Acrylic Paint Guide

Acrylic Paint Guide SmartThere are many things you need to consider when you are going for acrylic paint shopping, and all of them I have covered in this article:

1. Colors;
Paint Grade: student or artist;
3. Viscosity: heavy body and fluid acrylics;
4. Permanence;
5. Brand.

Not to mention different tubes and jars sizes. This information will help you feel more confident among the various types of paints.

Acrylic Paint Color

Acrylic Paint Guide SmartThere are dozens of acrylic colors and shades available on the market. Time after time we all have the temptation to buy them all and be the owner of the richest palette ever. But the truth is it's not only misspent but simple irrationally. Why? To get the answer we need to understand the basics of Color Theory and Color Wheel (click here for more info).

So as you know, there are TOP 3 colors:
- yellowred, blue and you can mix a rainbow from these three!

However, this immediately raises another question - how to choose these colors?

I prefer to have 2 set of primary - warm and cool:
- Cadmium Yellow Medium (warmer) and Acrylic Paint Guide Smart
Lemon yellow (cooler).
Acrylic Paint Guide SmartRed Cadmium Red Medium (warmer) and
Alizarin Crimson (cooler).

Acrylic Paint Guide SmartBlue Phthalo blue (warmer)  and
Ultramarine (cooler).

By adding Black (Ivory Black) and White (Titanium White) to our 3 color palette,  and mixing 2 and more colors together in different proportion, we are able to achieve a high variety of different colors and shades with different saturation and value.I also recommend you to add the following to your palette:
Acrylic Paint Guide SmartBrown - Burnt Umber ( a warm chocolate brown that’s extremely versatile and provides itself indispensable. It’s great for darkening the tone of other colors).
Acrylic Paint Guide SmartGreen -  Phthalo green (bright bluish green; mix it with cadmium yellow medium to get a variety of shades of greens)

Let's Summarize:

For starter palette, you need 8 chromatic colors: Cadmium Yellow Medium, Cadmium Red Medium, Alizarin Crimson, Phthalo Blue, Ultramarine, Burnt Umber, and Phthalo Green; and2 achromatic color: Ivory Black and Titanium White. You can get thousands of hues, tints, and shades out of these 10 guys!

Acrylic Paint Guide Smart

I highly recommend you to start with this basic palette. But once you notice that there are some colors that you use all the time and they're not it this palette, for example, orange, it worse buying a tube of plain orange paint, rather than mix it all the time from red and yellow.

Acrylic Paint Grade

Acrylic Paint Guide Smart


You have probably noticed that paints are divided into two main grades -  Artist acrylics (professional acrylics) and Student acrylics.  So what is the difference between these two and which one do you need? Let's take a look at it a little closer.



⇓ Artists acrylics

Artist acrylics or professional acrylics are designed to resist the impact of the environment, such as chemical reactions from exposure to ultraviolet light, oxygen, humidity, and dust. This prolongs the lifetime of your paintings for hundreds of years without the slightest change in shades.

Also, professional-grade acrylics have a high concentration of finely ground pigment with smoother consistency, which allows for more medium manipulation and limits the color shift when blends with other colors or after drying.  Also, artist quality paints come in a wider range of colors, compare to the student's paints, and final painting colors look vibrant, bright and rich.

⇓ Student Acrylics

Student acrylics are cheaper, because of less-expensive formulas. As you've probably guessed by name - they are meant to be used for learning and student practice. Although they have characteristics similar to artist acrylics, but with lower pigment levels, and usually come in a smaller selection. Colors are designed to be mixed even though color strength is lower.


Acrylic Paint Guide SmartSo which one? If you're just starting out, looking to experiment and practice with new techniques, it's a good idea to go with student grade paint. But once you decide to move forward to "full-grown painting" and go deeper into the color expressions, or decide to create some paintings for sale, I highly recommend you to work with artist grade paints. You will notice a big difference in the painting process and color mixing, as well as in the final look of your artwork, which worth your money.


Acrylic Paint Viscosity

The meaning of viscosity refers to the color consistency or thickness.  

Acrylic Paint Guide SmartViscous Paint: Heavy body acrylics have the highest viscosity index. They have a thick, buttery consistency (similar to oil paints) that facilitates color mixing and blending. Heavy body acrylics are the best choice for impasto techniques or heavier paint applications.  They will hold a brush or knife stroke and even a medium stiff peak.


Acrylic Paint Guide SmartMedium viscosity acrylics: Fluid acrylics, Soft body acrylics, or High Flow acrylics have a lower viscosity but the same pigmentation as the Heavy Body Acrylics. These paints are good for detailed work, watercolor techniques, airbrush application, or when smooth coverage is desired.

Gel Mediums
are also available in various viscosities and used to thicken or thin acrylic paint, as well as add transparency, and get the exact
consistency you want.

Which one to buy? It depends on personal preference and the desired style of painting. You can totally use few different acrylic paint types in one artwork. But if you are just starting out, my advice is to try heavy body acrylics first, because I find them a little less tricky to work with. And they can still be thinned with water or an acrylic medium if needed.

Acrylic Paint Permanence

Last but not least, permanence refers to the paint pigments resistance to change when exposed to light and the atmosphere. Permanence strongly depends on the acrylic paint grade and quality. Most acrylic colors have much higher permanence ratings than oils or watercolors, which is another reason to love them!

Typical Manufacturer Standard of Permanence:

**** or AA = Extremely permanent colors
*** or A = Permanent durable colors.
** or B = Moderately durable colors.
* or C = Fugitive Colors


There are certain lightfastness standards that you should look for when selecting paint. Lightfastness is shown with an ASTM rating for the pigment. The ASTM abbreviation stands for the American Society for Testing and Materials. 

ASTM Permanence Standard:

I = Excellent Lightfastness
II = Very Good Lightfastness
III = Not Sufficiently Lightfast
IV and V are  the lowest and not recommended for artist's use

 Always try to stick to ATSM I or II (you can find ATSM rating on the tube or jar).

Acrylic Paint Brands

Fortunately or not, there are so many different brands of acrylic paint available! So easy to get confused. 

I want to present you this great article "Choosing the Acrylic Paint that’s Best for You". WonderStreet Team did a great job comparing  19 brands of acrylic paint that are most frequently used by artists around the world! I highly recommend reading through it carefully, because it's a great guide that can help you find what suits your needs best! 


Couple thoughts in the conclusion...

I hope I've enjoyed reading this Acrylic Paint Guide. I know it might seem to be a little overwhelming... But hey,  paint is important! So take your time, read this all carefully, and please don't hesitate to ask questions if you have any, simply leave a comment below.

Unfortunately, we can't learn painting just by reading the theory. So practice, experiment, and enjoy yourself in the world of creativity!

Cheers 🙂


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