Home-Made Acrylic Retarders
by Assistant Doctor
Elliot Saunders of
Note:A retarder is an agent, usually added to water, used to
slow the drying time of acrylic paints, giving you more time for blending or
- Doctor Faust
In my years of painting I've always wondered what the
hell we buy when we pay for a pot of acrylic retarder and so I sat down one
afternoon and decided to do a bit of research.
It seems that in general, that the substance we buy is either a synthetic or
organically derived emollient and humectants. That is, a product that
retains moisture, and then keeps it 'locked' in respectively.
So, I spent some time finding out what natural and synthetic products that are
reasonably easy to obtain could be substituted for the expensive retarding
mediums used for acrylic paint. Here's a little info on some of the
substances that can be used:
Natural emollient oils and esters are derived from avocado, almond, jojoba,
corn, olive, safflower, cottonseed, soybean, and cocoa oils as well shea butter
and other various oils or naturally occurring emollient substances like
Squalane, Lanolin , Sorbitol Cetearyl Alcohol (produced from coconut oil) or
Emollients can also be produced from various petrochemical substances, like oil
or natural gas. Mineral Oil, Butylene and Propylene Glycol are all
well known, and widely used petrochemical emollients.
Similarly, once you've got the moisture in, you don't want to let it back out
quickly, and that's where humectants come in - they help retain the moisture.
Examples include Glycerin, Propylene glycol, Lactic acid, Glycolic acid, urea,
Hydrolyzed proteins, Citric acid, Hyaluronic acid and Salicylic acid.
So, rather than try distilling my own, I spent time trying various substances
that are available to alternative health practitioners and
'natural' product producers - almost anything can be bought in its natural state
on the net so if you want to get cheap 'ingredients' then buying those meant for
alternative health stores, combining several and then packaging it might be a
great way of getting your own, custom (and cheaper) acrylic retarder.
In the end I settled for glycerin, partly because we had some in the kitchen
cupboard, and secondly because its a naturally occurring substance that is used
in food (although, saying that so is propylene glycol...) and so it would be a
safe and easily obtainable retarder.
NOTE: Any of these substances mentioned could be used, but always test a small
amount of the substance for compatibility with your paint first. Always be
cautious of mixing any chemicals whether they are inert or 'safe' or not.
This tip is a suggestion and should be taken as such - I will not be held
responsible for any injuries or deaths that could result from your purchase of
several gallons of some chemical off the Internet!
I've confirmed that glycerin can be used successfully as
a retarder in the following acrylic paints:
Anita's Acrylics range
Delta's Ceramcoat range
Plaid's Apple Barrel range
I watered glycerol (the refined pure glycerin alcohol used for medical or
food-grade uses) down about 5:1 (water: glycerol) and applied about 3 drops to
my paint (there was about a centimeter of paint on my palette).