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Acrylic Paint
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Technical Information

Acrylic Paint
Acrylic paint primary characteristics

Acrylics are water-based synthetic resin paints made from 100% acrylic polymer emulsion. They are quick-drying and water-fast when dry. They are available in a variety of viscosity formats, are highly adhesive, and are virtually non-toxic.

 

Binder - What distinguishes one paint type from another is its binder, the glue or substance that carries the pigment. The binder for oil paint in most cases is linseed oil, watercolor is gum Arabic, and acrylic paints are bound with acrylic polymer emulsion. Acrylic polymer emulsion is derived from petroleum or natural gas. The water thin milky solution is obtained from polymerized acrylic resin dispersed in water. This material, when devoid of pigment, dries very clear and glossy. The dried film is highly resistant to water and is extremely flexible. The acrylic emulsion dries clear, leaving a film that is durable, flexible, and extremely adhesive. The wet paint can have a very low odor and clean up of tools is easily accomplished with water and soap.


Pigments - Pigments are pre-manufactured by large chemical companies. They come in powdered form, which is ground to a specific particle size that differs with each pigment. In order for the pigment to be mixed properly into an acrylic base, it must first be dispersed into water. In their pure form, powdered pigments are hydrophobic, which means they will not mix readily with water. There are several ways to wet out the pigment, forcing the powder and water together so that a water molecule surrounds each particle. Proper wetting out, through grinding, aids in further developing the colour. The resulting, homogeneous mixture is called an aqueous dispersion. The grinding process can take several hours to a full week, depending on the individual pigment.


Surfactants - These are facilitators (the mediators) between the hydrophobic element (the pigment) and the water (the emulsion). They break down the barriers by lowering the surface tension of the water, so the pigment can make itself at home and become 'wetted out' by the water creating a harmonious and loving relationship.

Are acrylic paints permanent art materials?

Artist acrylic paints are permanent on many levels. They are manufactured to conform to ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials) standards. In artist-grade paints, only pigments that have a lightfastness rating of I (excellent) or II very good), in accordance to ASTM standards, are used.

The resin itself is fully formed in the wet paint and forms permanent bonds as the paint dries. The dried acrylic film is very flexible and tough, and will not yellow significantly over time. Acrylic is highly adhesive and forms a very strong bond to its support, and to itself, and once bonded it is permanent.

Beginner colour palette and material guide for acrylic painting

Basic colour palette for acrylic painters:

Here are some suggestions for a beginner colour palette. When you get to know a limited palette well, it's easy to add/remove colours based on your preferences, techniques and developing personal style:

  • Starter Palette (all purpose application): Naphthol Red Medium, Phthalo Blue, Azo Yellow Medium, Phthalo Green, Burnt Umber, Titanium White, Payne’s Grey

  • Transparent Palette (for glazing application): Quinacridone Magenta, Phthalo Blue Green Shade, Indian Yellow, Green Gold, Transparent Pyrrole Red Medium, Transparent Permanent Orange

 

Basic material list for acrylic painters:

  • Selection of Acrylic Paints, as above example

  • Basic Acrylic Mediums: Gel Medium (thick), and Polymer Medium (thin)

  • Support to paint on (canvas, paper, illustration board, wood panel etc)

  • Variety of synthetic filiment brushes for acrylic paint

  • Palette knife

  • Tri-Art Non-Stick Acrylic Palette

  • Spray bottle for water

  • Rags/paper towel

  • Water containers

  • Table covers

  • Easel or dropcloth (depends on your own preference of working)

  • Apron

Can I mix acrylics with other paint types?

Acrylic will perform best when used in conjunction with other acrylic media. They can also be used in combination with other water base paints such as watercolors, gouache, poster paints, and water-based inks, although it is prudent to test each product combination thoroughly.


Mixing acrylic brands is generally acceptable; however, as each manufacturer uses a unique recipe, there can be a potential for incompatibility.


Note: Acrylics should not be mixed with oil or wax based products.

Can I paint over partially dried acrylic?

Painting over partially dried acrylics is a tricky business and can create some mixed results. Applying a wash over semi-dried paint can lift patches of colour, and pull out the remaining solvents prematurely causing the surface of the paint to form craters, lose clarity or dry to a more matte finish.

 

When a thin acrylic layer is dry to the touch, more layers can be applied with no adverse effect. The new layers will not reactivate the underlying paint, and luminous glazes can be accomplished using this method. When layering in thicker quantities, it is essential that the paint be cured before applying more layers. If it is not, water and other solvents can become trapped in the partially dried acrylic paint, clouding the acrylic film.

 

The most prudent approach to layering and over-painting is to give the initial coat ample time to dry before applying more paint.

How long do acrylics take to dry?

Acrylics dry through the process of evaporation, and various components of the wet paint must first evaporate in order for the paint to dry. The first is water, which escapes through capillary action both in to the air and through the support (if the support is porous). The water will evaporate fairly quickly, leaving the paint to dry to the touch. Thin paint films will dry to the touch within a few minutes, while thicker quantities will need several hours. For thick layers, it is highly recommended to build up thin, successive applications of acrylic to allow for proper curing inbetween each layer. 

 

Dry Paint vs Cured Paint - While the paint may feel dry, it will not be fully cured until the other volatile substances have evaporated. Other solvents, such as propylene glycol, defoamers, and coalescing agents take considerably longer to withdraw from the paint. Until it has fully cured, the acrylic is sensitive to abrasion, water absorption, and pressure. Depending on the humidity or dryness of the environment, thin paint films can be thoroughly cured within a few days, whereas thicker applications can take up to several months to become inert.

 

How to tell the difference: touch-dry and fully cured paint - There is little visible difference between the two states, and is more a matter of being aware of the amount of time that has passed since the initial application. A fully cured acrylic will have little to no traces of milkiness and the colour will have visibly darkened compared to the wet state (this is more obvious in mixes than with pure, undiluted colours). The paint film will be firm and resistant to water. Tip: feel the back of the painting support, if it feels cold then there is still water left in the paint that needs to evaporate. Keep in mind that unvarnished acrylics will remain slightly tacky even when fully cured and this slight stickiness should not be mistaken for dampness. The varnishing process should be reserved for when paintings are fully cured.


Curing reveals the complexity of colour mixtures and paint layers, and it is one of the most exciting aspects of painting in this medium. As the paint cures, details will become in the painting; colours will deepen and visibly intensify. While the transition is immediately obvious, more subtle transformations will emerge over a period of months.

What is Liquid Mirror?
Liquid Mirror is a colour in our Professional 'Finest Quality' High Viscosity and Liquid acrylic lines.

It is an opaque pigment that can be described as metallic or platinum in colour. It's not the kind of 'mirror' you can see your reflection in, rather it has superior reflective qualities than all other pigments, including Iridescents. For example, you could mix Phthalo Blue with Liquid Mirror to produce a beautiful and unique blue metallic colour, or use it 'as is' as an accent colour for bright and shiney highlights, or apply it as a ground under transparent colours to provide extra brillance for glazing techniques (like painting on etched aluminum).

Though it is a very special colour, it's best to initially think of Liquid Mirror as you would other artist quality colours, and treat it as such. You can mix it with other colours, and add medium to it as a little goes a long way! Using the paint is the best way to explore its unique properties, and no doubt through experimentation, it will find a special place to fit into your own unique style and work.
What is the difference between using Gloss, Semi-Gloss or Matte Mediums?

All Gloss, Semi-Gloss and Matte Mediums increase transparency of colours, maintain good adhesion, flexibility, film integrity and gloss reflectance factor.

 

Gloss: Dries translucent with the best clarity. Gloss Medium will increase colour brilliance, luminosity and enhance colour depth. Excellent for brilliant colour glazes or a final overall gloss layer. [Gloss Reflectance Factor (sheen) 80-90%].

Semi-Gloss: Dries translucent with fairly good clarity. Semi-Gloss mediums contain some matting agents which act to reduce the gloss of the medium. When used with other acrylic glossy colours and mediums, it will reduce light reflection on surface (like non-reflective glass). [Gloss Reflectance Factor (sheen) 14-17%].

Matte: Dries translucent with reduced clarity. Matte mediums contain matting agents which create a light tooth, and reduce the gloss of the medium. When mixed with other glossy acrylic colours and mediums, it will greatly decrease the gloss factor and reduce light reflection on surface. The thicker the application, the more frosted the surface will appear, lightly opacifying what lies beneath. [Gloss Reflectance Factor (sheen) 3.0-4.0%]. Tip: The lightly toothed characteristics of Matte Mediums make them an effective surface for using with drawing media.


What is the difference between using Water, Polymer Medium and Gel Medium?

Mediums offer control over viscosity and gloss factor, and maintain film integrity, flexibility, and adhesion of all acrylic paint formats.

 

Water - Adding water to acrylics will 1. increase transparency by extending the colour 2. produce “watercolour-style” or staining effects 3. reduce viscosity, film integrity and gloss factor of acrylic colours. A good practice is to always add a little bit of medium to the water. Water breaks down the paint film and adhesion of acrylics, and can result in an uneven matte finish, or even resisting and beading on glossy or non-absorbent surfaces. So it is possible to add too much water...unless it’s the result you are going for.

Polymer Mediums
- Polymer Medium would be recommended when 1. control over sheen is desired 2. maintain brush strokes and light textures 3. to extend volume 4. increase the flow of colours without compromising the acrylic film (film integrity, flexibility, adhesion, permanence) 5. Add depth and enhance colour chroma. Allowing layers to dry before adding the next layer can lend well to clean colour glazing and other techniques such as washing or wiping off paint while it is still wet without interfering previous layers. Ideal for thin layer applications, collage, mixed media and fine detailed work. Polymer Mediums are available in Gloss, Semi-Gloss and Matte finishes. Glazing Mediums are available in Gloss and Matte finish. Low Viscosity Polymer Medium is only available in a Gloss finish.

Gel Mediums - Gel Medium would be recommended when 1. control over sheen is desired 2. creating impasto textures and thick layer applications 3. extend volume 4. maintain/alter paint viscosity without compromising the acrylic film (film integrity, flexibility, adhesion, permanence) 5. Add depth and enhance colour chroma. Gel Mediums are thick and creamy in consistency, with the ability to hold amazing peaks and a wide variety of textures. Ideal for thick layer applications, collage and mixed media. Low Viscosity Gel, Modeling Gel and Gel Mediums are all available in Gloss, Semi-Gloss and Matte finishes.

What is the shelf life of acrylic paint?

There are two variables for qualifying shelf life: unopened or opened paint. Unopened paint in its original packaging can have a shelf life of more than a decade if it is kept in a temperate environment. Once opened, the shelf life of acrylic paint is much harder to qualify and depends on material storage, climatic conditions, cross contamination and properly sealed closure. Due to the number of variables, it is highly recommended that after the seal has been broken and opened, the product be used within 6 months.

 

TIPS & NOTES FOR MAXIMIZING ACRYLIC SHELF LIFE

  • Always leave caps and lids on your paints as you work to prevent moisture escaping and
    the paint being inoculated by bacteria and fungus in the air.
  • Wipe or peel away any excess paint that could prevent a proper closure and seal.
  • Store Liquid Acrylic bottles upside-down to help prevent moisture from escaping.
  • Plastic tubes are fully collapsible and easily flattened and compacted. Using a palette knife
    or edge of a table, squeeze the paint to the opening and fold up the end.
    Larger neck of the tubes allows for a palette knife to easily scoop out the very last drops of
    the paint.
  • Acrylics may be re-hydrated by mixing in a little distilled water or water from the tap
    (approximately 5%). Mix well with a palette knife. Re-hydrating can be done either as you
    are setting out your colours on your palette, or directly in the jar before it is stored away.
  • As areas of thin paint loose moisture faster than a volume of paint. It is recommended to
    always store premixed paint in clean, airtight plastic containers with lids and to transfer
    low quantities of paint to a smaller container. ie. transfer remnants of paint from a tube to
    a clean jar.
Why do acrylic colours appear to dry darker?
One of the stumbling blocks for strangers to the acrylic realm is the slight colour shift that occurs when the paint goes from wet to dry. The degree of change depends largely on the amount of pigment in the acrylic itself.

When wet, the acrylic emulsion has a white appearance because of the water it contains. The way that light travels through the water causes it to appear opaque. As the water evaporates, the paint film clarifies, leaving the pigment to be fully developed.

Artist-quality paints contain a significantly larger quantity of pigment than the student or economy varieties. The higher the pigment load, the smaller the color shifts between the wet and dry stage. Lower quality paints also tend to contain more water and fillers, opacifying the wet paint further.

Matting agents and fillers will also cause the wet paint to have a more bleached-out cast, though this will also decrease significantly when the paint is dry. If you have concerns about matching a tone exactly, the best way to work is with a test area and a blow-dryer.
Company FAQ
Hand-Painted Colour Charts

We have been hand painting colour charts since we started making paint in 1994. We feel they are a valuable reference tool for use in the classroom and studio, offering a hand painted swatch sample of each colour in the line. Ask your local Art Store for a Hand-Painted Colour Chart in any the following lines:

  • Finest Quality High Viscosity Acrylics
  • Finest Quality Liquid Acrylics
  • Finest Quality Acrylic Inks
  • Finest Quality Watercolours
  • True Colour Acrylics 
  • Spectral Colour
  • Rheotech Acrylics
  • Art Noise Acrylics
  • Solucryl Re-Soluable Acrylics 
  • UVFX Black Light Poster Paint
  • Glass Paint
  • TechStyle Fabric Paint
  • Impressions Printing Paint

 

If your store can't order one for you, send an email to our support team [support@tri-art.ca] and let us know.

Where can I buy The New Acrylics Books?

Rhéni Tauchid, painter and in-house materials consultant, has written two inspiring, slick and colorful books on working with modern acrylic paints. THE NEW ACRYLICS Complete Guide, and sequel THE NEW ACRYLICS Essential Sourcebook are available at artstores, bookstores, Amazon, or online here

Where can I buy Tri-Art brand paints?
Check out our list of retailers to find a store near you, or you can shop oline here
Product Lines
What is the difference between Finest Quality, True Colour and Rheotech Acrylics?

The biggest difference between each line is in the pigment colour range selected and the pigment loading.

 

Finest Quality is a high performance paint for the professional artist. Made with the highest pigment loading and binder concentration possible, these acrylic colours are intended to be extended with mediums for ultimate versatility and personalization of creative expression. Available in High Viscosity and Liquid formats, recognized worldwide for colour vibrancy and unique pigments such as Transparent Pyrrole Red, Golden Yellow, Golden Green and Liquid Mirror.

 

True Colour is ideal for secondary and post-secondary art programs, production artists and well, any artist who want an artist acrylic without the high price tag! It is a compliment to the Tri-Art's Finest Quality lines, featuring an affordable range of traditional lightfast artist pigments, including transparent, semi-opaque and opaque colours.

 

Rheotech is our signature student acrylic! It is made with 100% pure acrylic emulsion and features a selection of acrylic mediums, which makes it the only professional performance and archival quality paint for students. Rheotech acrylics can obtain textures, effects and colour mixing usually only obtained with professional paints, offering the beginner acrylic artist a more authentic artist painting experience. 

Technical Information
Aging Pigments

Paints that are truly of professional quality, acrylic or oil, will change in viscosity with the passage of time due to the aging and reaction of pigments. Our professional lines have provided to be an excellent source of testing as they are of the most pure, highly-concentrated formulation of pigment and acrylic emulsion that meets, and surpasses ASTM ratings. As such, the true properties of the colour pigments are revealed, as is their reaction to thickening agents over time, which results in a shift of body over time. With lines that are not of this professional quality, there is a reduction of pigment and acrylic, and additives that dilute the formulation so that the aging and shifting of body are not as noticeable.

 

Pigments are chemicals and most will continue to react with the thickener (a required ingredient when making paint) once formulated into a paint. Some colours will thicken with age, some will have the viscosity kick out which results in the loss of thickness, and some will remain quite stable. Even when fresh, colours will have varying body. Colours made with organic pigments (phthalos, quinacridones etc.) respond differently to the thickening agents in acrylic than colours made with inorganic pigments (whites, umbers, oxides etc). The organics will peak more but have less body where as the inorganics will have more body and less ability to peak. Each colour in our lines has to be formulated and targeted to allow for the pigment to achieve a desirable range of thickness. 

Acrylics do have a shelf life, click here to read more

Can I make opaque colours more transparent?
In order to increase the transparency of any colour, it needs to be extended with a clear medium, such as a polymer or gel medium. The father apart the pigment particles are, the more transparent the colour becomes.
How do I know if a colour is transparent or opaque?
The term used to describe a colour’s transparency or opacity is relative coverage. On the label and brochure information or most acrylic paint manufacturers each colour is tagged with a letter signifying its relative coverage: (T) Transparent, (SO) Semi Opaque, and (O) Opaque. The primary factor that determines a pigment’ s transparency is the size of the pigment molecule. The smaller the molecule, the more transparent the colour, Some pigment molecules, such as Phthalocyanines, are also translucent. Inorganic colour are largely opaque due to the size and opacity of the molecule.
How permanent are artist quality colours?
Each colour in most artist quality lines has a lighfastness rating of excellent to very good in accordance to ASTM standards. Colours exhibiting this caliber of lightfastness are considered to be permanent.
What are pigments and how are they different than dyes?

Pigments are finely ground powders derived or manufactured from a variety of sources. These powders provide colour and also impart the paint with other characteristics, such as opacity, light-stability, and durability. They are natural or synthetic, inorganic or organic particles that are dispersed into a variety of chemicals and then added to the acrylic polymer resin make acrylic paint.

Dyes are colours which are soluble in the liquid they are introduced to and will stain freely. Dyes are not considered to be permanent, whereas pigments range form fugitive to extremely permanent.

What do colour index names refer to?

The colour index is the primary systems used in pigment identification. The colour index name identifies the colour as a pigment (P) or dye (D) by it’s general hue (B=blue) and assigned number. For example, Dioxazine Violet is: PV23

  • P = Pigment
  • V = Violet
  • 23 = assigned number 

 

The colour index name refers to a specific pigment, and blended colours will be marked with each of the pigments present in the blend. For example, the colour blend for Alizarian Crimson Hue is: PR 170 (Naphthol Red Medium), PR 101 (Transparent Red Iron Oxide), and PV23 (Dioxazine Violet).

What does lightfast mean?
A pigment is considered to be lightfast, or light stable, if it resists fading over extended exposure to ultraviolet light. A pigment that cannot stand up to direct exposure to UV rays without fading is considered to be fugitive.
What is the difference between a C.P. Cadmium and a Cadmium Hue?
C.P Cadmiums are deemed “ clinically pure” and of the finest quality, and are priced accordingly. Cadmium “ hues” are derived from one or more different pigments to look like Cadmiums in every aspect but price.
What is the purpose of having “hues” in the acrylic paint line?
The “hues” in acrylic lines have been added to the colour line-up to take the place of pigments that a re either unavailable, incompatible with water-based emulsions, or are price prohibitive. Some pigments that are too fugitive to be included in an artist-grade paint line are replaced by a permanent pigment or blend. In other instances the reasons are health related. For example, Naples Yellow is a Lead-antimonate pigment with excellent permanence, however it is highly toxic. A mixed Naples Yellow Hue now replaces this obsolete colour.
Why are certain colours more expensive?
The most costly component of any paint is the pigment. Each colour is made up of one or more pigments, coming from a staggering variety of sources. Each of those pigments in turn has gone through a variety of manufacturing processes in order to become a compatible component of the paint. The difference in price reflects the pigment or pigments used and the amount of processing required.
Why are pure cadmiums not generally offered in liquid format acrylics?
As cadmiums are considered to be toxic when inhaled, they have been widely left out of liquid format acrylic lines to prevent them being applied with spraying tools, thus reducing the risk of being inhaled.
Why do some colours appear matte while other very glossy?
The surface appearance of any colour in an artist quality line is determined by the characteristics of each individual pigment. In general, inorganic pigments will have a more matte appearance than organic pigments, this is due to the particle size and opacity of the particle. Large, coarse pigment particles scatter the visible light, making he colour appear more matte. Synthetic organic pigments with a very fine particle size, such as Phthalos and Quinacridones, appear very glossy, while more coarsely ground pigments, such as umber and ultramarine blue, have a much more matte finish.

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