5 Basic Acrylic Pour Techniques to Master


5 Acrylic Pour Techniques to Master - Large
Basic Acrylic Paint Pour Techniques

Painters find inspiration for their art in everyday life.  Muses are discovered in the natural world, in family and friends, and in the mysterious and fantastic.  In the 21st century, the internet gives acrylic pouring artists an excess of material to emulate.

Fluid acrylic paint pouring techniques very widely depending on the artist, medium, pigment, and painting surface. The most basic acrylic pouring techniques are the traditional pour, the puddle pour, the dirty pour, the tree-ring pour, and the flip cup pour. While common, each of these fluid acrylic pour methods can produce amazing artwork.

When you master the subtleties of these basic pour techniques, you will find that the more involved techniques become easier to be successful with.

NOTE: During this article we will be referring to canvas as the painting surface for uniformity’s sake. You can use any painting surface you like with each of these methods.  Some surfaces may require a priming or gesso coat before painting. 

NOTE: Each of these paint pouring technique explanations assumes that you already know how to mix your acrylic paint to the “pouring” consistency used in most fluid acrylic pours.  If this consistency needs to be changed it will be noted in the pouring technique explanation.

Traditional Pour

Traditional Pour Technique Example

The traditional acrylic pour is the most basic of all acrylic pouring techniques.  This pour involves mixing paint in separate containers and then pouring the paint onto the canvas color by color.

The colors can be poured in a variety of different methods to create completely different pieces of art.

Traditional Pour Pros

  • easy to do
  • painting has pure veins of color
  • control of where each color goes

Traditional Pour Cons 

  • colors do not interact with other colors very much
  • harder to create complex designs.

Traditional Pour Variations

  • try sprinkling the paint on with your paint stick or a spoon rather than pouring everything.
  • layer colors on top of each other at different intervals to create new colors and designs.
  • use common shapes and patters to give some uniformity and familiarity to your pours.

Puddle Pour

Puddle Pour Technique Example

The puddle pour is a more uniform method based on the traditional pour.  Rather than pouring the colors randomly on the canvas, you pour “puddles” of each color.  You expand each of these puddles by pouring additional colors into the center of the puddle. 

You can either pour large quantities so that the paint is very pronounced, or small quantities so that you get lots of color variation as the puddles expand. 

Puddle Pour Pros 

  • you have control of which colors interact with each other
  • easy to create solid color patters

Puddle Pour Cons

  • colors do not interact with other colors very much
  • very little chance of cells or other interesting features

Puddle Pour Variations

  • try pouring many small puddles with multiple colors.  Then when you tip and move your canvas to spread the paint those different puddles run into each other and create abstract shapes.
  • on the flip side, if you use enough paint you can keep all your puddles naturally circular and you don’t have to tip and move your canvas at all.

Dirty Pour

Dirty Pour Technique Example

The dirty pour technique is a slight deviation from the traditional pour.  With this technique, after the colors are mixed in their separate containers, they are poured into a single large container.  This single larger container is then poured onto the canvas.

The colors can be poured into the larger container a little at a time in multiple layers or they can be poured one by one in their entirety. 

Dirty Pour Pros

  • color get to mix in to cup before being poured on the canvas
  • more colors are created during the pouring process

Dirty Pour Cons

  • less control of where colors go
  • color selection becomes more important so that undesired colors are not created

Dirty Pour Variations

  • with the last little bit of paint at the bottom of the dirty pour cup, try pouring this across your other paint.  The dregs of a dirty pour cup have multiple colors in a very confined area which gives a ribbon like effect when poured across other paint.

Flip Cup

Flip Cup Technique Example

Now that you’ve learned the dirty pour technique it’s time to advance to the flip cup.  To create a flip cup, prepare your dirty pour cup as instructed above.   Rather than pour your flip cup on the canvas, quickly overturn the cup onto the canvas.  Most of the paint should remain in the cup with the canvas becoming the “lid” and keeping the paint inside the cup.

Wait a few minutes for the paint to fall to the bottom of the overturned cup.  A clear container makes it easier to tell when the paint has all settled to the bottom.  Now lift the cup off the canvas and let the paint flow out. 

Flip Cup Pros

  • color get to mix in to cup before being poured on the canvas
  • more colors are created during the pouring process
  • layer the paint with the “heaviest” going in the bottom of the flip cup can help the creation of cells (learn more about cells here)

Flip Cup Cons

  • less control of where colors go
  • color selection become more important so that undesired colors are not created
  • color laying is very important as color density considerations affect how the pour turns out
  • potential mess if not done correctly

Flip Cup Variations

  • take your canvas and place it upside down on top of your flip cup with the flip cup in the center of the canvas.   Now hold the canvas and the flip cup together and turn the canvas upside up.  The paint should stay in the cup because the canvas is acting as the “lid”.  Wait a few moments for the paint to settle and remove the cup and let the paint flop out.
  • after flipping the cup on the canvas and before lifting the cup, coat the rest of the canvas with a very thin layer of paint.  We recommend you use white to begin with.  Then poke a very small hold in the top of the cup with a sewing pin or some other share object.  The paint will begin to flow out of the bottom of the cup slowly.  Gradually lift and tilt the canvas while the cup is still overturned. 
  • place the flip cup on one side of the canvas.  Before removing the cup, lift the side of the canvas where the flip cup is slightly so that the paint will run away from that side toward the rest of the canvas.  This lets the paint spread out quickly without falling off the canvas.
  • flip and drag is where you do the same as the above but when you flip the cup you keep it only slightly off the canvas and you quickly move the cup where you want it to go along the painting surface.

Tree Ring Pour

Tree Ring Technique Example

The tree ring pour method also begins with a dirty pour cup of paint.  Once the cup is prepared you will be pouring the paint in center of the canvas only.  However, when pouring the paint, we want a SMALL steady flow of paint to come out of the cup and we want to move the cup back and forth a ½” or so constantly as we pour.  You can use a small circular motion also.

This slow movement back and forth as we pour is what creates the “rings” in the tree ring pour.  As more paint lands on the canvas the rings expand outward creating an effect like rings in the cross section of a tree trunk.  

Tree Ring Pour Pros

  • relatively easy to do
  • contrasting colors make beautiful pours
  • no need for cells

Tree Ring Pour Cons

  • the colors you use can make or break the pour
  • cells can detract from the overall look of the pour
  • you must use a lot of paint if you want a proportioned circular shape. Tilting and spreading paint cause the perfectly circular pours to get distorted

Tree Ring Pour Variations

  • swirl Pour is another name for a tree ring pour which doesn’t always stay in the same place as you pour.   Just follow the same steps as previously and gradually move in any direction while you pour doing your side to side or circular agitations.
  • you can create the look of a tornado with your tree ring pour by traveling straight across the canvas as you pour and then by coming right back along the same path with the last little bit of paint.
  • the kiss tree ring pour involves preparing two dirty pour cups and then pouring them together.  The paint from each should mix as they are coming out of the cup thus creating two tree ring pours where the paint is kissing before falling onto the canvas.  This may take a little practice but can be very rewarding when the painting is finished.

Conclusion

Experimentation is the key to unlocking your true potential with acrylic paint pouring. Half of the fun with paint pouring is exploring new techniques and color combinations. Every pour is a new learning experience.

Try these 5 basic acrylic pouring techniques. Keep notes of how your pour turned out, things you think of during the pour, and observations on what you want to change the next time you pour. Once you’ve mastered these, try our 16 Advanced Acrylic Pour Techniques.

Use these notes the next time you do a similar pour so that you can continue to improve and adapt based on your own personal style.

David Voorhies

I took up acrylic paint pouring a few years ago after binging fluid pours on Instagram and YouTube. I love that a left-brained technology nerd like myself can create amazing art. Hopefully this websites allows you to experience how fun acrylic paint pouring really is. See more about me here.

2 thoughts on “5 Basic Acrylic Pour Techniques to Master

  1. Thank you for making this information readily available. I have been experimenting with acrylic pours for about a year and I am learning a lot-with much more to learn. The variations in techniques and colors makes this process so exciting. I love the fact that I have had to learn to give up control over the end result. The trade off for “losing control” is gaining an better understanding of the properties of paint and the how various thinning mediums (Floetrol, GAC) and additives (silicone, alcohol) can be used to influence the overall effect. A true blend of science and art wouldn’t you say?

    Thanks again.

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