Paint Binders in Art: What Are They?

paint binders in art

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Pigment, binder, liquid, additives, etc…

These are the components that make up your favorite paint. This is true whether you’re working with oil paint, acrylic paint, tempera paint, watercolor paint, and so on.

Pigments are what give colors to the paint. Meanwhile, liquids serve as “carriers”, and additives are the bells and whistles that paint manufacturers add to customize their paint and differentiate it from others in the same market.

BUT, what about binders? What are binders in paint? Based on the name, the answer may seem pretty obvious! Nevertheless, let’s talk about it in more detail in the article below:

What Are Paint Binders?

What are binders? Well … the answer is all in the name! A paint binder is the substance that holds the paint together.

Just like one would use cement as a binding agent to create concrete to build houses. Or how a chef would use eggs — which have highly elastic proteins that create a web that holds other ingredients together — to coat their meat before dipping it into flour for frying.

what are paint binders?

Paint recipes work the same way. After all, pigments — which can be made from anything from plants, to insects, to heavy metals, and minerals — have to be ground into powder.

So, in order to transform those dry pigments into paints that can be squeezed straight out of the tube, they require something that can bond them together.

What Is a Binder Used for in Paint?

Alright, so the main purpose of binding ingredients is to hold pigments together. However, is that the only reason why certain binders may appear in paint recipes? Well, let’s break it down …

Manufacturers will use different binders to mix their paints despite working with the same medium. For example, those who work with oil paints probably recognize linseed oil as the most commonly used binding medium for oils.

HOWEVER, linseed oil is not the only choice for binding pigments for oils.

After all, linseed oil has its own disadvantages. For example, it can cause your paintings to yellow over time. Because of this, some manufacturers prefer to use poppy oil and safflower oil because they don’t yellow as much and are highly compatible with pale colors (i.e. blues, greens, and white paint).

what is a paint binder used for?

There are also more specialized brands that use alkyd resin for their paints to create thicker oil paints suitable for cold wax painting.

IN SHORT! Different binding mediums have different properties and values. And, if you can figure this out, you may be able to evolve your art skills and step into the pro-level league! Tempted? Check out our lists of different binders below to get a head start.

Types of Binders for Paints

Each binder has different characteristics. It will take too long to list them all one by one. But the list below should give you a good idea of what to look out for:

Binders for Oil Paints

Linseed oil, which is extracted from the seeds of the flax plant, is the most commonly used binder for oil paint. Its advantages over other binders are as follows:

  • Purely natural and 100% non-toxic.
  • Linseed oil creates a strong, durable paint film.
  • Linseed oil also increases drying time, whereas some binders are more likely to decrease drying time.
  • It creates a strong adhesion and is compatible with various surfaces (i.e., metals, wood, and plaster).

Recommended Binder for Oils – Winsor & Newton Cold-Pressed Linseed Oil

winsor and newton cold-pressed linseed oil

If you want to mix your own oil paints, the best binder to grab is Winsor & Newton’s cold-pressed linseed oil. Winsor & Newton also offers regular refined linseed oil, however, cold-pressed linseed oil is non-toxic, slow-drying, and is tested to improve paint flow.

Watercolor & Gouache Binders

Next, let’s take a look at watercolor and gouache. Compared to oil colors, these two mediums are not only non-toxic but are also water-based. From that fact alone, it can be assumed that the binder required will be different. The most important attribute is that it needs to dissolve in water.

In this case, the most popular binder is gum arabic. Gum arabic dissolves in water, and depending on the ratio you use when mixing it with your pigments, you can get varying effects. In accordance with this, some artists like to mix their own gum arabic binding recipe whilst others prefer to grab it straight from the store.

Recommended Water-Based Binder – SENNELIER Watercolor Binding Medium

sennelier watercolor binding medium

If you want to mix your own watercolor or gouache paints, Sennelier’s binding medium is a good bet. Not only does it include gum arabic, but it also includes honey, liquid, and a preservative so that your paints will be easier to reactivate.

Acrylic Binding Medium

If watercolors are different from oils, then acrylic paints can only be more different. The required binding medium will need to dry your paints into a clear, flexible, and water-resistant film.

For this, acrylic polymer emulsion binders, also called latex (or PVAs — polyvinyl acetate), are required. The process of use is a bit complicated. But, basically, liquid is held in the binder and will slowly dissolve. Once it’s dissolved, it will create a synthetic film.

Recommended Acrylic Binder – Acrylic Polymer

acrylic polymer

GOLDEN acrylic paints are one of the most popular acrylic paint brands in the market. Part of the reason is the binding medium used. They also offer a version of this binding medium for artists to mix their own acrylics and create different effects with the ones they own.

Tempera Binder

For classic tempera paint, some artists use egg whites, milk (specifically, casein), and various species of plants that produce gums. However, the most popular is undoubtedly egg yolk, after all, egg yolks are fast-drying and long-lasting.

If you want to make your own paints, tempera is undoubtedly the most simple. Just grab some eggs from the fridge and you’re almost halfway there! As for pigments, they’re available in most art supplies and craft stores.

Encaustic Wax Binder

Encaustic wax uses beeswax as its binder. Back in the day, the Ancient Greeks chose beeswax, which is water-proof, as their medium for pigments in order to decorate their warships.

These days, most artists still use beeswax as the main ingredients for mixing encaustic paints. However, there are also those who prefer to use a mixture of beeswax and damar resin in order to mix their own encaustic colors.

Final Thoughts:

Hopefully, you were able to improve your understanding of your favorite painting medium by learning about binders! If you want to test out your new mastery, check out this class for beginners who want to learn pro-level skills.

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