Collection: ACRYLIC PAINTS AND MEDIUMS

Fast drying, brilliant colour which can be modified to suit the piece you're working on. By adding gels, pastes and mediums you have the freedom to enhance the texture of the paint and alter its consistency. Apply with a huge array of tools, from brushes to palette knives to airbrush to pens. Equipment washes off with soap and water

Choose the brand that suites you best! 


ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT ACRYLICS 

 

GUIDE TO ACRYLIC PAINTING

WHAT IS ACRYLIC PAINT?

Acrylic Paint is made of pigment suspended in an acrylic polymer emulsion. They are faster drying than oils, and are more easily manipulated with the use of a wide variety of mediums available for acrylic painting technique. Acrylics were first developed in the mid-1930s and boasted a mixture of qualities also possessed by either watercolour or oils. Many artists enjoy using acrylic colour because although they dilute in water they dry waterproof, and they are faster drying than oils, yet colours can be just as intense.

WHAT FACTORS SHOULD I CONSIDER WHEN CHOOSING MY ACRYLIC PAINT?

Maximum lightfastness levels. Smooth buttery consistency. Holds peaks. No colour shift. Highest levels of pigmentation. Good coverage/opacity levels. Optimum colour brilliance and colour depth. Durable paint film. UV and weather resistant.

If you were new to acrylic painting and you wanted to choose the best brand of acrylic colour to use, you would come across phrases such as the ones above in nearly ALL the literature you would read about any of the professional (and in some cases, the student grade) acrylic colours on the market. You would then be none the wiser; which acrylic colour should I use? Which is the best for my painting techniques? 

Lightfastness

Lightfastness refers to the amount of resistance a pigment in a particular paint has to exposure to light. Pigments can be organic or inorganic and are either naturally sourced (dug up from the ground) or synthetic (produced chemically in a factory). All fine art colour will use pigments that have a very good (ASTM II) or an excellent (ASTM I) lightfastness rating where possible. The internationally recognised classification for lightfastness, ASTM, was originally founded by the inventor of Liquitex acrylic colour, Henry Levison, during his retirement, and since then the ASTM rating scale has had very little improvement or expansion, despite the fact that many more pigments are now used in acrylic colour. 

Colour Brilliance and Depth

Another claim by many professional grade acrylic paint brands is the brilliance of their colour as well as depth. How do they achieve it and what do they mean anyway? Colour brilliance (the brightness or purity of a colour’s appearance) is best achieved with the use of a single pigment in a colour; by not mixing pigments colours are able to sing and appear vibrant, and when mixed with other colours by you on a palette, the colour mixes you produce are less likely to appear dull. The more pigments that you mix together the more likely you are to create dirty colours, try and limit your colour mixes to mainly two colours with only a touch of a third. Be careful some colours are already a mixture of pigments so additional colour should be added to them sparingly’ (It is interesting however that it is very difficult to find in any of their literature a statement of how many single pigment colours they have in their range). The other factor that maximises colour brilliance and depth is the milling, or grinding of the pigments so that the smallest possible particle size can be achieved. A triple roll mill is used to do this – this is a machine comprising of 3 steel rollers that rotate in alternate directions. Between each roller is a very small gap. As the colour passes through the mill the pigment is crushed to a smaller particle size by each of the 3 rollers. This process, which has been in use since the invention of acrylic colour, allows more light to travel through the paint film and thus create the depth, richness, and strength of colour. It also allows the transparency or opacity of the pigment to show through to its maximum potential without compromising on the brightness of the colour. Do not be fooled by brands who say all their colours have ‘excellent covering power’ as this implies they have added opacifiers to their colours, including the transparent pigments, just so that inexperienced painters think they are getting good value for their money, when in fact they are losing out on the beautiful variations in characteristics that these pigments have to offer!  Colours that tolerate higher pigment loads dry to a more opaque matte finish. Colours that are more reactive and do not accept high pigment loading dry to a glossy finish and tend to be more transparent.’ The real experts of acrylic colour are sensitive to the characteristics of the materials with which they are working.

Sheen

However, the extent of one’s sensitivity of the characteristics of the pigments being used in each colour is an area for debate. Winsor and Newton’s student range, Galeria, state that their colours dry to a ‘smooth satin finish’. Of course there is argument for both – if one is well acquainted with the characteristics of pigments in their unmodified state, one might wish to take advantage of these. However if you are less acquainted with the characteristics of pigments then you might misidentify the undulations in the sheen of colours to be a dulling of colour caused by manufacturing faults or the sinking of colour into an unevenly primed support. If this is the case the sheen can be made uniform again once the painting is finished and dry by varnishing the work. Modified colour will dry with a uniform sheen across the painting surface (unless one is painting on an unevenly primed surface) and so varnishing is not necessary to unify sheen (although might be desired in order to protect the work from dust, wear and tear, and enhance lightfastness).

Colour Range

Ranges of acrylic colour like to tell you how many colours they have- it shows they offer you maximum choice and maximum control over your palette. What is more important than the size of the range is how many single pigment colours they have – these are the colours that will offer you the greatest control over your colour mixes, or if you prefer to paint with colour straight out of the tube, try testing the colours that you feel will communicate your idea the best. There is no reason not to mix colours from a number of different ranges, and this is a particularly good idea if you want to also explore the differing consistencies and drying times on offer from varying paint manufacturers. Student ranges of colour may substitute more expensive pigments with synthetically developed substitutes; these have the word ‘hue’ after their name. The fluid and airbrush colour ranges may not have the heavier pigments in their ranges as it is impossible for these pigments to suspend evenly in their very liquid acrylic polymer binders. Always remember that colours of the same name may behave and appear slightly differently between brands. There are always varying consistencies, drying times, and concentrations, not to mention variations in the blends of pigments if the colour is not a single pigment hue. 

Consistency

This factor does differ among some of the acrylic colours – student colours tend to all have ‘medium’ consistency. The one common feature of the consistency of all these paints is their smoothness. This is in part due to the binders that they use, but more crucially, due to the fine nature of the pigments (which as discussed in the previous paragraph also enhances the brilliance of colour). The cheapest acrylic paint has an uneven consistency because it has coarser pigment particles in it that have not been properly triple roll milled and cannot suspend evenly in their binder. This means the pigment will actually sink down the binder over time and will be difficult to mix evenly again. The consistency of acrylic colour can be manipulated in a couple of ways – firstly with the use of mediums, gels and pastes, of which there are hundreds, that allow acrylic artists more versatility and control than any other kind of painter, and secondly by mixing different type of acrylic colour with one another i.e. if Heavy Body colour is too thick you could mix it with some fluid colour.

Drying Times

If you ever ask an acrylic painter why they choose to paint in acrylics over oils, a common response is ‘oils take too long to dry’. Acrylic colour usually has an ‘open’ time (the time it is wet on the surface for) of around 15-20 minutes.

At this point I should point out that all acrylic colour does actually take a little longer to dry than one might expect. Acrylics dry when all the water content in the wet paint moves away from the paint; it either seeps into the support that the paint has been applied to, or it evaporates into the air, and what remains is the acrylic polymer binder; tiny solid transparent particles that move closer together, causing the layer of paint to contract and form a solid ‘film’. This process happens fastest at the top and bottom of the layer – where the paint can either easily evaporate into the air or where the absorbency of the support pulls the water out of the colour, almost as if by process of osmosis. So therefore a skin forms on the layer of wet colour. The rest of the layer will take a little longer to lose its water content as there is less exposure to elements that encourage the liquid to leave. This is why very thick layers of acrylic colour can take years to dry. If you paint a painting with really thick paint, it is sometimes possible to feel the ‘sponginess’ of the paint – where the colour is still wet beneath the surface. When in this state colour is still water-soluble and relatively unstable, and more quantities of water can actually be re-absorbed into the layer of paint, and on occasion cause cloudiness. For this reason it is absolutely crucial that finished works should be left to dry completely before any varnish is applied, as any expanding or contracting of a semi-dry paint film will cause varnish to form blooms and cracks. Drying times of acrylic colour can be affected by other external factors. If you are painting in very hot conditions, this will speed up drying, and if you are painting in very cold conditions, this will slow the drying process. Very humid conditions will slow the drying process as the air is already heavy with liquid. A strong airflow or wind may cause the surface of paint to wrinkle or crack.

Colour Shift

Colour shift is caused by an acrylic binder having a different appearance when wet to how it looks when dry. Cheap student and school acrylic colour will have a larger colour shift to more expensive acrylic colours. The very highest quality ranges either state they have ‘no colour shift’ or ‘very little colour shift’. 

Other Factors

Artists who intend to paint work intended to exhibit out of doors will be concerned about the weather resistance of the materials they are working with. No colour can be 100% weatherproof. A painting exposed to strong winds is likely to suffer cracking, one that is in an area of very strong sunlight will fade even if the colour is the highest quality, and very cold conditions may prevent solid paint films from ever forming. If weather resistance is of paramount importance we recommend varnishing the finished work with MSA varnish to enhance protection from all these conditions. The more expensive paints with their stronger acrylic binders are likely to be more weather resistant as a result in their unmodified state than their cheaper equivalents. 

WHAT IS ACRYLIC GOUACHE?

Acrylic Gouache colour is acrylic paint with an additive that causes all colour to dry matte. It is particularly favourable among illustrators as the uniformity in sheen is akin to the finish of most printed images, however many fine artists also favour the use of matte acrylic gouache. Acrylic gouache tends to be a little more fluid in its consistency than regular acrylic colour. 

WHAT IS ACRYLIC INK?

Acrylic Ink, unlike drawing ink, is a fast drying fluid acrylic colour consisting of super fine pigment particles suspended in a watery acrylic emulsion. Acrylic Inks are waterproof when dry. The best acrylic inks, like all colour, are the ones with a high pigment concentration. Because the pigment particles are so fine acrylic inks will not clog air brushes and dip pens as easily as regular acrylic colour would (although we always recommend cleaning all painting tools thoroughly after use). Acrylic Inks can be used for a variety of applications including airbrushing, printing and stamping, calligraphy, dip pen drawing, and watercolour effects. Acrylic Inks can be mixed with all kinds of acrylic colour, regardless of whether it is heavy body or fluid, artist or student quality. 

WHAT IS ACRYLIC SPRAY PAINT?

Acrylic spray paint offers a means of applying thin and even layers of paint, dispersed through the nozzle in tiny droplets. Spray paints allow you to blend colours with ease. The layers are so thin they tend to dry very quickly. Professional acrylic spray paints offer low pressure handling, which means that you have much greater control over thin applications of colour. Spray paints can be applied to many surfaces including canvas, wood, concrete, metal, glass and even flexible surfaces, without cracking.

It is really good practice when using these sprays to wipe the nozzle with a rag after each time you apply a spray of colour – this will help prevent the nozzle from clogging, as these paints are pretty fast drying and are susceptible to clogging if one is not careful. 

WHAT ARE ACRYLIC MARKERS?  

Acrylic markers are pens that contain paint. They are versatile products and can be used for a wide variety of hobby and craft purposes. They can be used to write or draw on glass, plastic, metal, stone, wood and card.

The paints that these markers contain can either be oil-based or water-based. They create dense, opaque marks that are often glossy in finish. They're very permanent, especially on porous surfaces, but can usually be abraded from non-porous surfaces over time.

ACRYLIC MEDIUMS

Those who favour working in acrylics are often attracted by the myriad ways the paint can be manipulated with the use of mediums. Acrylic mediums and gels are made using the same acrylic resin binders that manufacturers use in making paint, to which various other materials including marble dust, stone and mica are added in order to alter the consistency and behaviour of the medium which in turn will manipulate the paint when the medium is mixed with it. 

Acrylic Gel Medium

By adding this medium to your colour you will extend the colour, increase its transparency, and slow the drying time a little. Gel medium is particularly good for heavy impasto techniques. Golden also do a ‘Regular Gel’ in gloss, matte or semi-gloss, and this is of a similar consistency to Golden Heavy Body Acrylic but still may be thicker than some other acrylic colour ranges. (Please note that brands can be mixed).

Acrylic Flow Medium and Acrylic Fluid Medium

These mediums will thin heavy body acrylic colour, but are usually of a similar consistency to fluid colour. They extend the colour and increase the transparency. It is worth checking each individual brand with regard to how they affect the drying time – AV’s does not alter the drying time because it is made using the same acrylic emulsion as the paint itself.

Acrylic Retarder

These slow the drying time right down, and also extend the colour and increase its transparency. It is advised not to mix more retarder than 10% of the colour you are mixing with as this will weaken the bonds between the acrylic polymer particles in the paint too much and cause instability in the dry acrylic paint film.

Other Acrylic Mediums

There are so many other mediums and gels to explore, so if you are interested in really making unique paintings then it is worth having a look. There are mediums to make paint appeared cracked and aged, mediums to make paint stringy, sandy, gritty, pearlescent, pasty…there are gels to alter consistency, reduce brush marks, increase brush marks, increase gloss and decrease gloss. Experiment where you can, you might even want to mix mediums and see what other possibilities there are.

ACRYLIC VARNISH

Acrylic varnishes offer a protective coating to a finished painting, keeping it safe from dust and surface damage (scratches etc.). Some varnishes also have UV light resistors which will prevent colour fade. We recommend applying an isolation coat over your painting prior to varnishing - a soft gloss gel medium would be ideal for this. This will allow for the varnish to be removed in future, if necessary, with no damage risk to the painting itself. Always ensure that you varnish work in a dust and dirt free environment, and remove any dust or dirt from the surface of your work prior to varnishing.

Spray Varnish or Brush Varnish?

Acrylic Varnishes are available in an aerosol can as well as in a bottle. There’s a good argument on both sides regarding which is easier to apply. With sprays make sure you start spraying on something other than your finished artwork (the work surface beside perhaps) in order to gauge how much pressure you need to push the nozzle with to get the right amount of varnish coming out. Then continuously move the spray over the finished work making sure you give the whole surface as even a layer as possible. Always stop spraying if you stop moving, to avoid an uneven application. A few thin layers is always better than 1 thick layer as it will allow for the varnish to dry properly and be more solid and stable in the long run. Read the label of the varnish to find out the drying time you need to allow between layers. A good tip is to turn your work 90 degrees each time to apply and new layer of varnish as this will help to achieve a more even application. Sprays can be particularly useful when varnishing a delicate work where applying varnish with a brush could damage the surface. It is also good for impasto work where varnish might gather in between undulations in the surface if applied by brush.

Brushing varnish on can also be a little tricky. First give the varnish a very good stir (but not shake as you do not want air bubbles for form), check the consistency; if it is too thick then thin it down with a little water or an acrylic thinner. Use a relatively stiff haired varnish brush (usually hog hair with split ends) and work on a flat surface where possible. Only load the bottom third of the brush as if you load the brush with more varnish than this it will be very difficult to apply it evenly. As with spray varnish, more layers is preferable to one thick layer, so it is good to try and practice applying the varnish thin and evenly. When applying a varnish with added matting agents (satin, semi-gloss or matt varnish) it is a good idea to only use it on the final layer of varnish in order to maintain the appearance of the colour depth and brilliance in your work.

With any varnish application, it is much easier to clean up when the tools are still wet as you can do this with soap and water. Dried acrylic varnish requires washing with ammonia.

What is MSA Varnish?

MSA (Mineral Spirit Acrylic) varnish is a more permanent layer than regular acrylic varnish and needs to be cleaned/thinned with solvents, although it is still acrylic based.

ACRYLIC GESSO AND ACRYLIC PRIMER

There are 2 main types of acrylic primer – regular acrylic primer and gesso. Both are made up of acrylic resins mixed with pigment, they are cheaper than artist acrylic colour because they contain opacifiers to ensure that they provide good coverage. Acrylic Gesso replicates the qualities of traditional gesso, a mixture of French chalk or whiting and rabbit skin glue, and is absorbent with a slightly heavier tooth than acrylic primer – the more layers you apply the more absorbent. Because of this a few coats is required if you are going to apply oil colour to it, as there is a risk of the oil sinking down to the fibres of the canvas support and causing damage. You can also choose to prime your canvas with a black gesso primer by System 3 if you prefer to work on black (this will have a dramatically different effect on your transparent colours). Acrylic clear primer allows you to work on the natural colour of the canvas without having the absorbency of the raw fabric.

Primer dries smoother and is not absorbent, but a few coats with light sanding in between will make a good solid surface on which to paint. The white colour of regular gesso or primer helps colours to maintain their luminosity. All white gessos and primers can be tinted by adding acrylic colour and mixing. Acrylic primer, unlike oil primer, does not cause natural fibres to rot over time so can be used without the use of glue size. Many oil painters today use acrylic primer instead of rabbit skin glue size as it does not require heating, and its whiteness means you need fewer coats of white lead oil primer to achieve a bright white, glossy surface.

Gessos and Primers should be applied to surfaces as thinly and evenly as possible - more thin layers creates a superior surface on which to work than fewer thick coats. We recommend the use of a wide, relatively springy soft hog hair flat brush. Sanding the primer/gesso surface between coats with fine sand or glass paper will create a super-smooth surface.

ACRYLIC SURFACES

Before you shop for canvas, you need to consider what’s available. There are a lot of choices to be made so think about what it is you are using the canvas for, where will you be painting, what will be practical and what will help you achieve the results you are looking for.

Acrylic colour can be painted on to all sorts of surfaces, from canvas to sanded metal, and below you can browse through the traditional fine art surfaces we offer for acrylic painting. Canvas Panels and boards are made by gluing primed cotton on to a rigid board, so that you get the texture of a cotton surface, but not the 'spring' you would get from painting on to stretched canvas. Our ready-made stretched canvases take away time consuming stretching and priming processes, and are available in a range of weights, grains and sizes. If you prefer to make your own canvas we also have all the materials you need to make your own, including our very easy to use stretcher bars, available in 6 depths, 2 of which are made of aluminium re-enforced wood for maximum durability and strength.

Finally, canvas sheets pads and boards are a mixture of specially prepared acrylic painting papers and primed cotton sheets that are relatively lightweight and excellent for taking outdoors, travelling, or for experimenting with techniques.

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