The Best Acrylic Paints for Beginners and Professionals: A Comprehensive Review to Help You Choose
Whether you're just starting out with acrylic painting or are in search of some new paints to try, it can be overwhelming trying to decide between all the different types and brands that are out there. In this article, we'll break down what kinds of acrylics there are and compare the brands to choose from. By the end of this you'll hopefully have a much better idea for what to consider trying.
First, lets go over the basics
Generally speaking, there are three different types of acrylic paints that you'll be looking at and they include: heavy body, soft body, and fluid acrylics.
Heavy body acrylics have a thick, buttery consistency and are known for their excellent color intensity and brushstroke retention. They are great for impasto techniques and creating texture.
Soft body acrylics have a slightly thinner consistency than heavy body acrylics and are known for their smooth blending and layering capabilities. They are great for detailed work and glazing. I have actually preferred soft body paints for years.
Fluid acrylics have the thinnest consistency of all acrylic paints and are often used for pouring and other fluid techniques. They are great for creating smooth, even washes of color. I always found them helpful for creating nice consistent glazes as there's not much need to dilute them prior.
Student grade vs artist grade paints
You might be wondering about student and artist (professional) grade paints, so let's walk through what they are and the key differences between them.
Student grade acrylics are more designed for beginners and students who are just starting out with painting. They are generally less expensive than artist grade acrylics and are typically made with lower quality pigments and binders. As a result, they may not have the same level of color intensity, lightfastness, or permanence as artist grade acrylics. They also tend to dry faster and may not handle as well as artist grade acrylics.
Artist grade acrylics, on the other hand, are for professional artists. They are made with higher quality pigments, binders and tend to have a greater color intensity, lightfastness, and permanence than student grade acrylics. These will typically have a smoother consistency and handle better than student grade paints. They also tend to be more expensive than student grade acrylics.
It's worth noting that the quality and features of student grade and artist grade acrylics can vary depending on the brand and the specific product. Some student grade acrylics may have similar qualities to some artist grade acrylics, and some artist grade acrylics may not have all that you are expecting.
If you're just starting out with acrylic painting or are working on a budget, student grade acrylics can be a good option. However if you're looking to take your art seriously, then artist grade acrylics will most certainly be the way to go.
Now let's go over some popular brands of acrylics
There are many different brands that make acrylic paints for artists. Below here I've picked out some of the popular ones, including my favorites, and I'll walk you through what to expect from each.
Let's begin with Liquitex. Liquitex Basics, Soft Body, and Heavy Body acrylics are all good-quality acrylic paints, but they are formulated for different purposes and have different properties.
Liquitex Basics are student grade acrylics designed for beginners and students. They're made with lower-grade pigments with a lower pigment concentration, but are less expensive than artist grade paint. These paints are also thicker, dry quickly and have more of a matte finish. They're perfect for learning the basics of painting with a tight budget. The main drawback in my eyes is that these paints won't handle quite like professional grade paints will. Don't get me wrong though, you can paint some beautiful scenes with these acrylics.
Liquitex Soft Body acrylics are artist grade paints designed for professional artists and serious painters. They're made with high-quality pigments and will have superior coverage capabilities. The paint's buttery consistency and slow-drying properties make them perfect for blending, layering, and creating fine details. They have a high gloss finish, are more flexible and adaptable to a wide range of techniques which make them a very versatile paint.
Liquitex Heavy Body acrylics are similar to Golden Heavy Body paints. These are known for their thick, buttery consistency, which makes them ideal for creating brushstrokes and palette knife marks. These paints are also great for layering and blending colors. They typically dry to more of a matte finish and are perfect for traditional painting techniques.
Golden Heavy Body acrylics are essentially the same thing as their Liquitex counterpart above. The main difference between the two will come down to personal preference and that's why I often preach the importance of experimenting with different materials.
Golden Fluid Acrylics, on the other hand, are a unique high flow paint. They almost have the consistency of ink and are super potent in color. They dry to a glossy finish and do so really fast. This makes them great for layering quick, creating vibrant and transparent washes, and for mixed media projects as well. I have used these paints in many works in the past when I needed something for very fine detail or glazes.
Golden Heavy Body acrylics are perfect for traditional painting techniques, layering and blending, while Golden Fluid Acrylics are perfect for pouring, glazing, and airbrushing and creating vibrant and transparent washes. The one thing most all of these have in common however, is that they dry rather quick. Is there anything that doesn't though?
Slow Drying Acrylic Paints
When it comes to slow drying acrylics, there's really only one brand I've been satisfied with. The way manufacturers slow down the drying time of acrylics is by mixing in additives. Thinning the paint down with extras usually lightens the pigment load which can pose problems when trying to achieve certain things. All of this is what I've found with the brands I've tried other than...
Chroma Atelier Interactive acrylic paints. These paints are artist grade quality and similar to Golden Heavy Body and Soft Body Acrylics. The one difference is that they feel smoother when handling them with the brush; not creamier, but almost an elegant touch to them which is quite nice.
One of the main differences between Atelier Interactive and other acrylic paints is that these paints are formulated to be highly interactive and responsive to water. Because of this, they allow artists to adjust the consistency and working properties of the paint both on their palette or their painting surface. This means that artists can work with the paint in a more fluid state, and then increase the viscosity as desired and at any point, creating a more traditional oil-like feel.
The Atelier Interactive boast about their "open" working time, meaning that the paint will remain workable for a longer period of time. The mediums they offer help aid in this long working time of the paints and create a more traditional painting experience much like oils. These are fantastic paints if you are looking for something new to try or would like an alternative to oil paint. I must admit, I really enjoyed working with them on some past works.
Here's an older painting I made with the Atelier Interactive paints:
Now there are a ton of other brands to choose from, but I wanted to give you a list of ones I've had a lot of personal experience with. By no means do I think you should go with one brand over another.
What I want you to take away from this is an understanding of what these difference types of paint are and what you can expect out of them. Most popular brands of paint, whoever they are, will produce a very similar acrylic, so go with whatever your gut is telling you. Just be sure to read reviews and ask other artists for recommendations before buying a brand you've never tried.
Other than that, the best way you can understand your individual artists needs, is to simply go for it. Embrace the rather steep learning curve of acrylic painting and enjoy the process; it's how you'll make your biggest strides as an artist.
Grow Your Painting Skills and Resources
Instant access to 1000s of royalty-free reference photos of landscapes and wildlife as well as step by step oil painting videos. Checkout My Memberships for more info.
I'm Chuck Black, landscape and wildlife artist based in Southwest Montana.
This webpage uses affiliate links