Acrylic Painting Techniques

The acrylic painting medium is a fairly new addition to the various painting mediums available to todays artists. It has been around since the 1950’s and has been continually under development and refinement ever since.

Acrylic paint is highly favored amongst artists because of its wonderful versatility. It can be applied thickly as an impasto having rich texture or in washes mimicking the characteristics of watercolor.

Another likable characteristic of acrylic paint is its permanence. Acrylic paint is not susceptible to yellowing or hardening with age. With acrylic paint, the artist does not need to be concerned with the order the paint is applied or other special techniques that ensure the paint film remains free from cracking. So it can be said that acrylic paint is much easier to use than oil paint.

Yet another characteristic that invites new artists to this medium is its fast drying time. Since acrylic paint dries so quickly, colors can be applied and overlaid quicker than with oil painting.

There are however a few downsides to the quick drying time of acrylic paints:

1) The paint will not remain workable for very long, so you have to work quickly.
2) The fast drying time of acrylics can also ruin brushes if the brushes are not cleaned immediately.
3) Acrylic paint is not the best medium for direct painting outdoors, especially on a bright sunny day. Whatever paint you put out on your palette will begin to dry quickly and form a skin over the surface of the paint making it very difficult to work with.

Below are explanations of some of the more popular techniques used by acrylic artists both today and in the past.  Some of these are relatively easy to achieve while others are a bit more advanced.  I hope you find this article and helpful.

Watercolor Effects

Acrylic paint works wonderfully as a transparent medium, similar to watercolor. Acrylics do have an advantage over watercolors. You can lay out a number of thin washes over one another without fear of disturbing the colors underneath. You must wait for one layer to dry completely before applying another of course. Once each layer dries it becomes insoluble in water. The only disadvantage to using acrylics as a watercolor medium is the difficulty in modifying the color. Once acrylic paint begins to dry it becomes rather difficult to work with. One of the biggest problems is the tendency for washes to dry with unwanted hard edges. You can avoid this problem in one of two ways. You can either dampen the paper before the paint is applied or you can use an additional brush dampened with water. Use one brush to apply the paint and immediately soften the edge with the other brush that has been dampened with the water.

Blending Opaque Colors

With watercolor effects, the acrylic paint is applied in transparent washes. With the opaque technique the paint layers are non-transparent. Blending opaque acrylic colors can be a bit tricky as you are kind of pressed for time. It is important therefore to only work on areas that you know you will have enough time to blend. To blend two colors, first paint a block of each color side by side on your support. Where the two colors join paint down that line with a clean damp brush to soften the edges. To blend the colors even further, move the blending brush from side to side or up and down, until the desired blending is achieved.

Sgraffito Technique

Sgraffito is a scratching technique. It got its name from the Italian word “graffiare” which literally means “to scratch”. Just as the name implies it involves scratching into the surface of the wet paint which reveals either the ground or layer of dry color underneath. There are a number of different tools that can be used for this technique. Tools like screwdrivers or the sharpened end of an old paintbrush handle should suffice. It really depends on the support you are using. For instance, a screwdriver may not be the best tool if you are using a panel as a support. The hard metal may damage the panel, so you would need to use a softer tool.

Using a Squeegee

A regular squeegee that you can purchase at any hardware or auto store can create some interesting effects when used with acrylic paint. First you would squeeze out some paint blobs directly along one edge of your support. You can layout whatever colors you wish. Then with one fluid motion you would drag the paint across the support with your squeegee, which will smear and mix the paint and create some very unique and interesting designs. You may need to alter your squeegee a bit as the rubber blade that comes with most squeegees may not be rigid enough to drag the paint. You can remove the rubber blade and in its place glue in a regular wooden ruler. This will give you a flat sturdy edge to manipulate the paint.


  1. CHRISSY says

    Love this webpage the tips are great, wil be greatly used helping me get back into painting 🙂

  2. dlf says

    Using colored pencils and watercolor pencils for a base drawing helps one to see the final product more easily.Both watercolor pencils and colored pencils can be exactly what is needed for pre-drawing, pre-lettering, and or outlining stencils to paint in later with the acrylics. They can be painted over and you can easily see what color you planned to paint in that area. By using watercolor pencils for your base drawing, any remaining marks can easily be wiped off of most surfaces with a damp paper towel after the painting has dried. When using watercolor in this manner, as a temporary part of the process, you can varnish the end product.

  3. deena says

    I recently decorated my room and I’m looking for some paint tips for creating some art of my own to match the walls, so I can complete the room. I don’t know what to go for and I had considered acrylics but as the paint dries quickly this might not be the best idea for me. Might just go for regular watercolours.

  4. Amanda says

    I found this post very helpful. Thank you. I recently wanted to start using acrylic paints as a sort of hobby and wasn’t sure if I had made the right choice in buying them as opposed to oils for canvas. I never knew about the fast drying time of acrylic paint before. Now I know I will have to work fast while mixing!

  5. Mandie says

    For an acrylic beginner these tips really comes in handy, and now I can look for the do’s and dont’s. Thank you!!

  6. Anita says

    Painting is fun with many techniques to use. Acrylic is such an interesting work to do. Thanks for these tips. These look very handy.

  7. amberen says

    Great web site. A lot of useful information here. I’m sending it to some pals ans also sharing in delicious. And of course, thanks on your effort!

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