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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.