How to Make Wood Stain From Acrylic Paint

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Stains can be frustratingly limited when it comes to color choices. Typically, several different shades of brown are offered, with maybe one or two other colors such as gray and blue. If you want more colors to choose from, make your own wood stain using acrylic paint.

This article covers two methods to choose: craft paint mixed with wood stain base, or household paint diluted with water. 

How to Make Wood Stain Using Acrylic Craft Paint

The hardest part about making wood stain with acrylic paint is getting the concentration of paint to wood stain just right. Follow these instructions to get the appropriate materials, and learn how to make a test board to achieve the color you see in your head.

Acrylic paint on stained wood
  1. Choose a stain base. When using acrylic paint to tint wood stain, you need to choose a compatible stain: water or oil based. Water-based stains contain acrylic resin, and these are completely compatible with acrylic paint. Oil-based stains will not accept tint from acrylic paint. The stain you choose should be untinted. This can usually be purchased at a paint counter, just ask the attendant for an untinted stain base. 
  2. Choose a paint. Acrylic paints are available in craft stores, and can sometimes be found at supermarkets or drugstores. You don’t need a special formulation, regular acrylic paint intended for arts and crafts will work fine.
  3. Collect several containers. The first things you need are a set of measuring cups and measuring spoons. It’s important to know exactly how much paint you mixed into the wood stain base, in order to replicate your formula. You’ll also need several clean plastic cups, as well as a larger plastic container. Washed out yogurt cups of various sizes work well.
  4. Make a test board. Grab a scrap piece of wood or find an inconspicuous spot on your workpiece. It’s impossible to look at wet stain and anticipate how it will turn out when dry. The color and character of the wood affect how it reacts to the color and how much stain it absorbs.
  5. Mix several test samples. Pour one-fourth of a cup of wood stain base into each of the cups. Add stain to each one, using the measuring spoons to control the amount of paint you add, to achieve several different concentrations. You can use any amount of acrylic paint you like – a good rule of thumb is to start with one teaspoon of paint to one quarter cup of stain, and move up from there. Use a popsicle stick to thoroughly mix the acrylic paint into the wood stain base.
  6. Apply the stain to your test board. Using a clean brush each time to apply your wood stain, swipe a few strokes of each test sample onto different areas of the test board. (Since you’re using water-based paint, cleaning the brush is as simple as using dish soap and water.) Use a clean, lint-free rag to rub the stain into the wood in a circular motion, then wipe off any excess stain in the direction of the grain.
  7. Evaluate your results. Allow the stain to dry on your test area for two to four hours, until it is no longer tacky to the touch. Each test swatch should have a slightly different color. To darken the color, apply a second coat of stain. If you’ve measured carefully and kept track of your recipe, duplicating it for use on a larger project should be a breeze.
Person painting acrylic paint on a fence

Can I Use Household Paint to Make Wood Stain?

Acrylic household paint can absolutely be turned into a wood stain. This is an easy way to get exactly the color you want. Thinning acrylic household paint for use as wood stain is a great way to match wooden trim with wall paint, without losing the beauty and natural features of the wood.

  1. Choose your paint. If you’re purchasing new paint for this project, use paint chips to pick the exact color you want. If you have paint on hand, open up the can and stir it thoroughly. The color should be consistent throughout the paint, and should not be stringy or gloppy. Separation or clumping are signs that the paint has gone bad, and will need to be discarded.
  2. Prepare the wood to be stained. Sand the wood until it is smooth to the touch and free of scratches and gouges. Pay particular attention to the ends of the wood, which tends to absorb more stain than the middle. You can use a sanding block or a power sander for this step. For rough wood, you should start with coarse grit sandpaper, which is 100 grit or lower. 120 or 150 sandpaper will work for wood that you are refinishing. The final pass should be with fine grit sandpaper, ideally 200 or 220 grit. 
  3. Dilute the paint. Choose a clean container, and grab some old measuring cups. For every cup of paint you put in the container, add half a cup of water. Keeping this two to one ratio will ensure that the color of the paint carries through, but that it will be thin enough not to obscure the wood grain.
  4. Apply the stain. Dip a sponge into the diluted paint and use it to apply the liquid to the wood. Acrylic paint dries quickly, so you will need to keep the pace up to avoid premature drying. 
  5. Rub away excess. Using a folded cloth, wipe away excess liquid before it dries on the wood. If the diluted paint dries before you can wipe it away, it will be streaky and make it obvious that you used paint instead of stain. If necessary, work in small sections rather than trying to stain the entire surface at one time.
  6. Apply more stain, if needed. Once the surface is dry all over, and no longer feels wet or tacky when you touch it with your fingers, you have several options. If you like the color, you can stop here. If you’d prefer a darker color, add another coat of diluted paint. Or, if it’s too dark on the wood, you can try to remove some of it.
  7. Protect the wood. Acrylic paint can chip or crack if left unsealed, and it doesn’t offer much protection to wood. If you want the color to last and the wood to stay undamaged, apply a protective clear coat. Water-based polyurethane plays nicely with thinned acrylic paint, and provides robust protection against moisture and impact damage.
Colored wood fence

Can I Mix Different Colors of Acrylic Paint In Wood Stain?

Mixing different colors of acrylic paint in wood stain is absolutely an option. This is true whether you’re using acrylic craft paint or acrylic household paint. Just make sure that all the ingredients you used have an acrylic or water base. You cannot mix water-based products with oil-based products.

Consider purchasing five colors of acrylic craft paint: yellow, red, blue, black, and white. With these, you can achieve a near-infinite variety of colors.

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One word of wisdom: carefully record the amount of each color as you add it into the wood stain base. Keeping records may seem like a chore, but you’ll thank yourself later. Once you achieve the perfect shade of paint, you’ll want to be able to replicate it exactly, and your notes will allow you to do just that.


You can use craft paint and wood stain base to make your own wood stain. It’s also possible to use household paint (also known as ‘wall paint’) thinned with water to stain wood. For the ultimate in customization, mix several different colors of paint together.

Prepare the wood to accept your custom stain by thoroughly sanding it. Test your creation on scrap wood before committing to covering your entire workpiece.

Ellenkate grew up on job sites run by her family’s construction company. She earned her theater degree from The Hartt School, a prestigious performing arts conservatory in Connecticut. Her design and DIY work from her Chicago loft was featured in the Chicago Reader and on Apartment Therapy.