Please educate me on acrylics - I need to buy some


Well-known member
I've been using some pots that were in a drawer for 10 years, they are definitely somewhat past their best. I use them anyway despite gloopiness but they are going down and eventually I am going to need more. I can't get this make (Pip Seymour) anywhere locally or from the catalogue company that is my other option. So I need to choose another maker. I also mean to slowly transition to a different color palette so eventually all my current colors will be replaced.

I do not have much money and cannot afford to experiment. I have to get it right first time. I would greatly prefer to buy a 250ml+ pot, take the short term financial hit and win out on economy of scale than to buy small tubes and have to keep topping up.

The character of the paint I like is that it is thick like cream (think this might be what they call "Heavy Flow" or "Heavy Body") and the color is really strong/opaque so you only need a little bit to cover.

My options:
* Winsor & Newton Professional - doesn't say anything about heavy body, only comes in tubes. I might have to sell a kidney
* Winsor & Newton Galeria - their budget option I think. No mention of body. Comes in pots.
* Daler Rowney System 3 - has heavy body option but only 59ml tubes. "Original" does come in pots.
* Sennelier Abstract - heavy body is in description, comes in 500ml pouches

What would you buy?

Thanks :)
I started off with Liquitex student grade and it was an excellent product and was not expensive. It saw me through many years until I became professional an began using Liquitex Heavy Bodied. I now use the student grade for backgrounds and touch ups. They are a wonderful brand with very little colour change when dry. I love them. I paint endangered animals mainly an find them ideal for nice juicy brush strokes and thinned down slightly , do a great job for whiskers and finer areas.
I am not advanced at acrylics, in fact, I suck at them because I'm really an oil painter. I don't like how fast acrylics dry. Musket on this forum suggested the Golden Open Acrylics because they stay wet a lot longer and act a bit more like oils, especially if you don't use the medium that comes with it in the set. They are thicker. I have only been experimenting with them and do like them but haven't really made anything I'm happy with to show yet. I still would highly recommend them.

@chammi, hi and welcome to the site! Please introduce yourself in the welcome forum and tell us a little bit about yourself. I hope you enjoy yourself here. :)
I also began with Liquitex, but the artist grade in what is now called heavy body. I still have some 40 year old tubes that are viable!

Tried other brands, some cheaper some not. As long as it was "acrylic" and not student grade, they all played well together. (Galleria was fine for a cheaper brand.)

Then I found the more open brands, Golden Open and Chroma Atelier Interactive. Still acrylics and mixed with others, but their own individual properties regarding drying were the ticket. Golden Open is really just a slow drying acrylic. It's fine. Chroma is a regular drying acrylic BUT when spritzed with water or with their exclusive Unlocking Formula medium it stayed open longer and the UF medium could actually reopen the paint up to about a week later! Talk about a boon for oil painters trying to deal with the speed of acrylic drying. Clearly I preferred the Chroma paints. They may not be the easiest to get in local stores, but you can try online and I think they may have pots.

They mix with paints and mediums of all other true acrylics, but the more you mix in other paints, the less their unique drying properties are able to work. You can try out a tube of Chroma with your existing paints and not make the total investment.

In fact, I'm not sure why you feel you need to have a whole new set in order to alter your palette, since you can mix up virtually any color you need from a few basics in any acrylic brand.

BTW, I'm wondering if your use of pots may be why they are drying out on you. Tubes don't dry out quickly for me.
I tend to use Windsor & Newton Professional, but also favour System 3 for sky or sea. I think for a student grade it is very good, and considerably cheaper.
The Chroma look very interesting, but I would guess that like Golden, they ain't cheap.

Remember that most paints are priced according to what's in the tube, not by weight. Earth pigments and oxides tend to be inexpensive. Ultramarine and the Phthalos as well, whereas cobalt and cerulean are very pricey. "Hues" as they are called are always less expensive than the real thing.

So if you're selective about a limited palette, instead of using lots of different colors, you may be able to afford better than student grade, no matter the brand.

I used Golden exclusively and I can say that a little goes a long way. The pigment load is very high in these paints.
The pigment load is high also in Chroma AND their tubes are large as well compared to many other acrylic brands.
They do look like premium paints. And hence, expensive. Same thing applies.
I do sometimes wonder whether it is a false economy to buy cheaper paints if you need more of them (since you would imagine the pigment load is lower). I really don't know — I appreciate it's hard to justify the price of artist paints if funds are limited.

I have only ever painted with W&N pro so can't offer much advice other:

  • They maintain no noticable colour shift from wet to dry
  • Not all the pigments come in large tubes — it drives me mad that I have to buy the cadmiums in 60ml tubes instead of 200ml
  • They aren't marketed as heavy body but they do hold their shape if applied thickly

I have never used Liquitex paints but I do use their mediums. Their gloss medium is much cheaper than W&N's one and for the purposes of interstitial varnish layers and final isolation coats it is just as much up to the job as the W&N’s mediums.

One thing you can do to save money is, for example, go for cheaper pigments that are available in the larger tubes. For example, you can swap out Cad yellow medium for Azo Yellow Medium (not as strong tinting strength or opacity but the same lightfast rating).

For example, here's a suggestion for a W&N pro limited palette that avoids the more expensive pigments and are all available in 200ml tubes.

Titanium white
Burnt umber
Permanent alizarin crimson
Ultramarine blue
Lemon yellow (note has a ASTM II rating while the others are I)

Nice to have:

Mixing white for more subtle, less chalky tinting
Phthalo blue (for warm blues, a 200ml tube of this will last a long time!)

You would be lacking a warm red though and I don't know of a decent cheap replacement. I'm sure there is one but I use cadmium red medium. Maybe Naphthol Red Medium is worth looking at.

In the UK you'd be looking at about £70 for the core palette, which would get you 1l of paint.
Having limited pockets, I don't turn my nose up at being frugal! You can paint with anything - almost literally anything. The differences aren't always so great as to require the top quality paints, brushes or supports. (You could raid your spice cabinet for pigments, mix with water or oil or egg, and use your fingers or silverware to paint on your wall or your napkin. Only thing is it wouldn't be the easiest, the neatest or be permanent.)

One of my painting buddies buys raw pigments and mixes up all his own paints. He gets magnificent colors. But the cost of doing this isn't cheap at first, just cheaper in the volume.

IME, you do simply get better stronger pigmentation with better grades of paint than student grade. So size of tube and cost can be misleading. I found Chroma Interactive to be cheaper than Liquitex or Golden by tube and by volume, and every bit as pigmented, plus the advantage of the reopening. YMMV.

While I love a good brush and have my favorite supports, where I would put my beans first and always is in the paints themselves.
Good points, Bartc, it does very much depend on how highly you regard permanence.

I don't have unlimited funds and while I very much doubt anyone will be looking at my work in years to come it does feel like, out of everything, spending money on nice paints is worth it. I paint on MDF and most of my brushes are DR System 3 and that's fine for me but now I've got a limited palette I'm used to I don't want to change it. Good paints make the process more enjoyable for me as they have good coverage, you can thin them down more and they don't colour shift.
AK, only thing I would worry about would be the MDF. If it's from your hardware store, then you could easily have problems not too far down the road in your lifetime. If it's prepared for paints, like the commercial panels you buy at the art store, then it's fine.

Some of the archival enthusiasts go quite barking mad about how to prepare a hardware store MDF, Masonite, or other wood panel to not ruin your painting. I have some acrylics I did 40 years ago on ordinary tempered Masonite only prepared with acrylic gesso, and they have shown zero signs of problems. Maybe I'm just lucky.

I do see that some papers that aren't archival and certainly some wood products (natural or manufactured) do deteriorate. No expert here on which, so I just avoid those. But otherwise surfaces don't need to be the most expensive.

As to brushes, I've learned that they work in the real world just like the gearing on my mountain bike. You can have 28 gears but you'll find you almost always use only 3! Just which 3 for your style is the key. Same for brushes. Most times in most media I paint complete works with only 1 brush anyway. I learned from sumi-e how to make a few shapes of brushes make many shapes of strokes each. And over the years I'm still using more of my cheaper brush purchases than my expensive ones. And you won't treat them as "precious". YMMV

But with just 3 primaries and white in almost any good paint will do you just fine.
Learning has a curve and that usually incurs expense. There are always better but you use what works for you and what you can afford. The expense is finding what works for you: not somebody else.
AK, only thing I would worry about would be the MDF. If it's from your hardware store, then you could easily have problems not too far down the road in your lifetime. If it's prepared for paints, like the commercial panels you buy at the art store, then it's fine.
I size my boards with three layers of thinned medium on all sides and then gesso the side I'm painting on. When the painting is finished off I then coat the edges again with acrylic gel. Golden used to recommend GAC 200 but they recommend medium instead now.

I have submerged my panels in water and left them there and there is not a single sign of warping or deterioration. I know a lot of people thumb their noses at the archival nature of MDF because it isn't battle-tested — but the same people say that of acrylics. Using inductive reasoning I am confident they will at least outlive me.

I've seen really poorly prepared wooden boards (no sizing) last for decades. I'm sure mine will do much better than that.

MDF is not only cheap, it suits my painting. I like its thinness, zero grain smoothness and if it bends slightly after sizing, unlike wood that needs cradling, you can gently flatten in by hand. The only thing to watch is not to bang the corners since they aren't very strong (I use 3mm) — but I have yet to do this since I'm careful when handling paintings.

I'm equally as happy on hardboard. The smooth side is almost identical to MDF and I find it stays smooth after sizing so you don't really need gesso. I just dislike the rough side — and MDF seems easier to get hold of in the UK.

As to whether the natural glue in hardboard is better or worse than the formaldehyde in MDF remains to be seen — but I do not think either is of concern in the context of the next 50–100 years.
As to brushes, I've learned that they work in the real world just like the gearing on my mountain bike. You can have 28 gears but you'll find you almost always use only 3! Just which 3 for your style is the key. Same for brushes.
I completely agree. I block in with a flat or dagger and then do the rest with a small filbert and small round — that's pretty much it! My own gripe with brushes is decent synthetic “sable” ones are hard to come by.
I never cheap out on brushes. I find buying the best brushes are always worth the dough, and they can last forever if taken good care of.
AK, only thing I would worry about would be the MDF
my cousin had some sized and gessoed and used it for acrylic and it warped .. 1/4 thick too. MDF is medium density and you should stay with Hardboard .. Fibrex make a good board .. white plastic on one side and you gesso and paint the other side.
MDF and hardboard are very porous so it is possible to size them yet not make them sufficiently resistant to moisture. I've sized a fair few now and you end up getting a feel for when it is adequately sealed. I recommend going thinly for the first layer and increasingly thicker with each subsequent application as you get less buckling this way (as mentioned before though, unlike natural wood and plywood, MDF and hardboard can be gently straightened by hand).

As I say, I have submerged mine in water and there is zero warping; with sufficient gloss medium they are completely waterproof. This means no leaking of formaldehyde gas, no acid from the wood and no warping.

MDF varies in density so it really depends on your supplier (HDF is denser, heavier MDF but is not the same as hardboard). I prefer to go thin and light; most problems are mitigated by correct storage and sizing properly as above.

You can buy “art boards” from art shops but given how cheap and easy it is to prepare panels I personally wouldn't bother with them.
Oh, you can certainly tell the difference in brushes, but I find that mostly a major consideration in watercolor and similar thin application painting, not much in acrylic, IME.

But once you find a couple of brushes that have a shape that's versatile and whatever qualities of firmness and springiness you like, then the rest of the differences are largely subtle to my way of thinking. Not insignificant, but subtle.