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paint brush with blue acrylic paint

How to Keep Your Acrylic Paint From Drying Too Fast

One of the reasons artists like acrylic paint is because it is a fast-drying paint. You don’t have to wait weeks or months for it to dry before varnishing and framing your painting. You can enjoy your artwork or sell it soon after it is finished.

The fast drying time is also something that many artists find a bit frustrating. The paint dries on the palette before you finish using it, and you will have to mix more. Or the paint dries too fast on the canvas, so you can’t get a smooth blend.

If you have this love/hate relationship with acrylic painting, here are a few helpful hints to keep your acrylic paint from drying too fast. With these hints, you can even paint alla prima with acrylics.

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How to Keep Acrylic Paint Wet

Plastic Containers

Use an air-tight container such as a plastic pot, small plastic craft containers, or recycled food jars to keep your paint mixes from drying out. Mist the paint lightly with water and close the lid tightly before putting your paint away for the next session.

The paint should last several days to a week using this method. If you are not completely happy with the seal of the lid, you can cover the jar with some plastic wrap before putting on the lid for added protection.

Wet Palette

One of the best ways to keep acrylic paint wet is to use a stay-wet palette like this one by Masterson. This palette comes with a sponge and palette paper, which you wet with water before starting your painting session. The tightly sealed lid will keep your palette and paint wet for more than a week. They are a little pricey, so you can check out my post on paint palettes, where you can learn to make your own wet palette from household items and save the extra cost.

A plastic tub with lid, parchment paper, and a roll of paper towel on a wooden table.

Spray the Paint

Since acrylics are water-based paint, a light mist of water will slow the drying time. Use a spray bottle to periodically mist your palette and canvas to keep the paint wet. The best spray bottles to use are old, empty body -spray-type bottles.

They spray with a finer mist than regular spray bottles so that you won’t get large water droplets on your painting. Make sure they have been thoroughly cleaned since most body sprays contain alcohol, which will not play nicely with acrylic paint.

You can also purchase fine mist sprayers, generally used for makeup or hair applications. They usually have a finer spray than most spray bottles. Be careful not to use too much water, as this can make the paint too thin. Use only enough to keep the paint workable.

hand holding a spray bottle

Spray the Canvas

 Lightly mist the canvas before you start painting so that you are painting on an already wet surface. You can also spray the back of the canvas periodically while you work to keep your canvas damp and cool.

Use Open Acrylics

Some paint companies, such as Golden, make a type of acrylic paint that dries much more slowly. The paint’s chemical composition allows for more open time and even some reactivating of the paint before it is thoroughly dry.

This type of paint is best used in thin layers since thick applications can take weeks to dry, similar to oil paints.

You should also take care when adding a new application of paint over the open paint since they can be reactivated if not thoroughly dry and cause a muddy mixing of paint.

More information on Golden Open Acrylics is available on their website. https://www.goldenpaints.com/products/colors/open

Use Chroma Atelier Interactive Acrylics

Chroma Atelier Interactive Acrylics is a unique line of artists’ acrylic paints that have the capability to be “re-wettable.” This means that unlike traditional acrylics, which dry quickly and become water-resistant, interactive paints can be “reactivated” when dry with a special unlocking formula. This allows artists to rework certain areas of a painting even after they have dried, offering more time for blending and making adjustments. 

Once these paints are sealed with a varnish, they behave like any other dry acrylic paint and can no longer be re-wetted or reworked. Therefore, you should be completely satisfied with your piece before applying the final seal.

Use Paint Retarders

Retarders, also called slow-dry mediums, are substances used to slow down the drying time of acrylic paint. They work by slowing the time it takes water to evaporate from the paint.

They will extend the drying process and increase the working time of acrylic paint by about 30 minutes, depending on the brand and how much you use. Read the instructions carefully before use to prevent mishaps in your painting, such as lifting previous layers. Add only a small amount of retarder to your paint mix. Most manufacturers recommend around 15%.

Acrylic glazing liquids or gels can also help to slow down the drying time. They look milky in the bottle but usually dry clear. Since all manufacturers have different formulations of mediums, read the label before buying to be sure that you are getting the effect you want.

Liquitex Slow Dry Blending Medium is the one I use.

An acrylic painting of orange and yellow roses on a black background. The text overlay says how to keep acrylic paint from drying too fast. trembelingart.com
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Professional Acrylic Paint

Use professional artist-grade paint. It has a higher pigment-to-binder ratio than cheaper student grade or craft paint, so it will not dry out quite as fast.

You will also need less paint to get the color depth and coverage you want if you use artist-grade acrylics so you can get your painting done a little faster.

Stay Cool

If possible, paint in a cool environment. If it is hot where you live, try to paint early in the morning or late in the evening when the sun is not so hot.

I don’t have that problem since where I live, we have 9 months of winter and 3 months of almost winter. ๐Ÿ™‚ 

Air conditioning or a fan can help, but they tend to blow tiny specks of dust around, which can be annoying when they land in wet paint.

Keep your curtains closed during the hottest part of the day to avoid heating up your room.

You can also paint in a cool basement if you have one with good lighting.

paint brush and splatter of blue acrylic paint

Primed Surface

A porous surface will absorb the paint, so it dries faster and requires more applications of paint to cover it.

Prime your surface with a good acrylic primer and let it dry before you start painting. See my post on how to gesso a canvas.

Two coats should be enough to prevent the paint from absorbing too fast. You can prime wood, canvas, or paper with gesso.

Thicker Paint

A thicker application of paint will slow down the drying time a little. Adding a bigger blob of paint to your palette will also slow the drying time.

Put out as much paint as you think you will need in one painting session rather than tiny little spots of paint. The small dots of paint will dry much more quickly.

If you paint with thin paint, try using a heavy body paint. Heavy body paint dries slower than thinner paints.

Plastic Wrap

Improvise by using a styrofoam plate, old ceramic plate, Styrofoam meat tray, or just about any flat container that can be used as a  nonabsorbent palette with a little bit of a lip.

When you finish your painting session, lightly mist your paint with water and cover it tightly with plastic wrap.

I have kept the paint wet for 4 to 5 days this way, remembering to mist the paint a couple of times a day.

If necessary, you can also add a rubber band to keep the container airtight.

I have kept the paint wet for 4 to 5 days this way, remembering to mist the paint a couple of times a day.

Planning

Plan out your painting session so that you don’t put out paint colors you are not going to get to right away. Decide on what area you are going to work on and only put out the paint for that session.

If you have to mix certain shades or tones, you can keep them in small jars until you need them.

acrylic paint palette with various color paint

These tips should help you keep your paint wet a little longer and ease some of the frustration and wasted paint. If you have any other ideas for keeping your acrylic paint wet, I would love to hear about them in the comments below. Happy painting! ๐Ÿ™‚

If you have questions, you can leave them in the comments below. You can also join our free Facebook group, Trembeling Art Creative Corner, where you can ask questions, post your work and get to know some fantastic artists from all genres and skill levels. 😊

Thanks for reading.

Digital signature Marilyn with butterfly

About The Author

4 thoughts on “How to Keep Your Acrylic Paint From Drying Too Fast”

  1. Dear Marilyn, Thanks so much for all your tips. I also have some health issues that slow me down and even discourage me from getting back to my easel so I really do relate well to your ‘change of seasons’. Your posts always help give me the nudge to get back to doing what love. I also find that after a long dry spell I have trouble digging what I need for mixing out of my memory so I save as many of these tips as I can to help me along the way. Again thank you.

  2. Thanks for the tip on acrylic paints, that they dry a bit darker. Now I have learned that lesson. Haven’t painted for a while and usually had an old painting to adapt to my style. This time, I am on my own! Doing a painting of Our Lady of Guadalupe but with lots of innovations! MUCH harder than I thought it would be! And my cheaper quality acrylic paint is not helping. I have paint retarder and using that, but still streaks a little. But I will try your advice! Thank You! I knew better than to get the cheaper acrylic. It works great with miniatures, but this is an 81/2 by 11 inches! Thank you!

    1. Hi Nancy, I am glad my tips helped. Artist grade paints can be expensive so buy a few at a time. Start with the primary colors plus white so you can mix other colors as you go. The cheaper acrylics can still be used to practice various techniques with so you won’t waste the good paint. Happy painting! ๐Ÿ˜Š

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