How To Easily Keep Acrylic Paints Wet Longer

I love acrylic paints. They are great to work with, they are flexible and easy to use. They just dry too fast. Artists and manufacturers have had to find ways to keep our acrylic paints wetter for longer while painting, on the canvas itself, and overnight if we want to continue to paint. Over time I have found several easier ways to do this.

To keep your acrylic paint wet for longer when they are on palettes, canvas, and even overnight, you can use paints that are designed to stay wet longer to give you more working time, mediums to extend paint working times, and stay wet palettes that also keep paints wet longer.

Below I have covered all these areas and how you can maximize the length of time your acrylic paints stay wet and workable whether this is on the palette, on your canvas or when storing them for later use or overnight or even longer. By doing this you can greatly improve your paints use, save money and waste, and have a more enjoyable painting process.

Keep Your Acrylic Paint Wet For Longer on Palettes, Canvas, And Even Overnight

Anyone that has done any acrylic painting for even a short time will know that while one of the joys of painting is the short drying times of acrylics, it is also the bane of an acrylic painter’s life. Ironically the pants are designed for much shorter drying times than oils which is one of their appeals. Yet this very advantage can be very trying in itself.

While oil drying times are too long acrylic paints are too short which means they start drying quickly and are often unworkable not long after. Artists and manufacturers have found ways to extend how long the paints stay wet, and thus the workability of acrylics.

There are four places where you need to keep your acrylic paints wet so you can get the maximum use out of them before they either dry or become unworkable. Using some of the techniques discussed here can make a difference between your paint staying wet in as little as 5 minutes to staying wet for hours or even days.

  1. On the palette
  2. On your Canvas or other painting surfaces
  3. While storing used paint between painting sessions
  4. The paint dries out in the brush

What affects paint using times

  1. The type of paint you use
  2. Your environmental conditions
  3. The surface you are painting on

Each of these areas will be discussed in depth below along with what specific elements affect them and what you can do to either reduce this effect or prevent them.

Keep Your Acrylic Paints Wet On The Palette While Painting

Which Acrylic Paint You Use Makes a Big Difference To Working Times

Acrylic paint drying times vary a lot as mentioned in the painting on the canvas section of this article. If you use paints with a longer drying time you should stay wet for longer. 

You need to check the drying times of your brand. 

If you are having difficulties and you have a brand of paint that stays wet longer it is worth looking at the other reasons and solutions mentioned here for your paints not staying wet long enough.

If you have fast-drying paint it is worth either looking at getting paint with longer drying times or getting a medium to prolong the use of your paint. Or perhaps even both.

This article gives you some examples of different brands their paints and their drying times in a table.

Mediums You Can Add To The Acrylic Paints To Keep Them Wet Longer

Mediums are added to the paint, these also keep them wet longer while they are on the palette as well as while painting. This is particularly useful if you are using a dry palette rather than a wet one and paints that are not designed to stay wet very long. You don’t really need them for paints that stay wet for a longer dome anyway.

You need an acrylic medium that says it extends the working times. These are usually retarders or something that will slow the drying time of your paint.

The Environment Determines How Long Your Paint Stays Wet

Keep/Stay wet palettes reduce the environmental impact on your paints and keep them wet longer. If you are using a normal dry palette the conditions of your environment will make a much bigger difference to how quickly your paints dry out on your palette. You can help to counter this by using some of the suggestions in this article like keeping paints moist for example.

Palette Choice Makes a Big Difference in How Long Paint Stays Wet

There are lots of different options for the type of palette you use while painting with acrylics. But these boil down to two kinds: those that are dry and those that are wet.

  1. Dry Palettes
    Dry pallets are those like oil palettes, these are usually flat surfaces where you keep your acrylic paints. You will see lots of artists on YouTube use these while painting.
    While the type of surface your palette has may play a role in how long your paint stays wet, they are not usually designed for the purpose of prolonging the length of time your paint is wet.
  2. Keep/Stay Wet Palettes
    Stay wet palettes are a great way to keep your paint wet for longer while you work. These are specifically designed for the purpose of keeping acrylic paints wet. They consist of a container (not necessarily airtight), a lid, a surface to wet, and a semi-permeable membrane.
    You can work for much longer even keeping the paint wet for hours or even days sometimes if you use a stay wet or keep-wet palette. You can buy different types of stay wet palettes or you can make your own makeshift one. If you are having difficulty with acrylic drying times being too fast and want to keep your paint wet for longer, using one of these can make a huge difference to how you work.
My Stay Wet Palette

The above stay wet palette is mine. As you can see it is a bit old and battered. This is a large one. I find it too big. It takes up too much room on the painting surface. It does keep the paint wet for longer. I use it along with the mist bottle to keep paints wet.

Another example of a stay-wet palette is my makeshift one. This is actually a bacon container. I got it because it is very shallow and had a lid. This keeps my paints wet for ages. I’ve left them about for a week before and they’ve still been wet.

The main issue I have using this is I don’t always get the cut right for the inside film. This means I end up with soggy paints, lol.

Keep Your Acrylic Paints Moist While You Work

Regardless of palette choice if it’s worth spraying your paints while they are on the palette. This keeps them moist which keeps them workable and less sticky for longer. This is because the paints dry out over time as the water evaporates from them. When you spray them it gives them back their moisture and stops the skin from forming). Don’t overdo it though or you will end up watering them down too much. A quick spritz with a water bottle every so often should do it.   

Keep Your Acrylic Paint Wet On Your Canvas or Other Painting Surface

Which Paint Are You Using?

All the ins and outs of which paint you can use and why it is quite an in-depth subject. The paint you use makes a huge difference in how long it stays wet and is workable.

How long acrylic paint stays wet and workable varies a lot from paint to paint and brand to brand. It can be anywhere from 5 minutes to 2-3 hours depending on which brand you buy, the type of paint, and the quality. For example a basic paint, a student paint, professional or open.

Don’t assume though that more expensive paints mean your paint stays wet longer because that isn’t always the case. It’s something you will need to check when you decide on what brand you want to use.

If you have already bought paint with short drying times, don’t worry just check out the section on mediums that should sort it quickly and economically.

If you haven’t got paint yet or want to change your paint then you can either get ones with longer drying times or buy a medium like the one mentioned here. Or buy one of the more specialist acrylic paints like Atelier or Golden Open.

Atelier is a specialist acrylic paint that doesn’t skin over which means you can rework your painting for several hours by spraying it wet. You can also buy mediums to go with it that increase its effectiveness. I recommend that you do get the mediums as I have this paint and it’s not that effective (at least for me) without them. While this isn’t exactly keeping your paint wet it does allow you to rewet it to work which let’s face it is what you want. 

Golden Open is designed to stay wet and let you work for up to 3 hours. I only managed to get 1 hour out of it here though. My painting area is not a good location and dries out paint quickly. 

Use Painting Mediums To Keep Paint Wet Longer

Painting mediums are the main way I keep my paint workable for longer. I do this because many of my paints are not slow drying and I paint slowly. 

There are different ones you can use to prolong the wet time of your paint.

I use Golden Retarder. It is a ‘slow drying medium’ additive for slowing down the drying time of your acrylic paints. 

It works by slowing down the time it takes for the water to evaporate from your paint. The times mentioned are 2-3 hours. I have never had paint on the canvas stay wet that long – ever! Not with any method I have used or any type of paint. Some people have, it depends on so many conditions. It definitely does extend the working time and makes the paint slide better too.

I’m fairly sure manufacturers recommend that you use their mediums with their paints. I admit that I use this for any non-slow drying acrylic paints that I have for art regardless of brand. I have several brands due to trying them out for different uses and reviewing them.

The Painting Surface You Use Makes A Difference

The surface you paint on can make a huge difference in how quickly your work dries. In the past, I have used watercolor paper. I also use acrylic paper for samples. Both of these act similarly to each other(at least the ones I have, do). 

I find the paint soaks straight into the paper making blending or longer-term working difficult. You may need to take this into consideration when you are painting if you want longer working times. It may require more layers to start with or alternative methods of working.

Canvas is by far the most popular surface to work on. It gives good working times. But it does have its issues. 

If you buy the cheaper canvases the paint does soak in much faster as even though they say they have been gessoed it doesn’t feel like it. Try painting on a quality pre gessoed canvas without adding gesso and then a cheaper one the differences are noticeable. If the paint soaks into the canvas it will dry it and reduce how long the paint stays wet.

Either gesso the canvas or just be aware of the first layer or so will dry out faster than you might like. Or as an alternative use some of the other methods mentioned here to keep it wet longer.

Use Spray Bottles to Keep Your Paint Moist

My Sprayer Bottle

You can use a spray bottle to lightly spray the canvas front as you work. This helps stop the paint from drying or going sticky.

You have to be careful not to use too much or your paint will become too runny or run down the canvas. Use just enough to freshen it up a bit.

Do not use ordinary spray mist bottles that you would use for plants or freshen up your face, etc. They do not work very well. Believe me, I know I’ve tried it. The droplets are way too heavy. In the end, I conceded defeat and got a proper bottle.

You need a proper art spray bottle for spraying onto canvas. Even then you need to use it sparingly.   I have the Atelier fine mist water sprayer you can see here.

Spray The Canvas Before You Begin Painting

To help prolong the length of time you can paint on your canvas you can spray the surface of the canvas to stop the paint from evaporating as much. You have to stray the back of the canvas. This technique cannot be used on canvas boards.

Paint Thickly To Reduce Drying Times

The thinner your acrylic paint when you put it onto the canvas the faster it dries. This is something I particularly have trouble with as I tend to do fine layers rather than thicker ones. It really does make a difference. You don’t have to paint impasto but just be aware that very thin or diluted layers will give you a lot less time to work before they dry.

If you like to paint in the style of oils where you do thin under thick layers you need to work quickly. 

Your Paint Drying On Your Paint Brush

Your paints can also start to dry on your paintbrushes white you paint. To prevent this and if they are getting sticky it may be time to rinse them out and start again. Or if you are not using a brush and have not rinsed it keep it damp by wrapping it in something (it is better to clean it in my view but everyone works differently)

This way you are always using fresh wet paint rather than semi-dry paint.

Environment Effects Acrylic  Paint Drying Times

The environment plays a huge part in how long your paint stays wet and is workable. Temperature, humidity, airflow, and even elevation all play a part in how fast your paint dries. If you want to keep your paint wet longer and you think one of these elements is playing a part in drying them out you might like to see if you can find a way to change that. 

Paint in a cool room with minimum airflow. Try to avoid air conditioners or too dry a heat. 

Drying times due to environmental conditions is a whole issue in itself. I have created a whole article on what environment affects your paint and how to adapt it if you think this is an issue for you. You can find it here.

Keep Your Paint Wet Between Painting Sessions & Overnight

There are different things to think about here. These are whether you want to keep your acrylic paint from drying out overnight or to save them so you can reuse them. 

Essentially they are the same thing just for different amounts of time. However, some ways of storing your paints work better for longer periods than others. You may decide that you want to use a combination of the suggestions for the best results.

Use a Stay Wet Palette To Keep Your Acrylic Paint Wet For Longer

I use a stay-wet palette to keep my paints wet between painting sessions or overnight as well as for actual painting if I want to save them to use them later. 

Stay Wet Palette

I find a normal stay wet palette is great if you want to stop for a meal or to do something else and then start painting again or have an hour’s break, etc. But they can be a bit hit and miss as to whether they stay wet for longer or overnight.

This may depend on the palette as they are all designed differently. Some will work better than others at keeping your paint wet for longer periods of time. 

If you are leaving your paint out in your painting area the amount of water on the palette, the temperature of the room, and the thickness of the paints on the palette all play a part in how long they stay wet. 

I have had them stay wet until the next day and just recently several days. I was expecting them to be dry as I had just left them on the table, so I prodded one blob and was surprised they were still wet. 

Use An Airtight Container To Store Used Acrylic Paints For Longer

A great way to store your paints to keep them fresh is to keep them in an airtight container. It can be any safe plastic container that you can seal to make it airtight. Keep it for the sole purpose of storing your acrylic paints though once you have used them for that.

air tight container

I use a flat plastic rectangular container with a lid that’s meant to store bacon. It was the flattest one I could find. 

I then also use it as a ‘stay wet’ palette while painting. It’s much smaller than the other palette I use. One is too big and one is slightly too small for my use really. 

When stored this way acrylic paints can stay wet for days. If your container is airtight your paints may even stay wet indefinitely as some keep wet containers claim (I haven’t tried it).   Even if you are using this purely as a storage container for your paint I would use the same system as a stay-wet palette.

Use A Paint that You Can Re-use From Dry By Wetting

Atelier is an acrylic paint I know that does this. It is not stay-wet longer paint. However, even after drying you can spray the paint wet again and start to paint. I don’t think this would work very well on acrylic or watercolor paper. I’d stick to the canvas.

While this isn’t exactly keeping the paints wet it’s more rewetting them, usually when this is asked it is because someone wants to use their paints for a long time or not waste them. And this does that. I thought I’d included it for that reason. 

If you are going to do this and the paints are available where you live I would recommend getting the mediums & unlocking formula that goes with it. I have these paints and haven’t had that much success at rewetting them without them. I will get back to them at some point to explore them further.

Keep Your Paints In The Fridge To Store Them Longer

If you have your paints in an airtight or non-airtight container you can safely keep them in the fridge provided they won’t contaminate anything. This keeps them cool and keeps them workable for much longer. 

Note you might not need to do this with an airtight container.

Do not however freeze your paints as this damages them.

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