The swipe technique is probably one of the most recognizable acrylic paint pouring techniques. This technique is identified by lacing and cells that are outlined by the color that was swiped. The swipe color frequently is highlighted along one of the sides or through the center of the pour.
The beautiful look created by the swipe technique, also known as the acrylic pour and swipe, can be achieved by following these simple steps: Gather Your Supplies, Mix Your Paint, Pour Your Base, Swipe, Torch, and finally Tilt and Add Paint to Cover.
We’ll be diving into each one of these steps in greater detail below. By following these 6 simple steps you should be well on your way to becoming an acrylic swipe painting master.
Gather Your Supplies (1)
The first thing we need to do when preparing for an acrylic pour swipe is to gather all the materials that we will need. A paint swipe is different compared to many other techniques only in that you need a tool to do your swipe with.
Swipe Pour Materials
- Paint – Review our article on the Best Acrylic Paint for Pouring.
- Pouring Medium – Glue-All or Floetrol for beginners.
- Painting Surface – Canvas or wood board
- Mixing Cup
- Mixing Sticks
- Distilled Water
- Something to catch drips – This can be plastic sheeting, a silicone mat, a disposable cooking tray or multiple other items.
- Scale – for those of you like me that want to make sure our proportions are correct
- Swipe Tool – For beginners, we recommend a wet paper towel. See section Swipe (4) for other options.
- Silicone or Dimethicone (optional)
Mix Your Paint (2)
This step is arguably the most important step when doing any type of acrylic paint pour. The consistency of your paint can make or break your swipe pour painting.
For a swipe, we want the paint consistency of the to be slightly thinner than a basic acrylic pour. This ensures that the swipe paint can easily glide across the base paint without getting too caught up in each other.
If the paints are too thick, the swipe just pulls the base paint with it instead of creating a very thin layer of paint across the swipe surface areas. There are some artists that use thicker paints for a paint swipe, but they take more than a little practice to master so we’ll be sticking with a more common consistency.
Two Acrylic Pour Mix Recipes
Here are two of the acrylic pour recipes that we use for our swipe pour paintings.
Floetrol – Mix 2 parts floetrol to one part paint.
Elmer’s Glue-All – Create your pouring medium with 60% Elmer’s Glue-All to 40% water. Once that is done, use one part paint to two parts pouring medium.
For thick paints like heavy body acrylics, you may need to add a little more water. For craft paints and soft body acrylics, they will be close to the right consistency already but may need a drop or two more water.
Small Mound and Disappear Consistency
To measure consistency, we are using our mixing stick and pulling a good glob of paint out of the paint cup and dripping it back into the cup from about one inch away from the rest of the paint.
This consistency we are looking for is for the paint to drip onto the surface of the paint, create a small mound, and then immediately disappear. We generally use a double-wide popsicle stick.
A small popsicle stick would create a very small mound and disappear. A spoon or other stir utensil will not create much of a mound at all because more paint comes off at a time.
Swipe Color Should Be Higher Weight/Density
For a beginner, we recommend you use a titanium white as your swipe color. This color has a higher weight/density compared to other paints. See our Acrylic Paint Density Chart to determine your paint’s density.
When you swipe a higher density of paint over the top of a lower density paint, it is going to try and sink into the “lighter” paint. This is the key to creating cells and lacing that we see in an acrylic swipe painting.
Some other colors that seem to have a higher paint density than other colors that could also be used as a swipe color are the cerulean blues, yellow and red oxides, mars black, and cadmium colors.
Get a more details explanation on why paint weight/density matters when creating cells and lacing in our article Acrylic Pour Cells: Everything You Need to Know.
Add Silicone for Cells
Most artists use pure silicone or dimethicone to help facilitate the creation of lacing and cells in their acrylic pours.
Silicone should only be used in the base colors and not in the swipe color. The idea is that the silicone either sits on the surface of the base coast or is coaxed up through the base coat and breaks through the swipe color on top letting the base colors show through.
Our recommendation for beginners is to use 1 drop of silicone per 2 ounces of paint. In a 4 oz cup of paint, you would use 2 drops of silicone. A little silicone goes a LONG way and too much will ruin your painting.
If you do not use silicone or dimethicone in your swipe base colors, you will most likely get a ton of very small cells. The swipe color will also stay on top of the other colors in your places making it look more like a wash over the top of your painting.
Pour Your Base (3)
There are many ways to pour the base of your acrylic pour swipe. Almost any other acrylic pour technique can be used.
Our two favorite techniques are the traditional pour and a basic dirty pour.
The straight pour we choose to do most is just rows of different color paints all along the painting surface. This is a great base because once the swipe is done you can see the bands of each distinct color under your swipe color.
A dirty pour can be done as a flip cup or a straight pour and gives a little more depth to the design underneath your pour.
Cover the Painting Surface
One thing you do need to do at this stage is to make sure you’re whole painting surface is covered after you are done with the pouring the base coat.
When you do a fluid acrylic swipe technique, you will find that sometimes you don’t want to tilt anything off the painting surface after you are finished. The swipe comes out exactly how you want it.
Because of this, you want to make sure that every part of the surface is covered before you even start the swipe, including the sides of the surface. Those are the places most artists miss on a swipe pour.
Remove Excess Paint
As with coverage, you want when you finish with your base coat you want to make sure that you don’t have too much paint on that canvas.
Swipes usually have lots of cells and lacing and those get distorted when they are manipulated too much with tilting.
If we make sure we have tilted off most of the weight of the paint before we move on the swiping step you can avoid the need for any more major tilting.
Where Will You Swipe From?
The last thing we need to take into account is where we plan on doing our swipe from?
For beginners, we recommend choosing one of the short sites of your painting surface. By choosing the smaller side we will be able to swipe all the way across the surface in one long swipe.
More advanced practitioners can decide to swipe from any side, from a line in the middle of the surface, or out from the center to create a starburst effect.
As was just mentioned, the swipe can be done from a myriad of different places on the painting surface.
To begin, we want to pour a small line of our swipe color paint along the line that we want to begin our swipe. This does not need to be a huge about of paint as we are only going to be pulling a very thin layer of paint over the rest of the canvas of painting surface.
We have found great success by keeping our swipe line of paint between ½” and 1” wide. This way we don’t have too much of the swipe color left after the pour as it will end up being a solid line of the swipe color which isn’t always desired.
Paper Towel Swipe
Now it’s time to do your swipe.
The easiest swiping tool we have found is a damp paper towel. To use a paper towel, grab a sheet that will cover the entire length of the painting surface. If your surface is too long on the swipe side, use the long edge of more than one paper towel.
Now either wet the edge you have chosen with a water bottle or a hand sprayer. Don’t worry about wetting the whole thing. We want the end that you hold to remain dry as it is stronger and less likely to rip that way.
Ring out any excess water so the paper tower is not dripping. Dripping water in your paint will cause the paint to run and will most likely ruin your pour.
Swipe with a Light Touch
Now lay the wet end of your paper towel along the line of swipe paint that you have laid down. Only allow the wet end of the paper towel to sit in the paint and make sure that the paint touches the paper towel along all the length of the painting surface.
Now with a very gentle touch pull the paper towel along the rest of the canvas. Keep the side of the paper towel you are holding well above the surface of the paint.
This keeps it from touching the paint and it keeps an upward pull that helps the side touching the paint from sinking down into the base coast and pulling too much paint with the swipe paint.
You want the paper towel to glide along the surface of your pour and to deposit a very small layer of swipe paint along the top.
Don’t worry if your swipe paint doesn’t fully cover. You will be coaxing out your cells with the torch later or you can swipe again to get better coverage or change the pattern of the results.
Other Common Swipe Tools
As we eluded to in the materials section, there are a plethora of different tools you can use the do a swipe.
The most commons ones that we have seen are a long palette knife, a frosting spatula, a transparency sheet, wax paper, or plastic wrap (saran wrap).
Each one takes a little practice to master so you aren’t pulling too much paint with your swipe. Try practicing a few times with your swipe tool of choice to get a better feel for how it works for you.
With acrylic paint pouring, torching is most often used to pop any air bubbles in the painting surface. With an acrylic swipe pour, we also use the torch to coax additional cells out and to facilitate the creation of lacing.
Very gently use your torch or heating device to warm the surface of the painting. This will allow the silicone to slowly work its way to the surface.
In addition, heating the swipe paint on top of the canvas will make it less viscous and allow it to move more freely. With heavier paints, this heating causes the paint to converge on itself as it is pulled down through the lighter paint.
This leaves a little bit of the swiped paint on the surface which is the reason for the webbing or lacing that you see in many acrylic pour swipes.
There is lots more information about the effects of torching your acrylic pours in our blog post Why Do You Torch Acrylic Pours?
If you are still in need of a heating device for your acrylic pouring, we’ve also taken the time to test a few out and have our recommendation for you here.
Heat the Paint Slowly
Be very careful when you are heating the surface of your swipe. The idea is only to slowly heat up the paint to help facilitate different effects. If you put your flame too close the surface or leave it for too long you will burn your paint and ruing your artwork.
Tilt and Add Paint to Cover (6)
The last step is to tilt any excess paint that the swipe created. This will generally be the swipe paint on one side of the painting surface or a buildup of paint on the opposite side of the canvas.
If you do need to remove any paint, tilt your surface very slightly and let the paint take its time running off. This way you aren’t disturbing the center of your fluid pour.
For those paintings that just aren’t what you expected, try tilting off the parts you didn’t like. Just keep in mind that any cells or lacing will get deformed with said tiling if done for too long or at too steep of an angle.
Don’t Forget the Edges . . . Again
As always, check your edges before you call your piece complete. If you have any bare spots, you can use additional paint from the drippings or any excess paint you have in your cups.
Take one of your stirring sticks or a palette knife to the underside of all the edges to remove the dripping paint. Any paint that is dripping will gradually pull the on the sides which pulls the paint from the top also.
BONUS – Admire Your Work!
You’ve done it. You now know how to do the acrylic paint swipe technique. Now it is time to take a good look at your newest creation.
If this was your first attempt at a swipe, it may not be the greatest thing you’ve ever created. That is OK though. We don’t learn by doing this perfectly every time. We get better every time we paint and there is always something to learn.
Take a moment to reflect on what worked and what you wish you could change. Write it down so you don’t forget the next time you do a swipe pour.
You came, you saw, and you created. What more can you ask for?David Voorhies