Acrylic Painting Techniques

Acrylic painting techniques are relatively new, compared to oil painting- and watercolor techniques. They're a good beginners' material: acrylics can look like oil paint, but they're water-soluble and dry a whole lot faster. Acrylics can be used on canvas, panel and stretched paper. This page is on art painting, click here for interior painting techniques.

acrylic wall painting

The good things about acrylic painting techniques

Acrylics combine the best of both oils and watercolors: they're watersoluble, with very quick drying times, and still you can have thick hiding paint. It's a very good paint for beginners and studywork. Some advantages of acrylics, over oils and watercolor:

  • You can use water for cleaning. No turpentine smell, better for your hands and the environment (Some VOC is present, though).
  • It dries really fast (to the touch in half an hour and completely overnight. For some, this is actually a disadvantage - it depends on your technique.
  • you can work on paper, though it's good to stretch it first (wetness makes the paper wobble).
  • Acrylic painting supplies are relatively cheap.
  • You can use a wide range of techniques (you can start in a watercolor-way, and end with thick hiding paint).
  • WYSIWYG, acrylics don't go lighter or darker when they dry (egg-tempera or watercolors do).
  • With the help of mediums, you can get any look you want. Spectacular products have been developed for a wide range of effects.

features of acrylic paint

Acrylics are versatile, you can do all watercolor and 'oil' painting techniques with them - except for working wet-in-wet (acrylic paint dries too fast for that). The biggest advantage is: when you paint over a layer that has dried overnight, the paint is not cheesy and partly dry (like in oil paint), but really dry. No danger of wiping out your first layers while you're busy making a new layer, which can be very convenient... on a tender background, the first stroke has to be right because wiping it off means, messing up your underlayers. With acrylics you'll have no such problems.

The rule I mentioned above - that acrylics don't go lighter or darker when they dry - doesn't apply anymore when you use extra medium (plextol, or acrylic binder). This stuff looks white (milky) when wet, but it turns really transparent when it dries. This is something one can get used to, but can be confusing at first. The paint will look lighter when you add medium, and returs to its original tone when it dries.
Mediums can be used to make the paint thinner or more shiny/matte/texturous - whatever you like, really. There are many kinds of acrylic mediums available, that give your paint extra body or texture, matteness or shine. If you like to work wet-in-wet, you can even add mediums that slow down the drying process (by about twenty minutes). For working 'wet in wet' that is still to short - then you might want to switch to oil painting techniques) Even when you add liquin to oils for fast drying, the paint will be 'open'(wet) during the day you use it. Click here for more acrylic painting techniques with different mediums.

Acrylic painting techniques are usually done on canvases or painting boards, but you can work on stretched paper as well. This is a good idea for making studies, or when you don't have much space to store your paintings. Later on you can frame them, with or without glass.

Beginner acrylic painting

Wet-in-wet and scumbling for acrylics painting techniques:

For working wet in wet, you need long drying times. A retarder medium can stretch the 'open time' for maybe twenty minutes, but often that's still not enough. But a heap of acrylic paint stays fluid a lot longer than a thin layer, and by layering similar colors you can still create a blending effect. If you really like to work wet-in-wet, it's better to switch to oils. If you do that, please add some caseine binder to your acrylic underlayer paint, because in the end oils don't stick to acrylics at all. This is a serious problem in western art - most oil paintings were done on acrylic gesso grounds and start to peel after only two or three decades. More on that in this oil painting ebook.

Artificial paint?

For me the biggest disadvantage is, the artificialness of the acrylic medium. Somehow you're working with fluid plastic. Dry acrylic paint layers can look like plastic as well (mediums can help there). But the price of acrylics makes up for a lot of that. It helps a lot when you add earth colors to you palette, and do careful mixing. Also when you add a little caseïne binder to your paint. Acrylic painting techniques are very suitable for study painting; they enable you to do lots of quick studies, for a small price. When you add caseine binder to your acrylics, they become suitable for painting over with oil paint. If the artificialness is a major issue, consider making egg tempera paint. It's a little more work, but you'll get very natural results.

Starting a painting hobby

Acrylics are the best materials to begin a painting hobby, as beginner acrylic painting usually takes place somewhere in the house. They don't smell, and the colors are just as good as oil paints. In terms of practicality, the advantages of acrylic painting are overwhelming, especially if you like to work in layers (acrylics have quick drying times). There are cheap and more refined acylic paints. For bulk colors like white, black, ultramarine and earth tones the cheap ones are just fine. Generally, acrylic painting materials are cheaper than oils. Click here to find some more info on setting up a work station.

Subjects and colors

The pigments in acrylic paint are the same as in oil paints, but only in the better brands. Cheap acrylic paints have cheap pigments too, which can look - well, cheap. Use them for study purposes, or for your underpainting layers.

For good brand acrylic paints you pay a little bit more, but you'll get better value as well (better pigments). With good acrylic paints, you won't see the difference with oil paint - or even have something better than oil paint. Acrylic mediums can generate a lot of special effects. Click on the picture, to see the brands and prices of Blick Art materials - a big company who can offer good prices. Click here to find a basic set of starter colors, and a color mixing guide

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The durability of acrylic paints

Lots of painters use acrylic paint as an underpainting for oil paint. However, there are no records on the durability of such painting techniques. An art-materials specialist told me, that most 20th century art will be gone in 50 years. He said, because of bad painting techniques, it will be only available as digital pictures... Also for pure acrylic paintings, there are no records of the durability of acrylic paint. It has only been there for a few decades. But then again, durability is only important with all-time masterpieces. For making study-paintings, acrylics are fine. For making durable oil paintings, it's better to take egg-tempera paint as underpainting material. Another option is: adding some caseine to your acrylic paint. Oil paint adheres to caseine much better than to acrylic paint. This is also recommended when you use acrylic gesso as a primer for oil painting techniques.

Painting grounds for acrylics

Acrylic painting techniques are usually done on canvases or painting boards, but you can work on paper as well. Check here for info on how to stretch a canvas. But you can very well use ready stretched canvases, or even a piece of loose canvas from a canvas roll (already primed, but not yet stretched). You can stretch a piece of canvas after painting as well


For acrylic painting techniques, take synthetic brushes. Just as the paint itself, synthetic brushes are cheaper than the natural product. Get some big ones in the DIY-store, and for some more refined ones, check the online artist's suplies store. Click here for info on using brushes

acrylic painting techniques on paper

Paper is great material to work on, but you have to stretch it first, if you want it to keep straight. There is one kind of paper I know that keeps more or less straight all by itself: Saunders and Waterford, 300 grams watercolor paper. You can get it flat or with some structure. This paper doesn't need stretching. You will see it is paper though, because of its structure. If you want to have paper with a 'canvas' feeling: get an acrylic painting paper with a linen-structure (an acrylic painting pad).

Wall paintings and murals

Acrylic painting techniques are very suitable for wall paintings. First, you prime the wall with an acrylic house paint primer, then you can work on it with artist's acrylic paints. However, note that artist's colors have onesided pigments, which have to be handled carefully. For a harmonious result, you might just as well take interior painting colors that are already present in your interior, and use them for building up decorations or a scenery. Adding artist's acrylics (the cheaper ones) to your house paint colors is also an option. Structured wallpaper might be an issue - click here for more on painting over wallpaper.

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