Acrylic Painting Tips For The Aspiring Artist

acrylic painting tipsIf you’re thinking of becoming a painter and need a place to start, using acrylic paint is an excellent choice. Invented around 1934, acrylic paints are the relatively new kid to the painting scene. In some circles, they’ve gotten something of a bad rap. Some people mistakenly believe that acrylics, which are comprised of a pigment suspended in an acrylic polymer emulsion, just don’t produce the same results as oil or water paints. Nothing could be further from the truth! The fact is, acrylic paints are incredibly flexible, and both the beginning painter and an artist that is more experienced can use them to create fantastic pieces! In fact, if you’ve ever enjoyed a painting by Andy Warhol, then you’ve seen firsthand the kinds of masterpieces acrylic paints can create. Of course, as with any new medium that you’ll experiment with, knowing the tricks, tips, and techniques that seasoned artists use can be absolutely vital to picking up. Before you even begin, a quick refresher in color theory will get your brush going in the right direction; even a course in print design will get you up to speed. After that, take a look at some of these acrylic painting tips that we’ve compiled here, and start exploring all of the things that acrylic paints can do.

Getting Comfortable with Acrylics

Before you begin to play with acrylics, it’s helpful to understand what you’re getting into. Don’t let that scare you away, though! Basically, it’s important to understand that the main difference between acrylic paints and oil paints is the emulsifier. An emulsifier is a suspension element and in oil paints these typically are drying oils like linseed oil. On the other hand with an acrylic paint the emulsifying agent is actually water.

As a result, acrylic paints dry much more quickly than oil paint does. Because they are water-based, and artist may thin them with water, or use some other agent to thicken them. This has the added benefit of making them much easier to clean up as well.

The challenge this presents is that unlike oil paints, which can be worked and reworked until the desired result is achieved, artists using acrylic paints have less time to correct mistakes or change the overall look of their painting. In the sections below, we will explore how to rectify this issue along with other acrylic painting tips and techniques that will showcase all of the things that acrylic paint can do!

Acrylic Varieties and Grades

Like anything else, you’ll find that acrylic paints come in a wide variety of grades and price points. You’ll find everything from tiny tubes of cheap acrylic paint at your local craft store, to much more expensive pigments that you can purchase through o art supply retailers. You can rest assured knowing that it isn’t how much you spend on paints that how you apply them double determines your artistic prowess. After all, Keith Hering began his artistic career with nothing but a piece of chalk. In addition to a variation of quality and acrylic paints, you’ll also find that there are multiple varieties as well. Let’s take a look at the grades of acrylic paint first:

  • Professional Acrylics 
    • Professional acrylics are among the most expensive acrylics that you can buy. They are highly pigmented and in many ways, resemble oil paints in their thickness and mixing abilities.
  • Student Acrylics
    • Student acrylics are very similar to professional acrylics and are commonly used by painters in art school. The pigmentation concentration in student acrylics is lower, and as a rule come in a smaller range of colors and professional acrylics  do. These can be a little bit tough for her to mix, and a great example of this is using primary color acrylics to create secondary hues. For instance, while professional grade blue and red acrylic paint will create a nice even violet color, it can be difficult to achieve the same result with student acrylics. Fortunately, you can purchase secondary colors in your desired hue. Student acrylics are great place to start for the beginning artist hoping to familiarize themselves with acrylic paints.
  • Scholastic or Academic Acrylics 
    • As the name suggests, scholastic relics are typically used with younger students in primary school. These are the least expensive acrylics available, but are often times mixed with die instead of pigments which can make color achievement a challenge. However they have the added bonus of being specifically formulated for safety, meaning that they are ideal for children or people with health concerns.

Now that you understand a little bit more about the grades of acrylic paints, let’s take a look at some of the varieties that are available for purchase:

  • Craft Acrylics 
    • Craft acrylics are specially formulated for use on a variety of surfaces. These include surfaces such as cloth,  canvas,  wood and stone. You can easily find craft acrylics at your neighborhood craft store and while there are number of acrylic painting tips that you can employ, most of these acrylics come premixed and do not require further manipulation.
  • Heavy Acrylics 
    • These acrylic paints are the ones you probably think of when you conjure up an image of an artist with his palette. They are quite thick, and usually come in tubes.  You are likely to find these acrylics in an art supply store, where they come in various sizes.
  • Open Acrylics 
    • As we discussed, one of the challenges with acrylic paints is that you are constantly painting “against the clock” so to speak. Open acrylics were created with a special resin that slows the drying time of the paints to allow greater workability.
  • Pearlized Acrylics 
    • These acrylic paints are mixed with mica or some other iridescent pigment to give it a distinctive sheen. While some artists use these paints, you will most often find them used for handicrafts.
  • Acrylic  Gouache 
    • Gouache is a close cousin of the watercolor paint, in that they tried to a matte finish and have an opacity that can be manipulated with water. There are a number of acrylic painting tips that you can learn to mimic watercolor paintings, and using gouache acrylics is one of the easiest ways to get it done. As a bonus, learning how to use gouache acrylics can be the perfect way to make the leap to watercolors if you think you’d like to try your hand at them. 

Essential Acrylic Painting Tips

So that’s your crash course in acrylic varieties and grades. Let’s move now to the good stuff — learning some great acrylic painting tips that will help you achieve the artistic look that you’re going for. Some of these tips are more practical in nature and will show you some best practices to keeping acrylic paints workable. Others will speak straight to your inner artist by showing you some mixing, application, and brush techniques that seasoned artists already swear by.

Preparing Your Canvas

One of the great things about painting with acrylic paints is that you are not limited to just a  canvas. However if you’re hoping to paint something that you can mount above your mantle, then a  canvas might be the right choice for you. When you’re just beginning, you’ll probably want to purchase a pre-stretched canvas from your local art supply or craft store. Often times these will come with stretchers including little pieces of wood that you can insert into divets in the canvas corners to give yourself a nice taut painting surface. There’s nothing wrong with choosing a less expensive canvas, but if you do be prepared to prime it with a substance known as gesso. Gesso is white in color, and is a binder that is often mixed with chalk. By applying it with a wide brush and allowing it to dry, you will create a surface to which acrylic paints will easily  bind. Additionally, the white surface you create will allow you to get a truer color from your paints.

Manipulating Opacity

if you choose heavy acrylics, you will notice that the pain comes out very thick and creates an opaque effect. one of the most important acrylic painting tips to keep in mind, is that by adding water to a thick pigment you can lower its viscosity and its opacity allowing a fuller range of painting effects. Additionally, you may wish to  add a drying retardant, which will allow you greater flexibility and enable you to play with opacity effects.

Tint and Shade

If you choose to purchase a lower grade of acrylic paint with less color option, just know that you are not limited to the paint that comes out of the tube. You can easily adjust the tint (lightning) and the shade (darkening) by adding white acrylic paint to achieve the former effect and black to achieve the latter. As you become more comfortable with mixing colors and adjusting the tint and shade of specific colors you will find that your color options are practically limitless.


There are many instances where you’ll want to blend your acrylic paints. For instance, if you’re painting a beautiful sunset you want to make sure that each color flows seamlessly into the next. Of all the acrylic painting tips, remembering how to blend is one of the most important. By simply wetting your brush (don’t soak it; otherwise you run the risk of runny paints) and sweeping its damp bristles across your canvas you can easily blend colors together.

Besides these essential acrylic painting tips, there are lots of ways to explore painting with acrylics. Learning how to paint in three dimensions will give you some valuable insight on  brush techniques, creating illusions with light, and other best practices for heavy or thick acrylics. Arguably, the best way to learn is to jump in brush first; before you know it you’ll have acrylic painting tips of your own to impart.

Now that you know some more about acrylic painting tips and techniques, you’re ready to pick up a brush and start creating your own masterpiece. Remember that acrylic painting, as with any new skill, will take some practice and experimentation for you to become completely comfortable. The wonderful thing about painting is that it can be a very effective stress reliever, so more than likely you’ll find yourself looking forward to your painting sessions. As you grow as an artist, you’ll want to learn more and more about things like composition so that you can continue to improve your skills. Acrylic paints are great for a beginning artist, and soon you may find that you’d like to branch out into other artistic mediums. The sky’s the limit, and with a paint brush in hand, anything is possible!