What is Acrylic Paint?

For reliability and versatility, it’s hard to beat acrylic. No other kind of paint offers as much variety of texture or room for customisation – there’s a formula for every application, and no end to the mediums available. Bright, consistent and smooth, it’s the paint of choice for artists such as Frank Bowling and Helen Frankenthaler, and should be considered by any artist wanting to produce equally vibrant work. It’s great for mixed media artists, with a water-mixable formula that adheres to many surfaces and creates a stable ground for almost all wet and dry media. Plus, with no solvents required for painting or clean-up, it’s a convenient choice for those painting at home.

Acrylic paints are generally considered a fast-drying medium, although drying times will depend on how thick the paint is, and the atmospheric conditions of where they are being used. A brush stroke of heavy body paint thinned with a little water will usually be dry from a few minutes to a few hours. in a day.

What do I need to start painting in acrylics?

You can start painting with the following materials:

A set of basic colours

A few brushes (using a few will help to keep your colour mixes unmuddied) or a palette knife

A palette to mix your colours on

A jar of water

A rag 

A canvas

The majority of acrylic paint sets are ‘heavy body’ in consistency; this means the paint holds its shape as it is squeezed from the tube, or may only spread out onto your palette slightly. These paints, like all other acrylics, can be made more fluid by mixing in a little water.

Any brush can be used for acrylic painting, stiffer hair ones are particularly useful if you like painting with thick paint, while softer hair is better for holding more fluid and for washy applications of colour. If you’re after a good all round brush there are plenty of brushes that are somewhere in the middle: a medium fine hair with a good spring (the majority of synthetic and hog brushes fall into this category). 

A palette knife is useful for mixing colours on your palette as well as thicker, impasto applications of colour on your support.

Palettes are available completely flat or with wells so that you can keep your colours separate. Wells are necessary if you prefer very fluid paint.

The support on which you paint can be textured or completely smooth. The texture of a canvas will add vibrancy to your colours and make it easier for paint to adhere to the surface. Completely smooth supports such as a primed wooden panel make it easy to move paint around - you can also lift colour from the surface more easily as well.

As you gain experience with painting in acrylics you may wish to explore further possibilities by adding mediums, which can alter the fluidity, transparency and texture of your paint. You might also want to expand your palette, perhaps combining paint with differing characteristics, so that you can work with a variety of textures. The tools you use to put the paint on (and how you use them) will also influence your process. As you become more familiar with your working preferences, some extra brushes and palette knives may complement your approach.

What’s the difference between professional, artist and student grade acrylic paint?

Professional grade acrylic paints are the best quality. Characterised by the use of the highest quality pigments and resins, tubes will contain the optimum ratio of pigment to binder to ensure the best possible performance - not just colour vibrancy but even drying and excellent adhesion to all surfaces. The characteristics of the pigments in each paint shape how the paint behaves; qualities such as texture, drying times, opacity and staining capacity, which vary from colour to colour. Professional acrylic paints are dynamic and varied and offer an exciting painting experience, but do not have the uniformity of performance that may be expected from other grades of paint.

Artist grade acrylic paints often use the same pigments as professional paints, but in more affordable proportions. This is normally achieved by increasing the amount of binder in each colour, which makes for good quality paints whose properties are more uniform from colour to colour than is true in professional paints. The characteristics of the pigments in each paint are muted a little (factors such as transparency, natural sheen, drying times, staining capacity etc) as the greater amounts of other ingredients (fillers and binders) mask them.

Student grade acrylic paints are designed to be more economical for artists just starting out who don’t need the best paints for their learning exercises. Artists who use hug amounts of paint might also choose to use student grade acrylics. These are not to be confused with children-grade paints. Student grade have a lower pigment load than the artist or professional grade, so are weaker in colour and have the lowest pigment to binder ratio, and a uniformity of fluidity and gloss within each range. Fillers and mediums are used to extend the pigments and add bulk, which means student equivalents of professional colours often display increased transparency or lower saturation. Opaque colours often appear chalkier than higher grade equivalents because of the fillers that are added. However, if you’re sticking to a budget, you can still make some great work with student paints.

One way to tell the quality level of a range of paints is to check how many series the paint has. Within higher grade ranges of paint there are usually a number of price bands (known as ‘series’) that reflect the cost of manufacture (some pigments are more expensive than others). The lower grade ranges of paint tend to have fewer price bands. 

What are the different types of acrylic paint available?

The thickness of acrylic is referred to as ‘body’. Professional and artist grade paints often come in several different formats – from very fluid to very thick – with different applications. The viscosity is not an indication of colour strength or quality; the difference arises from the formulation of the binder, not the amount of pigment in the paint. The type of acrylic paint that’s best for you will be determined by the techniques and surfaces you plan on using. All brands and formula of acrylic paint are intermixable.

Heavy Body acrylic paints, as the name suggests, are the thickest and heaviest of the lot – they’re also the most popular. With a texture similar to soft butter, they’re the closest to oil paints in handling and retain brush marks and gestures well. They also hold their own on rougher canvases.

Soft Body acrylic paints are smoother, resembling yoghurt in consistency. This makes them ideal for mixing with mediums, while retaining enough thickness to paint smoothly and responsively on their own.

Fluid acrylic paints have a texture like double cream. Supplied in a bottle, they are perfect for smooth brushing or staining effects and are great for glazes and finely detailed work.

Acrylic Ink is the most fluid of the acrylic paints. It is made of super fine pigments suspended in a state of the art acrylic emulsion that is as fluid as water. Acrylic Ink is intensely coloured and dries with a soft gloss finish. It can be applied using airbrush, pen or brush. This is the consistency of acrylic used to fill empty marker pens. Airbrush Acrylics are very similar to Acrylic ink, but are less likely to clog or impair the flow within airbrush equipment. This is also the viscosity that is most often used for staining, a technique of painting in very fluid acrylics on unprimed canvas. Because unprimed canvas repels water, a diluted mixture of Flow Release is often either added to the paint or used to wet the canvas before staining. This prevents the paint from. beading up and allows it to flow.

Open acrylic paints are formulated to dry very slowly, making it easy to paint wet-into-wet and blend colour on the surface of your painting. They’re a great solution for painters who want to incorporate techniques usually only possible with oils.

Interactive acrylics are a regular fast drying artist quality acrylic, however, within the range is a truly unique ‘unlocking formula’, a liquid that re-wets dried interactive acrylic and slows drying if a few drops are added to the paint while still wet. When work is completely finished the Fast Medium/Fixer will seal the layer of paint – once this is done the paint is no longer unlockable.

Acrylic Gouache is creamy with a velvety matt finish. The paint levels brush marks and is particularly popular among illustrators. If you’re looking to paint blocks of flat colour then acrylic gouache might be worth a try. Most acrylic gouache isn’t rewettable once it’s dry (although the Lascaux acrylic gouache is rewettable if you let the water sit for a little while). Not to be confused with regular gouache, which is easily rewettable, watersoluble and is essentially an opaque watercolour.

Acrylic Markers are bright, bold, acrylic paint marker pens, perfect for those wishing to combine painting and drawing techniques. Acrylic markers are designed to be high covering, fast drying, water and abrasion proof. They’ll make their mark even on already brightly coloured or painted surfaces and will adhere to most surfaces, from metal to paper.

Acrylic Spray paint allows you to apply thin layers of bold colour onto a multitude of surfaces. Some acrylic sprays contain solvent  – for these it is advisable to wear a fume mask or spray in well ventilated spaces. Some other sprays are water based and do not emit heady fumes, so are safe to use indoors. The low pressure handling system offered by some of the ranges allows you to control your applications of colour more carefully – it’s possible to draw fine lines as well as broad splodges of colour with the right amount of pressure. Exciting to use on their own or alongside other acrylics such as markers and regular paint.

Adding Mediums to Acrylic Paint

While you’re trying out your new colours, it’s good to be aware of the mediums that are available to you. A medium is something added to a paint to change its properties – to thicken or thin it, to change the rate it dries at, to add texture, and plenty more besides. If your paint isn’t behaving quite as you want it to there’ll be a medium out there to help.

Altering body is normally done with gels, pastes, flow enhancers or fluid mediums. If you just need to thin your paint a little you can use water, but if you use too much it may break down the structure of your paint too much making it brittle when dry. Drastic changes of consistency are best achieved with flow enhancers or fluid mediums, which maintain the paint’s ability to form a sturdy film when drying. Gels and pastes increase the body of paint in slightly different ways – pastes tend to add bulk and are often opaque, whereas gels are viscous and clear. Regular gel is the same consistency as heavy body acrylic paint and will extend colour without thinning the body while heavy gel and extra heavy gel will add bulk.

Altering drying time is a handy trick to be aware of, particularly if you’re just starting out and aren’t so confident with your mark making. Adding a little retarder to your paint will give you more time to work with it, increasing what is called its ‘open’ time. Golden Open Acrylics are designed to be workable for longer without adding retarder (and it has a consistency that falls somewhere between heavy body and fluid paints).

Altering the texture of your paint can really spark creativity – from a stringy gel and expressive drips to a sandy grit that’ll let you use pastels on top of your work, there’s no end to the textures possible with acrylic paint. Available in wet or dry formats, there are simply too many mediums available to mention them all here!

One of the advantages of using acrylic is the ability to use the paint to glue paper and fabric onto your surface. A painting made of acrylic paint and collaged elements is often called mixed media. The acrylic gel medium most often used for collage is Soft Gel.

For an in-depth look at acrylic mediums, read our comparison of Golden’s extensive range of acrylic mediums and additives.

Brushes for Acrylic Painting

Acrylic (and oil) painting brushes traditionally have a longer handle than watercolour brushes to allow the painter to achieve more movement and stand back from the easel when painting, which can create more expressive marks. Natural and synthetic hair brushes are available in a range of textures - stiffer, thicker hair such as hog or da Vinci Impasto is ideal for more gestural, impasto painting, but the softness of sable hair or Jackson's Procryl is more suitable for thin applications of colour such as glazes and washes.

Oil and Acrylic brushes usually come in filbert, long flat, short flat (also called brights) and round shapes. Watercolour brushes are available in more specialised shapes and can also be used with acrylic colour, but these have shorter handles and some watercolour brushes have softer hair than a conventional acrylic brush.

Soft Brushes
Soft haired brushes are best suited to smooth applications of colour including blending techniques, and a greater degree of control will be afforded to paints with greater fluidity. Soft hair brushes include watercolour brushes, sable brushes and some synthetic brushes such as Jackson’s Procryl or some varieties of hog brushes including Shiro Professional Hog Bristle Brushes. Long haired soft brushes such as rigger and liner brushes, found in watercolour brush ranges, afford you the ability to paint long flowing lines, as they can carry a lot more paint.

Medium Brushes
Slightly stiffer brushes are more likely to leave an imprint in heavy body paint, but will have enough softness to allow for blending techniques as well. The majority of oil and acrylic painting brushes could be considered ‘medium’ brushes, but our favourites include Jackson’s Shinku, Akoya, Black Hog and Onyx brushes.

Stiff Brushes
Stiff brushes are especially suited to impasto painting, and have very little give in them. Brushes like Da Vinci Impasto will almost feel comparable to painting with a palette knife, except you will leave an imprint of brush hairs in your thickly applied paint marks. Jackson’s Crane brushes are stiff but not quite as stiff as Da Vinci Impasto, and may offer a little more versatility in the range of marks and blending techniques possible.

Palette Knives

Palette knives are really useful for mixing colour onto a palette, as brushes get very loaded with paint easily and it can be difficult to get the paint back on the palette! It is much easier to use the smooth metal of a palette knife to move the colour around. Cheaper palette knives tend to be a lot thinner but this can be to an artist’s advantage when using a palette knife as a painting tool, as it allows for a little more spring. The more expensive palette knives such as the excellent Jackson’s palette knives are made of an incredibly sturdy carbon steel blade, and could almost be used as a paint scraper. A paint scraper is a tool with a slighter sharper blade, which is effective in taking dried layers of paint off a painting support or palette.

Acrylic Primer and Acrylic Gesso

There are 2 main types of acrylic primer – regular acrylic primer and gesso. Both are made up of acrylic resins mixed with chalk for texture and absorbency. Acrylic Gesso replicates the qualities of traditional gesso, a mixture of chalk or whiting and rabbit skin glue, and is absorbent with a slightly heavier tooth than acrylic primer – the more layers you apply the more absorbent. Because of this a few coats is required if you are going to apply oil colour to it, as there is a risk of the oil sinking down to the fibres of the canvas support and causing damage. You can also choose to prime your canvas with a black gesso primer if you prefer to work on black (this will have a dramatic effect on your transparent colours). Other colours of acrylic primer are also available. Acrylic clear primer allows you to work on the natural colour of the canvas without having the absorbency of the raw fabric.

Acrylic primer dries smoother than acrylic gesso and is less absorbent, and a few coats with light sanding in between will make a good solid surface on which to paint. The white colour of regular gesso or primer helps colours to maintain their luminosity. All white gessos and primers can be tinted by adding acrylic colour and mixing. Acrylic primer, unlike oil primer, does not cause natural fibres to rot over time so can be used without the use of a glue size layer to seal the surface.

Gessos and Primers should be applied to surfaces as thinly and evenly as possible - more thin layers creates a superior surface on which to work than fewer thick coats. We recommend the use of a wide, relatively soft hog hair flat brush. Sanding the primer/gesso surface between coats with fine sandpaper will create a super-smooth surface.

What is the best surface for Acrylic Painting?

Before you shop for a surface, you need to consider what’s available. There are a lot of choices to be made so think about what it is you are using the canvas for, where you will be painting, what will be practical and what will help you achieve the results you are looking for.

Acrylic colour can be painted onto all sorts of surfaces, from canvas to sanded metal, and below you can browse through the traditional fine art surfaces we offer for acrylic painting. 

Canvas panels and boards are made by glueing canvas onto a rigid board, so that you get the texture of a canvas surface, but not the bounce you would get from painting on stretched canvas. Wooden panels also offer an inflexible surface, which is ideal for paints that can crack such as oil colour, egg tempera, encaustic, and metal gilding (because an inflexible surface is the most archival). You can prime the wood and paint directly on it or if you prefer the texture of canvas or paper you can use acrylic gel and adhere canvas or paper to the surface, then prime and paint on that. Aluminium art panels make even, rigid, and lightweight painting surfaces. They offer a great value with a conservation quality stable support. Unlike canvases (with wooden stretcher bars) or wooden panels, aluminium panels are artwork supports that will not release gases over time and will barely react to changes in humidity and temperature. The lightweight nature of the aluminium panels also makes them ideal for large artworks which need to be transported.

Ready made stretched canvases take away time consuming stretching and priming processes, and are available in a range of weights, grains and sizes. You can also stretch canvases yourself using canvas off the roll and stretcher bars. Or you can have a bespoke canvas made in a custom size. Finally, canvas sheets, pads and boards are specially prepared acrylic painting papers and primed cotton sheets that are lightweight and excellent for taking outdoors, travelling, or for experimenting with techniques.

To read more about acrylic surfaces, have a look at our Guide to Canvas and our Guide to Boards & Panels.

Ready Made Surface for Acrylic Painting

Conventionally, canvases are tightly stretched on a frame, which creates a slight bounce of movement in the fabric when you push on it as you apply paint to it. It is generally considered that the more tightly stretched a canvas, the more enjoyable it is to paint on. The tightness of a canvas must be the same across the whole stretcher bar frame to prevent the tension from pulling the bars out of square and that the grain of the fabric is square to the edges, with no skewing.

Ready-made (pre-stretched canvases) most commonly have a universally primed canvas stretched onto a wooden frame with bevelled edges (so that the edge of the stretcher bar does not leave an imprint when the canvas is painted on). Universally primed means that the canvas is coated with a white acrylic primer, which sufficiently coats the fabric for both oil and acrylic painting. Lots of thin layers of primer is preferable to one thick layer as it is a more stable priming, which is less susceptible to cracking over time, and will be much more likely to be even across the whole surface. Be aware that some ready-made stretched canvases have an oil primed surface. This is not suitable for acrylic painting, so be sure to look for the ‘universal primed’ or ‘acrylic primer’.

Canvas is fixed to the frame with either tacks on the sides, or staples on the back. Ready-made canvases are available in a range of depths, and if this is of importance to you it is vital to check the dimensions. Standard depth canvases are generally considered to look more traditional and are easier to frame, whereas deeper canvases tend to be associated with contemporary or more modern art techniques, although the trends are always changing. This choice is one of pure aesthetics; a standard depth canvas does not perform better or worse than a deep edge or chunky canvas, although thin bars may need to be reinforced with the use of a cross bar for larger sized canvases because deep bars are stronger and can take the tension of the stretched canvas across a large surface, without warping out of shape. Jackson’s and Daler Rowney have a range of canvases ideal for landscape painting, due to their long thin dimensions (but of course they are not exclusive to painting landscapes, they are just as good for abstract or figurative painting too!). Jackson’s Belle Arti pre-stretched canvases are made to gallery standard and are available in extra fine grain linen, medium grain linen, clear primed linen as well as deep edge cotton. Again, all these choices give you the opportunity to select the right surface for the idea you have in mind for your work.

Canvas panels are sheets of compressed card on which universally primed cotton canvas has been glued and wrapped around the edges to the back.. These are ideal for quick sketches, but can also be easily framed as finished paintings. Artist canvas boards by Belle Arti are made of acrylic primed cotton duck glued onto MDF with sheared edges – slightly sturdier and heavier, and a great rigid support with the grain of a canvas. 

Canvas pads are perfect for experimentation and easy to cut to size. Belle Arti and Fredrix offer canvas pads made of sheets of universally primed canvas, glue bound on one edge, so that you can paint on sheets while they are still in the pad, or you can fix a sheet to a board with masking tape or clips for more stability. Oil and acrylic blocks by Clairefontaine and Hahnemuhle as well as pads from the Daler Rowney System 3 and Georgian ranges are made of specially treated papers designed for use with either oil or acrylic paint and all varieties have a linen effect texture. Unlike a pad which is glued on one edge only, a block is glued on all four edges. This holds the paper flat and is especially useful outdoors as it won’t flap in a breeze. To detach the sheet when the painting is finished simply insert a palette knife in the provided gap, and run it around the edge under the single sheet. Acrylic paintings on paper can be presented to gallery standard by reinforcing with a backing board and framing. Painting on paper is also a cheaper option for those buying art supplies for a school or art society that need to be creative within a budget.

Bespoke Canvas to Order

If you can’t find the right length, width, depth, canvas grain, or priming all wrapped up in one desirable canvas, then you might want to consider ordering one of Jackson's bespoke canvases using the ‘Bespoke Canvas Builder’. You may have been commissioned to paint a portrait or landscape that requires very specific dimensions. Jackson’s are able to construct canvases using professional grade aluminium reinforced bars as well as traditional wooden stretcher frames, with a wide variety of different French and Italian cottons and linens.

Make Your Own Canvas

Many artists would prefer to make their own canvases to their own specifications, and Jackson’s sells all the tools and accessories an artist would require to make their own canvas. But before you start, time to make some decisions…

What Stretcher Bars Should I Use?

First you need to decide your canvas depth i.e. how far it sticks out from the wall. If you’d prefer to use narrower bars for a shallow depth, but your work is going to be over a metre long or wide, remember to order cross bars to reinforce the structure. Deep edge canvases do not really need cross bars (and aluminium reinforced bars certainly don’t!) but they can be useful for carrying purposes (remember however that they can also add to the weight of the canvas). Stretcher bars are already mitre cut at the ends for assembly and have slots for centre bars as well as bevelled edges, but the assembly of the aluminium bars differs from that of the professional wooden stretcher bars so be sure to read the information on their appropriate pages before purchasing.

Cotton Duck or Linen?

First you need to decide your canvas depth i.e. how far it sticks out from the wall. If you’d prefer to use narrower bars for a shallow depth, but your work is going to be over a metre long or wide, remember to order cross bars to reinforce the structure. Deep edge canvases do not really need cross bars (and aluminium reinforced bars certainly don’t!) but they can be useful for carrying purposes (remember however that they can also add to the weight of the canvas). Stretcher bars are already mitre cut at the ends for assembly and have slots for centre bars as well as bevelled edges, but the assembly of the aluminium bars differs from that of the professional wooden stretcher bars so be sure to read the information on their appropriate pages before purchasing.

How to Stretch

Canvas pliers are vital for achieving a good amount of tension when stretching your canvas. Place your canvas frame in the middle of your piece of canvas and make sure you have enough canvas to wrap around to the back of the frame. Use the pliers to grab enough of the material between the teeth of the pliers, and then use the ridge on the underside of the pliers to gain leverage over the edge of the frame and stretch around to the back of the frame. Always stretch canvas from the middle of the bars moving outwards, and always insert staples opposite the ones you have just put in. A staple gun is the easiest to use (and an electric staple gun from Jackson’s is the easiest!), while using small tacks is the traditional method. Finished pictures or artwork that have been made on unstretched canvas can be fixed to a frame once dry, and do not need as much tension when being stapled – just make sure they are fixed square to the frame and that you do not lose too much of the image when wrapping the work around to the back.

Staples and Tacks

Tacks can be gently hammered in the edge of the canvas frame before a staple secures the canvas to the back – this does help a little with achieving a good amount of tension, and also adds a traditional look to the finished support. The pressure that a staple gun provides makes it easy to punch in staples to secure the canvas to the back of the canvas frame. Remember to leave enough room at the corners to fold your canvas neatly before punching in the final staples.

Your canvas is now ready to use, but you may wish to prime it in order to create a less absorbent surface that is white and therefore enhances the luminosity of your colours.

Palettes for Acrylic Painting

Tear off palettes remove the necessity to clean up a messy palette at the end of a painting session. You simply mix your colours on the pad of waxy papers, and tear away the top layer and put it in the bin when you have run out of colour mixing space or you have stopped working. However they do contribute to the amount of waste you will accumulate in your studio, and have a tendency to flap about inconveniently during breezy outdoor painting sessions (except New Wave paper palettes which are affixed on two sides).

Stay wet palettes on the other hand prolong the open time of your acrylic paint, minimising waste and allowing you to keep pre-mixed colours on your palette for your next painting session. They consist of a tray in which you pour water and then place a thin sponge and membrane sheet over the top. The moisture stops the paint from drying and thus allows you to work with your paint for longer. The palette also comes with a lid which restricts the amount of air getting to the paint, which also helps slow down the drying.

A traditional flat palette is recommended for mixing heavy body paints, as the colours will not run into one another as fluid paints would. A traditional palette is usually made of glass, wood or plastic. It is a non absorbent, smooth surface that provides an area for mixing colours. A white palette can help to see how the paint will appear on a light coloured surface, which is why placing a white piece of paper underneath a glass slab can improve the visibility of your true colour mixes. Untreated wooden palettes tend to be very absorbent and will easily stain when used for the first few times. In order to minimise this happening you could varnish your wooden palette, or paint it with acrylic gesso, allowing it to dry fully before you use it.

A palette with wells made from porcelain or plastic will help to keep fluid colour mixes separate and clean. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes, the biggest that is practical would always be our recommendation, with plenty of wells so you can create plenty of colour mixes. Some also come with an airtight lid.

Useful tools for Acrylic Painting

Spray bottle of water
To prevent your paints dying too fast, give your palette a misting with a spray bottle of water every five minutes or so.

Palette Knives
Palette knives are incredibly useful for heavy body and soft body acrylic painting. They can be used as an alternative to brushes, facilitating thick impasto applications of colour that can either be completely smooth or highly textured. They are also great for scraping wet paint away from your painting or palette, and mixing colours on your palette. In comparison to brushes they are much easier to remove paint from, one wipe on a rag and your knife will be clean for the next colour mix. They are available in a range of shapes and sizes, one or two in your armoury will significantly help keep your colour mixing organised. Recommended to begin with would be a couple of different shapes of palette knife from the Jackson’s Extra Crank Offset Painting Knives or RGM Palette Knives ranges, as they are long lasting and offer just the right amount of flexibility in their blades.

Easel
An easel is by no means essential. If you work standing up you could tape paper to a wall or hang your canvas or cradled panel from panel pins or screws. Alternatively you could work on the floor or prop your canvas up on a table. However, the right easel could allow you to move your work easily to better lighting conditions, or help you to work with a healthy posture, avoiding unnecessary aches and pains during a long painting session. When choosing an easel you have to ask yourself a set of questions.

-  Will you be painting at a table? If you will be, then a table easel is a compact device that will hold your paper upright. Many have a drawer in which you can store your paints and brushes. They are easy to store and transport.

-  Will you need to have a portable easel? (perhaps for painting out of doors) If you will be then a sketching easel is what you’ll need. Sketching easels are usually made from aluminium or wood. An easy to carry sketching easel will be lightweight with telescopic legs allowing it to fold into a compact portable size. However if you are likely to paint in bracing wind conditions it may be at risk from falling over. Some string and tent pegs can be a great way to get around this.

-  Do you need an easel that will tilt to horizontal? (will you be painting with lots of dilute paint which might run?) Some studio and sketching easels will tilt fully to a horizontal working position, which can be really useful if you need to ensure your dilute paint applications do not run.

-  Do you need an easel that will hold very large work? The largest studio easels are H-frame and solidly stable for paintings up to 235 cm, but they will take up space and be heavy to move around. Crank handle easels make it easier to adjust the height of your painting.

Water Pot or Brush Washer
A water pot or brush washer is essential for rinsing brushes. While most water pots will have a ridge on which to rest your brush after rinsing, a brush washer will have a ledge at the bottom that keeps paint sediment separate from the cleanest water in your pot, helping to keep brushes cleaner for longer and to get more rinsing capacity from your water. 

Catalyst Tools
Silicon Catalyst Painting Tools offer a range of shapes that are perfect for moving paint around on a canvas or making interesting imprints in heavy body paint. Comb shaped tools allow you to scrape away lines to make interesting textures in your paintings. Worth browsing if you are interested in stretching your mark making ability.

Brush Cleaner/Soap
Most acrylic paint is relatively fast drying, and so it is important to keep brushes clean to avoid paint drying around the hairs of your brush. Using a brush soap will condition the hairs of your brush and help it keep its shape for longer, and also moisturise your hands too. Ensure that you have wiped away the majority of your acrylic paint before washing, as it’s important to avoid washing acrylic down the sink which would cause it to enter the water system. Favourite brush soaps include Jackson’s Marseilles Soap Pellets, Da Vinci Professional Brush Soap and The Master’s Brush Cleaner and Preserver. The article Cleaning Fine Art Painting Brushes suggests some good brush cleaning habits to fall into.

Varnishes for Acrylic Painting

Acrylic varnishes offer a protective coating to a finished painting, keeping it safe from dust and surface damage (scratches etc.). Some varnishes also have UV light resistors which will prevent colour fade. We recommend applying an isolation coat over your painting prior to varnishing - a soft gloss gel medium would be ideal for this. This will allow for the varnish to be removed in future, if necessary, with no damage risk to the painting itself. Always ensure that you varnish work in a dust and dirt free environment, and remove any dust or dirt from the surface of your work prior to varnishing. Artist quality varnishes should be removable, check the label.

Spray Varnish or Brush Varnish?
Acrylic Varnishes are available in an aerosol can as well as in a bottle. There’s a good argument on both sides regarding which is easier to apply. With sprays make sure you start spraying on something other than your finished artwork (the work surface beside perhaps) in order to gauge how much pressure you need to push the nozzle with to get the right amount of varnish coming out. Then continuously move the spray over the finished work making sure you give the whole surface as even a layer as possible. Always stop spraying if you stop moving, to avoid an uneven application. A few thin layers is always better than 1 thick layer as it will allow for the varnish to dry properly and be more solid and stable in the long run. Read the label of the varnish to find out the drying time you need to allow between layers. A good tip is to turn your work 90 degrees each time to apply a new layer of varnish as this will help to achieve a more even application. Sprays can be particularly useful when varnishing a delicate work where applying varnish with a brush could damage the surface. It is also good for impasto work where varnish might gather in between undulations in the surface if applied by brush.

Brushing varnish on can also be a little tricky. First give the varnish a very good stir (but do not shake as you do not want air bubbles to form), check the consistency; if it is too thick then thin it down with a little water or an acrylic thinner. Use a relatively stiff haired varnish brush (usually hog hair with split ends) and work on a flat surface where possible. Only load the bottom third of the brush as if you load the brush with more varnish than this it will be very difficult to apply it evenly. As with spray varnish, a few thinner layers is preferable to one thick layer, so it is good to try and practice applying the varnish thin and evenly. When applying a varnish with added matting agents (satin, semi-gloss or matt varnish) it is a good idea to only use it on the final layer of varnish in order to maintain the appearance of the colour depth and brilliance in your work.

With any varnish application, it is much easier to clean up when the tools are still wet as you can do this with soap and water. Dried acrylic varnish requires washing with ammonia.

What is MSA Varnish?
MSA stands for Mineral Spirit Acrylic - it is made with acrylic resin but is not watersoluble. MSA (Mineral Spirit Acrylic) varnishes are solvent-based and form a tougher, less permeable film than waterborne acrylic emulsion varnishes. It is particularly good for work that is to be exhibited outdoors.