Whether you’re a hobbyist or a professional painter, it’s always a good idea to figure out what brand of paints work best for your needs. When it comes to acrylic pigments, however, the choices can be daunting. Not only are there many companies to choose from, but with descriptions like “heavy body” and “high flow,” how will you know what to choose? To demystify the process, we’ve identified what all these terms mean and what’s the ideal acrylic paint brand for your skills.
How to Pick the Best Acrylic Paint for Your Artistic Practice
When determining the acrylic paint that you’ll use, there are several key factors to consider: quality, permanence, viscosity, and hue. Here's a quick rundown on how they affect the medium.
Many art supplies—including acrylic paints—come in two grades: professional (or artist) and student quality. The professional version of an acrylic paint brand is going to be the superior product; there will be more color offerings available, and the pigments will be more saturated and look better once applied.
So, why wouldn’t you opt for artist grade supplies? One big reason is that they’re more expensive than the student version. If you’re just starting out with acrylic paint and aren’t sure if you’ll continue, then it might be worth it to test the waters with student grade. Once you’re sure that you love acrylics, upgrade to the professional version.
Permanence, also known as lightfastness, is how much the color of a paint will fade over time after it’s exposed to light. “Over time” doesn’t mean a week—we’re talking about 20 years. Generally, acrylic paints have higher permanence ratings than other types of media, so they’re likely to stay the same hue for a long time. Paints of low permanence are called fugitive colors, and you should generally avoid them unless you have a specific use for them.
ASTM International, a global standards development organization, classifies acrylic paint based on its permanence. A rating of “ASTM I” means that it has “Excellent Lightfastness.” Similarly, a manufacturer might rate their paints AA, A, and so on. In this case, AA is the best. (This information is available on the packaging.)
Acrylic paint is known for its variety of uses, so it’s important to figure out what kind of consistency will work best for you. Are you going for traditional painting on canvas, or are you trying to mimic watercolor techniques? Depending on your intended use, you’ll have to pick paint accordingly. Called viscosity, this aspect refers to the thickness of the paint. Heavy body acrylics are similar in flow to oil paint, while fluid acrylics are thinner and can be used for staining or airbrushing.
Here’s the most fun part of selecting an acrylic paint—picking out the color! If you’re a beginner painter, we recommend going with the basics and limiting yourself to 10 colors or so. That way, you won’t be overwhelmed when learning the ins and outs of the medium. But, the more you're comfortable with acrylics, take note of what colors different brands are offering—some feature iridescent and florescent colors.
Acrylic painting for beginners can be overwhelming. Check out 8 sets that offer some of the best acrylic paint.
Winsor & Newton Artist’s Acrylic
Acrylic painting for beginners can rely on this 10-tube set for both its excellent quality and affordability. The pigments have a smooth consistency that’s akin to oil paint. “We have worked hard to create a good buttery consistency for quick and easy coverage,” the company says, “while making sure that the brush marks you want remain.”
Liquitex BASICS Acrylic
Developed for both students and artists, Liquitex BASICS is another heavy body acrylic paint that will keep its shape and strokes as you paint. This makes it ideal for traditional painting, impasto, and mixed media.
Golden Heavy Body Acrylic Paint Set
As the name implies, Golden Heavy Body Acrylics is another luscious, thick acrylic paint. This set is great for those who have worked with acrylics before. They’ve got a slightly higher price tag, but according to some reviewers, they have “better coverage and stronger, richer colors” that are “well worth the extra cost per ounce.”
Golden Fluid Acrylics
While Golden Heavy Body has a thick viscosity, their Fluid series is all about flexibility. It’s thinner consistency is great for spraying, staining, or using a watercolor approach to acrylics.
The first thing you’ll probably notice about the heavy body Abstract paint packs is that their packaging. Housed in a squeezable pouch, they’re designed to more easily dispense the paint; a transparent “window” also tells you how much is left.
Interactive Artists' Acrylic
Some acrylics have a lightning-fast drying time, but not Interactive Artists’ Acrylics. This set features pigments that “stay open longer,” meaning they retain wetness and malleability. For plein air painting, this gives you the ease acrylic with the characteristics of oil—something that’s valuable when you’re working directly from life.
M. Graham 6-Color Acrylic Paint Set
If you’re looking for a set of acrylics that are like watercolors, give M. Graham a try. “The major quality is pigment load,” one reviewer writes, “you can dilute these with water and use them like watercolors on watercolor paper while retaining a rich vibrant color.” Continuing, “They are unbelievably beautiful and useful colors.”
Liquitex Professional Soft Body Acrylic
Smooth and creamy yet fluid, the Liquitex Soft Body Acrylics are great for pouring, printmaking, and conventional painting. With this viscosity, you’ll want to buy these paints for mixed media work, decorative art, scrap booking, or even airbrushing. Avoid them for impasto or highly textured pieces.
How to Make the Most of Your Acrylic Paint
Whether you're just starting out or a pro, there's always something new to learn about acrylic paint. Try one of these online classes from Craftsy!
- Know Your Acrylic Paints: Expand Your Palette
- Acrylic Painting: Basics & Beyond
- Reflections in Acrylic: Depicting Light on Water
- Luminous Flowers in Acrylic
- Acrylic Landscapes Close to Home