Water Activated vs. Alcohol Activated Paint: SFX Tutorial, Pt. 17

At Camera Ready, we take pride in providing professional-grade makeup for your special effects needs, but one of our most commonly asked questions is about the types of face and body paints we offer! For this installment of our Back to the Basic SFX Tutorials, we are covering which paint is best option for you based on the type of look and effect you're trying to create.

For this blog and tutorial, we partnered with @Nsomniaksdream to highlight the differences between water activated and alcohol activated paints. You may recognize @Nsomniaksdream from her spectacular YouTube makeup tutorials showcasing her talent in SFX, body painting, fantasy, and cosplay makeup.


Water activated paints are a fan favorite because they're relatively easy to work with and provide full color payoff. However, there are different types of water activated paints, and they each have their pros and cons. Let's break it down.

Glycerin-Based Paint

Water activated paints are typically broken down into two categories: wax-based and glycerin-based. This is important to note because this can affect the overall look of your makeup. Glycerin-based water-activated paints are great for blendability. These paints are fantastic for creating highlights, low lights, or gradients between different colors. You also have the capability to build or layer the colors without cracking.

PRO TIP: These paints are a great option for all-over body or character makeup looks like Venom, Gamora, or Avatar.

Wax-Based Paint

Wax-based paints have a slightly heavier formula that makes them great for detail work. These paints will offer an impactful pigment payoff and a fast dry time. However, if you apply too many layers, it will tend to crack and separate since it is slightly thicker in consistency than its glycerin-based counterpart. As a result, it is also slightly harder to achieve a perfectly blended ombre or gradient-like effect, but don't worry! The thicker formula does have its advantages! It allows you to create a longer and crisper line for line-work and detailing compared to water-based paints.

PRO TIP: These paints are a great option for creating detail for looks like a sugar skull or mermaid with outlined scales.


Water Activated Paints (Glycerin or Talc-Based)

Mehron Paradise Makeup AQ            

Ben Nye MagiCake Aqua Paint Palettes

            Graftobian ProPaints                          

Kryolan Aquacolor Palette 12 Colors


Water Activated Paints (Acacia Senegal Gum or Wax-Based)

SUVA Beauty UV Primaries Hydra Liner FX Palette

    Wolfe FX Hydrocolor Palette        


The application technique for both formulas is similar. Both types of paints need to be activated with water. A spray bottle with water can be used to spritz a small about of water directly onto the cake. You can then use a brush or sponge to apply the makeup. Another method is to have a cup of water nearby and dipping your brush in water then mixing the wet brush into the paint until you get the desired consistency. Using too much water or not enough water will affect the consistency and color payoff of the makeup. Sponges are great to use to cover a large area of the body. You can also use different types of sponges like stipple sponges or sea sponges to create texture on your look.

PRO TIP: Substitute water with a mixing liquid-like Mehron Mixing Liquid or Ben Nye Liquiset to extend the wear of your glycerin-based water-activated paints. This does not work with wax-based water-activated paints.

Water activated paints are great to create bright vibrant characters for superhero, cosplay, or fantasy looks. However, we highly recommend using a sealer if you’ll be wearing the look for an extended period of time. Since these paints are activated by water, rain or sweat will also cause them to re-activate and will impact the wearability. A theatrical or professional grade sealer like Ben Nye Final Seal or Blue Marble SELR will help lock in the look and make it sweat and water-resistant.

European Body Art - Pro Seal Spray

Ben Nye Final Seal Matte Sealer  

PPI Blue Marble SELR Sealer Spray

      Graftobian Makeup Setting Spray


Alcohol activated paints are great if you are looking for longevity. These paints are water and sweat resistant, and as a result, they're also tricker to remove.

To activate this paint, 99% Isopropyl Alcohol or an Activator must be used. Anything less like 70% alcohol may destroy your makeup. Alcohol activated paints will provide you with a unique translucency that can be hard to get with water activated or cream paints. The reason being is the makeup appears to be embedded into the skin. Alcohol activated paints are fantastic for creating veins, fake tattoos, and irritated skin around wounds.

This paint is not ideal for doing full body makeup since the paint is more transparent and tends to be more costly in comparison to other paints. Alcohol activated paint is ideal for detail work or for creating realistic makeup or wound makeup.

Skin Illustrator VFS FX Palette            

European Body Art - Master Palettes SFX

Reel Creations Reel Greg Cannom Aging Palette

Graftobian F/X Aire Alcohol Palette Injury

You're Camera Ready!

Ben Nye Alcohol Activated Undead FX Palette (AAP-09)


It is important when using alcohol-activated paint to work in a well-ventilated area. Since these paints are activated with 99% alcohol, natural hair brushes may become dried out or damaged, so opt for synthetic bristled brushes. Synthetic stipple sponges are also great to use to add texture to your makeup. Since 99% alcohol tends to evaporate fairly quickly, there is a shorter working time with these paints. If you're applying alcohol activated paints to sensitive skin, 99% alcohol may be too harsh and drying. Consider using a professional-grade activator like European Body Art Fuel, Skin Illustrator Activator, or Reel Creations Reel Developer.  They are formulated with ingredients that will activate the paint without the harsh effects of 99% alcohol.

        Temptu - Pro Alcohol 99                    

European Body Art - Palette Activator - Fuel

        Skin Illustrator Activator                  

  Reel Creations Reel Developer    


How to Remove the Paint

Water activated paints are the easiest to remove and may be removed with soap and water. However, depending on your skin type and how long you're wearing the paint, slight staining may occur in more porous areas of the body or face. In this case, using an oil-based cleanser or makeup remover with help with the removal process.

Alcohol activated paints can be removed by activating the area with more alcohol or activator. However, we also offer several products that are created to be gentler on the skin and designed specifically to remove tough to remove makeup and special effects products including PPI Telesis Super Solv Extra Strength Adhesive Remover and PPI Telesis Makeup Remover.

PRO TIP: To prevent staining from makeup, try using a skin protectant like Kryolan Marly Skin - Skin Protection Foam or Mehron Barrier Spray before applying makeup.


See it in Action!

Ready to see the difference between water activated paints and alcohol activated paints in action? View the video at the top of this blog, or visit our YouTube Channel!  A special thank you to @Nsomniaksdream for creating this tutorial. We hope this blog about Water Activated vs. Alcohol Activated Paints will provide you with the knowledge in choosing the perfect paint to perfect your Halloween or SFX looks! If you have any more questions, we are here to help! Click here to reach out to our Beauty Advisors.

If you create a look using these techniques or any other SFX creation, be sure to tag @camerareadysfx on Instagram so we can see your work!


More Tutorials


Need something specific to create your SFX Halloween looks? Shop Camera Ready’s extensive collection of top special effects brands here. Don’t see what you’re looking for? Contact our Beauty Advisors for a comparable alternative, or to see if we can order the exact product you need.


About Camera Ready Cosmetics

Camera Ready Cosmetics was founded in 2003 by Makeup Artist Mary Erickson. She dreamed of having a pro makeup showroom where artists could play with professional products without the typical makeup store attitude.

Today, our team of beauty industry veterans work together to curate the best quality products on the market. We partner with brands who respect the industry and formulate products for true working artists. You won’t find CRC in high-end malls, and we don't wear matching brush belts.

If you want to play with products for a few hours and buy nothing, that's okay ... come in and play! Our store is your playground.

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