I am currently in the process of swirl painting one of my guitars.

In swirl painting, you fabricate a colored film of oil paint on water with borax. The borax is used to better spread the color film. I think it increases the surface tension.

Now, since, in Germany, as a private household, you can't get borax any more, I can't get my hands on borax.

Does anybody have an idea of a substitute? My practical chemistry skills have gotten quite rusty after years of theoretical chemistry, so I could use some help here.

Soap wouldn't help because - I think - it would dissolve the oil paint.

Could I use a thinner for the oil paint? Would that give me the same results?

Or would you say borax isn't even needed?

  • According to that tutorial, the borax helps thicken the water, so I'd expect it to increase surface tension. That appears to give a better surface for the oil paint to rest on (instead of swirling beneath surface as well). I don't know any substitutes, but wanted to clarify what the borax accomplishes.
    – user24
    Mar 30, 2017 at 5:38
  • @CreationEdge oh yes you're right, I'll edit the question, thank you
    – Fl.pf.
    Mar 30, 2017 at 6:43

2 Answers 2


There are lots of alternatives to Borax online for making "slime," but I don't think the rubbery texture will work for you. The closest non-Borax idea I found that might meet your needs is to use either colored Jello or plain powdered gelatin (it's often in the vitamin supplement section of a drug store or pharmacy, or in a grocery store in the baking products aisle), add the amount of boiling water that after mixing well will flow enough for painting, but will dry down enough not to be sticky.

You should probably experiment with different amounts of water and /or gelatin, as well as different cooling times, before applying, but this is a really simple, inexpensive, legal "recipe" and has the added benefit of being edible.

  • Thank you for your ideas! I'll try with gelatin and if it works, i'll accept your answer.
    – Fl.pf.
    Mar 31, 2017 at 7:25

I found paint that is specifically made for swirl painting in a shop called Gerstaecker (in Germany).

With this I didn't need any additives.

enter image description here enter image description here

I think it turned out quite well. There is a certain relief structure due to different thickness of the paint, which I quite like.

The water based transparent finish I used didn't work so well. Maybe I should use some polish, but the finish also breaks apart very easy when scraped with a fingernail, I think it can't bind well to the acryl-based paint. I don't want to remove it entirely out of fear that I will hurt the colors.

For now, I am very happy with the result. It's the first time I did something like this and it was a lot of fun!

  • I guess that paints without borax are not the right way. Or maybe you did something wrong?
    – David
    May 23, 2017 at 14:27
  • @David I've converted your "answer" into a comment on this actual answer as it seemed to be referring to it but it's unkind to say things about other people's art work. If you feel the comment without the negative words is unclear, feel free to delete it entirely.
    – Catija
    May 23, 2017 at 19:09
  • 2
    I don't even know what he means. It turned out exactly like i wanted. I didn't want a "clean" swirl, I wanted chaos and different areas with different microstructures and thats what I got. It looks awesome in reality and I couldn't care less what he thinks ;)
    – Fl.pf.
    May 23, 2017 at 19:49
  • I'm glad that you're happy with the results!
    – Catija
    Jun 2, 2017 at 22:05
  • 2
    I think the result is awesome! Thanks for sharing.
    – user1798
    Jun 3, 2017 at 5:10

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