Epoxy resin is a tricky medium that has caught the imaginations of thousands of artists worldwide. Like many artists who want to get involved in creating some epoxy art, I trawled through endless resources before getting started.
It’s fairly expensive after all and wastage is best avoided at all costs! I’m just going to sum up some key findings before I move onto the tips and tricks that I personally think are most important when creating successful resin artworks.
Epoxy Resin 101
So what is epoxy resin? Epoxy resins are liquid polymers that react when mixed together to slowly harden into permanent clear structures. They’re generally considered nonreactive, extremely hard and are waterproof. Epoxy resins actually come in many forms but art resin is generally manufactured to have low-viscosity to allow it to disperse over surfaces.
Epoxy resin comes in two parts, part A and part B. Once mixed thoroughly, an exothermic chemical reaction takes place which begins to cure and solidify the resin. It takes around 3 to 4 hours or so at room temperature for most resin to reach touch-dry but this can be dramatically shorter in hot weather and much longer in the cold. More on this shortly.
Epoxy resins are marketed differently by brands who claim their resin boasts better characteristics for making art. There’s tons of choice if you’re looking for cheaper resin, though, and I’ve found on slight differences in most of the cheaper generic epoxy resin I’ve bought primarily from eBay.
To be fair, I’ve only used Art Resin once and I didn’t notice any difference between this and cheaper generic resin I bought off eBay for maybe two-thirds or even half the price.
If you’re looking for high-quality cheap art resin in the UK, check out ARC resin which is readily available on eBay. I’ve used this more than any resin and I really can’t fault it. I’ve had some pieces for over a year and there’s no yellowing or any other signs of degradation. Most jewellery pieces in my portfolio and blog are created using ARC resin (and no I’m not an affiliate or in any way related to the company!)
Art and Epoxy
So what kind of things can you do with resin?
Epoxy resin with lower viscosity is perfect for sealing artworks to give them a professional, high-quality finish. Resin naturally levels so you simply place your work on a perfectly flat surface and pour the resin into the centre of the work, tilting the piece gently to make sure the resin reaches the edges. Make sure your piece is perfectly flat once the resin disperses over the surface as once it dries your work will be completely inflexible.
If your resin seems too viscous then hold up for some tips on how to remedy this.
Resins remarkable ability to level and find its way into small detailed areas makes it perfect for casting. It also dries perfectly clear when used properly. These properties make it incredibly popular for jewellery casting, and this is what I used it for personally (mostly). To cast objects with resin, all you need is an appropriate silicone mould. You can find tons of moulds on eBay, Amazon, Etsy and Wish. When cast, resin can be mixed with a number of mediums like pigments and alcohol inks to create awesome effects.
Below is a coaster I made using alcohol inks and resin pigments.
By mixing pigments, alcohol inks, acrylic paint, oil paint and mica powder with resin, you can create some insanely cool effects. You might have seen/come across the term ‘cells’, the elusive component of many great fluid/pour pieces.
Acrylic paint is the cheapest way to create colourful resin mixtures. You don’t need to mix an awful lot in, maybe 1 part to 3 or 4 parts resin.
Oil paints are much thicker than acrylic and will need to be worked into resin thoroughly but they also create deep hues.
Pigments purposefully designed for resin are a cheap way to achieve deep and powerful colours. You can find loads of pigments on eBay and Amazon.
Mica powder is another excellent mixer for creating sparkling resin effects. Again, it’s cheap and you can find tons of awesome colours. I’ve always found you need to mix quite a lot of mica into resin to achieve powerful colours.
Alcohol inks are used to create cool effects in resin casting, so what about in pour art? Honestly, it’s not worth it unless you’re making a very small piece. Alcohol inks are expensive and you’d need quite a lot to pigment larger quantities of resin.
Of course, you can blend all 4 of these mixers in different ways for striking effects.
Beware: Water-based pigments and paints do not mix well with resin. I have heard of people using watercolours to create interesting effects in resin but generally, water and resin really don’t work well together.
Cells are what many artists struggle with. They’re tricky and you might succeed one day to subsequently fail every time thereafter.
Cells are integral to the pouring technique. The pouring technique involves pouring different pigmented and coloured resins together into the same cup before typically flipping it rapidly onto a canvas or surface. To create the best cells, you may need to add other ingredients to the mixture.
There’s a raging debate about what you need to mix with resin to help create cells. Honestly, I’ve tried most things and have found that no one mixer comes up trumps compared to the others.
There is a fundamental force at play in cell creation: pigment density. It’s crucial to mix the paints/pigmented resin in the right order within your cup. Denser/heavier pigments will sink to the bottom of your artwork and lighter pigments will be forced to break and disperse over them, creating cells. Black is usually amongst the heaviest pigments and white tends to be heavy also. I’ve found most yellow acrylics to be amongst the lightest pigments. It will vary hugely though depending on your paints and pigments.
I generally pour black and other heavier pigments into the mix first and then add contrasting colours with the lightest at the very end, just before I flip the cup. I recommend using less black than you’ll think you need as it’s usually the most powerful pigment by quite a margin and can overpower and ruin your work. I always avoid pouring white into black to prevent them from mixing together to create grey and the same goes for other colours that mix together very easily, e.g. purple and yellow. If colours look nasty together in the cup, they probably will on the canvas too.
In terms of additives, silicone oil is the go-to. I’ve tried both silicone spray and the clear liquid printer/treadmill lubricant type and have found this is better. When you prepare your various colours, add a small amount of silicone to each and mix it in thoroughly.
Isopropyl rubbing alcohol is another additive used to create cells. I would add this only to the colours you want to encourage to form cells (usually the lighter ones). Again, you only need a little – too much may affect your resin.
Finally, torching is a very reliable way to blast pigments apart with heat and force them into cells. When torching, beware of setting fire to any alcohol or oil-based mixatives. Wear a mask when torching (you should wear one anyway, though).
Tips and Tricks
First and foremost, let’s take a look at one of resin’s fundamental qualities: viscosity. Viscosity refers to how liquid or runny your resin is. Low viscosity = more runny and watery. Some resins are listed as low/high viscosity, but in my experience, I’ve found viscosity is primarily sensitive to the temperature of the resin and environment.
- Lower viscosity resins are great for sealing artwork as they’ll easily spread over its surface.
- High to medium viscosity resins are better for pouring as the cells are more stable. Too viscous and you run the risk of not being able to spread your resin out over your canvas/surface, though.
- Low viscosity resin is poor for alcohol ink casting (e.g. the coaster above) as the resin will be too thin and resin will fall right through to create nasty dots and splodges on the top of the piece. For alcohol ink + resin casting, you want high viscosity resin. More on this in a moment.
The Relationship Between Heat, Viscosity and Curing
The warmer your resin is, the runnier it will be but the quicker it will cure. Colder resin will be much more thick and viscous but may take a lot longer to cure. At temperatures below 10°C or so, I’ve found resin doesn’t fully cure for weeks.
This is obviously a disadvantage and means your resin might slowly move long after you deem your piece complete as it hasn’t cured yet. You might finish a piece with great cells only to return 5 days later and it’s still tacky whilst the uncured resin has gently pulled apart. Cold resin also tends to form far more air bubbles.
It may make sense then to warm up your resin but if your resin is too hot, it will become too runny for most applications and then suddenly start to cure rapidly. For alcohol ink resin casting, this introduces a new problem.
The Window of Opportunity
Discovering the ‘window of opportunity’ changed the way I used resin with alcohol ink and meant I’d barely waste any every again. I have read far too many posts saying ‘just wait until the resin starts to cure a bit before adding the ink’ or ‘if your resin is too runny then your alcohol ink won’t mix properly’. It’s just too ambiguous.
This is what I do when resin casting with alcohol ink:
Make sure the resin has been kept at a reasonable room temperature around 20°C.
- Gently mix the resin. If it’s far too thick once reasonably well mixed and forms too many air-bubbles then grab a hairdryer and gently mix the resin exposing it to the hot air for no longer than 4 to 5 minutes. You’ll certainly feel the resin become less viscous and most air bubbles will disappear.
- Pour the resin gently into your moulds. The more gently you pour, the fewer air bubbles will form. Leave it for around 10 – 15 minutes and use a lighter or torch to get rid of any air bubbles that have risen to the surface. If you see air bubbles hidden in the sides or crevasses of your mould then work them out with a pin or toothpick.
- Wait for your window of opportunity. For me, this has usually been somewhere between 1 to 2 hours after pouring the resin BUT always check every 15 minutes if you’ve warmed your resin with a hairdryer as this will accelerate the curing process. I test the resin by dipping a plastic spoon or other implement into the resin. I want to feel a considerable gloopiness before I start to add any alcohol ink. The surface should be tacky, so when you draw your spoon off the surface, the resin somewhat hangs in the air for a fraction of a second before settling back to the surface.
- Another way to tell is by the way your alcohol ink disperses across the surface of the resin. If your resin is very runny, alcohol ink will spread out over it immediately to become a very thin layer. I find the best 3D effects occur when the resin spreads out to dots maybe 1cm to 1.5cm in diameter max.
- The general idea is to add one dot of white alcohol ink before placing a drop of colour directly onto the same spot. This creates the hallmark 3D filaments of alcohol ink resin pieces.
- In my experience, it’s always best to be a tiny bit too late than too early. Even when you mix alcohol ink with very tacky resin you can produce some great effects.
- If you simply feel you’ve left it too late and your ink seems to sit on the surface of your resin as a tiny dot then you can try pushing it into the resin with a pin. I’ve found some great effects from this too. All is not lost!
Generally, I’d say the main mistake people make when using alcohol ink with resin to caste 3D objects like coasters is that they don’t wait long enough for the resin to cure. In my experience, it can take hours. How much this varies between brands and climates/temperatures, I do not know.
Maybe it’s just a matter of using different brands of resin but for me, no matter what resin I’m using, I leave it a while before adding any alcohol ink to the resin. I always test this with a plastic spoon to make sure the resin is tacky – I want it to feel sticky like glue before I add any alcohol ink.