How to Make Cell Activator for Acrylic Paint? Worth Your Time

Creating art through painting is one of the oldest practices in the world. Painting has evolved to include a number of tricks, many of which bring out the enthralling beauty of art. Acrylic paint is one of the paints with which people have learned ways to make it give spectacular art.

In our article, we look into the trick of cell-making while using acrylic paint. We will learn how one can make a cell activator for acrylic paint and whether it is worth your time. There are cell activators out there in the shops which work wonderfully. However, you can make your own cell activator. Depending on the activator you choose, you should compare the work involved with the price tag of the one at the shop and consider if it is worth the effort.

To best understand why people go through all the trouble of making cell activators, we must first understand what cell painting is. Appreciating why cell activators are used on acrylic paint is also important.

What is a cell activator?

When additives are added to acrylic paint, cells are formed. These additives have oil-based compounds which react with the paint forming the cells. Bubbles form when the oil-based additive is added to the water-based acrylic paint. As you are well aware, oil and water never mix.

Bubbles are formed and rise to the surface once the acrylic paint has settled. This added oil-based additive can be manipulated however one wants to form some amazing artwork. Once the paint is poured on a canvas, it can be evenly spread or thinned out using a blower or a piece of plastic. Many paintings, some commanding extremely high prices, are made this way. This is made possible by the oil-based additive, which is also called the cell activator.

There is a wide range of cell activators in the market today. They may bear the name cell activator for acrylic paint, but in most cases, you will need to know what you are looking for. The name that some cell activators carry include:

  • Acrylic pouring oil
  • Acrylic pour oil
  • Silicone pouring oil
  • Dimethicone acrylic oil

You can make your cell activator or buy a substitute for the mainstream cell activators. Many professional and novice artists and painters result to making their own cell activators which work just fine. You don’t have to buy a cell activator. There are several factors to consider, though, when it comes to making a cell activator. Things such as the density of the paint, the technique to use, and the size of cells you want.

A cell activator is an additive added to acrylic paint, which helps create a special effect on the final piece of art. There are several routes one can use to come up with an effective cell activator. The activator is used in various ways to give the desired results. Some enthusiasts use the broom technique, while the more experienced ones prefer the swap technique. You can start small by just dabbing a brush in your preferred cell activator and flicking it over the paint you want to see cells created.

How does a cell activator for acrylic paint?

To understand how a cell activator works, you need first to understand what Rayleigh-Taylor instability means. RT instability, as its popularly referred to, is an instability of an interface between different fluids of different densities. The effect happens when a heavier fluid sits on a lighter fluid under the influence of the earth’s gravity. The RT instability is triggered by the earth’s gravity acting on an inverted density gradient in a mixture of different fluids.

Simply put, the RT instability is best observed when you mix different paints of different densities. You should then spread the different paints on a surface, ideally pouring on the surface you are painting. After pouring the paints atop each other on your canvas, sprinkle a fluid that has a heavier density than the topmost paint. The magic to happen is that the drop of your fluid will ‘sink’ into the underneath paint, making the underlying paint come to the surface.

If, for example, let us say you poured white, blue, yellow, and black on a canvas in that order. The top color will be black. When you pour a drop of the fluid which you intend to use as a cell activator is heavier than blue, yellow, and black, it will replace the three colors. This will make the three colors come to the top, with the lightest appearing the most. This replacement will happen only on the very spot where the drop of your fluid was dropped.

In not so many words, RT instability is something we experience in our everyday lives. When water is suspended over oil, mushroom clouds in case of a volcanic explosion or a supernova explosion; for those who love astrophysics, we experience RT instability. You actually don’t need a special agent to experience an RT instability effect. All you need are fluids of different densities and gravity.

In acrylic painting, a cell activator is any fluid that will help you achieve the RT instability effect. If you were to revisit your chemistry class, you would be quick to point out that the term ‘activator’ is wrongly applied in cell activators since the reaction happening here is physical and not chemical.

How to make a cell activator for acrylic paint

The most popular cell activator is silicone. In fact, you will find many online pouring acrylic paint experts insisting on silicone. It is for this reason, silicone is so popular as a cell activator. But once you grasp what cell making is all about in pouring acrylic art, you will be relieved to know you have other options. We will conduct a test to show why investing in a cell activator might not be necessary. We will see how you can make your own cell activator at no extra cost.

Here are the steps to follow:

  1. Mix ½ a cup of paint with a cup of pouring medium. The medium can be Floetrol, Glue-all, Sergent, Liquitex, or any of the more than a dozen options out there. Pick two or three colors: white, sky blue, and black. Have three sets of these paints (3 small jars of black, blue, and white).
  2. On a CD disc, pour white paint and let it spread well, then pour blue, followed by black.
  3. Blow air onto the paint using a straw to make the different paints mix well. In larger paintings, you will need to use a small electric blower. The paints will mix well, and the cell activator will give the desired effects.
  4. We are going to use three different cell activators. Starting with the first one; silicone oil. Dab a small paint brush in silicone oil and then flick it over the paint.
  5. On a second CD disc, repeat the pouring of paint on it and then blow air to mix the paint. In this case, you can use coconut milk, treadmill belt lubricant, or isopropyl alcohol. You can also use KY jelly as a cell activator because it contains pure dimethicone. This is easily available in the contraceptives section of the store. The point is there are quite a huge variety of cell activators out there.
  6. On the third CD, pour the three paints and spread them as before. As a cell activator, flick a brush dabbed with water.
  7. You will notice that all three fluids used will act as cell activators, yet they are locally available, and nobody mentions their effectiveness. As pointed out, you have a wide range of locally available fluids that can act as cell activators. However, the most amazing thing about this kind of painting is that water will give great cells the same way cell activators from the stores give.

Is it worth making a cell activator?

The pouring acrylic paint technique has been around for many years. However, it has been gaining popularity in recent years since it offers DIYers lovers a great opportunity to make their own art. When applying your choice cell activator, note that smaller drops of the activator give smaller cells while larger drops give bigger cells.

While you might have an easy time finding the raw materials, time, practice, and patience is what will eventually give you the paint that will dazzle all. Education is also something that you must invest in. You will, for example, see that cell activators work best when they are opaque and will work best when they are on an opaque paint.

Learning how to make cell activators on acrylic paint can be an eye-opener for you. You will learn to appreciate art more, and it will even pull you into the fascinating world of making cool paints. So, yes, making cells for acrylic paint is worth your time.


Painting requires that you put in effort and time. Most people don’t achieve excellent results on their first trial, especially when trying the more complicated pouring of acrylic paint with cell activators. You also shouldn’t stick to one cell activator. Try different fluids, and eventually, you will find the one that gives you the eye-catching results that your heart will love.