What makes acrylic paint unique, why is it so popular among modern artists, and how do you use it? If you have ever wondered about these questions, you’ve come to the right place. The intricacies of any paint medium are crucial to the artist’s journey because they allow you to maximise its potential and create some amazing paintings. Acrylics are an excellent way to get comfortable with any art medium, so why not get started? The following is your comprehensive guide to painting with acrylics.

Acrylic paint: what is it?

Since the 1950s, acrylic paint has been used by artists. It is unique because it uses a synthetic resin to hold its colour, meaning it is water-soluble. Because of its synthetic nature, it is highly elastic once dry, so it won’t crack. Moreover, it is relatively thick and available in a wide range of colors.

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Acrylic vs Oil paint

The main advantage of acrylic paint is its ease of use since it is water-based. This means that it dries quickly, allowing artists to work spontaneously and speedily. Being water-based also makes it easy to dilute when applying thin washes, since water is freely available and does not have a strong smell. It is also easy to clean off brushes, making the whole painting process a lot simpler. Acrylic paint can therefore be used with confidence in settings such as the outdoors, where artists need to capture a scene quickly. Acrylic paint is also cheaper than oil paint, making it an affordable, less intimidating option.

For many, acrylic paint is an efficient and affordable option that gives them a high-quality result. Technically speaking, however, it lacks the colour intensity of oil paint. This is due to the larger particle size of its vehicle (synthetic resin), which has less space for colour particles or pigment. Oil paint also retains its glossy texture once dried, whereas acrylic paint loses a bit of its shine. Lastly, oil paint has a thicker body, which suits those going for a thick, painterly style.

That being said, high-quality acrylic paint can produce some excellent results and the process is extremely straightforward.

The best acrylic paint to buy

You can’t go wrong buying artist’s grade acrylic paint from a well-known brand. Artist-grade paints are high-quality acrylic paints. I recommend buying a 200ml tube of white and 75ml tubes in a variety of colours. These should include your primary colours of red, yellow, and blue as well as secondary and tertiary colours. Remember to buy a warm and cool version of each primary colour. For example, ultramarine blue is a warm blue (it has a purple undertone) and phthalo blue is a cool blue (it has a green undertone). Tertiary colours that are good for creating a neutral or natural-looking colour mix include raw umber and Payne’s grey.

Some well-known, international, reputable brands include:

  • Winsor & Newton Professional Acrylics
  • Liquitex Heavy Body Artist Acrylic Paint
  • Castle art supplies Acrylic Paints
  • Chroma Atelier Interactive Artists’ Acrylics
  • Grumbacher Acrylic Paints
  • Blick Artists’ Acrylic
  • M. Graham Artists’ Acrylics

How to thin acrylic paint

When painting with acrylics, you’ll occasionally need to thin the paint out in order to achieve certain effects. Here’s what you need to do.

Firstly, consider whether the surface is absorbent or non-absorbent. A non-absorbent surface would include primed canvas. Here, the recommended ratio of water for thinning down is about 30%, as the water cannot be absorbed into the primed surface. Adding more than 30% of water will result in a drop of colour quality, as the water will take up too much of the surface layer.

An absorbent surface would include unprimed wood, canvas, or paper. With this surface, you can add any ration of water, as the surface will absorb any excess water and will only affect the dispersion of paint, not the colour quality.

There are two basic options to use for thinning down acrylic paint: water and acrylic medium. Water is free and is a popular choice. Too much water however will affect the colour quality of your paint. Acrylic medium, while pricier, maintains the colour quality while thinning down your paint.

Acrylic painting techniques

Acrylic paint is perhaps the best medium to experiment with different techniques, due to its ease of use and quick drying time. Each of the following techniques will produce a completely different effect or style, so why not give them a try?

Acrylic wash

Creating a wash means thinning your paint with water, which allows for greater transparency and spread. This is a fast way to work in the earlier stages of a painting when little detail is required. It also dilutes the intensity of the paint, allowing you to experiment without the worry of dark lines. Use the above instructions to thin your paint for this method.

Blocking in

This technique refers to the creation of generalised, large blocks of colour. This is used in the beginning stages of a painting to establish the basic tonal range and colours of a painting.

Dry brush or scumbling

Using a dry brush technique means adding little or no water to your brush while you paint. This is generally used to create a blurred, hazy effect since the paint needs to be rubbed onto the canvas in a generalised way. This technique is perfect for painting anything atmospheric or textured, such as clouds or landscapes.


This technique is commonly used for smoothly blending or transitioning between two colours. The bottom layer should be dry so that it doesn’t mix, and the top layer should be diluted with water, allowing the colour of the bottom layer to shine through. This produces a soft, gradual and glowing effect that is perfect for painting skin or clothes.


This technique describes the use of undiluted, wet paint on top of another layer that is still wet. This is usually done at the end of a painting when the painter wants to add bold strokes of undiluted colour. This technique can easily get messy, so watch out! If used correctly, however, it can create a bold, expressive feeling. It can also help an object to appear more solid and noticeable.


Impasto is similar to wet-on-wet, except that it refers only to the thick application of paint, such as palette knife painting. A palette knife can be used to smear on thick wedges of paint, creating a harsh, rough texture. The thick, undiluted paint creates a bold, colourful, and expressive effect. A thickener gel can be mixed with acrylic paint to give it an impasto effect that is comparable to oil paint.


This technique was invented by the 19th-century movement of Impressionism, typified by the style of Monet and Renoir. It refers to marks of pure colour without blending or mixing on the canvas. This creates a dazzling optical effect. Techniques similar to this include pointillism or stippling.


Smudging refers to rubbing paint with the help of a soft, slightly porous tool, such as a cloth or even your hand. This creates a soft, atmospheric effect.


Smearing refers to the spreading of wet paint over a surface, usually with a large, non-porous tool such as a grout spreader or ruler. This produces an abstract, textured effect.

Splattering and dripping

Splattering refers to the technique of flinging paint onto a canvas without the brush touching the canvas. To achieve this effect, it is best to dilute your paint so that it runs off the brush more easily. Dripping refers to dripping diluted paint onto a canvas without the flinging action of splattering. Both techniques produce a wild, expressive effect that is associated with abstract painting.


Pouring refers to the technique of pouring paint, usually onto an unprimed canvas. This allows the paint to bleed or spread easily, creating soft atmospheric transitions of colour.


With this technique, the top layer of a painting is scratched away, revealing the layers of paint beneath. It is best executed using a palette knife or carving tool. This technique creates a linear, drawn, or textured effect.

Having a hard edge

In movements such as Minimalism and De Stijl, a clean edge effect was created by using a clean outline or masking tape.

An encaustic medium

In this ancient technique, colour pigments are mixed with hot wax, which is scraped or sculpted with metal tools once it cools. The result is a highly textured and expressive piece of artwork.

Brushes for acrylic painting

Other brush shapes include rigger, mop, fan, and angle brushes, which are optional extras for acrylic painting.

Brush made of filberts

This is a general-purpose brush that can be used for a wide variety of techniques. It has a large head with rounded edges, making it perfect for painting large areas of colour as well as creating organic lines or soft effects.

Flat brush

This brush has a large head with square edges. It is good for painting large areas of colour and can be used to create clean, sharp edges.

Round brush

This brush has a round, thin head, sometimes forming a point at the end. This makes it good for creating linework or adding detail.

Bright brush

This brush has a short, wide head with square edges. This is a strong brush that can be used energetically without losing its shape.

Painting tools

There is such a huge variety of painting tools and materials out there that it can seem overwhelming. I recommend starting small, finding something that works for you, and slowly adding to your repertoire as your confidence grows.

Choosing a palette

Using a paper tear-off palette makes mixing colors easy. Palettes are rigid surfaces used for holding and mixing colours.

Assistive device

Easels are upright stands that support canvas or boards for painting. I recommend an adjustable metal easel.

Knife for pallets

Painting palette knives are traditionally used to mix paint on a palette. Modern painters also use them to apply paint directly to canvas, creating an expressive ‘impasto’ effect.

Tools that are essential

To thin down paint or clean brushes, you’ll need glass bottles and cotton rags.

Paints made from acrylics

Materials for acrylic painting is stretched on a flat, thin wooden panel. This has an unresponsive surface and cannot be easily hung but is an affordable option that is good for small scale experiments.


A large amount of water and paint can warp paper when exposed to acrylic paint. Watercolour paper, however, can be used as an exception since it is thicker and more durable. If this is the case, consider using 300-gram paper and taping it to a table.

A wooded area

In addition to being affordable and flexible, wood has a stiff, unresponsive surface and can be cut to size.

Painting wood with acrylic paint

Using 150-200 grit sandpaper, smooth out any surface inconsistencies and create grip. You may not need to sand the surface if you are using compressed wood. You can then apply about two layers of acrylic primer, waiting for each layer to dry before adding the next. Sand your top layer lightly to create a smooth surface for painting.

Acrylic paint on fabric

Why not use acrylic paint on clothes instead of canvas? The result can look amazing since it has a hand-drawn, bespoke effect.

Protective sheets are the first step

If the surface you are working on is porous, such as wood, this will help prevent the fabric from sticking.

Thin your paint with water in Step 2

If you do this, your paint will flow better, which is good for outlines or organic lines. It will also create a soft, translucent appearance.

Mix your paint with a fabric medium in step 3

It will also stop your colours from bleeding and help the paint adhere to fabric. Fabric medium is a transparent substance that gives your paint a softer, flexible feel that’s more suitable for fabric.

Heat set your painting in step 4

Heat setting refers to hot ironing your painted garment, which enhances the durability of the paint because of heat fusion. You should wait 24 hours before doing this, as you want the paint to be completely dry.

It is important to wait at least 24 hours before hot ironing your painted garment to ensure that the paint is completely dry. You should also set the heat on a low level if your fabric is !

The best way to remove acrylic paint from clothes

Scrape off excess paint with a knife, then dab the area with a wet paper towel. If the paint is still visible, soak the garment in water or wash it as normal. separate item in a washing machine. If the paint has already dried on the garment, you can try scraping it off with your nail or a knife.

Brush cleaning with acrylic paint

Since acrylic paint is water-based, you can clean your brushes with water. Using a cotton rag or your hand is a good way to clean your brushes. Make sure you don’t damage the shape of the brush head by pulling the paint off the end, rather than pushing or scrubbing it. Do not let your brushes dry upright, as water will seep and damage the head. Instead, let them dry horizontally (or upside down if you can!).

Do not panic if you accidentally forget to wash your brushes before the paint dries. It is possible to clean dry acrylic paint from your brushes most of the time; it just takes more time. You’ll need to soak the brushes for five minutes in rubbing alcohol, also known as isopropyl alcohol, and then gently massage the paint out of the bristles with warm soapy water. If necessary, repeat this process several times. In severe cases, where the paint was particularly thick and dried completely, you may have to replace the brush. Do not do this too often, however, as it can damage the brushes. In order to avoid this, keep jars of water nearby when you paint, and place them straight in when you’re not using them.

What is the drying time of acrylic paint?

With higher quality paints, the drying process can be elongated by using an acrylic retarder medium. The general drying time is about 20 to 30 minutes. It is also important to remember that local conditions will also affect the drying process; for example, hot and dry conditions will speed up the drying process. Try placing your painting next to a fan if you need it dried quickly.

What is the toxicity of acrylic paint?

If acrylic paint is accidentally eaten, it might cause an upset stomach, but nothing more serious. Acrylic paint is water-based, which means that it does not require any chemicals to clean.

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