Introduction: 3D Painting: Layered Resin and Acrylic Paint

Painting! Three-dimensionally! This is a guide to making your own layered resin painting. Disclaimer: making a three dimensional painting will also require a good chunk of the 4th dimension. This medium demands patience, but the final result makes it all worthwhile.

Pictured above is my first attempt at this technique. I posted this picture on Reddit, and tons of people were asking about my methods. Given the interest and the overwhelmingly positive reception of the piece, I was inspired to share what I have learned.

Step 1: Materials

First and foremost, let's cover safety.

It is important to take precautions when working with resin. Make sure to read and follow the warnings from the manufacturer. For the sake of brevity, I won't repeat them here. That said, when working with resin, you want to avoid getting it on your skin, and avoid breathing the fumes when mixing and curing.

My safety equipment includes:

  • Eye protection
  • Latex gloves
  • Respirator
  • A closed off room in which to leave curing resin

Ok, with safety covered, here's what you'll need:

  • Resin: Parks Super Glaze. Available at Home Depot and on Amazon
  • Graduated disposable measuring cups, 8 oz.
  • Popsicle sticks, for mixing
  • The container that will be the outside of your piece
  • Heat gun
  • Paint brushes
  • Acrylic paint

Step 2: Measuring and Mixing

If you want to be accurate about how thick your layer will be, you should first calculate how much resin you should prepare per layer.

  1. Think about how many layers you would like in your piece, and divide your container's depth by that number to get your desired thickness. I usually do around 1/8" thick layers at most.
  2. Take that desired thickness number and multiply by the area of your piece to get the total volume needed per layer. 1 fluid ounce is 1.8in^3 (~29.6 cm^3 for those of you not using Freedom Units).
  3. Divide that total number of ounces in half, and that'll be how much you measure out of both Part A and B of the resin.

Don your safety equipment. Pour an equal amount of Part A and Part B into your graduated measuring cup-- the ratio of Part A to Part B is 1:1 with this particular brand of resin. Mix for at least two minutes. Since it's pretty viscous, make sure to scrape the sides and reach all the places where unmixed resin could hide. Your solution should look fairly homogenous after mixing (there will be a lot of bubbles in it at this point). Now, you're ready to pour!

Step 3: Pouring Resin and Popping Bubbles

You'll want to do these next steps in a relatively dust and hair free environment. Dust will get in your piece, but we'll cover how to deal with that in the next step.

Pouring

Pour the resin into your container. Tilt your piece from side to side until the bottom of the surface is covered completely. You can tilt the piece so the resin coats the walls of the interior if you want-- this will make it easy to scrape any errant paint off the sides that might get there by accident, while paint would be harder to remove from uncoated wood.

Bubble Popping

Use your heat gun on the low setting and move it over your piece. Do not linger on one area too long, because you risk burning or scarring the resin. (Pro-tip: flush the dust out of your heat gun by turning it on and blowing it elsewhere before you use it on your piece.)

Most of the big bubbles will pop pretty quick (which is pretty satisfying to watch), but look out for those little guys. Shine a light over your piece and see if there bubbles casting shadows.

Step 4: Dealing With Dust

While shining a light over your piece to look for bubbles, you might notice some flecks and fibers on the surface of your piece already. Dust, hair, and fibers are SO annoying in this process, and aside from some sort of lab environment, it's pretty much impossible to keep them out of the resin entirely. However, with proper methods (and some luck) the dust will remain virtually invisible in your piece. Sidenote: It's really quite amazing how much dust and hair is everywhere. It's floating in the air, we're breathing it all the time... Working with resin will give you a renewed sense of wonder about how much is going on at the micro level all around us.

Finding Dust and Hair

While shining a light over your piece, look directly at the glare on the surface. Debris on top will be visible due to the surface tension of the resin disrupting the glare. Track back and forth over your piece to find those pesky floating buggers. Focus on the bigger ones. The super tiny ones will mostly disappear after your next layer, but make sure to get hairs and larger fibers because they will be visible.

Removal

You can use torn off pieces of paper as "lures" to fish them out. Corners of paper are particularly good because they hook onto the fibers nicely. Be careful about re-using the same lure to get out subsequent debris, because you risk putting previously fished dust/hair back into the resin.

Keeping Them Out

After your resin is sufficiently dust free, cover the whole piece with something to keep more dust from falling onto it while it cures. I often use tinfoil or place a wood board on top. Tin foil is advantageous in that you can wrap it around the edges. Dust is pretty magical in that it can sneak through the tiniest of holes...

Dealing with Sneaky Ones

Gasp! Large dust flecks, or even worse, a hair, made it into your piece after the layer already cured. Dang, you might have to adapt your piece to cover it. On multiple occasions I've had to add sections to my design to cover hair/dust. However, I usually end up really liking the additions that the initial imperfection necessitated. One of the most engaging elements of art and design is problem-solving. Don't cry over spilled milk and find a clever solution! That said, if you really want to get something out, you can sand through the resin to remove the imperfection, which is a lot of work... but we'll cover that later.

Step 5: Curing

Keep the curing piece in a place that you're not breathing in the fumes. The curing process is driven by heat, not by exposure to air and evaporation. As such, don't keep the piece anywhere cold while it's curing because this will significantly slow the process. On the flip side, you can heat the piece to speed up curing, but don't get it too hot-- refer to manufacturers' recommendations. I left a piece in the oven too hot for too long once, and it went... poorly (see picture above). The layer should take around 8 hours to cure at room temperature, at which point you can start painting on it!

Step 6: Painting

Woot! You poured a layer of resin! Now the fun part.

Painting on resin is different than painting on canvas. It's extremely smooth, so the paint doesn't grab onto the surface. This makes it difficult to paint opaque elements in one stroke, but it allows for the awesome ability to add semi-transparent elements! Pictured above is a brush stroke. Cool, transparency! If you want to make it opaque, you'll have to wait for the paint to dry and paint another coat on top.

Another great aspect of painting on resin is the ability to wipe off paint easily if it is still wet, and you can even scrape off paint that is dry. This means that you can prototype and experiment with your paintbrush, because you can always just wipe or scrape it away. If some small scratches appear while you are scraping away, for the most part, these will disappear after you pour the next layer.

Sometimes I use masking tape as illustrated in the pictures to get some nice crisp, straight edges, as shown in the second picture. The next photos show the first 4 layers.


Prepping for the next layer

After you finish painting a layer, you'll want to clean off the surface to keep the piece crystal clear. I use a damp paper towel, and finish with a microfiber cloth– use the same trick of looking at the glare on the surface to find smudges and removable gunk. Again, don't worry about tiny scratches that might show up from cleaning.

After you've cleaned the surface, return to the previous step and pour the next layer. Repeat the process of pouring and painting until your container is full!

Step 7: Fixing Large Imperfections

Bad stuff can happen to your piece, and you might need to take dramatic action. In the picture above, the top layer of resin touched the dust cover that I placed on top while it was curing, leaving a large raised imperfection in the bottom right of the piece. With an imperfection this big, I had to fix it somehow...

Sanding

If there are imperfections in the resin that you just cant live with, you can sand down the piece and re-pour the layer, ideally returning it to total clarity. Be sure to wear a respirator if you are sanding, and take measures to make sure you don't breathe the dust or expose others to it. You really don't want that particulate matter in your lungs, it's essentially very small particles of plastic.

If your imperfection is deep, you can use a dremel or rotary tool to get rid of material faster. Afterwards, start with a low grit sand paper and work your way up to 600 grit. Wet sanding helps minimize particulate matter. After you've gotten up to 600 grit, you should be able to pour the next layer and have it return to completely clear. I'm actually still in the midst of this process with the piece pictured above, but the manufacturer assured me this should work.

Step 8: Finishing Touches

To preserve your piece, put a UV protective layer in front of it to keep the resin from yellowing. Resin gets pretty heavy when it is a thick piece, so make sure the materials you use can handle the weight. I made my housing for my first piece with laser cut white acrylic, which holds a layer of UV protective plastic, but does not actually hold the weight of the piece. To hang the piece, I put some eye screws into the wooden frame that is the container, and wrapped wire between them.

Step 9: Make More!

Here's some pictures of a few more of my pieces, I hope they resinate with you... heh heh. I've started experimenting with using glass containers, which is quite neat because you can see the layers through the side. Also, the top layer reflects the inside of the piece, which looks pretty cool too-- you can see this effect in the second picture. If you're interested, you can check out more of my art on my Instagram, Facebook, or Behance.

I'm excited to see what other people can create with this method. May your bubbles all pop, and your dust be invisible! Good luck!

Comments

author
ckoosh (author)2017-05-29

Really nice work. Question: Where do you get your Acrylic/Epoxy supplies?

author
Cynthia McGillH (author)ckoosh2017-06-23

Home Depot, walmart, Hobby Lobby

author
HLightning11 (author)2017-02-21

Woah. Amazing...

author
Cris DIY (author)2017-02-19

Amazing work! congrats!

author
Yonatan24 (author)2017-02-14

Wow!

author
agis68 (author)2017-02-14

amazing!!!

author
ShekharSahu (author)2017-02-13

I totally loved it.

author
KryptoTSD (author)2017-02-13

This is gonna get MADE!

author
Lycheemiily (author)2016-06-25

Where do you find the boxes/ containers for your work? Any suggestions would be much appreciated

author
Will Atwood (author)Lycheemiily2017-01-12

for my first one I actually used the back side of a "wooden canvas"

author
Dingozute (author)2016-08-22

Thank you for the tutorial. It is well done, the tips are practical, and I can't wait to try it out.

author
Will Atwood (author)Dingozute2017-01-12

looking forward to seeing your results!

author
DougR17 (author)2016-10-14

Wish I read that Pro-Tip earlier. Just poured resin on my 24x48 table top and happily fired up my heat gun. It looked like a confetti gun and blew black specs all over the resin. It was like glass too. I did something similar to your fishing and got most of it out, but now the surface is dimply. Gonna pour another coat which should level things up.

author
Will Atwood (author)DougR172017-01-12

lol! ya the first time that happened to me was SO annoying

author
folkhero (author)2016-12-27

I looked at your stuff on instagram. You are an amazing artist.

author
Will Atwood (author)folkhero2017-01-12

thank you for the kind words :)

author
LynneK7 (author)2016-12-27

How do you make the container resin-tight?

author
Will Atwood (author)LynneK72017-01-12

just gotta make sure there aren't any leaks. if you're worried about it, you could do a very small resin pour into the container just enough to coat all the sides, and that would probably seal it.

author
mardeehill (author)2016-12-28

OMG!!! Looking at your work on Instagram is just so amazing. LOL, at first, some of them reminded me of a science toy we purchased when my son was young, maybe around 1988 where you dropped pieces of different colored something or other in a liquid and they grew to different heights and widths and looked pretty much like some of your pieces but not as beautiful or permanent. Can't wait to try yours!

author
Will Atwood (author)mardeehill2017-01-12

thank you! please share your results once you've finished :)

author
FilipW (author)2016-12-27

Very interesting! Two questions. 1. Can't you have a separable mold that releases from the acrylic so you don't need a glass container to be able to see it from the sides? And 2. Why do you call the units of measure forced onto you by England "Freedom units"? :)

author
Will Atwood (author)FilipW2017-01-12

cool idea-- on thing i might worry about with that method would be the layers separating from each other over time with their edge boundaries exposed. And regarding freedom units... no comment lol

author
Oncer (author)FilipW2016-12-29

Well the system of units that peoples (from all over the world not just the "English", or the British as we were known then and now) took with them to the Americas can hardly be called an imposition. And American units and the old British imperial units are not the same thing now anyway with the American fluid ounce being larger than the old imperial fluid ounce and so on. As for ounces there have the Tower ounce, troy ounce, avoirdupois ounce and Paris troy.

United States customary units were based on imperial units from before 1824 but both countries overhauled their units several times since so they are no longer identical and the UK is of course metric since 1965.

However we did impose lots of other things, as all european countries did in those times, so I wouldn't presume to be holier than thou about it if I were you.

author
jukeboxwendy (author)2016-12-29

Awesome!!! Consider using silicone molds for shape or imbeding the hanging wire inside.

author

SmoothOn 30 liquid rubber is on Amazon, great quality.

author
Will Atwood (author)jukeboxwendy2017-01-12

interesting, thanks for the tips!

author
camscam (author)2016-12-29

This is a great technique, thank you for sharing. Your aesthetic is very cool too.

author
Will Atwood (author)camscam2017-01-12

Thanks! Glad you dig it

author
kristin.howard.169 (author)2016-12-27

Great instructions! You have inspired me to give this a try.

author
Cyrus KaelA (author)2016-04-25

is their any alternatives for the heat gun? (Im not really in the mood to buy something im probably gonna use once)

author

you can get heat gun for under $10 at Harbor Freight

author
Will Atwood (author)Cyrus KaelA2016-05-01

Cyrus, I once tried a hair drier but it blew dust and gunk all over the piece. Other commenters have said that they recommend a blow torch, be careful with fire though...

author
gadsden (author)2016-02-23

Can silicone moulds be used with resin?

author
Cazverde (author)gadsden2016-12-11

Yes, I've used polyester resin in silicon molds with great success

author
Will Atwood (author)gadsden2016-05-01

I believe so, but haven't yet tried myself. On my to do list though.

author
rdiamond123 (author)2016-12-04

beautiful work, definitely going to try this out

author
Cazverde (author)2016-11-12

Can I use polyester resin?

author
JodieW19 (author)2016-11-12

Omgravy all your pieces look amazing! Thank you for making a tutorial ?

author
NerdyGirl79 (author)2016-09-20

You just gave me some wicked ideas for my resin coasters!

author
Lycheemiily (author)2016-06-25

Where do you find the boxes/ containers for your work? Any suggestions would be much appreciated

author
Dwargh (author)2016-05-09

May I ask, how do you draw/paint that lines so straight?

author
Will Atwood (author)Dwargh2016-06-13

Just a lot of practice and patience mostly :). The ability to scrape away paint on the resin also helps, because I can go back and re-do stuff or clean up the edges.

author
Dwargh (author)Will Atwood2016-06-14

Aw great! Maybe you would like to make an instructable/tutorial about how to do that?! ;-) That'd be great!

author
Dwargh (author)2016-03-17

Really inspirating! If you don't want to mess it up, after pouring the resin layers, you would want to create a template in Photoshop (or GIMP), with different layers. So you can imagine what your picture would look like. Savvy?

author
Will Atwood (author)Dwargh2016-05-01

Dwargh, ya sometimes I'll do some prototyping digitally :)

author
Dwargh (author)Will Atwood2016-05-09

I like that!! Again, great job! *applaudes* Can't wait to see more!

author
adarii (author)2016-02-22

This is an incredibly artistic and beautiful artwork!

author
Will Atwood (author)adarii2016-05-01

thank you adarii!

author
CubeKnight (author)2016-02-26

How long does it normally take to make overall.

author
Will Atwood (author)CubeKnight2016-05-01

CubeKnight, it really depends on the detail and number of layers of your piece. The more detailed and deep ones can end up taking over a month

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