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Best Acrylic Paints: from Beginner to Artist

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What are the Best Brands of Acrylics for Students and Professionals?

Acrylic paints are very likely the best kind of medium for an inspiring artist who is still learning the basic tricks of the trade. While everybody at some point stops feeling like an absolute beginner, acrylics still remain popular among more experienced painters. Many professionals specialize in acrylic colors due to their ease of use and numerous possibilities they offer.

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What is Acrylic Paint Made of?

We can answer this question with a little digging in the history. First acrylics were made in 1934 by German chemical giant BASF and came into commercial after the second world war. They were made from polymers (hence the name – after acrylic polymer emulsion) and intended for painting walls of the houses.

Their versatility, quick drying time (compared to oil-paint) and durability brought the attention of the artists right after they hit the commercial market (around 1950). Being able to look sharp as oil paints or soft as watercolors, acrylics soon became the first choice for beginners and a welcome addition to the skilled artists’ repertoire.

In next years producers of acrylic paints offered more and more new colors, with different synthetic pigments entering the market, being mixed with various solvents and a whole spectrum of proportions between them. While each paint offers the best possible solution for a particular problem, some basic rules for defining why some acrylics are better than others.

It is also not surprising to find out some brands actually specialized for very specific artistic niches and we’ll try to explore as many of them as possible. In general, we can say more pigment means richer (and thicker) paint, what is closely connected with a higher price. But the price should never be the main concern when buying acrylics.

The main advantages

Availability

They come in huge variety of forms:

  • buckets
  • cans
  • ink-bottles
  • jars
  • paint markers
  • spray-bottles
  • squeeze-bottles
  • tubes

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With an addition of a growing collection of specific mediums, we can also manipulate many visual and mechanical properties of acrylics what makes them popular in a wide range of creative and technical areas.

Cleaning

Tools for working with acrylics, like palettes or brushes, are really easy to clean. In most cases, some warm water and soap can do the trick.

Drying time

It is much shorter than at oil paints, where a layer needs several days up to several weeks to dry off, so we can apply the next layer of acrylics within a day or two. The working session for an artist is shorter, his focus easier to maintain, results achieved faster and his efficiency higher.

If we need to delay the drying time, we can slow the process with a spray bottle of water. Several new acrylics with so-called retarders offer prolonged time for further manipulation.

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Durability

We definitely can’t compare acrylic paints with oils or watercolors, but in a little more than half of century they proved as very durable, resistant to mechanic pressure (they don’t crack, like oil paint), are thermoplastic, what gives them way better temperature resistance and are often displayed on canvass without glass screen protection, which is almost a must for oil paintings. They also offer great UV resistance and are even used as protection for other materials.

All these characteristics should be no surprise if we remember they were initially made for house paintings. One of the best characteristics of acrylics is undoubtedly their flexibility and ability to be painted over without being affected when dried. Another characteristic, usually obtained first of all is a simple fact of apperance of acrylics not changing a lot after they dry, they often look exactly the same as at the momemnt they were squeezed out of the tube, what is definitely not the case at oils.

Odour

Before we start, we rarely think about the ’side effects’ of painting. Already mentioned cleaning is just tone of them. Another important characteristic of paints is their smell. In this area, acrylics have a significant advantage before the oils because their odour is in general much lower and often even hardly noticeable.

painting-of-flowers-with-acrylic-colors

After a full-time working day in the artistic studio, the smell in your clothes, hair, and skin could stick for hours, what can be of great importance for everybody.

Predictability

One very important advantage is similarity of the look of freshly applied acrylic color to already dried and mature finish. This is definitely not the case with watercolors, where dried paint always looks several tones differently than the initial mix on the palette. Predictable results make painting much easier, especially for beginners.

Toxicity

Acrylics are less toxic than oil paints because they produce less toxic fumes during work and cleaning. While pigments can still be toxic (and some fillers and retarders too), the main solvent (water) is not problematic at all. Same is true for cleaning, which is not only safer but much faster as well.

Versatility

Depending on the level of dilution, or, if we may be more precise, the concentration of pigment in water, we can achieve effects of watercolors or oil paints, using the best of the both ’classic’ worlds of painting. Acrylics are very useful in numerous combinations with other types of colors too.

We can use them on canvas, ceramic, fabric, paper, terracotta and wood, where they can mimic other types of colors, but in most cases offer their signature realistic look, which possesses a very special magic to so many artists they simply can’t resist using them as a standalone media or an addition to others.

Top Brands:

Artist’s Loft

This store (Michaels) brand is quite popular due affordability of their acrylic paints. Apart from beginners who are still experimenting and have often limited budget some seasoned artists use Artist’s Loft acrylics as well. The price is low for simple reason – they have pretty low percentage of pigment, what means you may need several layers of paint squeezed right out of the tube before you adequately cover the canvas. n the other hand that might be just the effect you are looking for if you are aiming at translucent effect when using multiple layers of different colors.

Painters who want to cover large amounts of their working surface fast will find Artist’s Loft brand just right for the job because they have very good viscosity and flow, but when you want to work on details, you’ll have to use something else. Another thought about the price – it’s really great for beginners and for experimenting, what means huge pool of potential users (everybody started as a bwginner and everybody should experiment at least from time to time), but cheap paint which need two, three or even more layers to cover the base, will very likely stop being inexpensive if we compare it with a superior color which does the same job in a single stroke.

Blick Art Materials

Blick Art Materials were established by Dick Blick (with his wife Grace) and are the oldest supplier of art materials in the USA. Their products cover whole spectrum of painters, from total beginners to seasoned professionals, who are looking for the best only. Blick acrylic paints can be ordered 24 hour a day, 7 days a week and are in most cases shipped within 24 hours. They are also very proud of their competitive prices. It’s near to impossible to list all their acrylics, with artist grade, fluid, student, classroom, decorative and all other groups of paints you can possibly imagine.

Yes, they offer interference, iridescent, and pearl colors too.

Chroma

Australian manufacturer Chroma has two sets of acrylic paints on the market: Educational and Fine Art. Both of them has several subgroups trying to satisfy just about every artistic need. Among Chroma Educational Acrylics we can find Chroma Kidz, made for preschoolers, which is washable, and Chromacryl with a wide range of uses from early childhood to tertiary school. For Senior Schools, they sell Atelier A2 Acrylic suiting art students and devoted hobbyists. These paints are high quality, yet without the pricey tag and very likely one of the best buys for artists who still learn, but good enough to add into Fine Art group too, where we can find heavy body Atelier Interactive Artists’ Acrylic, flowy Chroma’s Jo Sonja Artists’ Colours, and fluid Atelier Free Flow Artists’ Acrylics.

The main difference between Atelier series and majority of other acrylics is in their drying – instead of forming a hard skin, they just thicken what gives an artist ability to extend the drying time with simple spraying of pure water. Reviewers report they offer a truly ‘wet on wet’ experience, which is typically not available in this medium. It’s even possible to make already dried paint wet and workable again! There are about 80 different hues available, all coming in 80 (2.5 oz) ml tubes and 250 (8.5 oz) ml jars with several popular colors in 1 l (35 oz) bottles as well.

Daler-Rowney

This company is based in England, but have warehouses and offices in the USA too. Their beginnings date almost 250 years ago when Richard and Thomas Rowney started with a production of colors for artists. Constant improvement and expansion of the company led to the creation of first acrylic paints in Europe in 1963. Rowney’s Cryla colors became one of the signatures of Pop Art in the 1960s and are still on the market, standing the test of time and being one of the best brands for acrylic paints in the world.

After the merge of George Rowney’s Company with Daler Board Company in the 1980s, one of the most important manufacturers of art supplies was formed, continually growing in all three key areas for painters: paints, brushes, and surfaces. The current line of Daler-Rowney’s acrylics (CRYLA professional acrylic line) offers 87 different colors, known by their very heavy body buttery feel and lightfastnesses, ideal for artists who want to create so-called impasto effects.

Deco Art

Best known brand of acrylic colors by Deco Art is definitely Americana, relatively high quality student paint for affordable price (we are talking about a dollar for an ounce), popular for its ease of use, but with much lower levels of pigment than competitors with Artist grade paints. Americana comes in handy bottles, is fluid, can occasionally need more than one layer for covering the surface, but is widely used not only for artistic projects on canvasses, but for decorative and craft purposes in all possible areas (miniatures, furniture decor, walls, …). Especially popular are Deco Art Americana Acrylic paint sets with more than 30 different colors in small bottles, which are available in several specialized stores and on-line as well.

In general Americana offers matte finish, which is not a typical acrylic look, where we mostly expect gloss, but several users reported they prefer using it exactly for that reason – with a background or majority of painting in matte an addition of glossy acrylic paint helps the to pop out a desired detail or emphasize a part of the picture or something else. This should probably answer the always on-going debate about the quality. Of course there are better (and much pricier paints on the market), but this doesn’t necessary mean the ‘better’ paint will proved better results for your specific project.

FolkArt

FolkArt is known by their artist-quality acrylics with a creamy consistency and superior hide qualities, what makes the great for base coating, blending and highlighting. They can be used on canvas, metal, plaster, textile and wood. There are also trendy metallics among their paints. All of them are certified as acid neutral and non-toxic.

There are 243 different colors in the FolkArt Premium family and 31 FolkArt Metallics altogether, both available in 60 ml (2 oz ) bottles. 18 most popular colors can be bought in 235 ml (8 oz) bottles too. Their color palette is undoubtedly one of the largest in the market.

Golden

You can’t buy an acrylic paint without at least considering one from the Golden’s offer. In general, they have four main groups of different viscosity. High Flow Acrylic paints have 49 different colors of ink-like consistency and durability of dry paint, including Fluorescent and Iridescent paints. Open Acrylics are slow drying paints offering increased time for working in most of the traditional techniques with currently 73 colors available.

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Golden Fluid Acrylics are characterized by flowing ability, which makes them useful for pouring, spraying and drawing details, and intensity comparable to the most known heavy body acrylics. Their consistency is achieved without fillers or extenders and is available in 66 different colors. And there is, of course, a Heavy Body group, probably the most popular among Goldens with the most colorful offer of 100 % acrylic emulsion available for professional artists – 108 colors altogether.

Grumbacher

Grunbacher is on the market from 1905 and it definitely had its ups and downs. Today it’s a part of Chartpak Inc., but still, continues the tradition of the American brand. Their line called Academic Acrylic offers 48 brilliant colors including metallics and iridescent. All of them are labeled with 1 – Excellent according to ASTM lightfast rating (resistance to change at exposure to light).

These acrylic colors are available in tubes in four different volumes: 75 ml (2.5 oz), 90 ml (3 oz), 150 ml (5 oz) and 200 ml (6.75 oz). For many painters, Grumbacher means some kind of best value because they offer high quality for affordable (student) price. The company is well-known by their artistic forum and other kinds of support.

Liquitex

Liquitech acrylic paints are the first choice for art students. Their Basics offer 36 different colors in matte and 48 in a satin finish, which is favorite among skilled painters as well. Liquitex Soft Body is a family of 89 fluid colors suitable for painting wide range of materials from classic canvas or ceramics to different fabrics and murals.

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Painting by Yuri Yudaev (Public Domain)

Liquitex also offers heavy body and super heavy body colors in 100 and 27 different hues respectively. These highly pigmented paints are thick and rich, of buttery smooth consistency, what makes them perfect for traditional painting on panel or canvas or experimental techniques. Liquitex is hardly missed in any professional’s repertoire.

Ranger Ink

Ranger Ink is American manufacturer of quality inks, paints and accompanying craft products with several signature lines of artistic items created after specifications of real artists. In the field of acrylics, we should mention at least Dina Wakley Media (Dina Wakley), Distress (Tim Holtz) and Dylusions (Dyan Reaveley). Distress contains 63 very fluid colors, Dina Wakley Media 9 heavy body acrylics 6 metallics, and Dylusions 24 colors with viscosity somewhere in between. All can be bought on-line, but are not among the cheapest, so it’s best to check a few reviews before ordering.

Here is an example of a video where all Dylusions Acrylics are presented by the artist herself:

Reeves

Reeves acrylics are especially popular among students because they offer strong vibrant colors for an economical price. There are 20 colors available, all in 200 ml tubes, all available for individual purchase. We should also mention their packs of 5, 10, 12 or 18 tubes, some of them designated with school usage in mind.

Of course, you can get all of their paints in smaller packages and there are also trend color packs containing four colors for mixing multitude shades without spending too much for larger sets. One of the most popular sets is acrylic metallics for painters who love to experiment with special effects.

Royal Talens

While this Dutch based company exists since 1899, their acrylics are offered ‘only’ from 1970 on. There are several brands of acrylic paints in the Royal Talens family of artistic supplies:

  • Rembrandt has 75 high quality artists’ grade colors, defined by stability and consistency. They have uniformed gloss and drying time and belong among the best in the market.
  • Van Gogh has 40 different quality colors known by high drying time, offering faster work, but suitable for skilled artists. They are available in four gradations of opacity, being extremely versatile.
  • Talens Art creation is a brand with 38 colors, available in 75 ml and 200 ml tubes and 750 ml pots. You can buy them in different sets (8, 12 and 24) with 12 ml tubes, best performing on paper and canvas, but being good on everything without dust or grease. You can use them as they re or dilute them with water, what makes them even more versatile.

Wallace Seymour

Formerly called Pip Seymour Extra Fine Acrylics is British manufacturer of Acrylic paints with a simple goal – to produce finest possible products. They managed to create 42 different colors based on finest pigments tested by numerous artists. They are known by intensity of hues, superb coverage and well-tested resistance. Some hues are truly special, like Oxford Bluestone or Verdaccio, all being available in 60 ml tubes or bigger jars ranging from 125 to 2500 ml) with pretty attractive prices (they offer four series with 1 being the least pricey and 4 being the most expensive) for wholesale orders and education institutions. They also offer gesso and primers acrylics.

If you wander what you get in the extra Series 4, you must think abut unique colors not available by any other brand, being available in only small batches and made with very special care from finest possible materials. Their crafty approach to the market is extremely well-excepted and we can expect more and more producers will go along the similar path creating more and more high quality acrylic paints for affordable price.

Winsor & Newton

This company offers two groups of acrylics in general: Professional for skilled craftsmen and Galeria with a good quality for affordable price. Professional Acrylic has 80 colors which offer a bit longer working time and don’t change their shades after drying. Galeria Acrylic has 60 colors, characterized by the lovely satin finish.

There are different sets available in both areas of Winsor & Newton Acrylic Paints with prices roughly ranging from 20 to 100 US dollars. In practical and attractive packages they make popular gifts for inspiring and experienced artists working with acrylics.

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