Acrylic is a hugely versatile painting medium, and one that’s popular with artists, students and hobbyists alike. Acrylics are water-mixable, non-toxic and are easy to do at home, and perfect for older or supervised kids. But, as with any paint, you want to make sure you’re working with good-quality materials.
Acrylic is a great choice for painting pictures on canvas, card and paper, but can also be deployed in craft activities too. It comes in a variety of types and consistencies: you can buy viscous acrylic paints designed for pouring into marbled patterns, and metallic colours that will give your creations an extra sparkle.
So which is the best acrylic paint? Read on for our pick of the very best acrylic paints and sets, from reliable student options to gorgeous professional-grade colours.
For more information on acrylic paint, and the other essential equipment you’ll need to do it, head to our acrylic painting beginner’s guide. And if you’re really just starting out and want to get a little taster of acrylic paints before you invest, the recent trend of paint by numbers could be your chance – we’ve rounded up our favourite paint by numbers kits for adults and many of them come with a set of acrylic paints so you can get used to them before you treat yourself to a bigger stash.
How to choose acrylic paint
- Acrylic paints are essentially a mix of pigment (the colour), binder (acrylic polymer) and various other additives. The better the paint, the higher the levels of pigment – it’s basically as simple as that. Our advice is to spend as much as you can afford on paint, regardless of your experience. You might be a fantastic painter, but if you’re working with poor-quality paints, your work can be easily spoilt by washed-out colours and a dull, charmless surface.
- How big is your painting? Acrylic paint comes in a range of sizes, and unsurprisingly, the more you spend, the cheaper it gets millilitre for millilitre.
- Standard acrylic paint has a consistency not unlike butter at room temperature. But there are variations available, like heavy-body paint that retains more brush marks when used straight from the tube, and liquid, ink-like version better suited to graphic-style work.
- If you’re starting from scratch, the best acrylic to paint to buy is a starter set rather than individual. It will give you a suitable range of colours: white, black, the primaries, and perhaps green and a couple of earth colours. Beginners: tempting as it is, don’t buy every last available colour under the sun. The sheer choice will overwhelm you, and you won’t learn how to mix colours.
What are the best acrylic paint brands?
Two of the best acrylic paint brands are Daler-Rowney and Winsor & Newton. These are both veteran UK paint manufacturers: Daley Rowney was founded in 1783, and Winsor & Newton in 1832. (Not that they were selling acrylics in those days.) You’ll find both a Daley-Rowney and Winsor & Newton acrylic paint set in our round-up below.
We’re also big fans of Liquitex – a brand popular with Andy Warhol, no less – and Golden, which was founded in 1980 by Samuel Golden, a pioneer of commercial acrylic paint. They tend to be costlier, but you can rest assured that buying paints from either of these brands will guarantee you a solid level of quality and durability.
A word to the wise, though: you’ll find many high-street stores stock their own brands of acrylic paint. These might be seductively cheap, but they’re also typically low in pigment, high in chemical additives and poor in quality – avoid.
8 of the best acrylic paint sets
Daler-Rowney System 8 x 59ml set
We’re huge fans of Daler-Rowney’s System 3 acrylic paint set at Gathered – and not just for the nostalgic memories of A-Level art classes. It’s certainly true that System 3 acrylic paint set is aimed first and foremost at students. The colours don’t have quite the same lustre as the brand’s professional-grade Galeria acrylics, but they’re highly affordable, and perfect if you plan to makes lots of paintings and experiment a lot, and you’re not worried about making a few mistakes along the way.
- Buy it now (£20.25, Amazon)
Winsor & Newton Galeria 10 x 60ml set
This Winsor & Newton acrylic paint set is a professional-grade option that’s not too pricy and a sound option for painters who are familiar with the colour wheel and know how to mix rich, vibrant colours. This starter set features 10 colours – we particularly appreciate having two warm and cool reds available. A decidedly reliable choice for painters working at easel scale.
- Buy it now (£25.16, Amazon)
Liquitex Classic Heavy Body 12 x 59ml set
This is an excellent acrylic set for those who like to thickly apply their paint (a style known as ‘impasto’). That sought-after texture is often the reason that artists eschew acrylics in favour of oils – but if you want acrylic’s much faster drying time, this professional-grade heavy-body set are the best out there. They’re significantly more expensive than the Daler-Rowney and Winsor & Newton sets, but this 12-colour set will offer you an exceptional working palette. Quinacridone magenta, a rich, lustrous colour with a high tinting strength, is always a welcome inclusion.
- Buy it now (£50.47, Amazon)
Arteza Acrylic Pouring 4 x 118ml set
Acrylic pouring is a fun activity, and one that kids with a little supervision will love. This is where you pour separate colours of acrylic paint across a horizontal surface to produce gorgeous, marbled results. But you’ll need to buy specially made pouring acrylics, such as this 4-colour set from Arteza. As you’ll see, you can choose from five separate sets, each featuring its own set of colour harmonies. Founded in 2015, Arteza is a very young art brand – we’ve yet to try any of its products, but the internet is awash with positive reviews, and we’re confident that these will produce some lovely results.
- Buy it now (£23.99, Amazon)
Golden Professional Fluid Acrylic 8 x 15ml set
This set of liquid acrylics from Golden is best suited for artists who work in a graphic style with flat areas of colour or thin, watercolour-like stains (although if you’re doing this on paper, there’s no substitute for watercolour itself). These high-end, professional-grade acrylics are particularly good for building subtle, layered glazes. We like the fact that there are two different whites included: zinc white, which is semi-translucent, and titanium white, which is much more opaque.
- Buy it now (£31.05, Amazon)
Holbein Acryla Gouache 12 x 10ml set
Many artists would categorise these hybrid paints as gouache paint, but strictly speaking they’re acrylics, since they have exactly the same chemical properties. Acrylic gouache, or ‘acrylagouache’, is more opaque and pigment-rich than typical acrylic colours. The key difference with standard gouaches is that it can’t be reactivated with water once dry, something you can turn to your advantage. Holbein is a hugely respected paint manufacturer, and this 12-colour set will set you up nicely for small paintings and sketchbook work.
- Buy it now (£29.54, Amazon)
Sennelier Abstract Metallic Acrylic 5 x 120ml set
If you want some acrylic paints with a bit of shimmer, check out this series of metallic colours from Sennelier. They contain a special iridescent agent that gives them that extra sheen, and come in squeezable bags that should be easy to decant into pots or jars. There are five colours in the set: pearl, bronze, gold, silver and red. These might be a little too loud for picture painting, but since acrylic can be painted on to nearly everything, we’re sure you’ll find some that could be nicely decorated with these.
- Buy it now (£17.85, Amazon)
Chrome Atelier Interactive Acrylic 12 x 20ml set
On the subject of reactivating paint – here’s a real novelty: a type of acrylic you can rewet and reblend even after it’s dry. This complete set from Chroma Atelier features 12 tubes of colour, plus three different mediums to be added to the paint: a ‘slow’ medium to extend blending time, a ‘fast’ medium to speed up the drying process, and an unlocking formula that reactivates the dried paint. Being honest, this sounds like it will take some practice and patience, but there’s an instructional DVD included. If you’re an experienced acrylic artist struggling to achieve the results you want, this could well be your answer to all your problems.
- Buy it now (£33, Jackson’s Art)
Take a look at our watercolour painting for beginners guide or beginner’s guide to gouache for more painting inspiration. If you’re looking for gifts for an artistic friend or family member, take a look at our pick of the best gifts for artists and the best art sets for kids.