The best acrylic paints can be a great choice for many artists. Acrylic paints are water-based paints that use acrylic polymers to bind pigments. They dry faster than oil paints and don’t require solvents, making them a practical option that’s quick to set up and easier to work with. They are also very versatile and perform well on a variety of surfaces. And they’re suitable for artwork of any size: the best acrylics make it easy to paint precise details on smaller pieces, while many ranges offer common colors in larger tubes, making them suitable for large pieces.
But what to choose? That’s where this guide comes in, offering our picks of the best acrylic paints for artists, from students to professionals. Acrylic paints come in a variety of forms: the most common are heavy body, soft body, which are more fluid, and acrylic ink. This guide covers the best thick build acrylic paints, as these thick build paints work well for most purposes.
There is a big difference between professional and student quality acrylic paints, with professional paints containing more pigment and often other ingredients to improve consistency. If you need guidance on how to choose the best acrylic paints for you, scroll down to our tips at the end of this guide. We made our selection after reviewing each color for body, pigmentation and color shift.
Once you’ve picked the best acrylic paints, you might want to grab one of the best easels and watercolor pencils as well. We also have a guide to the best oil paints – and you can learn more about the differences between these and acrylic paints in our acrylic vs. oil paint comparison.
The best acrylic paint currently available
Our top pick for best acrylic paint is Golden’s Professional Acrylics range. This is a high quality acrylic with lots of body and heavy pigmentation. There is also a wide range of colors. It’s particularly thick and holds brush strokes well, but I also find it easy to blend and thin at the same time. It’s also available in bulk, making it a good option for large projects.
I have found that there is no significant color shift as the paint dries, although different paints may have slightly different sheens as this series contains very few additives. However, this can be offset by adding your own acrylic medium. This is the best acrylic paint for professional projects, especially large pieces or impasto work.
The Liquitex 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 without leaving streaks.
I have found that these acrylics dry fairly quickly, which is excellent for anyone who chooses to take a layered approach to painting. They also don’t retain brush strokes as easily, which is also good for layered approaches. For impasto techniques, adding an acrylic medium is a good idea.
The Winsor and Newton professional range of acrylic paints offer solid quality acrylic paint that behaves predictably. It has an even, smooth consistency and blends easily with no clumping or bumps. I have found that there is also very little color shift as the paint dries. All this makes the paint easy to work with.
These colors are highly pigmented and significantly brighter than any other student quality color palette, with the colors still appearing vibrant when diluted. This combined with their water solubility makes these the best acrylics for thinner washes. This range is also a good choice for those who prefer a gentle application over visible brush strokes.
Daler Rowney’s System 3 is a high quality student level product line. It has a fairly thick and smooth consistency that holds brush strokes surprisingly well, although I’ve found it doesn’t always have the best opacity. With the exception of the fluorescent colors, these colors use relatively lightfast pigments that are clearly identified and the works created with them should last a long time.
System 3 are the best student quality acrylics I’ve found for working on large format pieces as they come in larger containers than other brands. This makes them an affordable choice for large projects without sacrificing too much quality.
Pebeo’s Studio Acrylic has a noticeably richer color and better coverage than most student acrylic ranges, and also changes less as it dries. The paint is a little runny and I found it held fewer brush strokes because of it. However, it mixes and thins better than student paints; diluting with water showed that it thinned slightly, with an even consistency.
I would recommend Pebeos Studio Acrylic Paint is the best acrylic paint for those looking to upgrade from student paint but can’t afford professional ranges. The main weakness is that the range includes a number of colors that are not lightfast.
Winsor and Newton’s Galleria range is designed for students and beginners. The paint is thicker for cheaper paints, has a good consistency and holds the brushstrokes reasonably well. It also has a fairly even surface finish when dry.
With student paints, the colors are fairly bright and vibrant, although they tend to take a bit more layers to cover a surface as the opacity is rather weak. Another issue I’ve found is that this paint tends to clump when diluted or mixed with water.
Amsterdam Acrylic Colors offer a solid student level range and the best acrylic color for students looking for lots of colour. The sets are good value and offer a wide range of colors for their price – and if you buy individual tubes there are more colors in this range than most student colours.
The colors look good out of the tube and apply well to paper, but I have found that they dry a little lighter. Otherwise these acrylics are well pigmented for their price and offer decent coverage. They also dry fairly slowly, especially on thicker applications, making them a bit more forgiving when trying to mix paint or use impasto techniques.
Why choose acrylic paints?
Water-based acrylic paints have a number of advantages. As we noted above, they’re quick and easy to set up and use, and don’t require the addition of solvents. They are also very versatile and serve a number of different purposes. Acrylic can also be combined with other water-based mediums – I often find it useful to use watercolor pencils for initial drawings as they don’t dull the colours.
How do I choose the best acrylic paints?
The first thing you need to decide when choosing the best acrylic paints for you is whether you are looking for professional or student paints, like the last option on our list. The latter contain fewer pigments and have a more plastic surface after drying. They’re useful for sketching and more affordable for large projects that require lots of paint.
Professional paints contain more pigment and tend to have additional ingredients to improve consistency and finish quality. Better quality paints usually cover a surface more thoroughly, while lower quality paints can be too see-through.
Another important property to look out for is the color shift – which is how much the paint changes color as it dries. This minimization eliminates the need to compensate for color changes. Meanwhile, some acrylic paints have a longer working time — how long it takes for the paint to dry — than others, making color blending and blending easier but slowing down layered approaches. Think about what you need your paint for and choose what works best for your needs.