top of page

Acrylic Painting Materials Made Easy

INTRODUCTION If you’ve ever browsed through an art store, you’ll know there’s an absolutely overwhelming amount of materials to choose from.

Even when you’re sticking to just one medium, like acrylics, you’re faced with hundreds of different colours, dozens of brushes, a plethora of surfaces and a smorgasbord of “essential” extras.

It’s enough to put the newcomer off before they start and it’s little wonder the more experienced artist is often drowning in a sea of barely-opened paint tubes.

If you’re a newcomer, you need to start with a very limited range of materials.

If you’ve been painting for a while, but you’re frustrated by your results, you need to get back to that very limited range of materials.


Because the more materials you own, the more thinly spread your skill with each of them becomes. Or put another way...

You’ll produce more accomplished-looking artwork by mastering a few key pieces of equipment than you will by dabbling with dozens.

You’ll get quicker ‘wins’ and that builds your confidence and that means you’ll stick at it with more enthusiasm.

And besides, a small number of wise choices will give you all you need to paint virtually all the subjects and styles you’ll ever want to.

This guide shows you what that choice should be (at least in my experience). It will save you time spending hours deliberating over what you need and what you don’t need.

It will stop you from spending money on equipment you simply won’t get value from. It’s not a comprehensive guide to acrylic painting equipment. You don’t need that to paint beautiful acrylics. It’s short and to the point so you can spend less time reading and more time painting!



Here are the 8 colours I recommend starting with.

There’s a cool and warm version of each of the primaries (red, blue and yellow) and there’s a couple of earthy browns.

You can mix hundreds (thousands!) of variations from this limited selection.

•Ultramarine Blue •Pthalo Blue (Green Shade) or Prussian Blue or Monestial Blue •Cadmium Red or Vermillion or Scarlet Lake •Alizarin Crimson or Permanent Rose or Quinacridone Rose •Yellow Ochre or Raw Sienna •Lemon Yellow or Hansa Yellow •Burnt Sienna or Burnt Umber or Raw Umber •Titanium White

See the section on brands below for advice on buying a set or individual colours.

Artist Quality or Student Quality?

Unlike watercolour paints, where there is still a clear definition between students and artists quality, the division with acrylics is somewhat more blurred, with less emphasis on 'student' and 'professional' terms and more on the viscosity (thickness) of the paint.

Go with more fluid quality when you’re starting out - such as Winsor & Newton’s Galeria range, or Daler Rowney's System 3, are excellent.

Heady Body or Fluid Acrylics?

Heavy body acrylics are thick and buttery and are designed to replicate the feel of traditional oils paints. You can create thicker ‘impasto’ layers, where the brush strokes are obvious, with heavy body acrylics.

Fluid acrylics are more watery in their viscosity (the pigment isn’t watered down). They are useful for painting in a watercolour style or for fine detail.

Certain brands and ranges are more heavy body than others For example, Golden and Liquitex make a really heavy-bodied range and they tend to be at the higher end of the price range.

Brands to Look Out For

Some good all-rounder, more affordable ranges include:

• Winsor & Newton Galeria

• Daler-Rowney System 3 • Liquitex Basics

With Winsor & Newton, go for individual tubes of the colours listed above. Daler-Rowney and Liquitex do nice introduction sets of 10-12 colours that are really affordable.


Mediums and additives are products that can be mixed with acrylic paint to change its properties.

Mediums contain binder so you can mix them with your acrylic paint more freely. Additives don’t contain binder so adding too much will interfere with the adhesive properties of the paint.

There are lots of these products on the market and it’s where acrylic painting can become confusing. For newcomers, there is only one medium I recommend you start with...

Slow Drying or Retarding Medium

One of the big disadvantages of acrylics vs oils is how quickly it dries. This makes it difficult to get soft, smooth blends on the paint surface.

Retarder slows down the drying time of acrylic paint. Using too much can interfere with the pigment and binding properties of the paint so stick to the ratios listed on the product.

Winsor & Newton’s Galeria Retarder is an affordable student version.

Other Mediums to Know About

You don’t need these to get started but you might want to experiment with them.

Flow Improver - you can’t water down acrylic paint too much with water (for when you want to cover larger areas or painting in a watercolour style) as it can prevent the paint from adhering to the surface properly, and weaken the colour. Use flow improver instead.

Glazing Medium -

increases the transparency of the paint without weakening it, so you

can add thin glazes of colour over the top of your painting.

Gloss Medium -

this increases the natural shine of acrylic paints.

Matte Medium -

this does the opposite of gloss medium giving a more matte finish to your paintings.

Gel Medium -

this thickens acrylic paint for more impasto (really thick layers where brushstrokes are visible and obvious).

Texture Gels and Modelling Pastes -

you can add all kinds of material (such as sand and glass beads) into acrylic paints for three-dimensional effects. These are used more for collage rather than traditional fine art.


Here are the brushes I recommend. The size numbers on round and filbert brushes vary considerably between manufacturers so don’t obsess over the numbers I’ve listed below.

  • 1.5 inch DIY brush - the kind of brush you’d paint a door frame with. Go for a better quality one at the DIY store as the really cheap ones shed a lot of hairs.

  • 1 inch and 0.5 inch flat brush

  • Number 4 and number 8 filbert brush

  • Number 8 round brush

  • Number 1 rigger brush

  • An assorted set of painting / palette knives (a really cheap set is fine to begin with and the plastic varieties cost very little)

Bristle (Hogs Hair) or Synthetic (Nylon)?

Go for synthetic (nylon). They’re more resilient and almost as good as bristle brushes. You can use the same set of brushes for acrylic and oil painting to begin with, as long as you clean them thoroughly.

Brands to Look Out For

• Winsor & Newton Galeria range • Da Vinci Junior range • Liquitex Basics range • Princeton Series 5200 range • Daler-Rowney Sytem 3


The beauty of acrylics is that you can paint on virtually any surface that has been primed. While stretched canvas or canvas panels are a great surface on which to paint, they are more costly than many others. A pad of acrylic paper offers a good starting point and is a fair balance between user-friendliness and cost. The following are just a few of the items you could start with. Those marked with an asterisk would need priming before painting (see ‘Gesso Primer’ below):

  • Acrylic paper pad (approx. A3 size or 12 inchs x 16 inches)

  • Medium Density Fibreboard (MDF) / masonite / hardboard / chipboard / plywood*

  • Newspaper*

  • Craft or wrapping paper*

  • Watercolour paper * (but not when using diluted acrylics in a watercolour style)

  • Wall lining paper / reverse side of wallpaper *

  • Mountcard / matcard*

Gesso Primer

Gesso allows you to paint acrylics on to almost any surface you can think of. It’s like a more pigmented version of acrylic paint (usually white) and effectively seals the surface below.

Don’t worry about the brand, any gesso will do.


A stay-wet palette, either bought or home made, is essential for acrylic painting.

The shop-bought versions tend to be over-priced for what they are - a plastic tray with a layer of sponge and a sheet of semi- porous acrylic membrane sheets.

You can easily make your own as follows:


• Greaseproof or baking paper • White plastic shallow tray or a plain white dinner plate

• Kitchen paper towel • Water

Step 1 - Cut or tear the greaseproof paper so it fits the plate or tray. Take two or three sheets of kitchen towel and place on the plate so it covers as much as possible of it.

Step 2 - Add the water to the kitchen paper so it becomes wet, but not completely flooded.

Step 3 - Place the greaseproof paper on top of the kitchen paper and smooth down.

Step 4 - Add your paints to the palette in your preferred layout.

White greaseproof paper allows you to judge your colours as they come out of the tube. Brown baking paper can be helpful if you pre-paint your painting surface with a pale tint to create a mid-tone base colour, as it replicates this quite well. Use whatever works best for you.

If you need to keep your paints moist to continue a painting session the following day, carefully lift the greaseproof paper and add a little more water to the kitchen towels. Then stretch cling film across the plate and store in a cool place.


Here are a few other items that are useful for painting with acrylics:

Atomizer (water spray bottle)

- to periodically spray lightly over the paints on the acrylic palette. Jars of water

- to clean brushes. Kitchen paper and old cloths

- to keep your workspace and brushes clean.

Flat dish or tray filled with water

- to rest brushes in between use (leaving brushes upright in a jar will damage the bristles. Easel

- this can be quite a big investment, both in space and financially. Portable easels are relatively affordable and fold away neatly. To start with though, you can work flat or on an inclined wooden board.



• UltramarineBlue • PthaloBlue(GreenShade)orPrussianBlueorMonestialBlue • CadmiumRedorVermillionorScarletLake • AlizarinCrimsonorPermanentRoseorQuinacridoneRose • Yellow Ochre or Raw Sienna • LemonYelloworHansaYellow • BurntSiennaorBurntUmberorRawUmber • TitaniumWhite Or get a set with 8-12 similar colours to the above. Student/fluid quality to start with.


• Acrylic slow drying / retarder medium


• 1.5inchDIYbrush • 1inchand0.5inchflatbrush • Number4andnumber8filbertbrush • Number8roundbrush • Number1riggerbrush • Paintingknife(plasticisfine)


• A pad of acrylic paper or watercolour paper is the easiest place to start. • A tub of white gesso is worth investing in as well as you can use it on all kinds of surfaces you’ll have around the house (such as card and cardboard).


• Either a shop-bought stay wet palette or make your own.

Other Items (if you don’t have them already)

• Atomizer • Kitchen paper


The suggestions below are based on either my own experience and/or the experiences we hear about from the artists we work with and ArtTutor members.

We don’t have any affiliation with any art supplies company. The links below are not affiliate links (i.e. we don’t get any commission if you buy from these stores):

North America

DickBlick DickBlick has a fantastic range of art materials at very competitive prices. You’ll find almost anything you need here.

Amazon You won’t find quite the same level of specialism and choice as you will with Ken Bromley but you can’t beat Amazon for shipping times and costs.

21 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All
bottom of page