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Painting Exterior Murals

Painting Exterior Murals

Golden Artist Colors' Acrylics can be used for painting exterior murals. Use this information to select the proper system for your needs.


Careful selection of surface for mural work should be done first. The ideal situation would allow the artist to work on a smooth surface.

If the mural is not an existing structure, but will be constructed specifically for your artwork, carefully consider the choice of building materials to be painted. For example, there are many plywood grades available. MDO plywood (Medium Density Overlay), often referred to as "sign painters board", is a high-quality plywood that is made to be used outdoors. It could also be attached to a wooden, metal or brick wall before painting a mural. This would offer the artist a surface that is clean, smooth and can be painted indoors in the studio, rather than on a scaffold at the mural site.


Painting an Existing Surface

If factors dictate painting directly onto a pre-existing surface, preparation is a major factor in the longevity of the mural.

Surface Cleaning Considerations

The artist must be concerned with the nature of the surface to be painted. If the surface is already painted, then consider what kind of paint it is and its physical condition (the artist should realize that any surface that still has the previous coating on it will not be as permanent as one that has been completely stripped and freshly coated). If the paint is a water-based polymer, chances are good that the GOLDEN paints will adhere sufficiently. If it is a high gloss oil paint (or of unknown materials), then it must be abraded (or removed) for good adhesion. If the existing paint film is deteriorating, then it is best to have it removed (sandblasted, power-washed, scraped, etc. ). It is critical to wash any painted surface, even a newly painted surface, with soap and water prior to application of acrylic products. A major coatings manufacturer states that as much as 80% of all coatings failure can be directly related to insufficient surface preparation.

Previously painted high gloss surfaces can be cleaned and dulled in one step by using a household abrasive cleaner. Wash off completely with clean water.

Mold and Mildew

Mold and mildew must be removed by hand scrubbing with a mixture of 1 part household bleach to 3 parts water. CAUTION: Never add ammonia or ammonia-based cleaners to bleach! Wear goggles and protective equipment while cleaning. After scrubbing with a brush, allow the solution to sit on the surface for 10 minutes before thoroughly rinsing off with clean water.

Cracks and Grooves

If there are cracks and grooves in the substrate, the method for filling and smoothing these gaps will depend on the nature of the substrate itself. Artists should consult an area architectural coatings store for recommendations on the best product available.

Priming the Surface

Once the surface has been cleaned, a primer coat will give better adhesion for the paint.

One key feature to look for in a primer is whether or not it can be painted over by latex (waterborne) paints. This should ensure that the primer will be a compatible surface for the adhesion of GOLDEN waterborne acrylics.

To determine the best primer1 for a specific surface, we suggest artists contact a local supplier of architectural coatings. Such companies have extensive experience with priming the broad spectrum of building supplies, and typically have specific primers for the surface the mural is to be painted on. Their recommendations will also take the environmental concerns of the area into account. We have found that architectural and maintenance paints are competitively priced, meaning that a product that costs more than a similar product will typically perform better as well.

When painting on brick, concrete, or other masonry surfaces, it is recommended to also use a Masonry Conditioner that can be purchased from a commercial coatings supplier.


Acrylics are some of the most durable paints for exterior application.

Acrylics are some of the most durable and accessible paints for exterior application, used by many artists for painting murals due to their lightfastness and weather resistance. They also form an excellent bond to masonry or cementous surfaces. Oil paints are a poor choice for painting on these surfaces since the alkalinity of concrete can destroy alkyd or oil products. Ethyl-Silicate paints form an excellent and permanent bond with brick or concrete; however, this system can be time-consuming and costly, and good working knowledge of the system is required as well. Solvent-based enamels are a good choice for durability, but manufacturer's pigment considerations are usually not the same as with a high-quality artist's acrylic paint.

Golden Artist Colors produces several lines of paint that can be used for mural work.

Gessoes, Molding Pastes, Matte Paints and Matte Varnishes are not recommended for exterior use.  

Transparent or translucent gels or textured gels, should only be used in an exterior setting when mixed with acrylic paint.

GOLDEN Heavy Body, MSA, Fluid and High Flow Acrylics can all be used for mural work. Selecting which type of paint to use is dependent on each artist"s style and the surface to be painted. The artist must determine if the texture will influence the way he or she paints. For example, if painting on brick, it will be tough to get a smooth line brushed on with the Heavy Body Colors as is. They need to be thinned with GAC 200 (which also increases film hardness and potential durability) or the artist may consider switching to the Fluid Colors. The thinner consistency will allow the paint to flow into the crevices of the brick. (Refer to the chart below for selecting a suitable paint line).


Use this Quick Reference Chart for choosing GOLDEN Acrylic Paints for Mural Use.

Note: Mixing is recommended with the GAC 200 to increase adhesion and durability, which will thin thicker viscosity products.

Choosing the Right Colors

Color selection is especially important to minimize fading. The GOLDEN Pigment Identification Chart lists the relative lightfastness2 and permanency ratings of all our colors. For maximum longevity, we recommend using only colors with a lightfastness rating of I and a permanency rating of Excellent. Please note: Cadmium pigments should not be used outdoors, as premature fading will occur.

GOLDEN Suggested Color List for Exterior Murals

Although GOLDEN uses only the most permanent pigments available within each chemical classification, we have compiled this list of the best pigment choices for use on an exterior mural. Application of isolation coats and a suitable varnish or topcoat is highly recommended.

BEST PIGMENTS - The most stable GOLDEN colors for exterior use.

Anthraquinone Blue
Bismuth Vanadate Yellow
Bone Black
Burnt Sienna
Burnt Umber Light
Burnt Umber
Carbon Black
Chromium Oxide Green
Chromium Oxide Green Dark
Cobalt Green
Cobalt Teal (color discontinued in 2012)
Cobalt Titanate Green (color discontinued in 2012)
Cobalt Turquois
Graphite Gray
Iridescent and Interference Colors (except Iridescent Bright Gold)
Mars Black
Mars Yellow
Neutral Grays
Phthalo Blue GS
Phthalo Blue RS
Phthalo Green BS
Phthalo Green YS
Primary Cyan
Pyrrole Orange
Pyrrole Red
Pyrrole Red Dark
Pyrrole Red Light
Raw Sienna
Raw Umber
Red Oxide
Terre Verte Hue
Titan Buff
Titanate Yellow
Transparent Brown Iron Oxide
Transparent Red Iron Oxide
Transparent Yellow Iron Oxide
Titanium White
Turquois (Phthalo)
Van Dyke Brown Hue
Violet Oxide
Yellow Oxide

GOOD PIGMENTS - Stable colors, but avoid thin layers or glazes for minimal color shift.

Cerulean Blue
Cerulean Blue Deep
Naples Yellow Hue
Diarylide Yellow
Hansa Yellow Opaque
Quinacridone Red

Increasing the Durability of the Paint System

Although GOLDEN Acrylics are optimized for traditional easel painting, the acrylic resin is somewhat soft for mural work, and should be modified with a harder acrylic medium to maximize durability. Adding GAC 200 also reduces the pigment load of the paint mixture, making the paint more binder rich, which extends exterior lifetime. This is especially important if the artist chooses not to topcoat with a varnish. To improve the exterior durability of the paints, blend in 1 part GOLDEN GAC 200 for every 2 to 4 parts paint.

For exterior spray application, using GOLDEN Fluid Acrylics thinned with Airbrush Medium will be the most durable option. GOLDEN High Flow Acrylics can also be used, but they should be blended with GOLDEN Airbrush Transparent Extender and given a protective finish to increase durability. In spray application, the GAC 200 is not practical to use as it will thicken the paint, and interfere with sprayability. Another approach would be to topcoat the High Flow Acrylicswith a sprayable isolation coat using a 2:1 mixture of GAC 500:GOLDEN Airbrush Transparent Extender.


Murals and Architectural Applications

Any paint or topcoat applied to a building, including interior or exterior walls, is considered an architectural coating and subject to regulations limiting the amount of VOC's (Volatile Organic Compounds) a product may have. Murals painted directly onto these surfaces, therefore, will fall under the same guidelines and all paints, mediums, and varnishes being used will need to comply with the same rules. Containers that are 1 Liter (1.05 Quarts) or less in size, however, are currently exempt from these requirements.

Specific Guidelines
Murals Painted Directly onto Architectural Surfaces
  • PLEASE NOTE the Following Restrictions
  • Gallon sizes of our standard MSA Varnishes and Acrylic Glazing Liquid cannot be used in the United States for architectural applications,including interior and exterior murals painted directly onto walls and ceilings.
  • Quart containers of our standard MSA Varnish and Acrylic Glazing Liquid are allowed and can be used. The rate of coverage for these products is approximately 75-150 sq. ft. per quart, depending on the type of substrate and method of application.
  • Solvents needed to thin standard MSA Varnishes might be limited or prohibited by similar VOC requirements.
  • Always check local and state VOC regulations as these may include additional restrictions.

Special VOC - Compliant MSA Varnish and Solvent
The following products are VOC compliant and can be used for murals painted directly onto exterior and interior walls, ceilings,and other architectural surfaces . Please Note: They are NOT available through retailers. These are custom products and MUST be ordered directly from Golden. Please call Customer Service at 800-959-6543 / 607-847-6154 for pricing and availability.

MSA Varnish - Mural Formula (Semi-Gloss), Product #: CPWMV01
GOLDEN has formulated this to be VOC compliant in the Graphic Coatings category, < 500 g/l, and applicable for interior and exterior murals. The standard MSA Varnish products are not VOC compliant and therefore are not recommended for such applications.

This varnish cannot be thinned with standard paint thinners, as they increase VOC beyond limit, and should only be thinned using the CPWMV02 MSA Mural Formula Solvent to maintain VOC compliance.

MSA Solvent - Mural Formula, Product # CPWMV02
This solvent is VOC exempt and is used to thin the CPWMV01 MSA Varnish - Mural Formula (Semi-Gloss) for application and while maintaining VOC compliance. Typical additions are 1 part by volume of MSA Mural Formula Solvent to 2-3 parts MSA Varnish - Mural Formula (Semi-Gloss) to thin varnish to proper application viscosity.

Murals Painted onto Canvas, Panel, and Other Supports
  • Currently there are no restrictions for murals completely painted and varnished on an independent support which is then mounted onto an architectural surface.

Call or email Technical Support for additional information or assistance.

A final topcoat gives the mural more durability from the environmental factors.

The mural artist has a few choices on how to provide additional protection to the finished mural. One option is to apply an artist-quality varnish that is removable with various solvents, allowing for graffiti removal and general maintenance. GOLDEN MSA Varnish w/ UVLS is such a product, and more complete application information is provided below.

Another choice for protecting the mural is to use some of the various graffiti-resistant finishes that are commercially available. These range from protective wax coatings that are removed with hot water to the 2-component, solvent-based polyurethane coatings. They tend to have excellent chemical resistance, so that graffiti can be fairly easily stripped off without harming the coating. They also have excellent weatherability, and thus require less maintenance than some of the other choices. As we have not thoroughly evaluated these systems, we suggest you get all the information required from the manufacturers, and/or any mural groups that may share previous experiences, to determine the best choice for your specific application.

Application recommendations for GOLDEN MSA Varnish w/UVLS

We recommend a 2-step system, the first being a permanent isolation coat, followed by GOLDEN MSA Varnish, a removable varnish. The function of the isolation coat is to physically isolate the paint from the removable varnish (which makes varnish removal much easier and safer to the paint surface). An isolation coat also develops a thicker layer of acrylic, which will give better protection and durability and serves to unify the acrylic paint layer.

Isolation Coat Application
  • Choice of isolation coat should depend upon the artist"s application method. Another consideration is the surface texture, as brush-applying the isolation coat and varnish over a highly textured surface can generate foam in the isolation coat. For spray application, we recommend a 2:1 mixture of GAC-500 to Transparent Airbrush Extender. For brush application, we recommend a 2:1 mixture of Soft Gel Gloss to water.
  • Varnish Application
    IMPORTANT: If applying the varnish to a mural painted directly on a wall, ceiling, or similar surface, read the earlier section on Murals and Architectural Applications

    After the isolation coat is applied and has thoroughly dried (1-2 days, but no more than 1 week for maximum performance), GOLDEN Mineral Spirit Acrylic (MSA) Varnish can be applied. The MSA Varnish w/ UVLS is an excellent choice as a protective finish. This product provides a tough, durable surface that increases resistance to moisture and pollutants. The UV stabilizing system will serve to reduce the destructive potential of ultraviolet radiation from the sun, thus enhancing the life of the system. This varnish is removable in mineral spirits, turpentine and various aromatic solvents, which is a useful property for either graffiti removal or maintenance purposes. Spray application is recommended (1-3 coats). *

Note: Breathability is important to the successful adhesion of acrylic products. If a mural encompasses an entire wall made of a masonry product, it is advisable to apply thin coats of MSA Varnish. This will allow interior condensation and evaporating solvents and out-gassings to escape (some artists recommend leaving an uncoated breathing space near the edge of the mural as well). If this is not done, it may lead to premature adhesion failure between the coatings and the surface.

GOLDEN only recommends its MSA Varnishes for exterior work, NOT the Polymer Varnish. Polymer Varnish does not have the same exterior durability as the MSA.

ENVIRONMENTAL FACTORS Temperature, precipitation, and humidity should be considered during application.

  • Temperature
    Ideally, the temperature during application should be between 65°F and 75°F. Higher temperatures can affect application, especially the evenness of the paint films, as they will dry much more quickly. Colder temperatures can harm the film formation of practically all of the coatings, and the absolute minimum temperature is 50°F. Caution should be taken at temperatures approaching this threshold.
  • Precipitation, Humidity and Moisture
    Avoid painting in adverse weather conditions, such as rain and fog. This addition of moisture can effect the drying times and will re-introduce water back into recently dried paint films. It is especially important to allow proper drying/curing time between the isolation coat and the varnish layer. Trapped moisture can severely hinder adhesion, and can cause clouding of a clear layer. It should also be noted that sufficient drying time should be allowed between washing the surface and the initial primer or conditioner coats. Architectural coating manufacturers recommend waiting 30 days after washing concrete and cinder-block surfaces under normal drying conditions.

High humidity can also effect the murals drying times similar to the conditions cited above for precipitation. As the relative humidity climbs above 70%, more caution needs to be taken.


1Primer - a coating that seals and prepares the surface to accept the subsequent paint layers.
2Lightfast - ability to withstand color change due to exposure to light.


Use this Mural Procedure Quick Reference to decide course of action.

INFORMATION PROVIDED BY  Golden Artist Colors, Inc.


The above information is based on research and testing done by Golden Artist Colors, Inc., and is provided as a basis for understanding the potential uses of the products mentioned. Due to the numerous variables in methods, materials and conditions of producing art, Golden Artist Colors, Inc. cannot be sure the product will be right for you. Therefore, we urge product users to test each application to ensure all individual project requirements are met. While we believe the above information is accurate, WE MAKE NO EXPRESS OR IMPLIED WARRANTIES OF MERCHANTABILITY OR FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE, and we shall in no event be liable for any damages (indirect, consequential, or otherwise) that may occur as a result of a product application.


Hopefully you've learnt a thing or two about mural painting. For more on paints, see our full range here, or visit our acrylic painting, mediums, spray paints, surfaces and more. See more of our Golden range here too!

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