4

    Create acrylic washes you can paint over. If you thin your acrylic paint until it resembles the consistency of watercolor, you can apply this paint to your canvas to create a backdrop or scene. Once this acrylic wash dries, you can paint freely on to of it.
    • In most cases, when an acrylic dries, it becomes water insoluble. This means that you can paint over your acrylic wash freely without worrying about paint running or the image becoming muddy.[18]
  5. 5

    Blend colors without hesitation.[19] You may want to practice your color theory and the mixing of colors with inexpensive paints until you are confident in this. Acrylics dry so fast, so if you hesitate while blending your colors or take too long, your acrylics might harden before you can apply them to your canvas.
    • You may find that you can prevent the drying process by using a dampened piece of paper or card stock when blending. Don't forget to mist your paints if you are using a plastic palette.[20]
  6. 6

    Use tape to create sharp contrast edges. Acrylic paint is great for layering, especially because once it dries it isn't easily affected by moisture or other applications of paint. If you plan on painting over an acrylic wash or background, you can create high contrast edges by putting a piece of masking tape where you want the sharp edge.
    • The masking tape will keep the paint underneath protected from the second application of paint. Masking tape also has little risk of ripping paint free once you are ready to remove it from your painting.[21]

Community Q&A

Add New Question
  • Question

    Does folk art acrylic paint have a shelf life? I haven't used in many years and don't know if I can add something to revitalize the many bottles I have.

    As long as the paints are still in fluid form, you can just add water to thin them, then use as usual.

  • Question

    Do I need to add water to acrylic paint if you don't want it to look like a watercolor?

    No, acrylic paints do not need water added, but some artists add water for a watercolor look/feel or for a thinner paint consistency.

  • Question

    How do I make lines with thin acrylic paint?

    Best approach is to use painter's masking tape. Use two strips and set them side by side with the opening between them the width of the line you want. Best way to apply the acrylic paint is by using an airbrush. Apply quick thin coats with it and let them dry between applications for a few minutes until you get the depth of color you are seeking.

  • Question

    Can I use a clear lacquer spray on acrylic painted gnomes?

    You need to use a water-based product. Otherwise, it will make your paint run and thin out, even if it has dried.

  • Question

    I have some old dried up acrylic paint (tubes) can the paint be salvaged?

    Probably not. It's just like dried up plastic. If you try to melt it, it will just burn.

  • Question

    How do I make areas of my painting look bright?

    Light should be represented by softly blending the surrounding colors together with light paint, but make sure to keep your contrast levels high to differentiate.

  • Question

    How do I paint wine glasses that can be washed?

    For the best result, you can get glass paint to paint on the wine glasses.

  • Question

    My acrylic paint got fully dried in its container. How can I recover it?

    You can't. Dried acrylic paint can never be recovered. Neither water nor heat nor thinner/medium can recover it to usability.

  • Question

    How can I thin folk art acrylic paints in the bottles to rejuvenate them when they have gotten really thick?

    Depending on how thick the paint has become, you can use a little bit of water or clear medium. If the paint is too dry, there is nothing you can do. Acrylic paint sets like plastic when dry.

  • Question

    How do I remove dried acrylic paint from my couch fabric?

    Methylated spirit will soften dried acrylic paint with no effect on fabric dyes.

Show more answers

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  • Rubbing alcohol and mineral spirits can also be used to thin acrylic paints enough to remove the paint from objects such as paint brushes.
  • Thin and extend your acrylic paint even more with a textile medium. Textile mediums are water-soluble products that used by many painters who want a smoother finish to their paintings.
  • Make sure to thoroughly clean any brushes or tools you are using to thin your paint. When paint becomes very thin and light in color/consistency, dirt and other colors of paint left behind on tools can easily infuse into your paint and ruin the color.
  • You should mist plastic palettes with water from a spray bottle or sprinkle water across it with your fingers to keep the paint from drying out too much.
  • Mineral spirits can also be used on acrylic paints that are not water based, in these situations mineral spirits are the only thing that thin the paint. You can also add a cap full of rubbing alcohol to mineral spirits as well to thin the paint even more.
  • Stay-wet palettes slow the drying process and often come with a covering and sponges to keep your acrylic paint from drying out too soon. However, if you forget to clean and upkeep your stay-wet palette, your colors will eventually harden on the palette, which could make it difficult to use in the future.[22]
  • Many acrylic palettes are made of clear plastic which, if the paint hardens to it, can be difficult to clean. If you find stubborn acrylic paint on your palette, try rubbing alcohol.[23]

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I have some paints that have hardened-up in their jars. Craft paint are less than each. unless it is some really rare color don't bother.


Painting with Acrylics for Beginners by Nancy Reyner

Although many of the materials used in acrylic painting–paint, brushes, mediums, and a surface–will be familiar to any painter, to approach acrylic in the same way you would oil or watercolor, for example, would inhibit you from exploiting the medium’s full capabilities. The more you know about acrylic, the better prepared you are to explore the unique characteristics of this versatile medium, experimenting and varying techniques to suit your needs.

There are two choices for thinning acrylic paint: water or acrylic medium. Water breaks down the binder in acrylic, thinning the paint so that it looks like watercolor and allows it to sink into the surface, resulting in a matte finish. Acrylic medium minimizes the need for the addition of water and allows the paint to sit on top of the surface, maintaining a rich, glossy appearance. The amount of water you add depends on the desired effect and the surface. Adding up to 30 percent water to acrylic paint thins it but still allows it to coat a surface. Adding 60 percent or more water creates a watery paint application called a wash. Rubbing a wash into an absorbent surface so that only a hint of the color remains is called a stain.

Similarly, adding more or less medium to acrylic paint creates different qualities. Up to 30 percent medium added to paint will thin it, but still allow it to coat the surface. Adding 60 percent or more medium creates more transparency, often called a glaze.

Learn more >>> Acrylic Painting for Beginners (eMagazine) from Acrylic Artist

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Did you accidentally leave the cap loose on your watercolor paint tube? Or maybe you just picked up a deal on old watercolors and they've dried up? While watercolor paint in tubes is great to work with, all is not lost when they dry up and harden.

Unlike oils and acrylics, it is easy to reactivate watercolor paint. It is the nature of the paint - the fact that it requires water - that makes it one of the easiest paints to salvage. Don't throw away those tubes, there's a solution.

When Watercolor Paint Tubes Harden

Many painters prefer the quality and workability of watercolor paint in tubes. Unlike pan watercolors, they are not bone dry. This makes tube paints easier to mix into custom colors and allows you to begin painting right away. 

The bad news is you can't soften watercolor paint in a tube once it's dried hard. It will not have the ability to squeeze out of the tube like it used to. The good news is that this doesn't mean you can't use the paint, it simply means that you have to use them as you would your pan paints.

Dry Watercolor Fix No. 1: Just Add Water

Dry watercolor paint is not the end of the world. The glycerin that is added to tube watercolors has dried up and you are, essentially, left with dry pan watercolors. Before you can add water to reactivate the paints, you have to get it out of the tube.

If the paint has thickened but can still be coaxed out of the tube, squeeze or scrape it onto a palette. It will dry slowly on the palette ​but remain usable like a watercolor pan. Unlike acrylics, watercolor paint remains water-soluble when dry, so you can always "reactivate" it with a wet brush. 

  1. Cut open the tube so you can access the paint. Take care not to cut yourself on the tube.
  2. Use it in the tube by adding water (try to fold the edges of the tube so you don't have any sharp edges that'll damage the hairs on a brush). Alternatively, move the dry paint to your palette well, an old ice cube tray, or a similar tray where you can wet it and use it for painting as needed.
  3. Use the paint like you would a pan or block of watercolor. That is, gently rub a wet brush onto the dried paint and allow it "dissolve" into the water. 

Tip: When moving dry watercolor to a new well, get it thoroughly wet with water, stir it, and allow it to dry again. This allows it to form to the new mold and all you have to do is add water when it's time to paint. When rewetting the paint, give the water a few minutes to react with the paint before painting.

Dry Watercolor Fix No. 2: Add Glycerin, Gum Arabic, or Honey

If you're determined to get the paint into a tube-like consistency again, there are a few common additives that you can try.

  • Grind up the hardened paint with a glass muller (a compact tool used to grind pigments when making your own paint) and mix it with a few drops of gum arabic. Some artists use an old coffee grinder or mortar and pestle if they do not have a muller.
  • Add and mix in glycerin, a few drops at a time, until the paint gets to a consistency you like.
  • Honey is an old-fashioned additive to watercolor paint binders and may be used like glycerin. It may not, however, be the best idea if you enjoy painting outside as it may attract bugs.

If you work the dried paint enough, it should come back to a consistency similar to its original state. Then again, it may never be as smooth as the original, but a granular or gritty paint can be useful for textures like sand or rust.

Also, if you choose to reconstitute all of your paint at once rather than using it as a pan watercolor, make sure to place it in an air-tight container. If you don't it will just dry out again.

How to Make Hard Paint Soft Again. Sitting down to begin a craft project, only to discover that your paint has dried into a hard lump, is frustrating. Before you.

How to dilute acrylic paint that is too thick or too hard

Is There A Way To Save My Dried-Out Paint?

I have a sizable collection of paints that I spent a couple hundred dollars on several years ago. Then I moved and put them into storage. I have recently re-discovered them, but the problem is they are all water-based paints that have since dried out. I am wondering if there is any hope of salvaging this collection or if I am going to have to throw them out and start all over again.
When you say water-based, I'm assuming you mean acrylics. They aren't quite "water based" - they can be diluted with water for use, but if they dry out completely, they become water resistant...

You can buy clear acrylic base, and sometimes dried-up paints can be revived with such. But once they become little dried bricks in their jars, though, I've never had much luck with that. I hope you can have more.
Yes they are acrylics. And they aren't quite little bricks. They are malleable, but not spreadable with a brush. I am toying around with 5 seconds in the microwave + a tiny bit of water and stirring followed by more of the same. I seem to have come close to saving one of them but it has taken an hour or so. Plus I am not certain about whether microwaving them is a good idea, but hell I've ingested so much of the stuff over the years and it hasn't killed me. Supposedly non-toxic...
Yes they are acrylics. And they aren't quite little bricks. They are malleable, but not spreadable with a brush. I am toying around with 5 seconds in the microwave + a tiny bit of water and stirring followed by more of the same. I seem to have come close to saving one of them but it has taken an hour or so. Plus I am not certain about whether microwaving them is a good idea, but hell I've ingested so much of the stuff over the years and it hasn't killed me. Supposedly non-toxic...
LMAO until it hurt Never thought of toasting the damned things. Have you considered a blowtorch to really get things cooking? A sort of creme-bruleed medium - might be a bit like a gesso.

Back in boring land: soaking up (and down) drops of water added slowly over a few days usually does the trick. A flow improver diluted maybe 25:1 in the water can help too. I've used Newton and Windsor before.

Try a small amount of Future floor polish - it can work wonders in reviving old paint. Not always, but often enough to be worth trying. About one part Future to three or four parts water - but be warned, adding too much Future will make the paint glossy.

And since it is also a key component of Magic Dip it is worth having anyway.

(Magic Dip - because you will have a lot of Future left over....)
Future Floor Finish
Ink - Flesh, brown, black, or Chestnut work best.
A plastic container with air tight lid that you don’t mind ruining.

Mix two parts water with two parts Future and one part ink. Depending on the ink you may need more or less - black or dark brown typically can have the water and Future brought up to three parts, maybe four, depending.

Great for a quick strong wash on figures.

The Auld Grump
I had the same thing happen with some GW paints after they sat for about 2 years. They were still wet, but tacky and clumpy.

What I did was simple: get something to drop in the bottle as an agitator....little glass beads is what I used. Drop one or 2 in your paint, then about 3-4 drops of water, then stir with a paintbrush handle to loosen everything up. Add another couple drops, close the lid then shake and rattle till your arm is about ready to fall off.

Be judicious with the water. Each color is a little different, so don't get impatient and add too much at a time.

This made the paints usable again.

Hope this helps.
You might be able to revive them but once partially dried they will never perform again as they were even if re-liquified. The partially dried bits will remain in the paint and ruin it as a smooth cover. It might be usable on rough jobs but I wouldn't trust it on really good minis.
You might be able to revive them but once partially dried they will never perform again as they were even if re-liquified. The partially dried bits will remain in the paint and ruin it as a smooth cover. It might be usable on rough jobs but I wouldn't trust it on really good minis.
That depends how dried out it was in the first place, but true enough. It didn't make all the colors good as new, but it made them usable.

But then I'm just a tabletop quality painter. Even the refurbed stuff was good enough to paint figs to game with. (And mine are still better than most of WOTC's paintjobs)
Water can revive a mostly dry paint pot.

Also shoulder massagers can be used to help with paint agitaing. Jury rig one to rumble with the paint pot attached to it.

how to liquify craft paint that has hardened

Water is a great and extremely cheap so you aren't trying to remove dried acrylic paint.

how to liquify craft paint that has hardened
Written by Meztigami
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