The Impact of Paint in Acrylic Painting

When beginning to paint, it can be overwhelming to figure out exactly what kind of paint you should use. There are so many brands and you might notice that acrylic paint comes in two different styles including student paint and professional paint. Let us talk about each of these.


Student paint is exactly what it sounds like. Paint for students.

  • In the early learning stages of using acrylics, student quality paints are a great place to start. They are good for learning, practicing, and experimenting.

  • Student paints are synthetic and full of fillers. Therefore, they do not offer the best texture and are not shiny. Colors can shine through when layering your colors.

  • Student paints have a longer drying time.

  • When acrylics dry, they tend to become darker. The lower the quality of paints, the more of a color shift occurs.

  • There are fewer colors to choose from when using student paints.

  • Hobbyists use student quality paint which is a good choice.

  • Probably the biggest reason that student paints are popular is that they are far less costly than professional paints. You can find quality student acrylic paints at several kinds of stores besides specific craft stores.

  • Even for experienced artists, student paint can be used for under washes and very large areas of paper or canvas that need a large wash of color.


Artists who are more serious about their painting, although there is nothing wrong with a beginner using these paints, can use professional paint. The first thing that you will notice is that the cost of professional paint is much higher. Why is that?

  • Professional paints have the highest pigment levels in the paint.

  • There are significantly more colors to choose from.

  • The color shift is dramatically reduced.

  • Colors painted over other colors are more effective.

  • There is a wider range of paint consistencies to choose from such as superheavy body, soft body, fluid, and airbrush.

  • Colors will blend more easily and give a nice sheen to the finish.

  • Tinting strengths are easier. Tinting is taking white paint and adding color to it to make a variety of different values of the same color.

  • There are more brands of paint available when using professional paint, particularly if buying paints online.


Now that we have discussed types of paint, let us move on to talk about the consistencies of paint. If you have ever painted the walls of your house with latex or emulsion paint, then you will understand that paints have different densities or viscosities. That is what we mean when we say consistency of paint. Acrylic paint is water based and has a consistency similar to oils. However, acrylics allow for a wider range of those consistencies. There are five categories of paint that allow you to paint as thin as watercolors or as thick, like an impasto.


Soft body paints were one of the original acrylic paints developed. This versatile paint is also known as flow formula, or medium viscosity paint, and is creamy and smooth with pure, intense color. It is heavier than ink but has a runny consistency and is more suitable for someone trying to make their composition look like a watercolor. The paint can be thickened with an impasto gel that produces exciting, vivid colors. These paints are available in tubes, bottles, and jars.


Another name for this paint is called high viscosity paint. These paints are more full bodied. One advantage of using heavy body paint is that an artist can use so many tools with this paint such as palette knives, and other kinds of brushes. You will see bright, bold colors that create a satiny finish when using heavy body paints. When the paint dries, the paint will still be flexible and free of any cracks or chips. This paint can be thinned down with water to give a watercolor-type look or they can be used directly from the tube to produce a thick, impasto style for a look like oils. Heavy body paint comes in tubes and jars.


Super body paints are considered the highest quality of paints. They are flexible, durable, and never sticky or slippery. These paints have a wonderful, buttery consistency and can create heavy texture on your canvas or paper. The heaviness of these paints allows the artist to retain their brushstroke as well. Like the other paints, this paint can also be thinned with water if you want to put a glaze on the painting. This paint comes in tubes and jars.



Acrylic inks are the most fluid form of all the acrylic colors. Notice the painting above how the paint seems to be so fluid. Because they are a compete liquid, they are perfect for creating a watercolor look. However, inks have the advantage of drying to a waterproof film that cannot be disturbed once dry. There is also less chance of the colors becoming muddy. Inks are so vibrant and they are definitely permanent. They are quick drying, non-clogging and water resistant. They will stain and can be used alone, or they can be mixed with thick paint. Inks come in small bottles with droppers in brilliant and subtle colors.



To get started when painting with acrylics, it is not necessary to go out and purchase numerous tubes of paint. In fact, many artists buy only 4-5 tubes of paint and use no other colors. For example, L.S. Lowery uses only red, black, white, yellow, and blue. Here is an acrylic painting done by Lowery.


Three tubes of paint - red, yellow, and blue are all that will be needed to get started. It does not matter what kind of acrylic paint you use, although, it would be best not to use inks for now.


Interested in learning more? Why not take an online Acrylic Painting course?

These are the three primary colors in art and from these three tubes, you can make three new colors called secondary colors.

Red and Yellow = Orange

Yellow and Blue = Green

Red and Blue = Purple

Having a tube of titanium white and Mars black can offer more color options. I highly recommend getting a tube of white and black.

Now you have six colors to work with and by using water as a medium, you can make different values (darkness or lightness) of each color, which really expands a palette, just from three tubes of paint! Again, I recommend getting white and black to expand your palette.

If you are feeing inclined to buy more paints, you have some options. Many places sell beginner kits of acrylic paints for a very reasonable price. Many under $10 a kit. The paints are usually student quality but work quite well. In a typical kit, there will be either 6 tubes of paint or 10-12 tubes. If you want to buy individual tubes of paints, here is a list that will get you started and offer a wide diversity of color.

CADMIUM RED This paint comes in light, medium, or dark.

PHTHALO BLUE Other blues you could use are: Cerulean blue which is a nice sky blue, and Ultramarine blue is a darker blue, like a royal blue. Any of these are fine.

CADMIUM YELLOW Choose the medium.

YELLOW OCHRE A nice earthy yellow.

TITANIUM WHITE Another nice white is Unbleached Titanium although not as pure white-color.

BLACK Three different hues of black are Mars, Ivory, or Carbon. I think Mars is the best to start with.

BROWN There is Burnt Umber (dark brown) or Raw Umber (light brown).

GREEN Some nice choices are Grass Green, Hookers green, Sap, or Alpine.

CADMIUM ORANGE Red and yellow can make orange but not as vibrant as buying orange already made.

PURPLE You can make purple mixing red and blue but can often waste a lot of paint trying to get that lovely shade of purple or violet you want. I just buy purple.

PAYNE'S GRAY This gray is made of two-three colors and should not be mixed with more than one color. Gray mixed with light yellow makes a pretty green.

BURNT SIENNA A lovely brown with a hint of copper.

Just a reminder that the three primary colors, red, blue, and yellow, are all the tubes of paint that are needed to get started. Next, we will talk about the rest of the supplies needed and then we are ready to paint!


Soft body acrylic paints, a watercolor effect.




Now that you have your paint, you need to obtain the rest of the supplies so that you can begin painting. With the exception of brushes, many of these supplies can just be consumables from around the house and there is no need to purchase anything.


When creating a painting, your brushes are the tools to get the job done. It is important to use quality brushes and ones that meet the needs of the task. The array of brushes to choose from can be quite intimidating. The range of quality goes from what a kindergarten class would use to a $50.00 brush. A nice compromise falls in between and will not kill your budget. If you will remember, acrylics are liquid plastic and they are hard on brushes so you want to obtain durable brushes. You need stiff brushes and they need to be made of synthetic material. Water color brushes may be used but they will take a beating. So what do you need?

Brushes come in many sizes and styles. The lower the number on the brush, the smaller the bristles. Many companies sell packages of brushes that will include a range of sizes and styles. These are a great starting point and you can paint a composition easily with the kinds of brushes in the package. They are not expensive either. If you want to buy the brushes individually, this is what you need to get started.

  • FLAT BRUSH. They have long bristles and a flat end. These brushes are great for washes and painting large areas. These brushes hold a lot of paint and work well for bold sweeping strokes or on the edge for fine lines. You could buy a few different sizes and effectively paint an entire painting with just flat brushes. It would be good to have a small, medium, and a large size brush.

  • SLANTED. These flat edge brushes have a slant, which is useful for painting while working on an easel. There is a bit better control with making edges or fine lines using this brush. The flat brush can do the same thing, but not quite as easily as a slant brush.

  • ROUND. Round brushes have a round or pointed tip. These are useful for details, lines, or edges. A small and medium size would be good to have on hand.

  • FAN. The bristles on this brush splay out like a fan. They are great for painting grass, tree limbs, bushes, or clouds. These brushes make the job easier but a flat or slant brush could do the same thing. These brushes come in a variety of sizes.

  • RIGGER OR LINER. This brush is long and thin and is effective for painting lines. Nothing makes thin lines better than a rigger.

  • FILBERT. This brush is much fuller in shape than a flat brush and has a rounded end that make soft strokes. Filberts are good for blending. For example, after you block the paint in with a flat brush, you can blend with a filbert. A small, medium, or large size would be helpful.

Here is a photo of the brushes. From top to bottom we have, flat, slanted, round, fan, rigger and filbert.


Here are other tips about buying brushes.

  • Brushes come with a short handle or long handle. Short handles are good if you are painting on a table. Long handles are good if you are painting on an easel. It is a matter of preference.

  • Brush handles can be either wooden or plastic. Because acrylics are so fast to dry, brushes must sit in a bucket of water when covered with paint when not using them. The plastic seems to hold up better than wood.

Here is a photo of brushes with long and short handles and wood and plastic handles.



As I said earlier, acrylic paint is tough on the brushes. When painting, you may have several brushes going at once. Be sure to keep the ones you are not using in your water container as the paint dries quickly and it can be harder to clean them if they do not stay wet.

When you are finished painting for the day, be sure to clean your brushes. You can swish your brush in your water container to get most of the paint off the bristles. Then rinse them under running water and massage the bristles gently. Put a dab of dishwashing liquid in your hand (I use Dawn or Palmolive) and swirl your brush in circles on your hand to remove all traces of paint. Rinse again under warm running water. Lay them flat to dry and then store in a container upright.


A water container is necessary to keep your brushes from drying out. Water is also used to add to your paint for blending or trying to achieve a watercolor look. Unlike watercolors, you do not need to dip your brush into the water before you begin painting. When you paint, a simple plastic container works well. They do sell specific acrylic water containers, which are made of plastic and have ribs on the bottom to help clean your brush. They have 2-3 compartments, one for cleaning your brush, and another for clean water to use while painting.



Many artists like to draw (or what we call blocking in) what they will be painting. We are talking about the basic outline, not detail work of all the shapes in your composition. A simple #2 pencil will get the job done but pencils range from light to dark. A #2 pencil is on the lighter side. The higher the number, the darker the pencil. Pencils range in hardness as well. If the pencil says "H," that means hard. If the pencil says "B," then it is soft. Softer pencils also tend to be darker. The nice thing about acrylics is that you can paint over your pencil marks. The pencil you use is a matter of preference.

Never use the eraser on the end of your pencil for erasing. Use the Pink Pearls erasers or any rubber eraser designed for drawing.


There are several options for palettes and they are listed below. When painting, do not put out too much paint at once as the paint dries quickly. Some people like to keep a moist paper towel over their paints while painting but if you move along, that is not always necessary.

  • Paper or plastic plates.

  • Styrofoam plates. (meat trays work great)

  • Wax paper.

  • Freezer paper.

  • Palette paper. (Sold where art paper is sold.)

  • Anything plastic or ceramic. You can peel off the paint from these when they are dry.


Buying paper or canvases can also be daunting. For paper, watercolor paper works just fine. Acrylics are heavier so be sure to buy paper that is at least 140 lbs in weight. In addition, cold pressed paper is best as it readily absorbs the paint. They do sell "acrylic" paper, which works just as well. A standard size of paper for a beginner is 9" x 12" or 11" x 14". There are several brands of paper on the market and if you follow the criteria above, any brand will do.

Canvases come in all kinds of sizes. There are stretch canvases, and matt boards which are harder than canvas. Again, what you want to paint on is a matter of preference. If you choose anything other than paper, you need to prime the surface with a liquid called Gesso. It goes on like paint and dries very quickly. Gesso allows the paint to stick to the surface much better. Gesso comes in white or black.



These supplies are great to have but are not necessary to get started.

  • Masking fluid. This thin watery substance can be painted on an area where you do not want the paint. It dries and you can paint over it. Then later, you peel off the mask. It is great for small, detail work.

  • Painters tape. Good for covering up areas, making straight lines, or putting on the edge of your paper to make a border.

  • Cardboard. If you're not painting on a canvas, you can tape down your paper to a piece of cardboard to provide a nice flat surface. Use painters tape, not masking tape.

  • Paper towels. For those messy moments(!) and for blotting and wiping brushes.

  • Palette knives. A nice option for brushes. We will talk about these later.

  • Hair Dryer. You can blow dry your painting as you go along so you can complete a painting in a short amount of time.

This is a good way to set up your paper on a piece of cardboard using painter's tape. When you are done painting and it is dry, take off the tape and your painting will pop. The border is perfect for putting a mat around it before framing. Putting tape on the paper is not required, just a suggestion.