A Beginners Guide To Using Acrylic Paints

A Beginners Guide To Using Acrylic Paint

Acrylic paints are some of the most versatile paints in the world, as they can be used straight from the tubes they come in, or you can thin them with water to create a lighter, more watercolor option.

However, no matter how easy they are to use, if you’re a beginner you’re apt to have no idea how to use them. The good thing about acrylic paints is that they are incredibly easy to learn how to use it, so you’ll soon be an expert when it comes to using them.

If you want to make your first experience of using acrylic paints easier, ensure you follow these handy tips:


1) Keep acrylics malleable

Acrylic paint can dry incredibly quickly, which means it can be very easy to waste paint if you squeeze too much out of the tube at once. To stop this from happening, make sure you only squeeze out as much as you need, and err on the side of caution rather than giving yourself more than you require.

When it comes to finding the ideal palette for acrylic paints, you can choose between using a plastic one or a stay-wet one. With a plastic palette, you’ll need to keep spraying a fine mist of water over the paint to keep it wet, whereas a stay-wet palette will keep your acrylic paint in its semi-liquid state.

2) Blot your brushes regularly

Whenever you rinse your brushes to change the color you’re using, you should get into the habit of blotting them with paper towel to remove any excess moisture. If you don’t do this, you’ll end up with rivulets of water running down your canvas and ruining your painting.

3) Paint over acrylic washes

If you use acrylic paint as a watercolor, by adding water to the paint before applying it to your canvas, you won’t need to worry about disturbing the effect once it has dried. Unlike actual watercolor, acrylic washes are insoluble and so can be painted over, whereas watercolor can be blotted off with water and so can be disturbed when painted over.

4) Blend colours quickly

Again, because acrylic paint has a habit of drying quickly, blending colors can often be pretty difficult. You’ll always need to work quickly when doing this, but you can lengthen the amount of time you have by applying the paint to a damp piece of paper or card when blending.

5) Create sharp edges

If you already have a layer of acrylic paint on your canvas and you want to apply paint over it, you can do so without worrying about disturbing the existing work, as we have already covered. If you’d also like to create a sharp edge to your second layer, you can safely use a piece of masking tape to cover an area and so prevent paint from being applied there.

There are lots of handy tips that you can find about using acrylic paint, and these five will help you on your way to becoming a genuine expert in this medium.

Guest Author: This blog was written by Aurora Johnson on behalf of Jackson’s Art, the art equipment specialists.

*Also, please visit the Royal Talens website for the best quality acrylic paints in the world!

Thank you for visiting FineArtTips.com. You can see my art on my website,  LoriMcNee.com, and let’s meet on Facebook  Fine Art Tips Facebook Fan Page, on Twitter, Google Plus and on PinterestBe sure and check out and my fine art prints and notecards on Fine Art America.! ~Lori



  1. Jen Kirby December 2, 2013 at 2:48 am

    It is possible to find palettes with snap on lids, and even individual compartments so the colours don’t run together. They are great if you like to thin the colour a lot like I do. The only downside is that those palettes are plastic, and impossible to get really clean.

  2. nlc December 2, 2013 at 1:48 pm

    There is a video out there in YouTubeland giving reasons for not using more than 30% water in your acrylic paints, as they lose the ability to adhere to the substrate over time. Wish I had the link, but it makes some kind of sense, right?

    • Lori McNee December 2, 2013 at 5:06 pm

      I have not heard of a ratio with regards to acrylic paints, but I can find out and get back to you. Thanks for letting me know.

    • Celry February 24, 2014 at 1:38 pm

      Yes I also saw this on you tube. I now use air brush medium to thin down my acrylic paints.

      • Lori McNee March 23, 2014 at 8:09 pm

        That is a great tip! Thanks for sharing it with us all…

  3. Steve December 6, 2013 at 10:47 am

    I love acrylics, especially mixing them with fluorescent paint. That’s the only orange I’ll use and it’s super colourful. I also mix with gesso to give it an oilyness or paint some white where I intend to paint a bright colour as acrylics are translucent. I never use water, just to clean my brush. I use flow improver to make it watery and it makes nice fine lines! Another favourite is a glazing medium to get some even transparency!

    Air brush paint is also great. A drop can wash a nice transparent layer over the whole page. And the dark navy blue is what I find to be the darkest for black lines when I want that crispness!

    Trying to get people to convert me to oil but I’m rough with my art and even use a hair dryer to speed up the acrylic drying time! That also lets me rest my hand. They’re shaky!

    • Lori McNee February 4, 2014 at 10:31 am

      Fluorescent paint!? Wow, I’ve never tried that before. Thanks for the added tips and ideas on how to use acrylics. I also like to use a putty knife to scrape the paint around. It adds a lot of interesting texture and energy to the painting. I use the gel medium to build up the strokes. I often paint oils over the top of my acrylic paintings. You might want to try that!

  4. Lucy Chen December 16, 2013 at 8:25 pm

    Some say the ratio is 30%, some say 50%. I think it depends on the quality of your acrylic paint.
    A suggestion is to add matte medium to your acrylic paint and water mix, so you will have about 33/33/33 acrylic / matte medium / water, which does not dilute the bounding agents in the paint so much to affect its adhesiveness. You can also replace the matte medium with gloss medium for a more transparent or glaze effect.

    • Lori McNee December 17, 2013 at 12:40 pm

      Thanks for the added information Lucy!

  5. Yuri January 3, 2014 at 6:05 pm

    After painting hundreds of pieces using all types of acrylics I’d say that adding even more than 50% of water is fine. Of course, you have to be gentle with the next layer.
    Have any of you tried Chinese inks technique of painting watercolour with hundreds of washed of super diluted inks? All colours are filtered and look like clear water but after 20 -40 layers the magic starts happening. The results were incredible. It was so long ago ~ mid of 70s….
    After doing that for 2-3 years acrylics are super easy.

    • Lori McNee January 20, 2014 at 12:02 am

      Hello Yuri, I played with those inks back in college. I remember the vibrant colors! I wonder if anyone uses them now? Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  6. Billy Camryn March 11, 2014 at 10:32 pm

    When I was starting out, I found this video as a really helpful guide on how to get started: http://www.jerrysartarama.com/art-lessons/Medium/Acrylics/Acrylics-Using-Acrylics.html & http://www.jerrysartarama.com/art-lessons/Medium/Acrylics/Acrylics-Matisse-Acrylic-Painting-Medium.html

    Nevertheless, these are some really handy tips as well. For me a ratio of 40-50% water works great. But, I don’t consider myself too advanced as well.

    • Lori McNee March 23, 2014 at 6:54 pm

      Hey Billy, I really appreciate you sharing the link with us. Also, thanks for sharing the water to paint ratio…40/50, but where is the other 10%? In the mediums? Just wondering 😉

  7. Tricia June 13, 2014 at 6:04 pm

    I am primarily a pastel artist but I have used acrylics in the past and am getting super inspired to do some playing around with them. I have heard that using airbrush medium is a great way to thin the paint and works great as a first coat on the canvas to help bind the paint to the canvas. Have you tried this and if so did you like the effects you got? Any recommendations on it’s uses in other types of acrylic paint applications?
    I want to do some experimenting with some very watery looking/glazed effects on canvas and watercolor paper.

    • Lori McNee June 15, 2014 at 10:39 pm

      Hello Tricia, I have not tried that airbrush medium. But, I do use gel medium underneath to give more texture. Acrylic binds very easily to acrylic gesso. That is the best first coat to use. Yes, acrylic can also be used like watercolor. It is so versatile. Have fun and experiment!

  8. Fatima February 5, 2016 at 7:52 am

    This is a really good help guide for starting acrylic painting however I would like to know if you can use these paints for “Chinese brush painting”? Its for a project and I don’t have time to buy the ink block for Chinese painting.

    • Lori A McNee April 1, 2016 at 12:29 am

      Hmmm, I’m not sure. But, I would be inclined to say yes. However, you will need to thin the paint to the consistency of the ink. Ironically, I am planning on taking a Japanese brush painting class soon! Good luck

  9. Fatima February 26, 2016 at 7:42 am

    I love to use acylic paints in all of my paintings however recently im starting a new project for myself on Chinese brush painting. It consists a variety of brush strokes in a unique way and it involves chinese ink but I don’t feel confident with going straight into that sector. So I would like to know if it is possible to start this type of painting with acryclic paints. Would it make it look the opposite to chinese painting or would it be fine and make no difference at all?
    Thankyou for your time

    • Lori A McNee April 1, 2016 at 12:44 am

      Hi Fatima, I might be repeating myself…but, I think you should be able to simulate the technique of ink with acrylics. Make sure you think the paints to the same consistency as the ink and use a similar brush. Be sure to wash out the paint from the brush! Good luck and have fun.

      • Fatima April 25, 2016 at 2:14 am

        Thank you so much for replying! sorry for the repeat message. by mistake I typed 2 comments when I was supposed to do 1. I decided to give the chinese painting a go with acrylics paints and it has been successful. Your adivice had helped me, thankyou again. And good luck with the Japanese painting class!

        • Lori A McNee May 1, 2016 at 1:32 pm

          Your are welcome and thank you too!

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