Why Your Acrylic Paint Isn’t Drying & What to Do About It

If you find your acrylic paint isn’t drying or taking too long to dry you may be stuck for a reason as to why. As this is the reverse issue of what most people experience the reasons may not be obvious. However, there are easily correctable reasons for this. 

There are several reasons that your acrylic paints don’t dry or take longer to dry.

  1. You live in a humid environment that prolongs the drying time.
  2. You have used too much paint retarder/extender.
  3. You applied the paint thickly or are using an impasto technique.
  4. You are painting in a cold room.
  5. You have the specialist slow-drying paints. 
  6. Your painting surface can affect your paint’s drying time. 
  7. Thin over thick layers can cause drying issues.

To solve the above issues we have to discover how long the paint should take to dry and why the paint is drying slowly.  For that matter, if it is actually drying more slowly than it should be and what can we do to fix it? Thankfully, the solutions are reasonably easy to fix once you know what to do. 

7 Reasons Why Your Acrylic Paint Is Not Drying

If you are wondering why your paint isn’t drying and why it takes so long to dry I have explained more fully below along with some possible solutions to make working with your paints easier. Also some examples of paint trying times to help you decide if the paint you are using is suitable for you.

If you live in a humid environment where there is a lot of moisture in the air this will slow the drying time of your acrylic paints. This doesn’t have to be natural humidity it can also be because your local painting area is humid. Have you got a humidifier running? Is there moisture in the air for other reasons? If you live in an open plan home and the shower is running this can cause a lot of humidity. It’s unlikely that it is this, it’s just an example of an issue I have that may give you ideas as to why this is happening.  

Many artists use this method on purpose to prolong the use of the paint so it is a good place to look.

If you have used a retarder it will slow your drying time. It just means waiting longer until it dries. You don’t even have to use a specific retarder, it may be in something else that you have used. Even the paint itself may have it. Check everything you have used.

If you apply the paint very thickly it takes longer for the paint to dry. Again it’s just a matter of waiting. Make sure it is fully dry and not just dry to the touch though as if you add another layer it may seal in the wet layer and cause peeling.

If you are painting in a cold room that will slow down the drying time of your paint. Pop your

  • Some acrylic paints on the market are designed to stay wet.
  • M.Graham & Co paints stay workable for much longer.
  • Interactive artists’ acrylic, for example, is designed to stay wetter longer and to be rewetted which gives a  much longer working time than normal acrylic. 
  • Golden open acrylics also stay wet for much longer:

If you were given them as a gift or bought them secondhand you might not realize this as it doesn’t say on the tubes.

If you have sealed your canvas really well that can help to increase drying time. Although this is not a problem itself it is worth knowing.

If you have painted a thick layer of acrylic and it hasn’t dried properly then you paint thin layers on top of that which can slow down the drying time of the paint below as a thin layer of paint dries faster than a thick layer with a film of paint and locks in moisture. Your paint may look dry and feel dry to the touch but takes longer to dry fully.

How Long Does It Take For Acrylic Paint To Dry?

To know if your paint is really not drying or if you are just expecting it to dry too quickly you need to know the drying times of your paints and what affects it. This varies from brand to brand and if you are using student or professional artist quality paints.

The cheaper paints dry faster than the better quality ones. Student paints tend to also dry faster.

Better quality and specialist paints give you more time to paint.

It’s very difficult to give specific times because as you saw above there are lots of things that can affect your paint drying time. 

Each brand has a drying time under neutral conditions.

How Long Does It Take for Acrylic Paint to Dry? 

For you to know if your paints aren’t drying you need to know how long it actually takes them to dry. Below are some examples.

Acrylic Paint Drying Times Examples

Student  Acrylic Paints Drying Times

  • System 3 (Daler Rowney) – approx 15 – 20 mins in my experience.
  • Galeria (Winsor & Newton) – 10 to 20 minutes if you paint thin layers. Up to an hour if you paint thickly.

Artist Quality Acrylic Paints Drying Times

  • M.Graham & Co say that their paints stay workable for up to an hour. Source
  • Professional Acrylic paints by Winsor & Newton – These take from 20 to 30 minutes for thinner paint and between 1 -2 hours for thicker paints. Source

Specialist Acrylic Paints Drying Times

  • Interactive artists acrylic – These take about 30 minutes to dry in 20C heat and dry conditions if used in the normal way. They are much more flexible than your standard paints. You can extend the drying time and these are the ones you can wet and continue to paint. Which is why I got them. Source  
  • Golden open acrylics also stay wet for much longer: You can work with them for about 1 hour and you can rework & rewet them for hours more. Source 

I appreciate everyone has access to different paint brands depending on where they are lifting. It’s impossible to include all of them so I have included popular brands as examples. These should give you a good idea of the general differences and what to look for.  

How To Make Your Acrylic Paint Dry Faster

If you take the reasons for them drying slowly you can easily reverse this problem.

If you have a humid environment and this is slowing drying times for your paint you need to remove the humidity or remove the painting to a less humid dry and warmer room. This way your painting will dry faster. Personally, I would keep the humidity while painting and then remove the painting afterward because having longer working times with acrylics is bliss.

If you have used too much paint retarder you just have to wait for it to dry I am afraid. If your paint is flat because of this you can add acrylic gloss to freshen it up a bit. Re-check your usage instructions for future paintings.

Again, if you have painted a thick layer and it is taking longer to dry you just have to wait for it to dry. Pop your painting in a warm room. 

You can paint thinner layers or get a faster-drying paint in the future. (This shouldn’t be necessary with acrylics as they tend to dry quickly anyway).

If you are in a cold room, perhaps you can move to a warmer room or heat the room you are in. This will speed up drying times. Be careful not to overdo it though as you will then find your paints dry out too quickly.  

The easiest and best way to sort out most of your problems with your paints not drying is to keep the painting in a warm dry location. Although keep them out of direct sunlight. 

I have seen some very innovative ideas on speeding up nondrying paint. Ideally, you should not need to do more than is discussed here as (most) acrylics are designed to dry quickly anyway. A few changes should help solve your problem. 

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