Masking Fluid: How to Make Your Watercolors Sparkle

SUMMARY: Masking fluid is a fantastic way to preserve the white of your paper and make your paintings sparkle. Discover how in this article.

Have you tried using masking fluid in your watercolors? 

Masking fluid is an easy and proven way to include bright whites into your painting by using the white of your paper.

But there are a few things to keep in mind when using masking fluid which will make a big difference in the final result.

In this video, our watercolor coach Jess Rice does a quick demo on how he uses masking fluid and shares all his tips for best results.

Rough Video Transcript

Today, I'm going to show you many different ways to apply masking fluid. I'm Jess Rice. I'm an art teacher and beginners are my specialty.

When you're using masking fluid you want to start with a good brand. There's a wide variety of masking fluids. Try to pick one that’s got a good brand name. That’s fairly well-known. I use DaVinci. It’s a nice creamy masking fluid. I've never had it stick on my paper. I've never had any trouble with it.

So, I like to use that. That's my favorite to use, but there's many different types of masking fluid, several ways to apply masking fluid. But first I want to talk just a little bit about some tips with masking. You don't want to shake up your masking fluid. You don't want it all frothy in there. You'll never get it onto your tools that you're using.

So make sure you don't shake it up, keep it nice and creamy. When you're using masking fluid, you don't want to ever put it out in the direct sunlight. You'll never get it back off your paper. So, if you're working inside, you're fine. Even through a window, sunlight won't hurt it. But if you're out in direct sunlight and it bakes on there, you won't ever get it off.

Don't wet your paper and then put masking fluid on it. It changes the masking fluid somehow, and you'll never get the masking fluid back off again. So, you always want to apply masking fluid onto very dry paper. 

A couple different ways that I apply masking fluid, is with a great little tool called an incredible nib.

It's got two different ends on it, kind of a flat one, and then kind of a sharp one. Dip your brush in masking fluid. And then you can add that right onto your paper.

You do a light touch to get a thin line or the side of that nib to get a thicker layer.

I'm just kind of thinking I'm doing to do some Shasta daisies. Maybe I want all those pedals to be nice and white. I want a little bit thicker stroke so I can use the side of my nib.

Nice big strokes. If you have an accident with your masking fluid, rather than wiping that off, let that dry and then come back in and just kind of peel it off.

I'm just creating some different shapes there for my daisies. I want some nice big white petals sitting out here.

You could also use a brush to do this. You want to use an old brush and one that you coat with soap. So coat it with soap first, and then you can use it in your masking fluid, and then you can wash it all off. You don't want to use a nice brush. Yeah, the masking fluid will ruin a nice brush immediately.

All right. I've just got some, some petal shapes in here. We'll see what they look like once I put a little color out onto them.

All right. The incredible nib. I just let it dry and then that I can peel that masking fluid right off. So I just set it aside and let it dry. You try to wipe it off with anything. It just sticks and clogs to your paper. So just let it dry right on the nib. Another way you can apply masking fluid is with a ruling pen.

If you want finer lines, say on cat whiskers or the highlight in an eye, you can use a ruling pen. It’s made for ink, but it works well for masking fluid. Again, don't shake your masking fluid up, dip it in your masking fluid. I wipe off the edges. So I don't have that excess masking fluid on there.

And you want all your masking fluid to be sitting inside your pen. And as soon as you lay that onto the paper, it starts pulling that masking fluid out. You want to hold the ruling pan horizontally. So the masking fluid runs out of the pen. It's pulling it out of the pen. As I pulled along, if I turn it this way, it can't pull any of that masking fluid out.

Well, it did because it was still wet down there. Got a really nice, fine line. Turn it to the side so you get a nice, nice flow of masking fluid. Let's do a few more of those. So you can see how to pull that out. Turn my brush to the side and then I can pull that masking fluid out.

This is the better one. If you're going to use it for cat whiskers and you get nice, fine lines for cat whiskers or a fishing line or something like that, where you want to real fine line, this is about the only way you can get that nice, long fine line. If you've got short lines, you can use a toothpick tip and do fine lines.

But this is the ultimate for really fine lines. All right, let me dry that off. Oh, I want to show you one more thing. Let's set this aside. You can also put masking fluid on paint that you've already laid down. So I've already put a wash down on this painting, but maybe I want to preserve some of these yellows and things in here.

I'm just gonna use my ruling pen and I can mask right over these. I want to keep these nice little yellow dots in the center of my flower here.

That's when I floated another color or another wash over that for a darker center. These nice yellow dots in the middle will show through.

A few there and a few up here.

All right. Maybe just a few up here. All right. I'll set those both aside, dry them off, and then I'll float a little bit color out on there and show you what, how it repels the masking fluid and then how to take it off or how to remove it.

All right. Let's dry that off,

Right? I'm all dried off. I could tell it's dry if you touch it and your masking fluid doesn't lift, and also the masking fluid kind of turns a milky color, or it's a little bit more opaque. So you can tell that it's dried off. I did. I dropped that bit there that I didn't want, so I dried it all off. Now I could peel that off.

And get rid of that little spot that I had. You don't want to try to wipe it while it's still wet or you'll have a big smear across your watercolor. So if you make a mistake where you, you put a line down that you don't want, dry it and then peel it off. So the rest I'm gonna leave on there. Actually, I think I'm going to peel off one of these lines as well.

I've just got too many of them up there. Just gonna peel one of them off, shorten this one up just a little bit. So just because you laid your masking fluid down, it doesn't mean you have to live with it. You can take it back off. All right. Big brush, masking fluids, all dry. Where I've got my masking fluid I want the richest colors right over the top of that, because that's really what I want to stand out.

It’s those nice whites against that beautiful, rich color behind it. Let's start a little bit of New Gamboge.

And you can see that masking fluid repels the color. So it's repelling all that watercolor off my paper.

And when I peel it off, I'll still have those nice whites.

Let’s float a little bit of Alizarin Crimson in there.

My flowers are all mapped out so I can paint right behind him. I'm really kind of thinking the background behind him,

A bit more of that yellow.

You can see the masking fluid starting to do its job through, it’s repelling all that color. Let's switch to a different blue and use a little bit of Ultramarine Blue. It's got a little bit more red into it. A little bit more purples.

Say I want a really rich color right at the center of all those.

French Ultramarine.

And let's finish it off up here with a nice red, a little bit of Alizarin Crimson in that corner. Another thing with masking fluid, you don't want to scrub too hard on it with your brush, or you will lift it up. It's pretty durable, but you don't want to labor it too much. Don't scrub on it too much. You shouldn't be doing that in your watercolors.

Anyway, you should lay color down, occupy your space and then move on.

All right. So I'm gonna dry that off and then we'll take the masking fluid off. And I'll show you how that looks. Let's take a look at this one here. So here I've masked over that color that I'd already laid down. So I've already laid a wash of color down. I just want to show you that you can mask right over the top of that.

Let's say let's go with a really dark color up against these as well. It's doing Ultramarine and a little Alizarin Crimson, like a nice rich purple just to show how dramatic that can be. Go right over those. Oh, they really show up. Remember, those are going to be a nice, that nice, bright yellow.

That's another colors. So again, nice and dark around them. So it really has a nice impact. So they really stand out. That's where you want to use them.

All those yellow spots are really standing out now. So you can use masking fluid over painted watercolor paper.

Right? I could even now let this dry and even add more masking fluid. I can keep adding masking fluid to every layer. All right, let's dry this one off.

All right. They're both completely dried off warm to the touch. You want to make sure that you're completely dry before you start rubbing over it and trying to rub the masking fluid off, especially want to make sure that the paint that sits on top of the masking fluid is dry. You don't want to smear that through your painting.

So make sure it's really nicely dried off. I just use my fingertip. You can use a kneaded eraser or a paper towel or anything to wipe these off. I like to use my fingertip because I like to be able to feel if I've left any masking fluid on there.

I just wanted some of those nice brights of those flowers petals to show nice and bright white. I can always go back in and add color to them, but I just wanted a few hard edges in there. There's some nice hard edges of white that I can go back in and color if I want.

Yeah. So I can still feel that there's some there by rubbing my finger over it.

A lot of masking fluid on it.

Little lines that I added added with the pen. Make sure to get those off. Those are easy to miss. You wanna make sure you get all your masking fluid off.

Same on this one.

Nice, nice gold color shows through. Didn't have to paint around all that.

I'll come back in to that and paint a little bit more. Same with this one. Alright, now that I've got that off, I can go back in and do a little bit more painting inside those white areas that I've masked off. I can add some centers into those.

You can also go behind him a little bit and paint behind those masked areas, bringing them out even more.

But you can see how that masking fluid really works. I've got those nice hard shapes to work with. Now. There's no way I could paint around all that to keep those nice whites, without that masking fluid, masking it out. Sometimes I'll let these dry off and then I even go back in and draw more things or I can mask more shapes out.

It's up to you. Masking fluid can be used throughout your whole painting process.


Best Ways to Fix Your Whites

16 Simple Tips for Successful Watercolors

Check-Out our Watercolor Club Facebook Group

Download our free Top 10 Watercolor Tips by 200 passionate painters

Categories: Watercolor tips