The quality of acrylic paint can vary greatly from brand to brand. A good quality paint can make the whole painting process a joy.
It’s important to know the features to look out for to make your unique painting process feel smoother.
Use this guide to find an acrylic paint brand that suits your painting style and your budget.
What makes a good quality acrylic paint?
Acrylic paint brands each have their own identifiable attributes. In some cases, the distinctive properties of a paint range will suit particular painting techniques and applications. However a paint range can have features that make it better quality. What are these special characteristics? Let’s break it down…
Pigment load: This refers to the amount of pigment in the paint, relative to the binder and fillers or dryers (if the paint contains any).
Quality of pigment used: A high quality pigment is one that is lightfast and permanent. This means that it will stand the test of time and colours will remain unchanged by their environment for decades to come. The ASTM measures the permanence of a pigment, V is poor, II is good and I is excellent. Under gallery conditions, a pigment with a rating of I can remain unchanged for over 100 years.
Once you have years of painting experience under your belt you will understand the working properties of many different pigments and you’ll know which ones work best for you and your art practice.
A good quality acrylic paint brand should produce mainly single pigment paints, as this gives painters the highest colour purity and ability to create the cleanest possible mixes.
Viscosity: Heavy body acrylic paint has a high viscosity. It’s stiffer than normal acrylic paint, much like oil paint feels straight from the tube. Heavy body acrylic lends itself to painting techniques such as impasto, whereby paint is thickly laid on the canvas. Its stiff consistency means that brush or palette knife strokes will hold their shape and texture on your paint surface. You can easily make heavy body acrylic more fluid with the addition of water or an acrylic medium.
Medium body, which is also called fluid or soft acrylic paint has a lower viscosity. Medium body paint lends itself to detail work and glazing without the need for additional water or medium to thin it.
Drying time: ‘Open acrylics’ are those that have been specially formulated to have a longer open working time. This is signature of the Golden Acrylics brand. Open acrylics can take around 100 times longer than normal acrylics to dry. The average drying time for normal (non-open) acrylic paint is 5 to 45 minutes depending on how thickly the paint has been applied.
Finish: Most brands of acrylic paint dry to a satin-like finish. Paints that have very little ‘levelling’ agent, a filler used to balance out the sheen and consistency of paint, will have different surface appearances when dry due to the various qualities of the pigments they contain. A variety of acrylic paint called ‘acrylic gouache’ dries to a matte finish. Unlike gouache, it’s not workable once rehydrated—the dried surface is water resistant like regular acrylic paint.
Binder contents: Driers, fillers, stabilisers, extenders, opacifiers and modifiers all affect the physical properties of the paint. Stabilisers can level out drying time and thickness of the paint, which can give you consistent brushability across colours and even open working times.
If an acrylic paint uses too many driers and fillers, this will not have a positive effect on the quality of the paint, as it means that there will be less pigment relative to the binder and other ingredients, which can make colours appear dull.
Price: Remember, the main factor that determines the price of the paint tube is the pigment that has been used. Brands of paint that use the maximum amount of pigment possible, without using extra fillers to bulk the paint out, paired with a quality binder will of course be more expensive.
Usually it’s worth it to invest a little bit more to get a paint that you’ll get more enjoyment out of using. Plus, you’ll get more value from a tube made by a brand that makes paint with a high pigment content, the paint will spread much further across the canvas. It’s essential to buy a good quality paint if you’re planning to sell your work, or even keep it for yourself for a long time
Acrylic Paint Brands
Attributes: Heavy body, high pigment load, smooth consistency, professional quality, great for impasto, vibrant colours.
This is the original line of Golden paint, it’s known for its smoothness, thickness and butteryness.
The binder used in this paint is acrylic emulsion gel, the pigment content is high, with the maximum amount of pigment to binder ratio.
There are a large number of colours with single pigments in the range. The colours have excellent lightfastness and permanency.
Golden uses no fillers, extenders, toners, driers or opacifiers in the paint. This means that each colour is formulated based on the nature of the pigment. For this reason, there can be some variation in handling properties and appearance between colours. Colours that can tolerate being made with a high pigment to binder ratio will dry to be more matte and opaque. The colours that cannot tolerate having a high pigment content will dry to be more transparent and glossy.
Of course, these varying properties are favourable to artists, as it means that Golden paints have an incredibly high pigment content. To level out the drying times, opacity and lustre of the surface yourself, add a medium.
Attributes: Ultra high-end professional grade, permanent colours, best quality pigments, heavy body.
This is the finest quality acrylic paint, giving artists a whole new dimension of vibrancy to work with. The 84 colours are intense, stable and permanent, making them a favourite choice for professionals.
Drying times of this paint can vary between 5 minutes and 50 minutes, depending on how thickly the paint has been applied to the surface.
The consistency is paste-like. The viscosity of the paint means that it can be altered from anywhere in between paste consistency to a watercolour-like viscosity with the addition of mediums.
Use traditional techniques such as wet on wet or impasto, or wait for each layer to dry between paint applications, using glazes to alter colours and tones.
Expect the paint to spread across the canvas, due to the high pigment load. There is almost no colour shift after drying and the paint film dries to an elastic finish, retaining contours and brush marks.
Straight from the tube the consistency is flow-resistant, making them suitable for work on a surface that has been propped against an easel.
The titanium white in the range is unmatchable for its pigmentation, opacity and covering strength.
Attributes: Heavy body (almost stiff like oil), carefully selected pigments for best working properties, patented binder formulation.
As the world’s first producer of oil paint, Old Holland carefully formulated and range of 168 opaque and transparent lightfast colours to emulate the characteristics of their world-famous oils. In this way, the paint could be considered heavy body.
In 1998 in their laboratory, over 250 pigments were tested with unique acrylic binder mediums—not just those that are the most widely available. Irrespective of cost, only the best combinations were selected from the tests. As a result, the New Masters acrylic range was developed. This binding system is patented and the pigment content is high, providing artists with superior quality paints.
The colours have high strength and dry to a gloss finish. Some of the colours are unique to Old Holland, such as Genuine Manganese Blue.
Old Holland has a range of metallic, pearlescent and iridescent colours, all made with the same acrylic binder.
Old Holland acrylics are versatile, so they can be used with a range of techniques, whatever suits your working style best.
Attributes: Slow dry time, heavy body, high pigment load, great for wet-on-wet techniques, vibrant colours.
For the acrylic painter whose biggest bugbear is how quickly their paints dry, Golden have created ‘open’ acrylic paint. The drying time is similar to that of oil, remaining workable and wet for up to 100 times longer than regular acrylic paint.
You can experience the benefits of oil, such as the ability to paint wet-on-wet, or modify a single layer over the course of a day (maybe even two). This way, you can create subtle colour shifts and blend seamless gradients. The advantage is, of course, that by working with acrylic, you thin paint with water not solvent (as you would with oil), making it a much safer alternative. It’s the best of both worlds in this respect.
The drying time is dependent upon the amount that the paint layer has been thinned with water. Incredibly thick layers will dry slowly. If you want to create thick impasto paintings, it’s advised to mix Open Acrylics with an impasto gel medium to speed up the drying time. If you use these paints in conjunction with another brand, layer them on top of the faster drying paint, to ensure that the slower drying paint is nearer the surface—otherwise the paint film could crack.
The best thing about the increased open working time is that the colours on your palette won’t dry up immediately. You can keep working from your mixed colours for much longer.
The consistency of the paint is fairly thick, so if you want to take advantage of the slow drying properties, but want more transparent paint, get the gloss medium too. Thinning acrylic with too much water can create a weak paint film, so adding a medium to increase fluidity will allow you to create a paint film that is strong.
Attributes: No difference in wet and dry colours, high pigment load, transparent when dry, professional quality, slower than average drying.
These are the finest acrylic paints produced by Winsor and Newton. They provide the artist with a longer open time than regular acrylic paints. This gives you longer to work from colours on the palette and longer to paint wet-on-wet.
The consistency of the paint is between creamy and thick, so it works well with a multitude of painting techniques, including impasto.
The binder used by Winsor and Newton is unique, as it remains transparent when wet and dry. Because of this, colours do not darken whatsoever when they dry. This gives you more accuracy when you are painting. Colour matching issues can occur with other acrylic paints.
Winsor and Newton use pure pigments and most of their colours have been made with single pigments. This allows you to create clean colour mixes that do not muddy when mixing multiple pigments together.
The price is mid-range for professional quality paints, tubes start and £8.25. They have a range of 80 colours.
Attributes: Professional quality, assortment of single pigment colours, matte finish, no stabilisers or fillers, heavy body.
AV were one of the original makers of acrylic paint colours, they released their range in 1972. This acrylic paint range is excellent quality and suited to both professional and hobby painters.
The consistency of the paint could be considered heavy body, but the paint permits all manner of techniques from creating intricate detail, to blending, to impasto work.
The paint dries quickly and the paint film is durable and flexible with a matte finish. The lack of stabilisers and additives in the paint means that the qualities of the individual pigments shine through. Every single colour has been formulated to complement the properties of the pigment.
Each pigment in the range is chosen for its maximum permanency and lightfastness. The binder used is 100% acrylic resin.
AV stocks a range of 89 acrylic colours, an assortment of organic pigments, earth colours and synthetic pigments. They also use cadmiums and cobalts in their paint. Unique to this range is two different titanium white tubes providing different properties, with Anatase designed to perform better than usual titanium white in colour mixes.
Attributes: Heavy body, high pigment load, professional quality, great for impasto, lots of colour choice in the range.
Liquitex Professional acrylic paint comes in two ranges: heavy body and soft body. Heavy body paint is much thicker, with a higher viscosity. This paint is perfect for impasto painting as it will retain crisp brushstrokes and palette knife marks, allowing you to create beautiful textures in your works.
The open working time of Liquitex Professional Heavy Body paint is longer than standard acrylic paint, at around 35 minutes.
The surface drag makes the paint feel easy to handle and blend.
There are 105 colours in the range—the majority of colours use a single pigment, giving excellent vibrancy and clean colour mixes. The paint is loaded with pigment, using minimal amounts of driers and fillers.
When dry, the paint film is flexible, water-resistant, durable, UV resistant and non-yellowing. The paint film dries to a unified satin finish. This means that varnishing isn’t necessary, but Liquitex produce their own Permanent Varnish, which you can use to give the painting a rich, hard gloss.
There is a minimal wet to dry shift in colour, so you can be sure that the colours you lay down on the canvas will stay as the same shade and hue as when wet.
If you opt to try heavy body paint, pick up some palette knives too and start experimenting with an impasto technique—it’s an incredibly fun and spontaneous painting method that can yield brilliant results. Thicker paint lends itself to this technique beautifully. Liquitex is also brilliant to use with multimedia methods, printmaking and experimental methods.
Attributes: Low viscosity, smooth, self levelling, vivid colours, spreads across the canvas with ease, great for detail work.
This paint is smooth and creamy and it has self-levelling properties. It’s got a low viscosity, making it perfect for detail work or techniques such as glazing.
The paint won’t retain brushstrokes when applied to the surface. If you want to achieve a smooth paint surface, with a unified satin-like sheen, this paint will help you achieve that.
The pigment load in the Soft Body range is just as high as in the Liquitex Heavy Body range, the colours will come out just as vibrant and pure. The high pigment content gives excellent coverage.
There are 89 colours available in the soft body range, including some fluorescent and iridescent colours. Liquitex create their colours with high standards of studio safety in mind—they are safe for use in educational settings. They have a non-toxic cadmium-free range, which was released in 2017 after three years of research and development. This is great for safety and environmentally conscious artists who want to refrain from using the heavy metal as a pigment.
Attributes: Mainly single pigments used, thick consistency, good colour options.
Amsterdam has 70 lightfast colours in their expert range. Mainly single pigments are used to produce intense colours when mixed.
Under museum conditions, the original colour will remain unchanged for at least 100 years.
The viscosity of the expert range is higher than that of their standard range of paint. The consistency is thick and buttery.
The paint film dries to a uniform degree of gloss and the paint film is incredibly flexible due to the binder vehicle being made from 100% acrylic resin.
The paint tubes are recyclable and they are also clear. This means you can see the true colour of the paint with ease, instead of a picture of a swatch, making colour selection somewhat easier.
In the range, Royal Talens make Oxide Black, which appears darker than Ivory Black. Ivory Black has dull blue undertones, where Oxide Black has more neutral undertones and reflects less light. If you like working in grey scale, with a black background or just want to create some ultra dark shadows, this colour could be a good addition to your palette.
Attributes: High pigment load, heavy body, great for impasto work.
As the first acrylic colours ever produced, they were released in 1963. This paint is professional quality and heavy body. The 87 colours are incredibly popular with artists worldwide.
The paint has a high loading of lightfast pigments. The paint feels heavy under the brush, with the paint retaining crisp textures in each stroke. If impasto painting is your thing, then this paint is suited to a wide range of impasto techniques.
Attributes: Acrylic gouache, dries to a matte finish, soft body, good for illustrative styles and making work for print, fast drying.
This paint is an illustrator’s staple. They are incredibly easy to layer as the paints dry quickly. The paint layer looks velvety smooth and vibrant when it dries. There is no noticeable colour shift from wet to dry, the colours appear uniform.
It’s especially useful for if you want to scan your work, as it dries to a matte finish, therefore it won’t give off any surface glare.
Unlike gouache, the paint film is water-resistant when dry, so it is not re-workable. This means that colours won’t bleed into one another when layering.
If you are used to painting with gouache or watercolour and want to transition to acrylic, this is a good place to start.
Attributes: Paint pouches are great for travel, vivid colours, between heavy and medium consistency.
Sennelier colours are made in France and packaged in a flexible pouch. The pouches make these excellent travel paints, as they are resistant to pressure and slim in shape. They’re easy to pack and take on flights (you can be sure they won’t leak). The paint is better preserved packaged this way, as no air can get into the tube to dry the paint.
Among the range’s 60 hues, Sennelier has 34 single pigment colours. There are 36 colours that give a satin finish and 12 that are high gloss. The colours have a high pigment load.
The consistency of the paint is between creamy and thick, but Sennelier call it ‘Heavy Body’.
Budget friendly acrylic paint
Attributes: Incredible value for the cost, they can be used as professional paints.
This range is ideal for the artist who wants a good quality paint at an affordable price. They are ‘student grade’ paints, so the pigment density isn’t as high as what you will find in professional grade paint. The pigmentation level is good, however, so the coverage and vibrancy of the paints are significantly better than similarly priced paint ranges on the market.
There are 60 colours in the range. The colours are bright and strong brush marks retain their shape. The opacity and permanence of the paint is also good, but again not as high as if you opt for professional grade paint.
Attributes: Economical, good range of colours, easy to use
A popular student grade paint, it is perhaps the cheapest on the list.
The consistency of the paint is soft body, so the brush strokes will level out when applied to the canvas and the paint surface will appear smooth. The paint is easy to spread, expect to cover large areas of the canvas with it. These paints are suitable for detail work straight from the tube, you won’t need much water to thin them with.
Some of the colours are not lightfast, meaning that the colour will change over time once dry. As the colours do not have a high level of permanency, they’re not recommended to create saleable works. This paint is great for study and to experiment with when you’re starting out, but when you start selling your work, think about trying some higher quality paint.
This paint can offer a brilliant painting experience and the price to start is economical. To get all the most basic colours for a limited palette (8 colours), you can expect to pay less than £25.
With a professional range of paint, the same amount of money would get you just three colours, on average. You won’t need many other materials to start painting, just paper and brushes—it can be really cheap to start a hobby that you will grow to love. Daler Rowney make a System 3 series of brushes too, that go excellently with their acrylic paint, see here.
Finding your perfect acrylic paint range can take some experimenting, but understanding the qualities of different paint brands can help you find your go-to paint.
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