Acrylic paints are water-based paints that are popular with both beginner painters and professional artists. For versatility and reliability, it is hard to beat acrylics—there is a reason they are one of the most popular mediums in the art world! They offer a variety of different textures, bodies, and finishes. As a result, artists can use acrylic paints to mimic techniques usually found in watercolor or oil paintings.
Acrylics dry quickly, can be thinned with water, and can easily be cleaned with water, making them an ideal, beginner-friendly medium to paint with at home.
Artist Quality Acrylics vs. Student Quality Acrylics
There are two different grades of acrylics: artist quality and student quality.
Artist quality acrylics contain a high ratio of single pigment colors with fewer additives or extenders. As a result, the unique characteristics of each pigment really shine through, meaning some paints will dry to different finishes, have different textures, and feature different opacity. Artist quality acrylics are often available in several different consistencies, allowing a variety of textures, opacities, and finishes. In addition, artist quality acrylics are smoother to apply and often more vibrant since they contain less fillers, which can weaken color strength.
Student quality acrylics have more affordable prices because the more costly pigments are replaced with less expensive alternatives. As a result, student quality acrylics contain more additives and extenders. But these substitutions to costly pigments offer similar properties and color of artist quality acrylics without the higher price. The student quality range contains additives so all paints dry to a uniform texture and finish. However, this is more user-friendly for beginners who may find working with varying textures and finishes difficult.
Series numbers separate paints by cost. The higher the series number, the more expensive the color. As a result, a Series 4 color will cost more than a Series 1 color. However, a higher series number, or higher price, doesn’t mean different quality. It simply means some colors are more costly to manufacture.
Different Types of Acrylic Paints
Artists can use different types of acrylic paints to achieve specific effects since there are varying viscosities—the “body” or consistency of the paint. You will likely select different types of acrylics depending on the techniques you would like to use and the effects you would like to achieve in your painting.
Heavy Body Acrylics
Heavy body acrylics are thick and heavy with a texture like soft butter. They are great for artists who love to play with texture. The thick, high viscosity texture allows artists to keep the texture of their brushstrokes or use a thick impasto technique. Most often, heavy body acrylics are applied with a stiff paintbrush or palette knife to retain texture and brush marks.
Soft Body Acrylics
Soft body acrylics are lower in viscosity. They have the same pigment of heavy body acrylics without the same thickness. The consistency of soft body acrylics is more fluid, resembling yogurt or heavy cream. As a result, the smoother consistency makes it ideal to mix and blend paints. Artists can retain subtle brushstrokes and paint in finer detail.
High Flow Acrylics
Acrylic ink is the most fluid acrylic paint. It is made of super fine pigments suspended in acrylic emulsion and is as fluid as water. It has a thin “runny” consistency that is intensely colored and dries down to a soft, gloss finish. High flow acrylics like acrylic ink can be applied with a brush, pen, or airbrush. With high flow acrylics, artists can achieve effects resembling watercolor.
Slow-drying acrylics, or “open” acrylics, are formulated to dry slowly, so artists have more time to work wet-in-wet and blend paint on the surface of their painting. Therefore, these acrylics are ideal for painters who would like to use techniques usually reserved for oil paints.
Acrylic gouche is a creamy acrylic paint with a flat, matte, and opaque finish. It is a popular choice among illustrators and it is commonly used for reproductions. It is ideal for painters who want to paint blocks of flat color. Unlike regular gouche, most acrylic gouche isn’t “rewettable” once it is dry.
Acrylic markers are bright, bold free-flowing acrylic paint pens. They are ideal for those who want to combine painting and drawing techniques. Acrylic markers are fast-drying, waterproof, and will adhere to most surfaces (from paper to metal).