Acrylic paints are to an artist as numbers are to a mathematician, basic and essential. That's why choosing the best acrylic paint is critical if you want to progress from beginner to advanced.
Unlike numbers to the artist however, the chemicals from acrylic paint will be on your skin and the fumes you breathe. You will want to err on the safe side and not harm yourself.
Although no acrylic paint company will use an excessive amount of toxic lead in their paints nowadays, it's still a good idea to be informed about the tools we use. In this article I'll cover some essentials you need to know about your choice of acrylic paint and in the end I'll also make a few recommendations.
First, you need to know there are typically only student and professional grade acrylic paints.
Student Grade Acrylic Paint
Student grade paints are often less expensive no matter the brand. They tend to dry faster. The store brands you find at larger superstores are typically the low end of student grade paints which means they dry almost immediately and will stain. Some student grade paints use different pigments or fillers and as such, might actually stain your brushes (or your clothes) even though acrylic paint is water soluble.
The use of Gesso in Acrylic Paintings
On the market there are things like Gesso, which you can use to prime your canvas; mediums, which you can use to thicken your thinner student paints; and additives that slow down how quickly your paints dry.
Gesso is like a primer, but some canvas may come prepared before you buy. Remember that the use of Gesso or other mediums is completely up to you, but it's good to do some research on how other artists use it. In the end, your final acrylic painting will be unique.
Using a combination of these can help turn student paints into better quality. Of course, you have to consider the cost of time and money to do all that mixing versus just buying professional grade.
Professional Grade Acrylic Paint
Professional grade paints are more expensive, but for someone who is an experienced painter they are well worth the investment. These dry slower, are a thicker quality, will wash out of everything, and give you the opportunity to complete a painting before going back and making adjustments.
Secondly, all acrylic paints are by definition water soluble. You do not need turpentine to clean your brushes like you do with oil paints. Water alone will clean them. Without these toxins you can breathe fresh air while you paint. However, you might still want to avoid shutting yourself inside with no windows or doors for fear of diminishing oxygen.
Last, but not least, if you are using an acrylic paint that has dried on your palette, a fun trick for any brand is to just spray a bit of water over the paint and mix. Acrylics can be left to dry, then mixed with water to bring them back to life. This is because of the hydrogen that evaporates from the paint.
Best Acrylic Paint Brands:
Since Acrylic paint is water based, it means that you should be able to rinse out the paints with regular water from your sink, without any stains or residue.
The liquitex acrylic paint brand offers different lines of paint. Their “basics” is more of a student grade acrylic paint which does not wash out of brushes sans stains as well, but the colors are generic, bright, and ideal for most layered techniques.
If you want to make changes, or blend, without the colors drying quickly, you will need to layer your canvas with gesso or add a medium to the paints. To thicken them, just add thickener. When using these, you will notice a distinct difference in texture; compared to other acrylic paints, the “basics” line is watered down and comes out very thin. They have thicker paints, better quality, and a higher range of more distinct colors but with those advancements comes a higher cost.
2. Dick Blick
Similar to Liquitix, the art store chain Dick Blick sells their own generic version of acrylic paint, “Blicks”, which has a “basics” set and a more advanced professional line. If you are trying to paint something which requires limited blending and lots of layers, then these fast drying “basics” are ideal.
You can get a nice scene on your canvas with detail upon detail, but no smudge. You will be challenged to do wet on wet techniques or any blending with this Dick Blick acrylic paint. As such, you might save money on the cost of the paints, but you will spend money on an acrylic medium to keep them from drying as quickly.
The colors for Louvre acrylic paint come out thicker than Liquitex but thinner than Amsterdam. This thicker consistency gives it a heavier body. They are sold in smaller sizes, approximately 120 ml as the small size, compared to 133 ml as the small size for Blick paints.
Aside from size, the Louvre acrylic paint costs are about the same. Painting with them is easy, and some brighter colors might leave behind a slight stain on your palette or brushes.
We found that the Louvre are meant for beginners, they are among some of the top student grade paints out there. This doesn't mean they are meant for small kids in an art class per say but more for an amateur painter trying to learn many techniques with acrylic paint.
Amsterdam acrylic paint is a bit of a step up, these are more professional grade paints. They have a multitude of colors and they will not dry quickly.
As such, wet on wet techniques are easier with the Amsterdam acrylic paint. Cost wise they run a bit high, but are worth the quality. Another great asset is that the Amsterdam acrylic paint is basically odorless, for those that are sensitive to smells.
You will find that with these paints, unlike cheaper off brand student paints, the pigments in the paints do not stain your brushes after washing. We also found that the Amsterdam acrylic paint is made from pure, non-fading pigments. These pigments give the paints a high level of lightfastness. They are also alkali resistant, which makes the acrylic paint suitable for wall painting and a variety of other surfaces including canvas, paper, and stone.
Wrapping it up
Overall, deciding which is the best quality acrylic paint to buy is really based on what type of painting you want to do and how advanced of a painter you are. If you want to paint detailed flowers, you might not want things to stay wet but you might want smaller amounts of a wider array of colors. If, instead, you are painting a landscape, you might want colors to remain thick and wet so you can blend for a few hours. The choice is yours and there are a variety of acrylic paint companies to choose from besides our examples above.
The great part about acrylic painting is that you can find numerous brands that will fit your needs. All these options can be detrimental sometimes and create "paralysis by analysis", and you spend your entire time trying to decide the type of paint instead of painting! So we recommend you first identify where you are in your acrylic painting experience, then decide what type of painting you are doing, then you have narrowed down your search to buy the best acrylic paint for your own needs!
Another great source we found was an article by Patricia Fuller where she tests 4 different types of Acrylic Brands on her blog "Product Comparison: Testing Four Popular Acrylic Paint Brands". You can read all about her experience using four seperate brands, Apple Barrel, Arteza, Artist's Loft, and Grumbacher.
Remember that when choosing the best acrylic paint, there is no right or wrong brand, right or wrong grade. You are only limited by your imagination. You will have to play around with the different brands to find which ones work best for specific needs. In fact, you might discover that one particular shade of “sand color” offered by Louvre paints is not available in any other brand, so you always buy that one particular tube to add to a set of Blicks Basics. These are some of the fun tricks and tips you pick up as you learn how to paint.
In the end, you will end up with your very own unique art project, which is exactly what we wanted in the first place. A piece of art like no other.