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How To Choose The Right Acrylic Paint For Beginners

How To Choose The Right Acrylic Paint


There are many types of artist paint on the market today. It can be confusing for a beginning painter to decide which one to buy. Here are some tips to help you decide what to buy as well as some information about paint composition. I am an acrylic painter so this article is mostly geared to acrylic paints, but the general principals work for all mediums.



Paint Composition

All paints contain a pigment and a binder. The difference in oils, acrylics and watercolors is the binder that is used in each paint. Oil paint contains an oil binder, watercolors contain a plant based binder called gum arabic and acrylics are bound with an acrylic polymer emulsion.


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Acrylics dry faster than oils and are flexible when dry. They are also permanent and can’t be reactivated like watercolors. If you make a mistake with acrylics, just let it dry a few minutes and paint over it. This is one of the reasons I like acrylics since having Parkinson’s means I make a lot of mistakes. ๐Ÿ™‚ 

The downside of acrylics is because they dry so quickly, it is harder to get smooth blending. This is where oils excel. However, different types of acrylic paints and additives will allow you to paint with the visible brush strokes of oil paint or the more inky consistency of water paint. As you can see, acrylics are very versatile.



 Two Grades of Artist Paints: Student and Professional

Student paint tends to have a higher ratio of filler to pigment than professional paint and a lower range of colors. It is still excellent paint for a beginner to learn the basics of painting and color mixing and it has the added advantage of being cheaper. 

Professional grade paint is more expensive and has a higher pigment content, giving you more vibrant colors. There are also usually more colors available in the professional grade paints.

stripes of paint on a canvas

There are also acrylic craft paints available. They are inexpensive and contain much more filler than artist paints. They are ideal for crafting but should not be used for fine art since they don’t adhere well and are generally not light fast.



Light-fastness refers to how much the paint colors will fade out over  time. An international body, ASTM, classifies acrylic paint from I to III based on its light-fastness, with I being the most light-fast. Some manufacturers use letters with AA being the best. Light-fastness or permanence can be found on the container or the manufacturers web site. 



Viscosity is the thickness or consistency of the paint. Heavy body paints are thick and creamy and ideal if you want visible brush strokes or texture in your painting. They can still be thinned down with a little water or an acrylic medium if you want something a little smoother.

At the other end of the spectrum are the fluid acrylics. They have a thin, watery consistency almost like an ink. You can actually use these in an airbrush with the right air brush medium. They are ideal for thin washes of transparent color or a watercolor technique.


watery paint and paint brush on a canvas


In the middle we have soft body or regular artist paints. These paints are thinner but not inky, having the consistency of heavy cream. They are ideal for smooth layering of color. 



What Should You Buy?

So, which colors should you buy? Most beginning artists don’t have a lot of money to spend on supplies, so start off with a student grade black and white. You can practice making various shades of grey and maybe do some black and white paintings to get used to different values. As you can afford it, add other colors such as cadmium yellow, permanent rose, ultramarine blue and burnt umber. My recommendation would be to start off with a basic set like this one if you can afford that. As you get more used to acrylic painting, you can start buying the more expensive professional paints to build up your pallet. 

artist brushes with paint and text overlay how to choose the right acrylic paint


The best way to decide on the type of paint to buy is to think about how you like to paint. Do you like thick brush strokes and a lot of texture or do you prefer thin washes to build up color? Maybe you can buy a couple of tubes of each kind and play around with them. Eventually you will develop your own style and favorite brand of paint. If you have any questions or comments, please leave them in the box below. I would love to here from you. 

Thanks for reading.

Digital signature Marilyn with butterfly








2 thoughts on “How To Choose The Right Acrylic Paint For Beginners”

  1. Thx for this post. I started acrylics last May and really had NO idea ๐Ÿ™‚ which paints to buy so picked up Golden brand. Have you tried them as well as well as Liquitex brand? Thanks again for the info!

    1. Hi Debra. Yes I have tried Golden and actually have a few tubes in my paint box. They are a good brand and I do like them. I choose Liquitex because they work better with my style of painting (and the tubes are easier to open ๐Ÿ™‚ ).

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