How Much Paint to Use for an Acrylic Pour?


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Acrylic Pouring Dirty Pour Cups

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten to the end of my pour and found that I either have way too much paint or not nearly enough.  As a beginner, this was very frustrating, and I wished I had an easier way to help me gauge how much paint I needed.

So how much paint do you need for an acrylic pour?  In general, it takes approximately 1 ounce of paint per 25 square inches of surface area.   In metric measurements, this would be just over 1 milliliter per ~ 4 square centimeters.  “Surface area” should include any area that will be painted, which usually includes the sides of the object, which most people forget. 

This calculation can vary slightly depending on the size and shape of the object you are painting, the surface roughness, the consistency of the paint, and the painting materials being used.  In this blog post, you’ll learn about how these considerations impact that amount of paint you’ll need.  Understanding these concepts should allow you to better estimate your paint requirements in the future.

In the mean time, use the acrylic pouring chart below to help you approximate the amount of paint you may need for an acrylic pour.

How much paint to use for acrylic pours
A chart of the amount of paint in ounces to use for various common painting surfaces

Measuring the Size and Shape of the Painting Surface

Before you start a paint pouring project, it is important to understand where you want your paint to end up.  This first step to doing this is to review the surface you plan on painting.

Use a ruler or measuring tape to calculate the area you are looking to cover with paint.  Measure every surface that you expect to be painted including the top and sides of the piece.  If an area is not regular in shape, decide which type of shape it most resembles and calculate the surface area from there.

Use the following information for common surface area calculations.

  • Rectangle = Base × Height
  • Square = Base × Height
  • Triangle = ½(Base × Height)
  • Oval = π × radius1 × redius2
  • Circle = π(radius)2 = πr2
  • Hexagon = π(radius)2 = πr2 (approximately same as circle)

By measuring the entire painting surface before mixing any of your paints and using the chart above to better estimate your needs, you’ll find that you don’t miscalculate the amount of paint you need nearly as often.

Surface area is by far the most important factor in determining paint needs, but it is definitely not the only consideration.  Continue reading to learn some of the other common reasons painters might experience paint estimation issues.

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Why Surface Roughness Matters

Imagine pouring a cup of paint on a kitchen table.  Now imagine pouring the same amount of paint on the carpet in your living room.  In this example, the paint will spread out on the kitchen table on a much wider area than it will on the carpet floor.

Why does this happen?  Think about the actual surfaces that the paint is coming in contact with.  The kitchen table is smooth and there is nothing that keepsthe paint from moving around.  

With the carpet, the paint has to go over and around the roughness of the carpet as it settles.  That means there is more surface area that the paint ultimately has to cover per square in of carpet.  

While carpet is a little more extreme example of this phenomenon, it is important to note that even doing an acrylic pour on the roughness of a brand new canvas can increase the amount of paint needed for coverage when compared to doing the same paint pour on a gessoed or prepared canvas.

Of the common materials used in pour acrylic painting, wood art panels and other well-sanded and prepared surfaces will take the least amount of paint.  Rough cut wood sections and other unfinished wood products will usually require the most paint.   Stretched canvasesOpens in a new tab. sit somewhere in the middle.

Paint Consistency

Another consideration to take into account when planning how much paint to use for a pouring project is the consistency of paint.  In general, the thicker the paint is, the more it will take to cover a similar area when compared to a thinner paint.

Lets take a look at why this happens.  To illustrate, imagine pouring a cup of honey and a cup of water out at the same time.  Which cup will empty faster?  The water will, of course.  There might be the same amount of each, but they are not behaving in the same way.

Without going into too much chemical theory, this is a property of the viscosity of liquid. The thicker a liquid, the less room the molecules in the liquid have to move around each other. 

Those “fat” molecules also don’t move around each other very well.  Because of this, those molecules are said to have a higher friction level.  Thinner liquids, like water, have very low friction levels so they flow and move much more readily.

In addition, the more room the molecules have, the faster they will move around.  Increased movement in molecules provides less viscosity, and thus improves how the paint flows.  Changing the state of the liquid by pressurizing it or adding heat can also decrease viscosity.  I do not recommend pressurizing your paint.

Now that you understand how viscosity works, how does that affect how much paint you’ll be using on an acrylic pour?  Thicker paints will tend to stay thicker when sitting on a surface.  This is because the paint is less likely to “move” unless some other force acts on the paint.

You can easily test this theory by using the same example of the honey and the water.  Once the honey and water are poured on the table, which makes the bigger puddle?  The water does.  The honey will always create a thicker layer than the water.  

Covering a canvas with a thicker consistency paint will always require more than doing so with a thinner paint because of these factors.  A coat of paint that is too thick can cause crazing and cracking.  Thin paint will cover a canvas more easily; however, it can also leave too little paint on some parts of the surface, causing the colors to be muddled or showing the underlying surface through the paint.

Painting Materials

The last contributing factor to estimating the amount of paint you’ll need for an acrylic pour is the materials that are used in your paint mixture.  

Every paint is not created equal.  Some paints are plant based, some are chemical based, and some are even metal based.  Each one has it’s own unique properties and behaviors.

Metal paints tend to be heavier.  This causes the paint to be affected by gravity a little more than other more lightweight paints.  Heavier paints generally have higher friction levels and, therefore, don’t move a rapidly as other types of paints.  Heavy paints are also made up of bulkier molecules compared to many other paints, which contributes to the paint being more viscous than other paint.

The opposite is true of some chemical and plant based paints.  Their “weight” is much less compared to most metal based paints, and their molecular structure is less dense.  As you learned before, this makes the viscosity of the paint less.  Less viscous paint will flow better and move more readily on a painting surface.

Each paint is unique.  Some more expensive paints will show the relative weight of the paint on the container.  With less expensive paint, you will need to do some testing on your own to get a feel for the different properties of the different colors.  

Conclusion

If it wasn’t apparent already, you should now realize that gauging the amount of paint needed for an acrylic pour project is not an exact science.  Surface area, the roughness of the painting surface, viscosity, and the materials used in the paint all have an impact on how the paint flows and how well it covers the canvas.

Start your base paint needs calculation with 1 ounce of paint per 25 square inches of surface area.  Then adjust for contributing factors mentioned in this article, and you should be able to better gauge your paint needs.  With additional practice, you will be able to do this without thinking.

Related Questions

Why don’t I use the same amount of paint every time?  Every painting is different.  The number of paints used, the consistency of each, the air temperature and humidity, how much you tilt, the thickness of the paint left on the canvas, and many more factors all contribute to the amount of paint used during a pour.

What if i don’t have enough paint?  If you don’t have enough paint to cover your canvas, just add more.  Some of my favorite pieces have come from adding more paint to my project when I underestimated the amount of paint that I needed.  Try adding a new color or mix them slightly differently to give some variation to your piece.

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.

34 thoughts on “How Much Paint to Use for an Acrylic Pour?

  1. THIS IS AWESOME!!! Finally something to help me really gauge how much material I should be using when I am attempting a pour! I loved the part on viscosity of the material. One of the major issues I have had when doing acrylic pours is when I am done shifting the paint, my surface looks amazing, but then over the next several hours the paint continues to run off. Is this a viscosity issue? or do I have another problem? I look forward to seeing more articles like this!

    1. Generally you have one of three problems. 1) Your surface isn’t level, 2) you have too much paint on the canvas still, or 3) your paint is too thin.

  2. Ken,

    If you scrape the paint where it drips off the bottom of the canvas this will slow or stop the pulling of the paint. This is one way that I read about and saw that you could do in order to stop your painting from changing.

  3. When you talk about the amount of paint needed, it sounds like you’re talking about the amount of paint+”adulterants” needed. So for 25 square inches you’ll need an ounce of what you’ve mixed up (paint + floetrol, or paint + glue, or whatever) rather than an ounce of paint which you then mix with other stuff. Am I correct in my interpretation?

    1. Absolutely. I do often refer to paint as the combination of the medium and the actual acrylic paint. Thanks for pointing that out.

  4. Very useful chart. Thanks for that. Please clarify…by ounces, do you mean liquid volume or weight? Because I was trying to measure with a digital scale (weight) and nothing ever worked out right. I saw someone on YouTube measure with a kitchen scale. But then everyone else I’ve seen on YouTube just refers to the term “ounces” but they do not actually say or show how they are measuring. So are you saying to measure with a liquid measurement tool, like a graduated measuring cup? Thanks in advance!

    1. Thanks for the question. I measure with a kitchen scale.

      Maybe one of my next experiments on our YouTube channel I will tackle this question specifically. They shouldn’t be too different with a liquid but some of the paints do have very heavy pigments, albeit in small quantities, and that might throw off the ratios.

  5. After doing a painting with lots of paint still on the canvas, the only way to get rid of it is to pour it off and possibly lose the desired result…correct? This happens to me a lot when I paint the background or do a swipe…..any suggestions to avoid this?

    1. Yeah, this is a difficult balancing act.

      My first recommendation would be to use less paint up front. If you are doing a base coat, include the amount you use in your overall paint calculation (eg. 1 oz of base coat on an 8×10 canvas means you only need another two ounces or so of paint to “cover” the canvas — 8 * 10 = 80 / 25 = approximately 3 oz of paint total–).

      After you tilt, but before you cover your whole canvas, take a minute to decide what you want to keep. The first or second direction you tilt will usually stay more than later tilts so try tilting toward what you want to keep first.

      Unfortunately this is an experience thing and as you keep doing it you’ll get a better idea of what works and what doesn’t.

  6. “just over 1 milliliter per square millimeter.” A little 4″ (approx 100mm) square canvas has an area of 10000 sq mm, so it should take just over 10000 ml of paint. That’s 10 litres, or a bit over 2 and a half gallons. Methinks you should have written “just over 1ml per square cm.”

  7. Thanks for posting this. For measuring the paint mixture, it is easier to think of it this way. If you want to use approximately 1 ounce of paint mixture for 25 square inches, it works out to .04 ounces per 1 square inch. Just find your total square inches, multiply by .04 and arrive at your fluid ounces.

    Eg. 8×12 inch surface is 96 square inches, times .04 is 3.84 ounces of paint mixture.

    If you are using square centimetres and millilitres, it is 0.19 millilitres per square centimetres. (A very small measurement as 1 millilitre is 1/8 of a teaspoon!)

    Eg. Same size as example above but in centimetres: 20.32×30.48 centimetres is 620 squared centimetres multiplied by 0.19 is 117.8 millilitres. There are 30 millilitres in 1 ounce so 117.8 divided by 30 is 3.9 ounces of paint. (There is some rounding of numbers).

    Of course, you start getting 3.8 or 3.9 ounces, you’re going to be looking at 4 ounces of paint mixture to work with. This is TOTAL paint for the surface. However, you’ll be dealing with a number of different paint colors. So, let’s say four different paint colors. Four ounces divided by four colors is one ounce of each color mixture. 120 ml divided by 4 is 30 ml of each color mixture.

    We can thank my husband for the clarification. You can use .04 per square inch and get your ounces, or .19 per square centimetre and get your millilitres. (Dividing the millilitres figure by 30 will get you into ounces.)

    Also, I suggest whatever measuring containers you buy, to compare the measurements to what you have in your kitchen cupboards to ensure they are accurate. I bought some measuring cups with a few wrong millilitres on them but I know the cup is still a cup (8 ounces or 250 ml). Measurements in ‘cups’ and higher volumes vary considerably. A US cup is 8 ounces, Imperial cup (England) is 10 ounces.

    Hope this missive helps. Excuse me, I want to do a pour.

      1. Thank you so much. No matter how I changed my question around on google, I could not get this answer. Thank you again

        1. You are very welcome. We’ll have a paint pouring calculator and a one page PDF on this topic out shortly also. I’ll try and let you know when they are available.

  8. Just opened the box containing my beginners NicPro pour kit. The info you provided on the measurements of total paint mix was the most valuable ive seen. Tomorrow I am going to try my first pour on a 6×6 canvas. Seems the amount of paint I will need is very small.

    1. Thanks Gary! Enjoy the ride. It is totally addicting. I should have a form up soon where you can ask questions if you have any in the future or you can leave a comment on one of the posts also.

    1. It absolutely will for coverage. That problem you have withe larger pours is that you are more likely to tilt off more paint than normal. So you can either try and catch the paint at the corners so not as much paint gets tilted off or you can plan for a little extra to compensate.

  9. Fifth paragraph under Paint Consistency has a sentence which should read something like “Increased movement between molecules decreases [not increases] viscosity [resistance to flow] and thus improves how the paint flows”, right? Good info, thanks.

  10. I am a total beginner and only tried three projects. Thank you for giving out your paint ratio and I will be using this in future. My last attempt I started with lovely cells but lost them when I started to tilt. I don’t thinks I used enough paint and overdid it with the tilting eager to cover the canvas.

    1. The other two things to check are too much silicone and too thin of paint. Both can cause cells to distort as you tilt. Good look on your future projects!

  11. Thanks so much for this really helpful and informative article. I am a beginner and I am finding that my results are completely random in terms of success. Some pours turn out beautifully but more often than not, they are either downright muddy or just plain uninspiring. I suppose thats down to all of the factors that you discuss. However, I have one particular question. ..
    Recently I was pouring my various colours into a cup and most of them were layering perfectly well. However, when I added one of my colours, the paint sank straight through to the bottom of the cup immediately. The subsequent colours then followed suit until I poured more white into the cup. All my paint appeared to be of a similar consistency. Why would this happen?

    1. Paint pouring is definitely a interesting medium to get just right. The paint has a mind of it’s own sometimes. For the mixing of colors the first thing I would recommend is let your paint stay a bit thicker than you normally would.

      For the other issue with paint sinking, the pigment in the paint is much heavier than the other pigments I would imagine. This is actually one of the ways you can force the creation of cells. I’d recommend searching my website for my article on acrylic pour cells. It explains this whole phenomenon.

  12. About to start this hobby and this is a big help Thank you. I am thinking of using a big piece of wood for the base of a board game table where the game board would be set. I am going to try and use them comes of one of my favorite games and covert it with a glass top do it does through. But before that happens I have to not suck at this. Also it had been great to hear a legal brained talk about this, lol. Thanks!

    1. That sounds very interesting. It does take a bit to get a handle on but a few practice pours should get you most of the way to where you want to be. Good luck!

  13. If I have just purchased $300 worth of PRE-prepared paints especially FOR pouring from a very reputable company and gesso pre-treated canvases (and allll of the other supplies too)… do I still need to put more gesso on the pretreated canvases or r they good to go as is? Also, should the paints be good to go as well? And lastly, I saw a video on using isopropyl alcohol to create cells, would u please tell me more about this method?

    1. No, you don’t need additional gesso. Depending on the technique you may need a base coat of paint but you definitely don’t need more gesso.

      Paints should be fine as long as they are the right consistency for the technique you are trying to use.

      Alcohol has some definite uses for creating cells (generally small cells or lacing) but silicone oil is much easier to use with better consistent results. You might check out my article on cells (search “cells” on the home page) and you can get some more details on using alcohol for cells.

  14. Hi David
    Firstly I love your website it is really informative.
    Im not very mathematical mined. What is the calculation for paint for a 75cm x 88 cm canvas?
    This is my first big project. I’m going to be preparing the canvas with white paint mixed with floetrol
    Medium and am very ambitious as I haven’t been doing paint pouring for very long.
    Thank you in advance.
    Kym

  15. Hi David
    I love your website
    Im not very mathematical minded.
    Could you please tell me how much paint is required for a 75cm x 88 cm canvas?
    It will be prepared with white paint using floetrol medium.
    This is my first large canvas as I haven’t been paint pouring for very long.
    Thanks in advance
    Kym

    1. That is approximately 30 x 35 inches. So 30 * 35 / 25 is approximately 40 ounces total of paint and pouring medium. If you are putting a full white base coat down you can cut that down by 5 ounces or so but I usually just go with the full 40 and let is spill over a little to make sure I cover everything.

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