What is Acrylic Paint, and How is It Made?

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When it comes to painting there are many mediums available for artists. The most versatile type of artist paint is acrylic paint, and it is also one of the easiest types of paint to use. This is why it is most often used at paint and sip parties.

Acrylic paint is a bit different from other types of paint, and it has its unique qualities. Unlike oil paints, acrylics dry very quickly. It is easy to complete a painting in a single evening, and have it ready to display that same night.

I have worked with several mediums throughout the years. No matter what mediums I try once in a while for something different, I always find myself going back to acrylic paints.

Today we are going to take a look at acrylic paints and tell you all that you need to know about this art medium. Let’s get started.

What Kind of Paint is Acrylic?

Acrylic paint is water-based and made using pigments. This type of paint is made up of an acrylic polymer emulsion. It contains a resin, which binds the pigments.

One of the things I love about acrylic paints is that they can be used in several different ways. They can be taken right from the tube or bottle and used as they are. They can also be watered down to give them a different consistency.

Acrylic paint is not as thick as oil paint, which is why sometimes you might need to thicken acrylic paint to achieve a desired outcome. It dries more quickly, which can make it a bit challenging to use. With oils, you have plenty of time to blend colors. With acrylics, you have to work fast, and you may need an additive to keep it from drying so quickly.

I enjoy teaching paint and sip students acrylic painting techniques. I always say it is the first paint a student will use, but it isn’t the last paint they will use. Acrylics are a stepping stone to other art mediums.

The one drawback to using acrylic paints is the fast drying time. This can make it tricky for color blending, but not impossible. I like to show students the different techniques I use with acrylics to blend colors on a canvas seamlessly.

You can learn more from my guide on how to blend acrylic paints.

Once acrylic paint dries it is somewhat waterproof. It is durable and will hold up for a very long time, making it an ideal choice for artists of all skill levels, including paint and sip party guests.

Is Acrylic Paint Water-based?

Yes, acrylic paint is water-based. It consists of pigment suspended in an acrylic polymer emulsion, which is water-soluble. Because of the water-based nature, it can be cleaned up with water and dries more quickly than oil paint.

The History of Acrylic Paints

While oil paints have been around for hundreds of years, acrylics are a 20th-century creation. Acrylics were first created in Germany in the 1930s. This was something completely different for artists at the time.

While acrylic paint was similar in some ways to oil paints and watercolors, it also had unique characteristics that made it stand out. 

Although it was invented in the 1930s, acrylic paint didn’t start to become popular until the 1950s. In fact, in the beginning, acrylic paint was marketed as house paint rather than artist paint.

It was during the 1950s that Liquitex created its acrylic paint. This paint was water-based, inexpensive, and available at most art supply stores. Because it was readily available and inexpensive, it became a go-to paint for artists of all levels, including beginners.

Paint on Most Surfaces

One of the great things about acrylic paints is that they can be used on just about any surface. In addition to traditional canvas, I have used them on wood, glass, metal, and fabric. 

I have even used them to paint on leather, but there are a few things that need to be done to prep the leather so the paint will adhere properly.

Whether you are working on a canvas or another surface, it is important to prep the surface before painting. Most of the time I use gesso for this.

Types of Brushes for Acrylic Painting

You have probably noticed that there are different types of paintbrushes available. Some are meant to be used with oil paints, and some are specifically for acrylic paints.

Now, this doesn’t mean that you can’t use oil painting brushes while working with acrylics. You can use just about any type of brush. The acrylic paint washes out of the brushes easily, so as long as you take proper care of your brushes, you can always use any of them with your acrylic paints.

For paint and sip classes, I like to save money by purchasing inexpensive sets of paint brushes that are made with synthetic bristles. These work great with acrylics, and you can get them for less than $5 per set.

What is Acrylic Paint Made Of?

The three main ingredients in acrylic paint are the vehicle, a binder, and pigment. Most acrylic paints will have other ingredients, but these three are common to all acrylic paints.

Let’s take a closer look at the ingredients in acrylic paints.

#1. The Vehicle

The vehicle, while not as important as other ingredients, is what makes up the majority of any acrylic paint. It isn’t the most important part of the recipe, but it is needed.

If there was no vehicle, there would be no way to combine the pigment and binder. Seeing as how acrylics are water-based paints, it only makes sense that in this case, the vehicle is water.

Once the paint is applied to a canvas or any other surface, the water begins to evaporate. This leaves you with a vivid pigment on the canvas.

#2. The Binder

All acrylics contain acrylic polymer, which is the binder. Without this binder, it would not be possible to use these paints.

I mentioned that the vehicle (water) evaporates after the paint has been applied, leaving behind the pigment. The binder is what keeps the pigment from evaporating as well.

The binder holds onto or binds the pigment. This ensures that the paint sticks to the surface of the canvas. If there was no binder, you wouldn’t be able to see any pigment at all.

The binder also performs another necessary function: it creates a film over the paint that ensures it will be waterproof after it is dry.

#3. The Pigment

Finally, we come to the ingredient that gives acrylic paint its color, the pigment. Solids are used to create pigments. These solids are broken down to create very small pigments which do not dissolve. Instead, they end up being suspended in the mixture.

Depending on the paint manufacturer, acrylic paints can be made with pigments from a variety of sources. These sources can be natural or synthetic.

Shelf Life Explained

The acrylic paint shelf life can vary depending on factors like storage conditions, brands, and quality. Generally, unopened acrylic paint bottles or tubes can last for several years if stored in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight.

What Are Acrylic Paints Used For?

Acrylics are incredibly versatile and perfect for beginners like you. Here’s how you can use them to create amazing artworks:

Canvas Paintings

With acrylics, you can easily paint beautiful masterpieces on canvas. This is the most commonly used paint at painting parties. They offer great coverage, vibrant colors, and dry quickly, allowing you to build layers and add texture effortlessly.

Abstract Art

Acrylics are perfect for creating bold brushstrokes, expressive textures, and experimenting with pouring, splattering, and palette knife techniques. Explore different styles and unleash your imagination.

Illustration and Fine Art

Acrylics are excellent for illustrative purposes, allowing you to create stunning illustrations, comic art, or even realistic paintings. With their wide range of colors and the ability to be thinned with water, you can achieve translucent effects similar to watercolor.

Mixed Media Art

Combine acrylics with other materials like collage elements, inks, pastels, or markers to dive into the world of mixed media. Acrylics work seamlessly with various surfaces, enabling you to incorporate different materials into your artwork.

Crafts and Decorative Art

Acrylics are fantastic for crafting and DIY projects. Whether you’re painting wood, paper, ceramics, or fabric, acrylics adhere well and give a professional finish. Get ready to personalize home decor items, create unique ornaments, and make thoughtful gifts.

For a water-based paint specifically designed for various craft and DIY projects, you might want to look into acrylic craft paint.


As an art instructor at paint and sip parties, my paint of choice is generally acrylic. While they can be tricky to use when it comes to blending colors, they are also one of the best types of paints for beginners to use.

One of the main reasons why I like to use acrylics for these classes is the fact that they dry so quickly. This means that each paint party guest will have a completed painting that is dry by the end of the event.

It is also inexpensive. Of course, it can range in price and there are more expensive sets, but if you are a beginner on a tight budget, acrylic paints are likely going to be your best option.

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