The best acrylic paints in 2022

An artist uses some of the best acrylic paint on an easel
(Image credit: Alena Axenova / EyeEm via Getty Images)

The best acrylic paints can be a great choice for many artists. Acrylics are water-based paints that use acrylic polymers to bind pigments. They're faster drying than oil paints and don’t require solvents, which makes them a convenient option that's quick to set up and easier to get to grips with. They're also very versatile, producing good results on a variety of surfaces. And they're suitable for any size artwork: the best acrylic paints make it easy to paint precise details on smaller pieces, while many ranges offer common colours in bigger tubes, making them suitable for large pieces.

But which should you choose? That's where this guide comes in, offering our pick of the best acrylic paints for artists, from students to professionals. Acrylics come in different forms: the most common are heavy body, soft body, which are runnier, and acrylic ink. This guide will cover the best heavy body acrylic paints as these thicket paints suit most purposes.

There's a big difference between professional and student quality acrylics, with professional paints containing more pigment and often other ingredients to improve consistency. If you need pointers on how to choose the best acrylic paints for you, scroll down to our tips at the bottom of this guide. We've made our picks after reviewing each paint for body, pigmentation and colour shift.

Once you've chosen the best acrylic paints, you'll want to make sure you also have the best acrylic paintbrushes. You might also want to pick up one of the best easels and the best watercolour pencils. We also have a guide to the best oil paints – and you can learn more about the differences between those and acrylics in our comparison of acrylics vs oils.

The best acrylic paint available now

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A set of Golden professional acrylic paintsCB

(Image credit: Golden)

01. Golden Professional Acrylics

The best acrylic paint overall is a thick, highly pigmented paint with minimal additives

Specifications

Quality: Professional
Tube Size: 60ml (some in 150ml, 236ml, 473ml, 946ml and 3.78l)
Colours in Set or Range: 6 in set (136+ in range)

Reasons to buy

+
Excellent thick consistency
+
Covers very well
+
No colour shift

Reasons to avoid

-
Colours vary slightly in sheen

Our top choice as the best acrylic paint is Golden’s Professional Acrylics range. This is a high-quality acrylic with lots of body and strong pigmentation. There is also a large variety of colours available. It's especially thick and holds brushstrokes well, but I also find it easy to mix and dilute at the same time. It's also available in large quantities, making it a good option for big projects.

I found there to be no significant shift in colour when the paint dries, though different colours may have slightly different sheens as this range has very few additives. This can be compensated for by adding your own acrylic medium, however. This is the best acrylic paint for professional projects, especially large pieces or impasto work.

A set of Liquitex Professional acrylic paintsCB endorsed

(Image credit: Liquitex)

02. Liquitex Professional Heavy Body Acrylics

The best acrylic paint for smooth layered application

Specifications

Quality: Professional
Tube Size: 59ml (some colours in 138ml, 473ml and 946ml)
Colours in Set or Range: 12 in set (106 in range)

Reasons to buy

+
Fast Drying Time
+
Very smooth consistency
+
Bright colours

Reasons to avoid

-
Quite pricey

Liquitex’s professional range offers a fairly thick and versatile acrylic paint. It has a buttery texture that spreads smoothly on a variety of different surfaces, and covers well, not leaving any streakiness.

I've found these acrylics to be quite fast drying, which is excellent for anyone opting for a more layered painting approach. They don’t retain brushstrokes as easily either, which is also good for layered approaches. For impasto techniques, it's a good idea to add an acrylic medium.

A set of Winsor and Newton Professional acrylic paintsCB endorsed

(Image credit: Winsor and Newton)

03. Winsor and Newton Professional Acrylics

Professional quality paint that behaves predictably and is easy to use

Specifications

Quality: Professional
Tube Size: 20ml (available in 60ml, some colours in 200ml and 237ml)
Colours in Set or Range: 12 (80 in range)

Reasons to buy

+
Very bright colours
+
Easy to handle
+
Very little colour shift

Reasons to avoid

-
No larger containers

Winsor and Newton’s professional range of acrylics offers solid quality acrylic paint that behaves in a predictable way. It has an even, smooth consistency, and readily mixes without any clumping or unevenness. I've found there to be very little colour shift as the paint dries too. This all makes the paint easy to work with.

These paints are highly pigmented, and substantially brighter than any student quality range, with the colours still appearing vivid when thinned out. This combined with how water-soluble they are makes these some of the best acrylics for thinner washes. This range would also be a good choice for anyone who prefers a smooth application over visible brushstrokes.

A set of Daler Rowney System 3 acrylic paints

(Image credit: Daler Rowney)

04. Daler Rowney System 3 Acrylics

The best student acrylics for larger projects

Specifications

Quality: Student
Tube Size: 29.5ml (59ml, 150ml, 500ml, some colours in 1l, 2.25l)
Colours in Set or Range: 10 in set (52 in range)

Reasons to buy

+
Lightfast colours
+
Good consistency
+
Large tube options

Reasons to avoid

-
Weak opacity

Daler Rowney’s System 3 is a good quality student-level range. It has a reasonably thick and smooth consistency which holds brushstrokes surprisingly well, though I found it doesn't always have the best opacity. With the exception of the fluorescent colours, these paints use fairly lightfast pigments that are clearly labelled and works created with them should last well.

System 3 are the best acrylic paints at student grade that I've found for working on large-scale pieces as they come in larger containers than other brands. This makes them an affordable choice for big projects without sacrificing too much quality.

A set of Pebeo acrylic paints

(Image credit: Pebeo)

05. Pebeo Studio Acrylics

Student quality acrylic paints with good consistency and bright colour

Specifications

Quality: Student/Intermediate
Tube Size: 20ml (100ml, some colours in 250ml)
Colours in Set or Range: 30 in set (60 in range)

Reasons to buy

+
Great coverage
+
Smooth and easy to use

Reasons to avoid

-
Quite runny
-
Some pigments not lightfast

Pebeo’s studio acrylic has noticeably richer colour and better opacity than most student acrylic ranges, with less of a change when it dries too. The paint is a little on the runny side, and I found it less able to hold brushstrokes because of this. It mixes and dilutes better than student paints though; thinning it out with water showed it diluted readily, with an even consistency.

I'd recommend Pebeo’s studio acrylic is the best acrylic paint for those looking to upgrade from student paint but can't afford professional ranges. The biggest weakness is that the range includes a number of paints that aren't lightfast.

A set of Winsor and Newton Galleriaacrylic paints

(Image credit: Winsor and Newton)

06. Winsor and Newton Galleria Acrylics

The best student acrylics for consistent behaviour and surface finish

Specifications

Quality: Student
Tube Size: 60ml (some colours in 250ml and 500ml)
Colours in Set or Range: 10 in set (60 in range)

Reasons to buy

+
Bright colours
+
Decent consistency

Reasons to avoid

-
Weaker coverage
-
Not the best for mixing

Winsor and Newton’s Galleria range is designed for students and beginners. The paint is on the thicker side for cheaper paints, with a good consistency, and it's reasonably good at retaining the brushstrokes. It also has a fairly consistent surface finish when dry.

As student paints go, the colours are quite bright and vibrant, though they tend to need a bit more layering to cover a surface as the opacity is rather weak. Another issue I found is that this paint tends towards clumping when diluted with water or mixing.

A set of Amsterdam acrylic paints

(Image credit: Royal Talens)

07. Amsterdam Standard Series Acrylics

The best acrylic paint sets with lots of colours for students

Specifications

Quality: Student
Tube Size: 20ml (available in 120ml and 500ml)
Colours in Set or Range: 24 in set (90 in range)

Reasons to buy

+
Very affordable
+
Good selection of colours
+
Slow Drying

Reasons to avoid

-
Hard to dilute

Amsterdam acrylics offer a solid student-level range, and the best acrylic paint for students looking for lots of colours. The sets are good value and provide a large selection of colours for their price – and if you're buying individual tubes, there are more colours in this range than most student paints.

Out of the tube, the colours look fine and lay down well onto paper, but I’ve found they tend to dry a bit lighter. Otherwise, these acrylics are well pigmented for their cost and provide decent coverage. They're quite slow drying as well, especially in thicker applications, which makes them a little more forgiving when attempting to blend paint or use impasto techniques.

Why choose acrylic paints?

Water-based acrylic paints have a number of advantages. As we've noted above, they're quick and easy to set up and learn to use, and they don't require the addition of solvents. They're also very versatile, serving a range of different uses. Acrylics can also be combined with other water-based media – I find it's often useful to use watercolour pencils for initial drawings as they won’t muddy the colours.

How do I choose the best acrylic paints?

The first thing you'll need to decide to choose the best acrylic paints for you is to decide whether you're looking for professional or student paints, like the last option on our list. The latter contain less pigment and have a more plastic-looking surface when dry. They're useful for sketching and more affordable for big projects that require lots of paint.

Professional paints contain more pigment and tend to have extra ingredients to improve consistency and surface quality. Better quality paints usually cover a surface more thoroughly, while poorer quality paints may be too see-through.

Another important quality to look out for is colour shift – that is how much the paint changes colour as it dries. Minimising this removes the need to compensate for changes in colour. Meanwhile, some acrylic paints have a longer working time – how long it takes for the paint to dry – than others, making blending and mixing colours easier, but slowing down layered approaches. Consider what you need your paint for and choose what is best for your needs.

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Lancelot Richardson is an artist, painter, and freelance illustrator based in Brighton, UK. He tutors life drawing at independent art school Draw Brighton, and teaches in their online Patreon courses. He is also a freelance writer, producing articles on art and drawing. He works in both traditional and digital mediums.