Acrylic Paint: The Ultimate Guide to Grades, Features, and Pros & Cons

by Joost Nusselder | Updated on:  June 16, 2022
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Acrylic paint is a fast-drying paint containing pigment suspension in acrylic polymer emulsion. Acrylic paints are water soluble, but become water-resistant when dry. Depending on how much the paint is diluted with water or modified with acrylic gels, media, or pastes, the finished acrylic painting can resemble a watercolor or an oil painting, or have its own unique characteristics not attainable with other media.

The reason for this is that acrylic paint is a synthetic paint made from polymerized acrylic esters. It’s water-based, dries to a hard finish, and is used on a wide range of surfaces. It’s also used by artists of all skill levels.

In this article, I’ll explain everything you need to know about this versatile medium.

What is acrylic paint

Acrylic Paint: A Beginner’s Guide to Understanding the Basics

Acrylic paint (here’s how to paint with it) is a versatile and easy-to-use medium for artists of all levels. It is composed of pigment particles that are suspended in a polymer emulsion, which makes it water-soluble when wet and water-resistant when dry. Acrylic paint contains plasticizers, silicone oils, defoamers, stabilizers, or metal soaps, which help to maintain the paint’s structure and quality.

Types of Acrylic Paint

There are different types of acrylic paint available in the market, each with its own unique characteristics. Some of the most common types of acrylic paint include:

  • Heavy body acrylics: These are thick and buttery and are great for creating texture and impasto work.
  • Fluid acrylics: These are thin and runny and are ideal for pouring techniques and watercolor-like washes.
  • Soft body acrylics: These are in-between heavy body and fluid acrylics and are great for general painting and layering.
  • Open acrylics: These have a longer drying time, which allows for more blending and wet-on-wet techniques.
  • Acrylic gouache: This combines the matte finish of gouache with the water-resistance of acrylics.
  • Acrylic ink: This is a highly pigmented, fluid acrylic that is great for calligraphy and drawing.

How to Choose the Right Acrylic Paint

When shopping for acrylic paint, consider the following:

  • The type of acrylic paint that best suits your style and desired finish.
  • The quality of the paint, as some brands offer better pigmentation and durability than others.
  • The price, as some acrylic paints can be expensive.
  • The materials you will be painting on, as certain surfaces may require a specific type of acrylic paint.

How to Start Working with Acrylic Paint

If you’re a beginner, follow these steps to start working with acrylic paint:

  • Set up your workspace on a flat table and cover it with a plastic sheet or newspaper to protect it from damage.
  • Choose the type of acrylic paint that best suits your style and desired finish.
  • Use a palette knife to gently stir the paint to ensure it is well-mixed.
  • Thin the paint with a little water if desired.
  • Start with a small amount of paint and gradually build up the layers as needed.
  • Allow the paint to dry completely before adding additional layers or finishing the painting.

Tips for Maintaining Your Acrylic Paints

To maintain the quality of your acrylic paints, consider the following:

  • Keep the paint containers tightly closed when not in use to prevent the paint from drying out.
  • Store the paint in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight.
  • Use a spray bottle to mist the paint surface with water if it starts to dry out.
  • Clean your brushes and palette with water and a little soap after each use.
  • Round out the edges of your palette with a gentle sandpaper to prevent damage to your brushes.

By the 1940s, acrylic emulsions had gained popularity among artists for several reasons:

  • Acrylic paint is easier to use and clean than oil paint.
  • Acrylic paint dries quickly, allowing artists to work faster and create multiple layers in a shorter amount of time.
  • Acrylic paint is more durable than oil paint, as it is resistant to cracking and fading.
  • Acrylic paint can be used on a variety of surfaces, including canvas, paper, wood, and even metal.

Types of Acrylic Paints: A Comprehensive Guide

Regular acrylic paint is the most common type of acrylic paint available in the market. It is made up of a water-based polymer that contains pigment particles. It is sold in a variety of forms, including tubes, jars, and bottles. Regular acrylic paint is easy to mix and work with, making it a popular choice among artists of all skill levels. It dries quickly and offers a smooth finish, making it a great option for those looking to achieve a traditional look.

Choosing the Perfect Acrylic Paint Grade

When it comes to acrylic paint, there are two grades available: artist quality and student quality. Both types of acrylic paint are made up of similar ingredients, including a polymer emulsion, water, and pigment particles. However, there are some differences between the two grades that you should consider when making your choice.

Artist Quality Acrylic Paint

Artist quality acrylic paints are also referred to as professional-grade paints. They are designed to provide a great range of colors, a high concentration of finely ground pigment, and a high permanence rating. Here are some things to know about artist quality acrylic paint:

  • They are more expensive than student quality paints but offer better performance and quality.
  • They come in a wide variety of colors and finishes, including smooth, super heavy body, and medium body.
  • They are suitable for a wide range of techniques, including wet-on-wet, glazing, and impasto.
  • They allow for greater control over the paint’s flow and thickness, making them perfect for achieving fine details.
  • They can be mixed with other brands and types of acrylic paint to achieve the desired color and consistency.
  • They are able to maintain their structure and form when dry, preventing changes to the painting over time.

Choosing the Right Grade for Your Work

When it comes to choosing the right acrylic paint grade for your work, there are a few things to consider:

  • The type of art you are making: If you are making a large piece of art that requires a lot of paint, student quality paints may be a more affordable option. However, if you are making a piece that requires a lot of detail and fine work, artist quality paints may be a better choice.
  • Your budget: If you are just starting out in the art world, student quality paints may be a good choice as they are more affordable. However, if you are a professional artist, investing in artist quality paints may improve the quality of your work.
  • The techniques you use: If you prefer a thicker consistency and heavy body paint, artist quality paints may be a better choice. However, if you prefer a smoother finish and a thinner consistency, student quality paints may be more suitable.

Painting with Acrylics: Techniques, Mediums, and Finishes

Acrylic paint is a versatile medium that has gained popularity among artists and painters. It began to gain popularity in the 1950s and 1960s, and since then, it has become one of the most common types of paints used in art. Acrylics are similar to watercolor and oil paints, but they have their own unique characteristics and features.

Techniques for Painting with Acrylics

Acrylics are easy to use and require minimal preparation. Here are some techniques that painters can use when working with acrylics:

  • Wet-on-wet: This technique involves applying fresh paint onto a wet surface, allowing the colors to blend and mix.
  • Wet-on-dry: This technique involves applying fresh paint onto a dry surface, allowing the colors to remain separate.
  • Scumbling: This technique involves applying a thin layer of paint over a dry layer, allowing the underpainting to show through.
  • Glazing: This technique involves adding thin layers of paint over a dry layer, creating a transparent effect.
  • Impasto: This technique involves adding thick layers of paint onto the surface, creating a three-dimensional effect.

Mediums and Varnishes

Acrylic paints can be modified with various mediums and varnishes to create different effects and finishes. Some of the common mediums and varnishes used with acrylics are:

  • Gel medium: This medium can be added to acrylic paint to thicken the consistency and create texture.
  • Gloss medium: This medium can be added to acrylic paint to create a glossy finish.
  • Matte medium: This medium can be added to acrylic paint to create a matte finish.
  • Varnish: This product can be applied to acrylic paintings to protect the surface and add a glossy or matte finish.

Finishes and Effects

Acrylic paints can create a range of finishes and effects, depending on how they are applied and combined with other mediums. Some of the finishes and effects that can be achieved with acrylics are:

  • Solid colors: Acrylics can create rich and vibrant colors that are solid and opaque.
  • Thin washes: Acrylics can be thinned with water to create transparent washes that allow the underpainting to show through.
  • Metallic effects: Acrylics can be combined with metal powders or paints to create metallic effects.
  • Textured surfaces: Acrylics can be combined with various mediums to create textured surfaces, such as impasto or scumbling.
  • Lifted areas: Acrylics can be lifted off the surface with a wet brush or scraper to create interesting effects.
  • Discoloration: Acrylics can be affected by UV light and may discolor over time.

Choosing the Perfect Acrylic Paint: Factors to Consider

When it comes to acrylic paint, quality and pigment are two of the most important factors to consider. High-quality acrylics contain more pigment, making them more vibrant and long-lasting. Cheaper paints may contain more filler and less pigment, resulting in a duller finish. Look for paints labeled as “artist grade” or “professional grade” for the best quality.

Colors and Lightfastness

Acrylic paint comes in a wide range of colors, from basic primary colors to unique shades and hues. When selecting colors, consider the lightfastness rating. This rating indicates how resistant the paint is to fading over time. Look for paints with a lightfastness rating of I or II for the most long-lasting results.

Viscosity and Fluidity

The viscosity of acrylic paint refers to its thickness or consistency. Some artists prefer thicker paints for more textured effects, while others prefer thinner, more fluid paints for smoother application. Consider your personal preference and the techniques you plan to use when selecting the viscosity of your paint.

Tube or Jar

Acrylic paint is available in both tubes and jars. Tubes are ideal for artists who need precise control over the amount of paint they use, while jars are better for larger projects or artists who need to mix larger amounts of paint.

Drying Time

Acrylic paint dries quickly, making it a popular choice for artists who want to work quickly or layer colors. However, drying time can vary depending on the brand and the thickness of the paint. Consider the drying time when selecting your paint to ensure it fits your needs.


As you gain experience with acrylic paint, you’ll come to know what brands and varieties you like best. Some popular brands include Golden, Liquitex, and Winsor & Newton. Experiment with different brands to find the one that works best for you.

Frequently Asked Questions About Using Acrylic Paints

Acrylic paints are generally safe to use as they are water-based and do not contain toxic solvents like oil paints. However, certain pigments used in acrylic paints can be toxic, so it’s important to read the label before purchasing. Also, it’s important to take care of your skin and avoid breathing in the paint or its mediums.

What surfaces can I use acrylic paint on?

Acrylic paint can be used on a variety of surfaces, including canvas, paper, wood, metal, and plastic. However, it’s important to prepare the surface properly before painting to ensure the paint adheres well. For example, you may need to prime the surface or sand it down to create a smooth surface.

How long does acrylic paint take to dry?

Acrylic paint dries quickly, usually within 15-30 minutes. However, the drying time can vary depending on the type of acrylic paint, the thickness of the paint, and the humidity and temperature of the room. It’s important to wait for the paint to dry completely before applying a varnish or working on top of it.

What types of brushes should I use with acrylic paint?

Acrylic paint can be used with a variety of brushes, including synthetic and natural hair brushes. However, it’s important to use brushes meant for acrylic paint as they are designed to be flexible and durable. It’s also important to clean your brushes properly after use to ensure they last a long time.

How do I clean up after using acrylic paint?

Acrylic paint can be cleaned up easily with water and soap. It’s important to clean your brushes and any other tools immediately after use to prevent the paint from drying on them. If you get paint on your clothes or skin, you can also use soap and water to clean it off.

What is lightfastness and why is it important?

Lightfastness refers to how resistant the paint is to fading when exposed to light. It’s important to choose acrylic paints with good lightfastness ratings if you want your work to last a long time without yellowing or fading.

Can I use acrylic paint for professional work?

Yes, acrylic paint can be used for professional work as it is a versatile and durable medium. However, it’s important to choose high-quality paints and take care of your work properly to ensure it lasts a long time.

Can I use acrylic paint in confined spaces?

Acrylic paint is generally safe to use in confined spaces as it is water-based and does not contain toxic solvents. However, it’s important to take care of your skin and avoid breathing in the paint or its mediums. It’s also important to have good ventilation in the room to prevent any problems with breathing.


So, that’s all you need to know about acrylic paint. It’s a versatile and easy-to-use medium, and you can use it for just about anything. Acrylic paint is great for beginners, and you can use it for just about anything. So, go ahead and give it a try!

I'm Joost Nusselder, the founder of Tools Doctor, content marketer, and dad. I love trying out new equipment, and together with my team I've been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with tools & crafting tips.