This is a guide covering acrylic painting tips. Acrylics can be fun to paint with and there are some tips you should know before diving in!
Acrylic paint is water-based, quick-drying paint composed of three main elements: pigment, binder, and vehicle.
Known as the world’s most popular art medium, acrylic paint is widely used for its variety of applications, ease of use, and reliable performance.
Pigments are the color particles that are suspended in the paint and give paints their bright hues.
Binder is the material that keeps the pigments in place once the paint has dried; in acrylic paint, this is an acrylic polymer.
It creates a film after the water has evaporated and the paint has dried, adhering the pigments to the surface of the painting.
Finally, the third element of acrylic paint is the vehicle, which carries the pigment and binder.
For water-based acrylics, the vehicle is (of course) water, which creates a polymer emulsion when mixed with the binder.
Acrylic paint was invented in the 1950s and has become widely used because of its fast-drying nature, and the wide variety of uses it has.
Acrylic paint can be diluted with as much or as little water as desired, so it can resemble a watercolor with more dilution, or an oil painting, with less water added.
It also has its own unique characteristics not comparable to any other medium out there!
5 Acrylic Painting Tips
1. Plan Ahead
When painting with acrylics, it is important to remember that one of their defining qualities is that they dry extremely fast (around 30 minutes).
So you should have a good idea of what you want to paint, and how you want it to look before you begin, as you won’t be able to blend or soften any edges or areas once it has dried.
You might find it helpful to create a quick sketch or underpainting, to guide you in how you apply your acrylic paint.
2. Choose Colors Carefully
Unlike oil paints, acrylic paints generally aren’t hand-mixed but purchased in tubes or sticks.
This means the colors come as they are, so it is important you select carefully which colors you will need to create your masterpiece.
You may also notice that acrylic pigments dry darker than they appeared when first applied.
This is something to bear in mind when choosing your colors as well, as you will end up with a darker shade than you might be expecting.
3. Paint in Layers
It is much easier to apply layers of acrylic paint than oil paint because once it has dried, the second and subsequent layers will go directly over the top of the base layer without affecting it at all.
The paint does not reactivate once it dries, and even though this means that you cannot change anything once the paint seals up, you can easily build up layers to create a richness of color similar to that of an oil painting.
4. Experiment with Water Dilution
One of the most appealing things about acrylic paints is their versatility.
Adding more water to your acrylics will give you a result more similar to a watercolor, while a less diluted acrylic will have the effect of an oil painting in its richness and depth.
You can also combine different dilutions within one canvas, quickly building up layers as you like to create contrast and interest.
5. Start Light and Get Darker
It is best to apply your mid-tone first, the color that will be used the most in your painting.
This allows you to address shape and form so you can see how the general outline of the painting is going to look first before you add richness with the darker tones and highlights with lighter colors.
It is also best practice to create your larger shapes first, and add smaller details later on, once the first layer or two have dried.
To further explore acrylic painting tips, we recommend checking out this in-depth video by Zeke:
What is the Difference Between Acrylic and Regular Paint?
The main difference between acrylic paint and other paints, such as oil and latex, is that it is chemical-based.
This means that generally, the colors are more intense and will not fade as easily over time, or with exposure to elements like sun, light, and air.
It is also elastic, so it expands and contracts with temperature, unlike oil paint which is likely to crack with differences in temperature.
Acrylic paint is generally thought to be easier to paint with, because of its smooth application, and its ability to dry very quickly.
It can also be thinned with water to create more of a watercolor effect.
However, the speed at which it dries can also cause problems if painting a large area, or if you need to work and blend your paint.
If this is the case, oil or water-based paints might be preferable to acrylic.
What Do You Use Acrylic Paint For?
Acrylic paint has a wide variety of uses, because of its versatility.
It is popular for exterior house painting projects because of its durability and resistance to changes in temperature.
For the same reason, acrylic paint is also favorable for painting on wood, which will respond to most of the natural elements.
Wood expands and contracts with heat and moisture, and acrylic paint has the same elastic properties, so it won’t crack and break with the gentle movements of the material it is applied to.
Acrylic paint has also been popular with visual artists since the 1960s for the finish it gives, its ability to create sharp, fine lines, and its versatility.
Artists like David Hockney and Damien Hirst favor acrylic paint because of how simple it is to apply.
Artists were also attracted to the modern, industrial quality of acrylic paint when it was first released to the market in the mid-twentieth century, and they felt it embodied the modern spirit just as their art aimed to do.
Acrylic paint, finally, is popular with artists of all skill levels and backgrounds because it is easier to get, and slightly more affordable, than oil paints.
Acrylic Paint vs. Latex Paint
Both acrylic paint and latex paint are water-based paints, but there are a few key differences that set these two types of paint apart.
The main difference is that acrylic paint contains chemical compounds, while latex paint is purely water-based.
This gives acrylic paint its long-lasting quality and means that it is generally preferred over latex paint for its vibrant color and resistance to the elements.
However, the presence of chemicals also, unfortunately, means that acrylic paint is slightly more harmful to the person using it and to the environment.
If this is a concern, latex paint may be preferable to acrylic, but both types of paint still require proper protection and ventilation.
Latex paint is usually recommended for painting larger areas because although it dries just as quickly as acrylic paint, it is generally able be purchased in larger quantities at a cheaper cost.
Acrylic paints are considered to be premium grade, so they can be a little harder to come by in large enough quantities to paint an entire room, for example.
However, for artists wanting to use acrylic paints for their intense color and quick-drying elements, they are fairly easy to find in tubes and are actually less expensive than oil paints.
Which paint you use will depend on the project you are undertaking, whether DIY or more creative.
Is Acrylic Paint the Same as Water-Based Paint?
In fact, acrylic paint is one of the two main types of water-based paints – the other being latex paint.
Acrylic paints are a type of water-based paint, making them easy to clean up, quick to dry and simple to use.
The terms are sometimes used interchangeably, which can make it confusing to determine the difference between water-based, acrylic, and latex paints.
Strictly speaking, though, acrylic paints are chemical-based and contain acrylic polymers, while latex paints are water-based and do not contain these polymers.
Is Acrylic Paint Permanent?
Because of their chemical qualities, acrylic paints are permanent and will not discolor with age, like oil paints.
This is one of the most appealing and popular aspects of acrylic paint, as it will last on any surface without cracking, fading, or peeling.
Acrylic paint is also waterproof, which is why it is often used in exterior house painting.
For artists, too, the durability of acrylic paint has its appeal, as it means that their creation will last into perpetuity without degrading or having its appearance changed by the degradation of color.
Acrylic paint is a widely used and highly popular medium that can be used to paint almost anything – the outside of a house, wooden furniture, onboard or on canvas.
If you are thinking of getting started with acrylic paints, understanding the difference between this kind of paint and others will help you to put it to good use.
Acrylic paint uses chemical compounds to make it durable, versatile, and fast-drying, all of which are important aspects to remember when painting with acrylics.
Following the simple steps in the guide above will soon have you producing masterpieces in acrylic paint, which will last a lifetime because of the unique properties of the paint.
Also, if you have spilled some, check out our guide on how to remove acrylic paint.
Harriet Maher a freelance writer based in Otautahi New Zealand, where she grew up. After completing an Honours degree in Art History at the University of Canterbury in 2014, she was awarded a full scholarship for a Masters in Art History at the University of Melbourne, which she completed in 2017. She has a lifelong desire to learn, so she’s passionate about new and innovative art practices, and she’s always seeking out new ways to look at and understand art. Her writing attempts to make the invisible seen, and the unsayable said.