Is Acrylic Paint Washable? The Basics of Choosing Acrylic Paint

Your choice of paint is a very personal and subjective experience; it’s a big indicator of your style, and it also influences the techniques you’ll be using in your painting. Whether it’s gouache on canvas or oil painting on wood, Pollack or Pointillism, you need to have the right information at hand to make the most out of your art, not to mention make it easier for you to bring to life your ideas and emotions.

For beginner artists, working with acrylic paint can seem like a daunting task. And it’s true; acrylic paint’s properties make it a medium that requires a moderate amount of skill to use effectively, but that doesn’t mean you have to be a master painter to start using it! Rather, it takes time, patience, and a little bit of know-how to use acrylic paint as a beginner and leverage it to make your skills better.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at acrylic paint and answer some basic questions beginners have about it so that you can make an informed choice and figure out if acrylic paint is right for you.

But first…

acrylic paint

What is Acrylic Paint?

Acrylic paint is a type of paint that uses a form of synthetic resin to bind the pigments in it. It was first formulated in the ’50s as a cheaper alternative to oil painting, and is noted for its versatility. Acrylic paint can be thinned out with water like watercolor to dilute certain colors and shades, or it can be used on its own for deeper and more robust colors like oil paints. Once dried, acrylic paint is waterproof, making it safe to use under most conditions.

Compared to other types of paint, acrylic paint dries fairly fast, which makes it a popular medium for intermediate to advanced artists, but it’s versatile enough for even beginners to use.

What Kind of Acrylic Paint Should I Get?

There are two types of acrylic paints that you can start with: student’s quality and artist’s quality. Student’s Quality acrylic paints are much cheaper, but they usually have less variety of colors to choose from, not to mention less amount of pigments and more fillers in their formulation, giving their colors less sheen and strength. Artist’s Quality acrylic paints, on the other hand, have a much wider variety of colors, and have much less fillers than their Student’s Quality counterparts. Artist Quality acrylic paints also boast of high concentration of pigments, often using finely ground dyes that give the paint a much more permanent and vibrant color. Artist’s Quality acrylic paints are also smoother, making it easier to layer and blend.

For beginner’s, it’s recommended to use the Student’s Quality acrylic paints as a starter set. Because it’s cheap, it allows you to get used to acrylic paint’s unique properties without fear of wasting resources. It’s a good way to learn more about how acrylic paint behaves when used with water, undiluted, on canvas, on fabric, and other mediums. However, once you get used to acrylic and how it behaves under different circumstances, it’s recommended that you graduate to Artist’s Quality acrylic paints. This will help give your paintings that professional look, not to mention permanence. Because you learned with the Student’s Quality first, by the time you use Artist’s Quality paint, the chances of you messing up are drastically reduced.


What Does ‘Pile of Pigment’ Mean?

Pile of Pigment refers to the concentration levels of pigment within a container of acrylic paint. The level of concentration and the type of pigment used determines the price of the acrylic paints. In general, manufacturers group paints into a series, with paints labeled a “1” being the cheapest, and paints labeled a “7” being the most expensive. In general, earth colors are usually a 1 in the series because of how easy it is to obtain their pigments. Cadmium-based colors, however, are the most expensive, owing to the high-degree of difficulty that’s needed to obtain the pigments.

There are some brands that use synthetic pigments in their formulation, however, which allows them to sell it much cheaper. But this comes at a price: synthetic pigments often provide colors with less intensity and vibrance, and much less permanence than real pigments. Usually, synthetic pigments use the word “hue” after the pigment’s name, which should help you determine whether or not you’re using the real thing. Given that, however, synthetic pigments aren’t terrible; you just need to be able to learn how to use it effectively, as it can also affect how to frame a canvas painting because of the way synthetic pigments spread on canvas.

Is Acrylic Paint Washable?

This is the most common question people ask regarding acrylic paints, and this is determined by a factor called Permanence. Permanence, also called ‘lightfastness’ by some manufacturers, is a term used to describe the ability of pigments to resist natural fading. Pigments lose color the more they’re exposed to light because the light scatters the molecules within the pigment (which is why faded pigments are also called fugitive colors). Most Artist’s Quality acrylic paints have higher permanence ratings than most oil paints and watercolors, which is why many professional artists favor it.

Permanence is determined by a series of scientific formulas decided on by the ASTM International, the governing body responsible for determining the properties of certain materials. The ASTM International classifies colors based on tests conducted on paints after they’re exposed to 20 years of gallery lighting exposures. There are three levels of standards:

woman painting at a canvas

ASTM Permanence Standard

ATSM I = Excellent Lightfastness

ATSM II = Very Good Lightfastness

ATSM III = Not Sufficiently Lightfast

Meanwhile, many manufacturers base their standards on the ASTM ones, albeit calling it differently:

Typical Manufacturer Standard

**** or AA = Extremely permanent colors

*** or A = Durable colors.

** or B = Moderately durable colors.

* or C = Fugitive Colors

In general, and depending on the permanence level that’s listed on the container, acrylic paint is NOT washable on fabric, and it can be hard to get off once it makes contact on skin. For acrylic paint to be used on fabric, it’s best to mix it with other mediums to make it workable for softer fabrics.

How Long Does it Take Acrylic Paint to Dry article”>How Long Does it Take Acrylic Paint to Dry?

Depending on the quality of your acrylic paint, it usually takes between 10 minutes and up to 30 minutes to dry once it makes contact with a surface. Often, Artist’s Quality acrylic paints take a little longer to dry, but this also means that they can spend more time on your palette than Student’s Quality acrylic paint.

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