How and When to Use Metallic Paint

How and When to Use Metallic Paint

All that glitters may not be gold, but it may be metallic! This time, we’ll take a closer look at the shiny side of watercolour paint, and talk about its uses.

A Sparkly Accent

To be honest, no one really “needs” metallic paint for their painting. It’s definitely one of those extra purchases you reserve for special use! But there’s definitely a time and place to add some shine to your painting, so let’s do a little exploration.
Firstly, a good tool to pair with metallic paints is black watercolour paper. Even if it’s normal black paper, metallic paints show up better on black, and can range from different tints of gold and silver (the most common) to other shiny colours, where silver paint is mixed with other colours.
Next, I would suggest using a synthetic brush with your metallic paints, as these paints actually contain tiny particles of aluminium, mica, or powdered pearls to create that shiny effect.

These particles could get stuck in or damage natural brushes, so it’s better to use a cheaper synthetic brush! Having a spray bottle filled with water is a good idea too, as the metallic particles make it harder to pick up the paint unless you wet it before using. 

Lastly, make sure to add metallic paints at the very end, as you don’t want to cover the sparkle! 

Bonus tip: I know some metallic paint enthusiasts make their own metallic colours using mica powder pigment, which is a powder you can mix with a binding agent (like gum Arabic) or watercolour paint. This way you can control how much shine you want!  

Metallic on Black Paper

While it’s tempting to do so, especially on black paper, there is such a thing as “too much metallic paint”! In general, I prefer to use metallic paints more sparingly, because the shine can overwhelm the overall painting.
I would recommend using just enough to catch the eye in the highlights or the focal point of your painting, just for that little sparkle.

In the painting above, I used my opaque watercolour paints as a base (left) before adding the metallic paint on top (right).

Metallic paint is also great for painting sparkly things in the night, like glowing magic or eyes that follow you everywhere.

In the end, it really is up to you how much sparkle you want in your painting – you could even try making an entire painting using metallic paints only!

But again, I would suggest a balance, as too much metallic may make your painting look a bit too flashy (pun intended).


Metallic on White Paper


As you can see in the images above, metallic paint on white paper doesn’t show up as clearly as it does on black, especially colours like silver or white pearl.

To compensate for this, you can contrast it by adding the metallic accents on the darker areas of your paint. 

In either case, as long as you catch the metallic paint in the right light, it will pop out of the paper and shine for all to see.

But it’s up to you how obvious you want the shiny parts to be, so remember to keep stepping back to look at the overall painting, and get a good feel for what the painting needs.

And sometimes, this means not even needing any metallic accents at all!


A Precious Paint


Ultimately, I think there’s always a time and place for shiny things. Plus, one really unique thing about metallic paint is that it can’t be replicated digitally, unless you make a 3D rendering where light reflects off the surface in the same way metallic paint does on a painting.

It’s also difficult to capture its full effect with a camera, which means any painting with metallic paint will often look better under the naked eye.

For watercolour paints, a little goes a long way, and that’s even truer for metallic paints!

But whether you use them sparingly or not, give them a try – it will definitely bring a fresh new perspective in your painting practice.

Edit: We have come out with our own set of Pearlescent Watercolours. Read all about them and how to use them in this blog post!
Have you tried using metallic paints before, or even making your own? What’s your approach to using such an eye-catching paint effect? Feel free to share in the comments below!

Nicola Tsoi is a practicing graphic designer and illustrator based in Hong Kong. During her downtime, she likes to watch birds do funny things, search for stories, and bake up a storm. She keeps a pet sourdough starter named Doughy. 
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