Why would an artist want to use acrylic paints over the other painting options available to them? Many artists do choose acrylics as their preferred method of painting. There are many different reasons for this.
There are many reasons artists prefer to use acrylics. This can be because they are easier to use, more cost-effective, and versatile. They are also more user friendly than other painting options.
Below I have shared reasons why artists from beginner to pro use acrylic paint rather than oil or watercolor. While not all artists will have all reasons it is very likely that there will be several of them for this choice over the others. I have also included many of my own reasons why I think acrylics are my preferred choice over oils especially. Although, I do also use watercolors and pastels. In truth, each painting option has its advantages and drawbacks. It’s just which you prefer personally that counts.
31 Reasons Why Artists Prefer To Use Acrylic Paint
Acrylic Paint Dries Much Faster The Oil
Acrylics dry a lot quicker than oils or alkyd oils. This can be a major advantage when painting. It means you don’t have to leave your art for days or even weeks between layers. You can go back to it even as little as ½ hour later and continue.
If you are learning it means you can see a piece through quickly and see the results. Learn faster and feel you have achieved something. Even if you have made some bad mistakes the learning process is quicker.
It’s perfect for many professional artists too as they can organize their work times better, finish commissions faster, do demos on location, etc.
Extend Working Times For Acrylics
It’s easy to add a bit of retarder or slow drying medium to extend your drying times for acrylics, given them even more flexibility to work with. This means you have much longer when you want or need it but overall have fast drying times. Yes, there are mediums you can mix with oils as well for this. But overall you are already working with much longer drying times.
Acrylics Are Easier To Use Than Watercolor Paint
Watercolor is known for being the most difficult paint to use and to get right. Therefore when learning people often shy away from them and opt for the much more user-friendly acrylic paints.
Watercolor is the reverse of acrylics working from light to dark instead of from dark to light. This means relearning everything if you have transferred from oils.
It is much harder to correct mistakes and more unforgiving of them in general. Controlling your water is much harder with watercolor than acrylics. With acrylics, you can either remove or paint over your mistakes which are not so easy to do with watercolors.
Turpentine or Mineral Spirits Are Not Needed
This is a major advantage of using acrylic paints – no turps or mineral spirits for mixing your paints or for thinning them or cleaning up afterward. You just need water or you can opt for a mixing medium if you prefer. Some artists say water deteriorates the paint too much.
There’s no smell, either or very little which is a huge bonus.
Acrylic Paint Can Be Mixed With Water
Like watercolor acrylics can be mixed with water. This is more economical and makes them much more user friendly than oils that need lots of mediums to mix.
You can use mediums with acrylics and some artists recommend that you do use them rather than using water but you don’t have to. Even if you use mediums they do not usually smell and are a lot easier to work with and clean up afterward.
Acrylic Paints Are Economical to Buy and Use
You can set up with acrylic paint basics for very little money. Acrylic paints are not as expensive to set up or replace as oils as they do not need as much equipment to get started. They are also cheaper than watercolor because you can’t get away with cheaper brushes with watercolor and that can skyrocket your costs straight away. Also watercolor paper is a tad on the pricey side.
This article covers acrylic expenses for costing on setting up.
Acrylics are also economical to use because you can keep them fresh although you do need to invest in some form of keep wet palette, either brought or made.
Easy To Clean Up After You Have Finished Painting
One of the great advantages of acrylic is they are so much easier to clean up after you have finished painting. Whether it be the painting itself, the containers, or the brushes. All are much easier to clean and put away.
It’s Easy to Clean Your Paint Brushes – Yay
This is one I always struggled with when using oils. Getting the brushes clean. It didn’t matter what I did, it took ages, stank, and never seemed to clean them properly. If you haven’t used oil but have ever painted skirting or door with high gloss paint and tried to clean it, it felt a bit like that.
Because of this, I haven’t used them in years. There are alternatives you can use now that are odorless like Safflower oil but it’s still time-consuming and messy.
Acrylics are a dream to clean compared to this. I just rinse off my brushes in water to get out most of the pigment. Then wash them under a faucet (tap) using soap. Make sure they are running clear and clean then leave them to dry. Fluffy blender/mop brushes I wipe so they dry faster.
They Are Flexible And Can Be Used On Many Surfaces
Acrylics are very versatile to use and you can paint on many different types of surfaces. They can be used on everything from canvas to clothes, to paper to wood. Some surfaces are better to use acrylic paint specially designed for them like glass.
Artists Use Them Under Oil For A Quick Base
Some artists prefer to paint in oils but like to use acrylic paints for their base coats because they are easy to use and quick to dry. This speeds up the time they have to paint with oils.
They use them for blocking in the large blocks of color or tones. Professional artists will often do this, even when their preferred medium to paint with, is oils.
They Don’t Smell Like Oils Do
Oil paints and oil mediums smell. This means they are not user friendly for many people. It may be OK if you have a special room or studio area where you can paint and shut off the smell but if you live in a small home it can be very overpowering.
There are ways to reduce the smell of oils by using alkyd oil and alternative mediums. Acrylic paints barely smell at all. Some artists would say not at all, but I can smell them – just. This makes acrylic paints much more pleasant to use than oils. Especially if you work in a small area.
There Are Less Chemical Effects While Painting
While there are alternatives to what chemicals are used with oils they do traditionally stink when you use them. There are lots of chemicals used with oils that are not that user friendly for many people. Acrylics do not need any chemicals to paint with only water. And the mediums that you can use do not usually smell. This makes them much more user friendly than oils all around.
Acrylic Painting Is Easy To Learn And Use
Acrylics are easy to learn and to use. They are much easier than either oils or watercolors to learn.
They are so forgiving and because they are much easier to use than especially watercolor which is quite complex with how much water you use and how long it soaks into the paper, etc.
They Are Very Forgiving of Mistakes
Acrylics are very forgiving of mistakes, unlike watercolor. This is because you can either easily remove a mistake or paint over it. Watercolor is much harder to correct because it is delicate and harder to paint over or remove any mistakes than acrylic.
Acrylics Can Be Used In A Small Area
You don’t need a huge studio and lots of equipment to set up with acrylic paints. This means you can work in a very small area. Although some ventilation is needed. So you can set up on a corner of a kitchen table, part of your lounge (although be careful if you have carpets as they are a nightmare to get off.
Acrylics Can Mimic Either Watercolor or Oils
Provided you get good quality paints you can mimic either watercolor or oils you can thin down acrylic paints to make them act like watercolors. They have either limits though. So if you want to do this you might be better off buying the liquid paint to start with.
But this versatility to act like different mediums has a huge appeal to many artists. This can be because they like the flexibility. Only having one set of paints is better on storage space and your budget.
Acrylic Artists Can Learn From Oil Painters
It’s easy to learn acrylic painting for oil painters as you can transfer the skills from oil to acrylic. This means you have a large range of online teachers to choose from and you are not limited to only acrylic tutors if you prefer some of the artwork of oil painters.
For example, I wanted to improve my big cat artwork. I learn from Jason Morgan, a popular wildlife artist with 20 years of experience. He prefers oils. I can learn from him while still using acrylics.
It’s Easy To Transfer To Acrylics
If you are an artist that uses either oil or watercolor you can learn to paint with acrylics. It does require some adapting and not everyone will be happy with that, but if you know either of these painting methods you can transfer to acrylic painting without starting from scratch.
Fat Over Lean Layers Are Not Needed
Acrylics are more flexible in the way they are used. Unlike oils, you don’t have to do fat over lean layers to build up your layers. You can simply paint a thicker layer to start with if you want to.
This can mean faster build-up times for your layers and a lot less worrying whether you have got the thickness right or not which puts a lot of people off oils.
You still have to be aware of the drying times as an under layer dried slower than a top layer can cause cracking.
Many acrylic painters do still prefer to layer like oils and use similar techniques.
Pigments Are Often Transparent or Semitransparent
Even though they are man-made, basically plastic, acrylic paint pigments are still mostly transparent or semi-transparent which means they look great painted in layers for similar effects as oils.
The Paints Drying Times Can Be Sped Up
While the fast drying times of acrylic paints do not suit all artists they are a major advantage for many artists. You don’t have to wait days between layers, unlike traditional oils. This means fewer gaps between painting sessions of a particular painting. It also means with smaller living spaces that you can easily clean up and store your painting out of the way between sessions rather than have to leave it out to dry.
I have found as well that quickly drying times mean less likelihood of getting cat fur in the art!
The Colors Are Very Vibrant
Artists are drawn to the vibrancy of the colors with acrylics. You can paint quite boldly quite quickly with acrylics. Even the cheaper student paint has very bright bold colors. This can create strong vibrant paintings regardless of what you want to paint. They are particularly good for fantasy pieces or strong bright landscapes when used this way.
Acrylics Are Lightfast
Like oils, acrylic colors last longer than watercolors. They are less prone to fading or discoloration over time than watercolors. This makes them a popular choice for artists who want to sell their work. Oils tend to fetch a higher price than watercolor due to the time they last. This can also apply to acrylics.
You Need Less Equipment To Paint with Acrylic Paints
Acrylic painting needs a lot less equipment than oils and about the same as watercolors and a lot less specialist equipment. This makes it popular for many different reasons from storage to cost, to using the paints to transporting them.
All you need is some canvas or acrylic paper, some brushes, water, kitchen towels and the paints of course. This is a major advantage in several areas many mentioned here such as cost and storage for example.
Acrylics Are Easy To Store
I find acrylic paints are easy to store between sessions. You just need an airtight container to keep used paint in. And because they don’t smell they can stay in the same room that you use for other things or even go in the fridge to keep them cool.
The unused paint still in the tubes doesn’t take up much room either unless you are a paint buying fiend that insists on every color in its tube. In which case you will have upwards of 100 tubes of paint to store.
I have mine in a small tabletop 5 drawer plastic tower unit. I read somewhere that you are supposed to store them in an airtight container – oops! I never have. They last for ages. The only issue I have had is when the lids break and air get’s in.
Acrylic Paints Are Easy To Transport
While not as easy to transport and use outside as watercolors they are much easier than oils because you do not need to have so much equipment. You can buy some small types of paint, a small easel, a pallet you can seal and an acrylic pad and a kitchen roll and off you go. All you need is water or a small container of mixing medium.
The Drying Times Can Be Extended
Artists like acrylics for their short drying times but they also like them because their drying times can be extended if needed. Or you can buy acrylics with longer drying times. They are still way shorter than oils which is an advantage for most artists.
They Are More Permanent Than Watercolors
Acrylic paints are far more permanent than watercolors. That is once you have painted them the picture lasts much longer without fading or going a funny color. For a professional artist, this usually means a better commission as oils and acrylic paintings are usually worth more than watercolor.
Acrylic Paints Are Water And Not Oil Based
The fact that acrylic paints are water-based and do not need all the mediums and chemicals oils do (note though oils can have substitutes for some chemicals which make them more user friendly. They also have water-based options) is a huge attraction for many artists.
The advantages of this are mentioned in this article. It makes everything from their use, storing them, to cleaning that much easier than oils. Their convenience is a major factor for many artists.
Professional Artists Use Acrylic Paint
While there is still some snobbery around the use of acrylic paint many professionals are using them in increasing numbers. Like anything, of course, some pros just don’t like to use them for different reasons. Acrylics don’t suit their painting style or don’t stay workable for long enough, etc.
But for many pros, the convenience and drying time is a factor in their attraction. In the faster world, we live in today the turnover of painting is faster especially in the commercial world.
Acrylics Suit Your Painting Style
For some artists, it is about painting style. They use acrylics because they suit their style of working, their process better than oils or watercolors. Some artists prefer to use acrylic pour while others prefer to use the heavy-bodied acrylics for impasto effects.
There are acrylics that range from ink right up to impasto. These are perfect for a range of art styles and needs of different artists.
They are just so flexible and adaptive that is why they are so popular.
A Final Note
There are lots of reasons to use acrylics to paint with. There may be others I haven’t even thought of nor mentioned here.
If you come from either oil, pastels or watercolor there are some adaptations needed as things work differently for each one. However, many of the skills transfer across from one to the other so at least you are not starting from scratch.
Some people love to stay with one type of paint because it suits their needs perfectly and enhances what they want to paint or gives a unique feel to their art.
There is nothing quite like watercolor for flowers or oils to mimic the old masters (although acrylic can do it as well).
Others prefer to use different paints for different things or just like a change. Some artists prefer to combine them.
Some artists like myself for instance find they prefer to paint with what they are using at the time whether that be oil, pastel, watercolor or acrylic.
I do love acrylic but I am terrible at keeping with one type of art martial and one subject. I like to explore.
Don’t be afraid to use acrylic paints. At the end of the day no matter what others’ reasons are for choosing acrylics over the others, it’s your reasons that count.
Have fun, enjoy playing with them and make art!