acrylic paint what is it, the features of acrylic paint, abstract, Acrylic paint image of paint in water, cool colours, blue, teal , pink

Acrylic Paint, What Is It? Uses, Ingredients, Differences, and Best Surfaces

You may be getting into art, working on projects which involve paint or just wondering, what is acrylic paint and where is it best used?

Essentially acrylic paint is, pigmented color which is suspended in a water and acrylic polymer substance (acrylic polymer is glue or resin like).

In this article we will take you over what acrylic paint is, it’s ingredients and unique attributes, plus where acrylic paint is best used.

Acrylic paint who uses acrylic paint what is it used for pouring paint to paint house acrylic polymer and pigment close up of pink paint and renovation

What is Acrylic Paint:

  1. What is Acrylic Paint?
  2. Acrylic Paint Attributes
  3. Surfaces for Acrylic Paint
  4. Who uses Acrylic Paint?
  5. Acrylic Paint Issues
  6. How to Use Acrylic Paint Safely
  7. Acrylic Paint Properties
  8. Why Use Acrylic Paint
  9. FAQ

1. What is Acrylic Paint?

Acrylic paint is a water-based, water resistant paint which is versatile, it has a range of uses and surfaces.

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Acrylic paint was first created in the 1950’s due to “increasing impatience” over the long time that it took oil paints to dry. Also, due to it’s synthetic nature, it was made to reach more vibrance potential than other paints available.

Acrylic paint is made up of three main ingredients:

  1. Polymer (essentially glue/resin)
  2. Pigment (color)
  3. Water

Unlike oil paint for example, acrylic paint CAN be mixed with water. Water separates from oil based paints, but with acrylic water-based paints, water mixes in well with them.

That’s another benefit of acrylic paints, they are easy to use and great for beginners.

The ingredients of acrylic paint are a mix of synthetic, natural, organic or inorganic origin. The resin and polymer for example is synthetic but some pigment colors can be natural/organic. A lot of people don’t realise that acrylic paint is synthetic and needs to be used with caution. More on this below.

what is acrylic paint pigment colours of blue green orange with close up image of acrylic pigment

The most important ingredient in paint is pigment [1]. A dry powder that gives paint its signature colour. The other ingredient is what gives paint its name – acrylic polymer.

The polymer is a synthetic glue-like substance that gives acrylic paint some of it’s unique properties. To compare acrylic paint with other paints, oil paint is simply pigment and oil. Tempera paint is pigment and egg yolk.

2. Acrylic Paint Attributes

Acrylic paint has a medium viscosity. Viscosity refers to the consistency of the paint, the great thing about this paint type is you can easily change it’s consistency with additives like floetrol or water.

Acrylic paint has the following benefits:

  • Bright, solid, reliable color
  • Fast drying
  • Water based – so you can use it with just water, no need for chemicals!
  • Medium viscosity which is easy to work with or dilute
  • Water resistant finish
  • Inexpensive, readily available
  • Opaque out the tube
  • Easy to use, great for beginners

3. Surfaces for Acrylic Paint

Acrylic paint can be used on many different surfaces including ceilings, canvases, papers, metal, fabric, ceramic, wood and walls.

It’s popular for it’s versatility! It is so easy to use on pretty much anything.

Just ensure that you prepare the surface first before use so that the paint sticks! Read about surfaces for acrylic paint here.

4. Who uses Acrylic Paint?

Acrylic paint is used widely for projects, in schools, building and by artists. It is a modern form of paint and has only been around for around 70 years.

Many of those famous artists you know never used it e.g. Van Gogh, Bob Ross – They used oil paints. Many new pop artists use acrylic paint e.g. Andy Warhole [1]. They love the solid colour easily achieved with acrylic and it’s fast drying nature. 

Acrylic paint is the key ingredient in acrylic paint pouring, where acrylic paint is mixed with floetrol. You can learn more about acrylic pouring here.

This will no doubt change in decades to come as many of us are starting to discover its many benefits. However, like many synthetic products, there is a downside to acrylic paint. We detail this, next.

An example of acrylic pouring on a canvas, using acrylic paint and floetrol

5. Acrylic Paint Issues

Unfortunately, despite all the positives of acrylic paint, there is also a downside. Like any synthetic product, it is not biodegradable. The ingredients in paint can be harmful potentially to people and the environment.

  • Synthetic product
  • Harmful to the environment
  • Doesn’t break down, turns into microplastics if washed down the sink
  • Harmful, chemical ingredients which can have adverse health effects

Acrylic paint is largely accepted as, “safe when used properly”. Many paints are branded as “non toxic” but just as you can imagine glue has a level of toxicity, so does acrylic paint.

There are harmful ingredients in acrylic paint, so you must take care when using.

6. How to Use Acrylic Paint Safely

Below we will share some tips for how to use acrylic paint safely.

How to use acrylic paint safely:

  1. Read and follow product directions
  2. Read MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) on all products you use
  3. Work in a well ventilated space
  4. Do not breathe, ingest or get any paint on your skin
  5. Use a face fume ventilator and other protective equipment like apron, gloves etc
  6. Keep paint stored safely away from children
  7. Do not wash acrylic paint down the sink. Instead wipe your materials with damp kitchen towel and put all acrylic paint waste in the waste bin.

We encourage you to do your own research, chat to your health professionals, read the product directions and MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheets) of all products that you use. They go into detail about product risks and how to use properly etc.

7. Properties of Acrylic Paint

Water soluble

  • You can paint with acrylic straight out the tube, resulting in a thick “impasto” effect.
  • Or mix with a small amount of water to be more smoothly applied.
  • Or mix with a larger amount of water, to get a transparent watercolour like property.

Fast Drying

  • The polymer in acrylic is very fast drying [1] compared to its closest relative (oil paint).
  • Depending on how thick you apply paint with a brush, it can take just 1 minute to dry or over 30 minutes for thick paint in cold and humid settings.
  • You can add mediums (additives) to acrylic to make it dry slower. Then you can take your time to mix more paint and blend different colours together. 


  • Watercolour and oil paints can be quite transparent compared to acrylic paint which is opaque.
  • Acrylic paint is one of the most opaque type of paints. When you paint one layer of paint on top of another it almost completely blocks out the under layer. This can be adjusted by diluting with water or with an acrylic medium. 

Reliable Colour

  • All paints change at least a little once dried. 
  • Oil paint becomes slightly yellow a few days later. Since acrylic dries within minutes it is easy to tell if the colours you have mixed are suitable.
  • Acrylic paint tends to darken very slightly once dried, through the colour changes much less than other other types of paint.
Painted with acrylic paint

8. Why use Acrylic Paint?

It’s easy

All you need to begin painting with acrylics are the tubes of paint, a surface to apply paint onto and brushes to apply the paint with.

If you make mistakes with acrylic, as long as the paint is not very thick, you can simply apply another layer on top! Easy!

This is not as easy with water colours since they are very transparent… When it comes to oil paints, besides the paint, surface and brushes, you also need oils and chemicals like turpentine to mix the paint. Plus oil paint takes days to dry.

It sticks to nearly everything

Acrylics can easily adhere to most things without even priming the surface in some circumstances! Some of the most popular surfaces are canvas, wood, and linen.

Even most house paints are a type of acrylic paint, showing how durable the polymer is.

It dries fast

If you like to work fast and to paint layers of paint on the same day or next day acrylic is for you. Some types of paint require you to wait up to a week before painting a new layer of paint on.

However, fast drying paint can be difficult if you want to take your time to mix colours as the paint can dry before you have a chance to apply them.

Also, if you want to achieve smooth gradients or blending, you will need to work extremely quickly.

We’ve discussed some of the most popular properties and benefits of acrylic paint, but all of these properties differ from brand to brand. 

They can all also be adjusted by adding different mediums to the paint. You can slow down or speed up drying time.

  • Make paint more transparent
  • Make it thicker, smoother or rougher.
  • Being aware of the above can reduce some very unpleasant surprises.

The most important thing is to experiment for yourself!

By doing so you will no doubt discover some techniques that will work best for what you’re trying to achieve. And bring you and others joy from your creations.

Frequently asked questions

What is acrylic paint used for?

Acrylic paint is extremely versatile and can be used for painting any subjects (abstract / portraits / landscapes / still life / etc.).

It can be used on many different surfaces (canvas / linen / wood / walls / etc.). It is suitable for anyone from beginners and students all the way up to professional visual artists.

What is the difference between oil and acrylic paint?

Acrylic paint is pigment suspended in (mixed with) a synthetic glue-like substance and water. Oil paint is pigment suspended in oil, usually linseed oil.

Do you use water with acrylic paint?

Yes. Acrylic paint is water soluble. You can use water to either dilute acrylic paint, or wash it off surfaces before it dries.

What does acrylic paint look like?

Acrylic could look no different to oil or watercolour depending on how thick you apply it.

Acrylic does dry with a slight plastic like finish due to the acrylic polymer. Mediums can be used to make the finish more matt / gloss / transparent.

Does acrylic paint wash off?

Yes, Acrylic paint does easily wash off any surface with water when wet. But when dry it is very difficult to wash acrylic from porous surfaces and it can be permanent in some cases. Especially with fabrics for example! You want to clean acrylic paint when it is wet.

Soap often will get rid of most of it. A single thick layer of acrylic paint can be easily peeled off very smooth surfaces like primed wood and plastic. 

Thanks for reading!

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