We’ve Found the Best Acrylic Paint for Every Artist

Ursula Roma's playful loose style is the perfect match for quick drying, vibrant acrylics.
Ursula Roma’s playful loose style is the perfect match for quick drying, vibrant acrylics.

If you are painting with acrylics, we salute you! You have made a wise choice on so many levels. Acrylic paints are, across the board, more affordable than oil paints, and yet you still have access to rich colors and the thick, buttery appearance that oils are known for. And because acrylics dry fast and are water soluble when wet yet water resistant when dry, you can work rapidly and stay mobile as an artist, a boon if you are a landscape painter or plein air artist. But there is a lot to know about acrylics, and here you will find information on how to select the best acrylic paint for you, and that means what should be on your palette, if you should use tube or jar acrylic paints, and what mediums can do for you.

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What to Watch for with Acrylic Paints

-Look for high pigment content. That means more color and less filler.

-That the resin binder is flexible.

-That they dry quickly and harden but remain non-brittle, durable, with no surface cracking.

-That all the colors dry at the same rate, unlike oils.

Andie’s Poppies by Tonja Sell, acrylic on canvas.
Andie’s Poppies by Tonja Sell, acrylic on canvas.

-All acrylics should be labelled permanent or extremely permanent. This means they won’t yellow or fade, nor will the colors get distorted over time.

-That the prices vary from student to professional quality paints. It will come as no surprise that student grade acrylics are cheaper than professional grade ones. If you are looking to dabble at an affordable price, you may want to stick with student grade paints. Artist quality acrylics are going to contain less filler and they will be more vibrant in color. The price of these will likely be higher in most cases.

-The range of colors and color names differ from one manufacturer to another. Not all colors of the same name will appear the same if you are mixing and matching different makers’ paints.

-If you can get your hands on a manufacturer’s product color charts that are made with the actual paints and not printed, do! These show the range of colors as they actually appear.

-If you aren’t getting what you want from your acrylics straight out of the tube, remember the strength of the mediums—these “add-ins” can extend the versatile nature of acrylic paints.

**Best Acrylic Paint Tip #1** Don’t be put off if you don’t find certain colors like viridian and alizarin crimson—these don’t mix well with the resin binder of acrylics and so manufacturers use alternative pigments to get as close to the historical color as possible. This is indicated by the suffix “hue.”

Picking the Best Acrylic Paint for You: Tube Color or Jar Color

Sunset at Seaside by Bev Jozwiak, acrylic on gessobord, 8 x 10.
Sunset at Seaside by Bev Jozwiak, acrylic on gessobord, 8 x 10.

Acrylic tube colors are typically uniform in thickness and are similar in body to that of oil paints. Tube paint is ideal for palette knife work and impasto techniques.

Jar colors are smoother and thinner than tube pigments. These are the best acrylic paints for you if you work with watercolor techniques. If you work on a large scale jar colors are the more affordable way to go. Typically, jar colors also dry more matte than tube colors.

Liquid acrylics, the thinnest of all acrylics, are similar to drawing inks in flow and consistency. These are used for wash techniques, pen and ink drawing, and calligraphy.

Learn to Paint with Acrylics by Knowing Your Mediums

-Surface mediums are for priming and prepping canvases, paper, board and other surfaces for paint application.

-Fluid mediums often change the appearance of pigments, slow the rapid drying of acrylics, and thin the paint down.

-Gel mediums thicken paint and alter its opacity.

-Add retarding medium to keep fast-drying acrylics wetter longer.

-Matte medium gives a flat finish but diminishes color strength.

**Best Acrylic Paint Tip #2** Acrylics will not adhere to any surface that has oil or wax on it. In other words don’t use a surface that has been prepped for oil paint because it just won’t work.

Painting with Acrylics for Beginners – A Starter Palette

When starting to paint with acrylics (or any other paint type for that matter!) you don’t need to buy dozens of paints to be able to create colorful art that pulls from all parts of the spectrum. Here’s an acrylic painting palette of only a handful of colors that you can mix dozens of colors with:

Cadmium red—This is an opaque pigment with a very bright, warm appearance.

Permanent rose—A transparent color that is good for mixing purples.

Yellow ocher—This pigment is semi-opaque and has a weak tinting ability. This tube of color will be indispensable to you if you plan on creating landscapes or portraits.

Cadmium yellow pale—It has strong tinting abilities.

Phthalocyanine blue—It is transparent and a very strong color with a cold blue hue.

Silvery Light (Butterfly Beach) by Marcia Burtt, acrylic painting, 36×40 in.
Silvery Light (Butterfly Beach) by Marcia Burtt, acrylic painting, 36×40 in.

Ultramarine blue—This paint is transparent with a warm blue hue, strong tinting qualities, and very useful.

Burnt umber—Semi-opaque, this color can be mixed with many other colors. It’s a rich and highly saturated color.

Titanium white—This paint is opaque and very bright. It was the only acrylic white on the market for a long time though now zinc white is available as well.

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Acrylic Painting Extras

If you want to go above and beyond the “normal” colors you will find with acrylics, keep in mind that acrylics come in all of the following.

Metallic

Iridescent

Fluorescent

Pearlescent

**Best Acrylic Paint Tip #3** If you use acrylic interference colors, these translucent paints will give you more dramatic results when you paint on a white ground. Colors will be more subtle against a dark ground.

 

 

 

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Courtney Jordan

About Courtney Jordan

  Courtney is the editor of Artist Daily. For her, art is one of life’s essentials and a career mainstay. She’s pursued academic studies of the Old Masters of Spain and Italy as well as museum curatorial experience, writing and reporting on arts and culture as a magazine staffer, and acquiring and editing architecture and cultural history books. She hopes to recommit herself to more studio time, too, working in mixed media.   

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