Understanding the Differences Between Heavy Body, Soft Body, and Fluid Acrylic Paints
An overview of acrylic paint types
Acrylic paints come in what I consider to be three basic types for fine art painting. These are what you will most likely be faced with for artist grade paints.
Heavy body acrylics: These paints have a thick, buttery consistency and typically have excellent color intensity and brushstroke retention. These acrylics work very well for impasto techniques and creating texture as well.
Soft body acrylics: These paints, as the name suggests, have a slightly thinner consistency than heavy body acrylics. A good soft body tends to have smooth blending and layering capabilities. These acrylics are an excellent middle ground paint with a range of capabilities.
Fluid acrylics: These paints have the consistency similar to oil or even water, and are often used for pouring and other fluid techniques. These acrylics are great creating smooth, even washes of color or very fine detail.
The biggest factor for any of these paint types will be how quality they are, so keep that in mind. For example, a poor quality heavy body paint will have no where near the capabilities of a high quality heavy body paint. Now that you have a basic idea of what these paints are, let's go over them in more depth.
What are advantages and disadvantages between heavy body and soft body acrylics?
Depending on the intent you have with your art, each paint type will have advantages and disadvantages.
- High color intensity
- Excellent brushstroke retention
- Great for impasto techniques and creating texture
- Good for palette knife work
- Can be difficult to blend
- May dry too quickly
- Difficult to apply in thin, even layers
- must dilute them for glazes or washes
- Smooth blending and layering
- Good for detailed work and glazing
- Can be applied in thin, even layers
- Good for a wide range of fine art techniques
- May not appear as "painterly" as heavy body acrylics
- May not have as high color intensity as heavy body acrylics
- Might require more layers to achieve certain effects
- Excellent for glazing and layering
- Ideal for creating fine details
- Very high pigment load
- Good for pouring techniques and fluid art
- Won't retain brushstrokes
- Can be more difficult to control when colors mix
- Can dry too quickly and be difficult to rework
The choice between heavy body, soft body, and fluid acrylics will depend on the type of artwork you're creating and your preferences for how you work. One thing to keep in mind is that most of these paints are compatible with one another, especially within the same brand. So you might find that you prefer to work with heavy body acrylics, but like to add a bit of fluid paint into the mix to to tint or thin the paint without diluting it. There's many different ways to incorporate this into your work flow, so be willing to experiment. For example, you might even find that one type of acrylic is great for underpainting, and another you prefer to switch to for the rest of the painting.
So, what are the best quality acrylic paints?
There are many high-quality acrylic paints available to choose from. Each brand can be a little different, so I suggest reading reviews and doing some additional research before buying. Some of these paint brands include:
Winsor & Newton: Winsor & Newton's Professional Acrylics are considered to be one of the best in terms of color intensity and permanence. They offer a wide variety of colors and is suitable for artists of all skill levels.
Liquitex: Liquitex is one of the most well-known brands in the acrylic paint industry. Their heavy body, soft body, and fluid acrylics are widely considered to be some of the best quality.
Golden: Golden's heavy body and fluid acrylics, another very popular brand, are known for their high color intensity. They are also known for their unique viscosities and consistencies. Their fluid acrylics are especially worth a try if you are looking for a unique experience.
Daler Rowney: Daler Rowney's acrylic paints are another good brand to consider with their consistency, vibrancy and ease of use. They also have a wide range of paints for different types of artists, from students to professionals.
A good rule of thumb is to always buy a tube or two to test out the paint before committing to a whole set of colors. Some artists may prefer one brand over another based on budget, individual needs and preferences, which is up for you to find out for yourself. At the end of the day the best teacher is experimentation, trial and error.
Anything else to consider when choosing acrylic paints?
One more big thing to think about is the grade of paint. Most brands produce student and professional grade paints. It's important to know the difference..
Student grade acrylics are designed for beginners and students who are just starting out with acrylic painting. They are generally less expensive than artist grade acrylics and are often 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 dry faster and may not handle as well as artist grade acrylics.
Professional grade acrylics on the other hand, are designed for professional artists and advanced students. They are made with higher quality pigments and binders and have a greater color intensity, lightfastness, and permanence than student grade acrylics. They handle better than student grade acrylics due to a smoother consistency. You'll also find that they have a higher price tag than student grade acrylics.
All of this can vary brand to brand. Some student grade acrylics may have similar qualities to some artist grade acrylics, and some artist grade acrylics may not have all the features that you expect.
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