Does Acrylic Paint Dry Fast

When you want to take up acrylic painting it’s common to ask how quickly it dries. Most people want to know if acrylics dry really quickly or if they dry slowly. At first, this may seem like a straightforward question but there is a little more to the answer as not all acrylic paints dry at the same speed. I have found that the brand used and the environment you paint in plays a large role in how quickly acrylic paints dry in practical use rather than laboratory conditions. There are some general guidelines you can use so you know which paint is right for you.

Acrylic paint dries really fast. Some student ranges like Galeria start to dry after only 10 minutes. Professional ranges start to dry in 20-30 minutes. Each brand is different. There are specialist acrylic paints like Golden Open that can be worked longer and Atelier that can be rewetted for longer periods of working time.

It’s important for an artist to have guidelines as to how long their paints take to dry. There is no right or wrong paint where this is concerned. What paint suits one artist won’t suit another. When choosing your paint you need to consider things like painting speed, style, and where you work. Below I have gone over the standard drying times of some of the popular brands.

Does Acrylic Paint Dry Fast?

Acrylic paint does dry quickly. It dries a lot faster than oil paints which is one reason why many artists prefer it. It is one of the main reasons I transferred to acrylic from oils. Unfortunately, many people then have the issue of the drying times of acrylics being too fast for them to work. Us artists are so picky lol.

But all joking aside how long it takes for your paint to dry is very important. Fast-drying times are perfect for modern life. We don’t want to wait too long for our paint to dry because we have other things to do, we need the space for something else, or we need to finish the work for a friend or client. 

On the other hand we want the paint drying times to be slow enough for us to complete our creative vision.

While acrylic paints drying times do vary, the fastest times are about 10 minutes while the slowest drying times are a couple of hours. They are all much faster than that of oil.

As a general rule, I have found that student acrylics dry faster than artists or professional ones. Although this is not always the case. Which makes no sense to me whatsoever as a student is learning they will probably take longer than an experienced artist to do the same thing. Therefore they need more working time to complete the task. But no, you have to pay more for better paint and better paint can mean a longer working time. But not that much longer in most cases and not always.

I know when I was learning to paint clouds I did one painting 12 times because I couldn’t get the soft edges. The paint dried before I could fluff them out. All I can say is thank goodness for the extender.

What Do We Mean By Dry Acrylic Paint? 

Here I think we have to define what is meant by dry because in acrylics it can mean several different things. 

The paint working stages and stages of drying.

  • Paints can be wet. They are workable.
  • They can be wet but no longer workable. Often they are tacky or drag.
  • Skin dry. For example, the paint has formed a skin over the top but is not dry underneath. This is very important to know as sealing the paint wet into your work can prevent it from drying.
  • The paint is dry to the touch.
  • Your work is dry to paint over. 
  • They can be completely dry. This means you can now varnish your work.
  • If you are talking about the newer Atelier range of acrylic paint, it can be dry enough to rewet to work on which is about a day or dry enough only to wet to remove can be weeks or months.

Don’t get hung up on this though. As it varies for everyone. You will soon know how all this works for you and your painting with experience.

When we talk about acrylic paints it’s typically we want to know the following:

  • How fast they dry for painting the next layer. 
  • Do they dry too fast for us to work and what to do about it?
  • How fast they dry for varnishing.

Below at the bottom of the next paragraph I have put a table for which acrylic paints dry quickly for working times.

Why Does Acrylic Paint Dry Quickly?

Acrylic paints are designed to dry fast. Even the longer drying ones dry much faster than their oil counterparts. They are also water-based. This means the paint dries as the water evaporates. As the air circulates around the painting it whips the moisture away and the painting dries.

Heat has the same result. Added heat increases the speed at which the paint dries because heat holds more moisture than cooler air. 

Each brand of paint is designed to dry at different speeds. And sometimes as is the case with Golden Open and Atelier the paints are designed to act differently than most of the others.

This drying time is assuming you haven’t added anything like retarder to the paint to slow down the drying time.

How To Make Your Acrylic Paint Dry Faster

It’s easy to make acrylic paint dry faster. Although for most acrylic paints this is rarely necessary as they dry really quickly anyway. I believe it is best to let them dry naturally if possible. There are sometimes reasons why you might want to speed up their drying times. I’ve done it when I want to make sure the paint is dry before I start the next layer and can’t wait.

Typically, I just leave mine to dry and have a cup of tea or coffee but I make sure I pop my painting near to heat. For the winter I have open-topped radiators and it is safe to do that for a short time if I don’t cover the vents and keep an eye on them. Don’t put them anywhere where it is dangerous or can create a fire or blocks the vents though. Safest is just to put them near the front, they will still dry quickly. Also, too much heat can damage your painting and cause it to crack or bubble up.

For the summer it’s not usually necessary as it is so hot anyway. The other day I made myself a drink and took the painting outside and pointed it at the sun. By the time I’d finished my break, the sun had dried the painting and it was ready for the next layer. I’m not sure of the wisdom of this, but it worked fine for me. Again, too hot a heat can make your paint bubble so don’t leave your painting too long.
Any airflow like an electric fan, open door with a breeze or air conditioning, etc will speed up the drying times of your paint.

The Fastest Way To Dry Your Acrylic Paint

If you need to dry your painting even faster, this is the fastest way I know to dry your paint. I have seen painters on Youtube use a hairdryer to dry their work quickly. It only takes a minute or two. I have never tried this method but these are often professional artists and clearly do this a lot. This method is popular with acrylic pour artists. Don’t set your drying too high or get your painting too hot though or again it can damage it.

You have to be careful with doing all of the above as normal acrylic paints form a skin on the outside but are not yet dry on the inside. Another method to make sure your paints dry quickly is to do thin layers this way there is not so much paint to dry.

Some Acrylic Paint Dry Faster Than Others

The paint you use can also make a difference in your drying times. If you work quickly and always want your paint to dry quickly it would pay you to get a faster drying acrylic paint. I have a chart below with the drying times.  These include the name of the brand, the name of the paint, the speed of drying, etc. There is more information on some than others. But where possible I have gone to the source to get the information.

The list below is for the standard or heavy bodied acrylics. The others like the high flow, pouring and inks dry quickly as well.

BrandRangeDrying Speed/Open Time workable Fast Medium or SlowOther
Daler RowneySystem 3About 30 minutes for a thin layer longer for thickerFast
Daler RowneyCryla Professional Artists PaintBetween 5,10-20minsFast
LiquitexBasicsFastFast is all the info on the site so will be under 30 mins
MatisseTubed Acrylic SlowSeveral hours with 3-5% of retarder.
Winsor & NewtonGaleriaThin 10-20 mins Thick 1hr+Fast
Winsor & NewtonProfessional20-30 mins or 1-2hrsMedium
AtelierInteractiveCan rework all day by rewetting.It can be reopened with water or mediums for a longer period of time.
Golden Heavy-bodiedStart at 5 minutes  dry by 30Rapidly
GoldenOpenWet 30-60mins, Workable 1-3hrsSlowCan be reactivated for many hours (121hrs)
M Graham & CoAcrylicsUp to 1 hourMedium

Please note though that the paint drying times are their standard times. There are so many variations to working and an environment that can really change these times. In the summer, for example, I have had paint that has been sticky even before I’ve gotten the brush to the canvas. If you live somewhere with a humid, or cooler environment these times will be extended. But nearly all acrylic paints do dry quickly.  

If your paint is drying too fast you usually add a retarder to slow the drying time down. You can also use a stay wet palette to keep your paints usable for longer.

How You Can Tell If Your Acrylic Paint Is Dry

There are several ways you can tell if your acrylic paint is dry.

  1. I just lightly tap my finger on the painting after waiting a certain amount of time or using one of the above-mentioned drying methods. It doesn’t affect the artwork and if the painting is still tacky you can immediately tell. It feels and acts a bit like sticky velcro.
  2. I don’t use super thick paint so if it feels bone dry there’s little likelihood of this just being the top skin. You can paint over the top skin even if the paint isn’t fully dry. But this can cause issues if not done correctly so it’s best to wait. 
  3. If you have ever had a blob of paint on your pallet you can feel it squish down if it isn’t fully dry. If you paint thickly on the canvas you can tell in a similar way.
  4. If you don’t want to chance getting marks on your canvas you can put a similar layer of paint on a spare canvas and test that instead,
  5. You can also check the sheen of your paint. While many acrylic paints do have a sheen when dry the overall look between wet and dry paint is different. Wet paint looks wet and has more shine. While dry acrylics are either matt or they have a more satin look to them.
  6. If you do paint on your painting you will be able to feel the paint already on the canvas and it can still move or affect the new color if it isn’t completely dry. 

If you look at the image above you can clearly see which paint is wet and which is dry. The dry paint is much duller than the wet paint on my finger. Look at the way it reacts. The dry paint is not shiny or reflective. The wet paint looks smoother and stronger reflections. As acrylics dry quickly you will be able to see this effect in your painting as you work.

What Affects Acrylic Paint Drying Times?

There are lots of things that affect how fast your paint dries. If you need to look at these I have an article that goes into this so you can see why your paint might be drying slower than you would like or not as fast as you’d hoped.

When To Varnish Your Finished Painting

If you want to tell if your acrylic paint is dry enough to varnish as opposed to painting the next layer you need to wait longer. It’s best to stick to your brand’s recommended guidelines for this as it varies. 

Some people say leave 2-3 days. I’d say a week to two minimum before varnishing for safety with normal acrylics. 

Some of the newer acrylic paints dry much more slowly so they need longer to dry before varnishing your painting or placing it under glass.

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