Acrylics dry quickly, sometimes too quickly. When that happens there are ways to slow down their drying time and make your paint stay wet longer.
There are many ways to slow down the drying time of acrylic paint. These include paint, water, and equipment. Below there are 10 ways to slow down the time your acrylic paint dries so that you have longer to work on your painting.
One of the major issues I had when learning acrylic paint techniques was the speed it dried. The tutor would show a technique like how to create clouds. I would try to copy it. But the paint always dried before I could finish it. I did one piece 12 times.
This was partly because I didn’t know the technique and was slow and partly because I was using normal acrylic paints. The paints and additions that were specially designed for the techniques they used made a huge difference. At the time they were not readily available in my country. Here is what I learned below.
How to Make Acrylic Paint Stay Wet Longer & Stop it from Drying Out Too Fast
There are several ways to make acrylic paint stay wet longer.
There are three parts to this. The paint you are working with on your canvas and the paint that is in your palette and the area you work in.
1. Use an Extender/Retarder
You can also buy extenders that are designed to lengthen the time you can paint before the paint dries. These are the go-to method for most people. These are well worth getting. However, there are lots of other methods that you use in combination or apart from extenders.
I found extenders to be a lifesaver when it comes to things like clouds when you need soft edges.
Don’t add too much though as it can reduce the quality of the paint.
I recommend that you get the extender brand that goes with your paint brand if at all possible. If not get a good quality one.
2. Use a Stay Wet Palette
One of the best ways you can use to keep you paint wet for longer is to use a stay wet palette.
A stay wet pallet is designed to keep your acrylic paints moist. It does this by adding a layer of water under the paint. So you have a tray, reservoir paper, the water, then a membrane where you place your paints.
You can get stay wet pallets from Amazon or art stores online and offline.
I have the large Rowney stay wet palette. I got it when I didn’t know any different. Just that you needed one. For most watercolor, the smaller palette will work fine. It depends on how you work.
There are also lots of alternatives if this one isn’t for you.
You can get smaller travel stay wet pallets if you like to paint outside. Vital when you work in changing weather conditions and circulating air which can dry out your paint much faster.
Advantages of a Stay Wet Pallet
- You can work for longer periods before the paint dries.
- It reduces the need to work quickly.
- It helps with blending as it gives you longer to work.
Disadvantages of a Stay Wet Pallet
- One of the major disadvantages of using a sty wet palette is having to keep getting new inserts. This can easily be costly. For those of you on a budget, you might like to try the DIY Stay Wet Palette alternatives.
3. Or DIY Stay Wet Palette
If you are on a tight budget you can make your own stay wet palette. I admit this didn’t even occur to me until I was studying with Art Apprentice Online. They suggested this. At the time I was sort of doing that. I had greaseproof paper in my tray. But this gives you lots of choices.
You will need:
- An airtight plastic container with a lid. It needs to be large enough to hold your paints.
- The stronger paper towels like those you use to dry your hands at some places. (I used kitchen paper as couldn’t get they but it’s not ideal).
This method is mostly for keeping your paint long term. You can pop the lid back on and put your paint in the fridge to keep for later.
You will need:
- Either a shallow wide plastic container or a plate.
- Paper towels
Simply wet the paper towels until they are damp but not sopping wet. Place your paints on them until you are ready to use.
4. Three Ways to Humidity
Humidity helps to keep the paint wet much longer. The higher the humidity the longer you have to work.
- If the air is really dry you can spray it to moisten it.
I have done this many times when painting in the summer. If you live in a humid environment you will not need this technique.
- You can also spray your paint with water to moisten them. You have to be careful as adding water dilutes them and weakens them if you add too much. Use a fine spray mist rather than a heavy spay to limit the amount of water added at any one time.
- You can also use a humidifier to create more moisture in the air if this is a particularly lengthy problem for you.
5. Control Your Air Flow
Airflow helps to dry out your paints. You need to control this where possible. Make sure that you don’t have any fans either overhead or aimed across your work area. As these will speed up your paint drying times.
If it is hot weather don’t open the doors to allow airflow as that can have the same effect.
6. Temperature Variance
Temperature also makes a huge difference in how long your paints take to dry. If it is too cold they will dry much more slowly. If it is too hot they will dry more quickly.
I had difficulty with this in the summer when the paint dried almost instantly. In extremely hot, dry weather with the door open for airflow lol. It drove me to distraction. That’s what made me research all this in the first place. And its how I found out about the alternative mentioned in the last section.
While some people quote temperatures these are for guidance only. This is because it depends on the humidity for where you work and the brand of paint that you use as well. So it will vary. Cooler temperatures are better for longer drying times (but not below 9C, 48F). With higher humidity.
7. Painting Surface Makes a Difference
What surface you paint on can also make a difference to your paints drying time. more absorbent surfaces will make your paint dry faster. If you use a canvas you can seal the surface. This increases your paints time staying wet.
8. The Painting Back
I read that you can also dampen your painting back if you are using canvas. (Source). I haven’t tried this method but it came from Golden. If anyone should know they should.
9. Best Acrylic Paint to Use for Longer Drying Times
One easy way to increase your drying time is to change your paint.
The paint you buy makes a big difference in the drying time. I find that students paint dry faster and cheaper paint dries even faster. Artists quality lasts longer. You can also buy specialist paint. Some of these are designed to last longer and are designed for longer blending times even before you add an extender. Deco Art Traditions Acrylic paints are available in the US and UK. Although be careful where you get them as they are a tad pricy in the UK in some places.
I am a big fan of System 3 paints. But, I have to admit that when I switched to artist quality it was clear the System 3 did dry out faster. I also had some cheaper ones and they were even worse.
The one many artists recommend is Golden. This is an artist quality acrylic paint and has a longer drying time than many of the others. If you then combine with this extender it makes your painting time more leisurely and less frantic. Golden Open Acrylics are wet for up to an hour and can be worked for 1-3 hours. (Source)
For a different choice of paint that shatters the drying time problems see the next section. It is amazing.
10. Exciting Ground Breaking Acrylic Paint Alternative
After having said all that I found a solution that saved me worrying about all this. There is now acrylic paint on the market that is designed to stay wet longer. You rewet it so that you can continue to paint with it. I got this paint. Yay! Problem solved.
This is a really exciting paint. It means you can paint without the usual worry of it drying out. You do need to use their add-on products for it to work fully. But other than that just spray with water.
These are the Atelier Interactive Acrylic Paints. If you are having difficulty I’d recommend these.
You cannot mix them with your usual paint if you want to use the full effects.
Please note that Golden Open Acrylics can also be rewetted after many hours.