What does it mean?

Tri-Art Labels

How to read a Tri-Art product label. Learn what your paint is made of.

Company FAQ

You may see a Tri-Art colour in the market by the name “Portrait Tone”. This colour is specifically formulated to be able to be used to mix any skin tone, while it is lighter in colour, this is simply because of practical colour mixing theory as it is always best practice to mix dark colours into light gradually, rather than light colours into dark, this leads to more precise colour mixes. This colour is intentionally more saturated with red to be able to show a range of flesh’s nuances when flesh colours are mixed. It is actually a poor portrait colour on it’s own. While this colour provides an excellent neutral base for mixing any kind of skin colour, it is far too saturated to be used on its own without mixing for portrait painting. If you are looking for portrait tone, this colour now has a new name “Red Oxide Tint”. If you have been hurt by this name, you have our sincerest apology. 

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.

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 art stores, book stores, and Amazon.

Acrylic Paint

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.

​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. 

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

Please note we do not recommend mixing this product with any matte pigments or any matting agents.

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.

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;

Increase transparency by extending the colour.Produce watercolour-style or staining effects.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;

Control over sheen is desired.Maintain brush strokes and light textures.Extend volume.Increase the flow of colours without compromising the acrylic film (film integrity, flexibility, adhesion, and permanence).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 – 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.

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.

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 colour 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.

Product Lines

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 Questions

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, read more.

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 farther apart the pigment particles are, the more transparent the colour becomes.

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.

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.

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.

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 = PigmentV = Violet23 = Assignment 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).

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. 

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.