The Value of Homemade

Painting supplies can get expensive. I’ve already mentioned how I’m a fan of craft acrylics ($0.50 – $2 for 1 oz.) instead of “model paint” ($3.50 – $7 for 12-17 ml) from lines such as Citadel, Vallejo, or The Army Painter for terrain and dungeon tile painting. Those more expensive paints do have their place in (and are preferred for) painting figures and such, but they’re not really cost effective for terrain/tiles. Switching to craft acrylics can greatly benefit your gaming fund. Paint is only part of the cost though.

Especially when working with craft acrylics, which might not have the same quality standards as model paint, you’ll want a good stock of paint accessories: thinner, flow improver, drying retarder, etc. These chemical accessories can help your inexpensive acrylics ‘punch’ quite a bit above their weight class; giving you more flexibility and options in your painting endeavors.

There’s a healthy collection of online tutorials for making homemade accessories, and while they all claim to be, “very inexpensive,” none that I’ve found have actually done the math. I mean, just how ‘inexpensive’ are we talking? Spoiler alert: doing the math reveals a VERY attractive option. Read on for the details.

Commercial Options

This is a sampling of some of the more popular, commercially available options. My general approach in finding cost information was to go with MSRP. Yes, you can certainly find it cheaper, but since prices can vary regionally, I’m establishing a baseline. I also favored larger sizes (over smaller 12-17 ml bottles) since we’re going for economy here.

  • Vallejo Airbrush Thinner – $13.95 for 200 ml ($0.0698 per ml)
  • Winsor & Newton Flow Improver – $11.49 for 125 ml ($0.0919 per ml)
  • Golden Acrylics Retarder – $24.99 for 8 fl.oz. ($0.1056 per ml)


Now, here’s the result of making my own…

  • Airbrush Thinner – $0.213 for 1 oz. ($0.0072 per ml) 90% savings
  • Flow Improver – $0.067 for 1 oz. ($0.0023 per ml) 98% savings
  • Drying Retarder – $0.356 for 1 oz. ($0.0121 per ml) 89% savings

Impressive numbers, right?

Oh, and if you’re wondering, “Airbrush Thinner” can be used to just generally thin acrylics; even for brush-on application.

How Can I Make My Own?!?

Since I’m sure you’re now strongly considering putting on your home chemist lab coat, let’s go over the components and the formulas.


Vegetable Glycerin ($12.97 for 1 quart) – Vegetable glycerin, or glycerol, is a clear, odorless liquid produced from plant oils, typically palm oil, soy, or coconut oil. It has uses as everything from a sweetness additive in food to serving as a humectant in lotions, oils, and soaps.

Propylene Glycol ($10.94 for 1 quart) – Propylene glycol is is a viscous colorless liquid which is nearly odorless but possesses a faintly sweet taste, and is found in thousands of cosmetic products as well as a large number of processed foods products. It’s also a common ingredient in electronic cigarettes, contributing to taste and “smoothness” of the smoke.

99% Isopropyl Alcohol ($9.90 for 16 fl.oz.) – Isopropyl Alcohol, or isopropanol, is a colorless, flammable chemical compound with a strong odor. It has uses as a solvent, a preservative, and is commonly known for medical use as a sanitizer.

Distilled Water ($1.00 for 1 gallon) – Distilled water is water that has had many of its impurities removed through distillation. Distillation involves boiling the water and then condensing the steam into a clean container.


The formulas are presented as percentages, so you can mix them up in any size container you like. The costs I gave above are based on using a 1 fl.oz. squeeze bottle.

Airbrush Thinner

  • 66% Distilled Water
  • 33% Isopropyl Alcohol
  • 1% Glycerin (roughly 10-20 drops per 1 oz. of thinner)

Flow Improver

  • 85% Distilled Water
  • 15% Glycerin

Drying Retarder

  • 50% Glycerin
  • 45% Propylene Glycol
  • 5% Distilled Water

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