Acrylic paints are a great choice for many artists. Super-convenient and easy to start working with, they're versatile because they're effective across a range of different surfaces and they come in different sizes, including in tubs big enough for larger pieces of art.
Like most paints, acrylics come in professional and student quality, and there's a real chasm between the two in terms of quality. Professional paints are more pigmented, and include other ingredients to improve consistency. We've tested a wide range of both types to pick out the best acrylic paints for different needs. In our tests, all carried out by artists, we evaluated pigmentation and consistency, colour shift and value.
See the pointers at the bottom of the page if you're not sure how to choose the right acrylic for you. Once you've picked your paints, make sure you grab the best acrylic paintbrushes, too. And don't forget about the best easels and the best watercolour pencils.
The best acrylic paints available now
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Size: 60ml – 3.78l
This range has lots of body, strong pigmentation and lots of colours (130+). Especially thick, it holds brushstrokes well, but I find it easy to mix and dilute. I've found no significant shift in colour on drying, though sheens may vary as they have few additives. This can be fixed with your own medium. It's available in large quantities so good for large pieces.
Size: 59ml – 946ml
Liquitex’s professional acrylics offer bright colours in a fairly thick and versatile paint. It has a buttery texture that spreads smoothly on different surfaces and covers well, leaving no streakiness. They're relatively expensive, but I've found these to be fast drying – excellent for anyone opting for a more layered painting approach. They don’t retain brushstrokes as easily either.
Size: 20ml – 237ml
Predictable with an even, smooth consistency, this paint readily mixes without clumping. I've found very little colour shift, which makes it easy to work with. They're highly pigmented, much brighter than any student range and the colours stay vivid when thinned. Combined with how water-soluble they are, this puts them among the best acrylics for thinner washes.
Size: 29.5ml – 2.25l
If you're after the best acrylic paints for students, these have a reasonably thick, smooth consistency which holds brushstrokes surprisingly well, though not always the best opacity. With the exception of the fluorescents, these paints are fairly lightfast and they're available in larger containers, which makes them affordable for big projects.
Quality: student / intermediate
Size: 20ml – 250ml
This has richer colour and better opacity than most student ranges with less change when it dries. It's a little runny, and less able to hold brushstrokes, but it mixes and dilutes better than student paints. I'd recommend these as the best acrylic paint for those looking to upgrade who can't afford professional ranges. The biggest weakness is that some aren't lightfast.
Size: 60ml – 500ml
This is on the thicker side for cheaper paints, with good consistency. It's reasonably good at retaining brushstrokes and has a fairly consistent surface finish when dry. As student paints go, the colours are bright and vibrant, but they tend to need more layers as opacity is rather weak. The paint tends towards clumping when diluted.
What are acrylic paints?
Most acrylic paints are water-based, and they comprise pigment particles in an acrylic polymer emulsion as a binder, which keeps the pigment in place after the paint dries. The best acrylic paints have several benefits: they're fast-drying, the flex, you can clean them with water when they're wet and they're permanent when dry.
They're particularly versatile because they stick to almost any surface and they come in a range of consistencies and presentations to suit different types of work. For even more flexibility, you can change the character of acrylic paints using different mediums.
The most common forms of acrylic paint are heavy body, soft body (runnier) and acrylic ink. In the guide above, we've focused on heavy-body acrylic paints because these thicker paints suit most use cases. You can learn more about the differences between those and acrylics in our comparison of acrylics vs oils, and we also have a guide to the best oil paints.
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. 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, and they're also great if you're just trying out the medium and don't want to commit to spending more on better acrylics.
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, which can be an issue depending on what you're looking for.
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 and the best acrylic paints dry much like the colour you get initially.
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, what kind of look you are going for, and choose what is best for your needs.
Is there a difference between cheap and expensive acrylic paint?
In short, yes. And it can be a big difference. Cheaper acrylic paint contains more filler in the form of acrylic polymer, and less pigment. This means it will be less vibrant and the colour will look flat. You may also need more layers of paint to get the desired look. Though there are some good options for those on a budget (such as Winsor & Newton Galleria Acrylics), spending a bit more will give you a much better finish and consistency.