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Approaching something new like painting can be quite intimidating, so it might help to get to know your options. Understanding acrylic paint is a good place to start, as it has become a popular favorite the world over. This is likely due to its versatility, reliability, and ease of use as an art medium. An acrylic painting could resemble that of gouache, an oil, or a watercolor painting, or it could have distinct qualities that are not achievable with other media. Using acrylic paint provides an endless capacity for creativity! So much is possible, have you ever considered how to make acrylic paint yourself? Stick with us as we break down all that you need to know about using acrylic paint.
Table of Contents
- 1 What is Acrylic Paint?
- 2 Different Types of Acrylic Paints Available
- 2.1 Heavy Body Acrylic Paints
- 2.2 Soft Body Acrylic Paints
- 2.3 Fluid Acrylic Paints
- 2.4 Acrylic Ink
- 2.5 Open Acrylic Paints
- 2.6 Interactive Acrylic Paints
- 2.7 Acrylic Gouache
- 2.8 Interference, Pearl and Iridescent Acrylic Paints
- 2.9 Craft Acrylic Paints
- 2.10 Exterior Acrylic Paints
- 2.11 How to Make Acrylic Paint
- 3 Grades of Paint Available
- 4 What Makes Acrylic Paint Special?
- 5 What Surfaces Can You Use Acrylic Paint On?
- 6 How to Work with Acrylic Paint
- 7 Frequently Asked Questions
What is Acrylic Paint?
The invention of acrylic paint came about in the mid-20th century. Initially, acrylic paint was not favored because of its poor quality. It was not the most ideal choice as it was very matte, chalky, and lacking in pigment. This, however, has drastically changed and acrylic paint uses are now endless. Acrylic paint has become an extremely safe and vibrant medium for painting.
What is Acrylic Paint Made Of?
Acrylic paint comprises particles of pigment distributed in an acrylic polymer emulsion and silicone oils, plasticizers, metal soaps, stabilizers, or defoamers. The majority of acrylic paints are water-based, which makes them water-soluble, then when they dry, they become water-resistant.
Acrylic paint ingredients mainly consist of pigment, a binder, and a vehicle. Pigments are the granular solids that contribute to the color of acrylic paint. Pigments are crushed and powdered until they are tiny in size. They do not break down in the water but remain dispersed in the paint. These pigments can be inorganic, organic, synthetic, or natural. They do not have much of an affinity to the surface on which they have been applied.
The binder in acrylic paint acts as the substance that maintains the pigment after the acrylic paint dries, to ensure the pigment is kept in place. The binder for acrylic paint is an acrylic polymer and when the water evaporates from the paint after application, this acrylic binder forms a film.
The part that carries the binder and the pigment is known as the vehicle. For water-based acrylic, water acts as the vehicle, and when it combines with the binder a polymer emulsion is created. After the paint has dried and water has left the system, either through absorption or evaporation, a clear and stable polymer film will be remaining full of colored particles of pigment that have been trapped.
Different Types of Acrylic Paints Available
Choosing your ideal acrylic paint will depend on the surfaces and techniques you want to use. The consistency of your paint is not indicative of quality, as it has nothing to do with the amount of pigment in your paint but rather the formulation of the acrylic binder. What is acrylic paint used for? Here is a list of the various acrylic paints available, where we also let you in on how to make acrylic paint yourself!
Heavy Body Acrylic Paints
Acrylic paint’s thickness is commonly known as “body”. Heavy body paints are thick and have a similar texture to soft butter. They are the heaviest acrylic paints available. These paints are the most popular, they resemble oil paints in that they retain and handle brush marks well.
Soft Body Acrylic Paints
Soft body paints have a smoother texture and have a more yogurt-like consistency. Soft body paints are a better choice for mixing with acrylic mediums, yet they still retain enough of the necessary thickness to paint responsively and smoothly on their own.
Fluid Acrylic Paints
Fluid acrylic paints have a consistency similar to double cream and they are supplied in bottles. These paints are ideal for detailed work and glazes. Fluid paints are great for smooth brushing and staining effects.
Acrylic ink has the most fluid consistency, it is made of extremely fine pigments that are dispersed in a water-like acrylic emulsion. Acrylic ink has an intense color and dries to a soft glossy finish.
Open Acrylic Paints
Open acrylics are formulated to dry slowly which makes them easier for painting wet-into-wet and blending colors on your painting’s surface. Open paints are perfect if you want to use techniques that are normally only possible for oil paints.
Interactive Acrylic Paints
Interactive acrylics are like your regular fast-drying professional-grade acrylics, except they have been formulated in a way that allows you to delay the drying process or re-wet your work if you need to do the additional wet blending.
Acrylic gouache is similar to traditional gouache paint because it dries to an opaque, matte finish. However, in contrast to your traditional gouache, it becomes water-resistant when dry because of the acrylic binder. It is a popular choice amongst illustrators, cartoonists, and watercolorists. The paint levels the brush marks of your work, making it a good choice if you want to start painting blocks of flat color.
Interference, Pearl and Iridescent Acrylic Paints
Interference, pearl, and iridescent acrylics combine powdered mica or powdered bronze with conventional pigments to accomplish visual effects that are complex. The colors produced have reflective and shimmering characteristics, depending on the fineness or coarseness of the powder. Fine arts and crafts frequently make use of these iridescent colors.
Craft Acrylic Paints
Craft acrylics are suitable for use on surfaces other than canvas– anything from wood, to fabric, ceramics, and metal. They are used for painting techniques that are more decorative and for faux finishes for decorating various objects. Every color line has been formulated to achieve an extensive variety of premixed colors.
Exterior Acrylic Paints
Exterior acrylics are paints formulated to tolerate outdoor conditions, similarly to craft acrylics they can stick to a large number of surfaces. These paints are more resistant to ultraviolet light and water, which makes them the perfect choice for outdoor signs, architectural murals, and techniques of faux-finishing.
How to Make Acrylic Paint
Even with the wide selection of available acrylic paints, it might be a fun creative pursuit to try and make your own! Luckily this is possible and relatively easy. Let us take a look at how to make acrylic paint. The acrylic paint ingredients you will need include: a solvent (an alcohol that is clear like vodka), an acrylic binder (generally an acrylic gel), and a powdered pigment that is pure.
Simply add your solvent, or you can use water, to the powdered pigment and mix them using a spatula. Once the powdered pigments have been fully dispersed you can add your acrylic binder which will normally be an acrylic gel. Thoroughly mix the acrylic binder into the solvent and pigment solution with your spatula– and there you have it, your acrylic paint!
Your paint should be a similar consistency to store-bought acrylics that have been manufactured. This can then be applied to a canvas like you would with manufactured acrylic paint.
Grades of Paint Available
The amazing thing about this wide variety of acrylic paints is that you can pick and choose and mix different paints, such as soft body and heavy body paint to achieve your desired consistency; or open acrylic with a paint that dries faster to create your own paint that dries a little bit slower than regular acrylic paint.
You are in complete control of the drying times, fluidity, and sheen of your paint. Now when you consider adding mediums into the mix, you will soon realize that you have an endless capacity for creativity!
Something to keep in mind is these paints have been graded by their quality. Professional-grade is the best in terms of quality. They have the most pigment which allows for more extensive medium manipulation, and it also reduces the shift in color when mixing colors or after the paint dries.
Student-grade acrylics have a lower pigmentation concentration. Student-grade acrylics’ formulas are less expensive and there are fewer selections of colors available. Hues are used to replicate pigments that are more expensive. The colors for student-grade acrylics are designed for mixing despite their color strength being lower.
Keep in mind: Student-grade acrylics generally do not have the exact same mixing characteristics as professional-grade acrylics as their colors are not full-strength.
What Makes Acrylic Paint Special?
There is no other paint that offers the scale of versatility like acrylic paint does. In fact, there are a greater variety of acrylic mediums available compared to oil and watercolor. What is acrylic paint used for? This can be in a answered a number of ways! The variation of texture that can be achieved and the allowance for customization are incomparable. There is a formula for every kind of application and no limit to the various mediums available. It is a reliable medium, its application consistently provides a vibrant, bright, and smooth color.
Acrylic Paint is Perfect for Beginners
Acrylic paint is the perfect medium to start your painting journey with because you can quickly set up and essentially paint on anything! Acrylic paint has been praised for its ease of use as it is not a high-maintenance medium. You simply need four tools, which include the paint, a brush, some water, and the surface you wish to paint– commonly referred to as a support.
Not to mention the perks of an easy clean-up! If you are using a palette, you can either scrape off the excess paint then wipe over the surface with a wet cloth to remove the remaining residue, or you can wait for the palette to dry and peel off the paint. Solvents are not necessary for painting or cleaning up, so it is convenient for those of you who paint at home.
If you are working in a confined space, acrylics are a great choice because you only really need access to water. The paint itself is non-flammable, with no fumes, and low odor.
By incorporating a medium, which refers to an additive that thickens or thins the paint, your acrylic paint can assume the qualities of other types of paint. It is perfect for artists who use mixed media, as it allows the use of charcoal, pen, and pastels, to name a few, on top of the painted surface when dry. Its water-soluble formula sticks to many surfaces, such as paper, canvas, and a variety of other mediums. It provides a stable base for almost all dry and wet media.
Since acrylic paint has an acrylic polymer binder, it remains elastic after drying which prevents cracks. As the acrylic polymer binder dries, the paint stays flexible. This means you can paint both thinly and thickly without the worry of cracking. If you use thin coats, you can achieve the look of watercolor.
Your acrylic paints have the ability to become sculptural and take on a three-dimensional form. This speaks to acrylic paint’s versatility and hopefully encourages you to really use your imagination when approaching acrylic painting. One such example would be applying acrylic paint to a non-stick surface, then peeling it off when it has dried to be used as a soft sculptural material. Thus, moving from a two-dimensional realm onto a three-dimensional one. This could add interesting texture to your artwork!
Amazingly, acrylic paint can perform across a variety of techniques and styles, from traditional styles of painting to experimental forms of application. The possibilities that can be achieved with acrylic paint are endless because you can change its character with the use of mediums or water.
Quick Drying Time
Acrylic paint dries very quickly, it takes around 10 – 12 minutes for a thin application and a bit longer for thick applications. This can be advantageous when you want to layer coats of paint without muddying your colors.
Remember: Once dry, acrylic paint is permanent.
What Are the Pros and Cons of Acrylic Paint?
What is acrylic paint able to achieve? Acrylic paint uses vary greatly! There are many benefits to using acrylic paints as a medium. The list of pros seems to be endless, but it is also important to acknowledge the cons of using acrylics. This will provide you with the information necessary to make a well-informed choice on whether acrylic paint is suitable for your needs.
What Surfaces Can You Use Acrylic Paint On?
What is acrylic paint used for? You can get really creative with acrylic paint because you can paint on practically anything you have on hand! It can be anything from paper and cardboard, to canvas, wood and composite panels, silk, glass, metal, patterned fabrics, or three-dimensional objects. The list is endless! It really is up to you, depending on your preference and for the sake of convenience, aesthetics, and longevity.
Paper and Cardboard
Paper and cardboard are good choices for beginners or people who may want to experiment. They are cheap and easy to find. Make sure to choose paper or cardboard that is acid-free, as they will not have impurities that might otherwise come through with a stain in your painting.
Canvas is a common choice for a painting surface, as it is portable, lightweight, absorbent, and has a great fabric texture. Canvas supports are widely available, and they come in three types, which include canvas boards, stretched, and unstretched. When selecting a canvas, you should be aware that they come in three different weights: lightweight, medium-weight, and heavyweight.
Keep in mind that lightweight canvas supports are for smaller pieces of work, medium-weight canvas supports are for works that are medium-sized and heavyweight canvas supports are ideal for larger pieces of work.
Wood and Composite Panels
Wood and composite panels are good choices of supports for paintings, particularly when you will use thick applications of paint or any other techniques that may require sturdy, rigid support. It is important to be aware that wood has many impurities, resins, and natural elements that may seep through your paint layers, which will then cause yellowing and form stains.
Make sure to clean the surface of wood first, apply a coat of stain sealer and then prime it before you start painting.
If you tend to get intimidated by staring at an empty white canvas, a fun trick would be to start your painting on a piece of patterned fabric. Step outside the box and get creative! By simply gluing your lightweight fabric onto a stable support such as panel, wood, or cardboard, you can get inspired by the patterns and colors that are already there!
Fluid acrylics are a good choice for painting on delicate materials such as silk if you want the material to stay soft and flow freely. Temporarily securing the fabric to a stable surface will make it possible to paint with controlled brushstrokes. A few suggestions include using staples, pushpins, an embroidery hoop, or fabric tacks on a stretcher-bar.
If you are considering painting on metal, the two main concerns when getting your metal support prepared are rust control and adhesion. Ferrous metals such as steel will provide durable, rust-proof support for both outdoor and indoor use when painting with acrylic.
If you are interested in painting on glass for its clarity, the main concern you might face is adhesion. However, sandblasting or etching the glass surface would “add tooth” which would help the paint stick. Keep in mind, these methods will give the glass a somewhat cloudy appearance so only use these techniques on the areas where you will be applying your paint.
You can get creative with textured or colored glass! Just be mindful of covering the sharp edges of the glass if it will be freestanding.
If you want to tackle something completely different, consider painting a three-dimensional structure or object. It will encourage you to think differently since you will have to approach it from all angles. This can be anything from a ceramic sculpture, DIY projects, human models, to something you find in nature such as a shell. It is another opportunity for you to step outside the box and get creative!
How to Work with Acrylic Paint
Here are a few dos and don’ts to keep in mind while working with acrylic paint. When trying to tackle the question of “what is acrylic paint used for?”, there are a few key tips to consider that will make working with acrylic paint a little easier, such as using a medium to change the properties of your paint. For instance, mediums can thicken or thin the paint, change the paint’s drying rate, and add texture. These are only a few examples, but if your paint is not behaving as you would like it to there is likely a medium available to get you your desired outcome!
Altering the Body of Your Paint
Let us start with the process of thinning. Acrylic paint is water-based, which means it can be thinned out solely using water. Nonetheless, it is important to remember to never use upwards of 25% water to thin out your acrylic paint. An excess of water will disrupt the balance which results in the acrylic polymer being spread too thin. This means the molecules will not be able to reconnect correctly in order to form a film that is stable and will result in your paint being too brittle when dry.
We recommend you use an acrylic medium to dilute your paint instead. It is practically the same as the acrylic paint, excluding the pigment. This will allow a stable film to form because you are keeping the formula the same as you are simply adding more of the acrylic and water emulsion.
If you want to alter the body of your paint, this is normally done with the use of pastes, gels, fluid mediums, or flow enhancers. When changing the consistency of your paint it is best to use fluid mediums or flow enhancers, as they maintain the paint’s stability. Pastes are usually opaque and will give your paint more bulk, whereas gels are usually clear and viscous. Using regular gels will extend the color without affecting the body, while heavy gels will add more bulk to the body of the paint.
Altering the Drying Time of Your Paint
Another trick to keep in mind is adding something called retarder to your paint. This will alter the drying time of your paint and increase the “open” time of your paint. It is especially handy for those of you who are not yet too confident with painting with acrylics.
Adding a medium to your paint can also make it easier to make smooth blends with your acrylic paint since you will have more time to work with your paints. A pro tip would be to use glazing liquid gloss rather than a matting agent since the matte glazing liquid gives the paint a milky appearance when wet and although it dries relatively clear, it can leave your black paint looking a little milky.
Altering the Texture of Your Paint
When it comes to changing the texture of your paint you can really get creative! Anything from expressive drips and string-like gels, to sand-like textures that permit the use of pastels, can be executed. The possibilities with the textures available are endless! These are available in both dry and wet formats, so your options are vast.
Do you ever get confused by the change in color after your acrylic paint has dried? Let us explain, acrylic paints have a somewhat milky look to them when they are wet, this is from the acrylic paint ingredients– the emulsion of acrylic and water. Do not worry, this disappears when the paint dries. But along with that, the value of the color will darken when the paint starts to dry. This is because the milkiness from the emulsion of acrylic and water tends to lighten the value of the color.
Adding acrylic polymers to your paint, such as mediums, will lead to an even larger shift in color. This is commonly referred to as the “wet-to-dry color shift”. It might be frustrating at first, but keep in mind that with practice you will learn how to judge the color shift, so do not give up just yet!
It is important to note that acrylic paints are not the biggest fans of the cold. It is best to avoid attempting to flex, roll, or unroll your acrylic paintings in temperatures that are below 45℉ (7.22°C) because they will be much more brittle.
Many painters approach varnishing their work as if it were part of the process of painting, instead of only using it as the “final touch”. There are a large number of varnishes available, in matte, satin, and gloss. Something to keep in mind is that satin varnish can be made by mixing matte and gloss varnishes.
Varnish acts as a protective layer for your paint, while also unifying the sheen of the layer of paint. The available fine art varnishes can be used for your acrylic painting. When varnishing it is important to ensure that your painting is clean and dry before application. Apply the varnish thinly in even layers with a clean and soft varnishing brush. Remember, a few even and thin coats will produce better results compared to one thick coat.
Tutorial on Acrylic Paint Ingredients
We know it might seem like a lot of information, but just like with anything else– with practice you will get the hang of it! Luckily, acrylic paint makes that possible because of its ease of use. We encourage you to get creative and see what masterpieces you can come up with! Now that you know how to make acrylic paint, it might even start there. If you are waiting for inspiration to strike, or you are not sure where to start, check out the rest of our website. Our DIY section might spark some creativity!
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Acrylic Paint Suitable for Beginners?
Acrylic paints are a great choice for beginners. This is especially true when considering its ease of use. Acrylic paint is not a high-maintenance medium. Acrylic paint uses vary immensely; this is largely due to its versatility. You can achieve so much with it, your acrylic painting could resemble that of a gouache, an oil, or a watercolor painting, or it could have its own distinct qualities that are not achievable with other media. Acrylic paint’s durability allows you to paint on a vast range of surfaces. It is also very easy to clean up. Solvents are not necessary for painting or cleaning up, so it is convenient for those of you who paint at home. You simply need four tools, which include the paint, a brush, some water, and the surface you wish to paint.
What is Acrylic Paint Made Out Of?
Water-based acrylic paint is comprised of particles of pigment that have been dispersed in an emulsion of acrylic polymer. The main acrylic paint ingredients consist of pigment, a binder, and a vehicle. Pigments are the granular solids that contribute to the color of acrylic paint. The binder in acrylic paint acts as the substance that maintains the pigment after the acrylic paint dries, to ensure the pigment is kept in place. The vehicle of the paint is the part that carries the binder and pigment and for water-based acrylics that vehicle is water.
What is Acrylic Paint Used For?
You can use acrylic paint for painting directly on paper, canvas, cardboard, plaster, stone, air-dry clay, and polymer clay. In addition to these, acrylic paint can also be used on metal, plastic, glass, and certain fabric materials. The surfaces of these various materials need to be adequately prepared before the application of paint and sealed afterward.
What Can You Add to Your Acrylic Paint to Make it Thinner?
For the process of thinning your acrylic paints, it is possible to only use water, but it is important to note that using too much water can result in the acrylic polymer being spread too thin causing the paint to become brittle when dry. Other options for thinning your acrylic paint include acrylic mediums, which will allow the paint to form a stable film when dry since you are essentially keeping the formula of the paint the same as you are simply adding more of the acrylic and water emulsion.
Is Acrylic Paint Permanent?
Once acrylic paint has been exposed to air, the water in the emulsion quickly evaporates or gets absorbed into the surface being painted. The polymer particles interlock and fuse to form a stable, permanent, water-resistant, and vibrant film of paint.