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Acrylic Paint: What Is It and Why Is It So Popular?

Updated on March 6, 2017
Robie Benve profile image

Robie is an artist who believes in the power of positive thinking. She loves sharing art tips and bringing people joy through her paintings.

Acrylic Paint, a Fairly New Medium

Acrylic paint has become very popular in the last 60 years, for the delight and enjoyment of crafters and artists all around the world.

Acrylic paint is available in all kind of shades and tints, and in a vast array of qualities, from the lower quality good for crafting purposes to the more expensive quality that gives best results when mixing and manipulating with acrylic mediums.

But what is it and how was it developed?

The History of Acrylics

In the 1920s an American firm, Rohm and Haas, started experimenting mixing synthetic resins. The first products were used in false teeth and hills of shoes. Then these early polymers, or acrylics, were developed into a base for house paint.
Their resin emulsions could not absorb much pigment, so they were found only in pastel colors; too high pigment saturation turned the paint solid.

Acrylic paint has become very popular in the last 50 years, for the delight and enjoyment of crafters and artists all around the world.

How is acrylic paint made?
How is acrylic paint made? | Source

After WWII, scientists and artists, especially those that painted outdoor murals, worked together to find paints that could stand up to the weather.

The first company to make a paint a paint with a good color saturation, in 1955, was the American Pigments, from Cincinnati, Ohio. Their product was called Liquid Texture, or Liquitex, a revolutionary paint welcome by designers that quickly spread to the fine arts.

By the 1950s this new latex paint was available in the United States and was particularly embraced by younger artists, especially in the Pop Art movement.

By the 1960s acrylics spread also overseas.

Acrylic Paint, a Very Versatile Medium

Acrylic paint is a very versatile painting medium that can be used on a large assortment of materials and supports.

You can paint with acrylics on canvas, wood, clay, ceramic, and any porous material that offers a little tooth for the paint to grab on.

You just have to be careful if the material is too sleek, like ceramic tiles, acrylic paint might peel off. It may need priming.

How Are Acrylics Made?

Acrylic paint is made by mixing acrylic adhesive and pigments.

In order to obtain large quantities of paint with consistent color and characteristics, paint factories must weigh and test carefully all ingredients.

The mixture of binder and pigments includes a preservative to prevent deterioration; an antifreeze to protect tubes from cold weather; a thickening medium to make the consistency more similar to oil paint; and a wetting agent to stabilize the paint and disperse the pigments evenly in the binder.

All these additives make sure that acrylic paint will never rot, discolor, or crack.

In acrylic, happiness comes a bit faster.

— Robert Genn

Pigments and Binders in Acrylic Paint

Acrylic paint manufacturer use exactly the same pigments than makers of other painting mediums. Pigments are the minerals or chemicals that give the color to the paint.

The difference of the different paints is in the binder, the substance that holds the pigment particles together.

For example: in watercolor paint the binder is gum arabic, and the paint solvent is water; in oil paint the binder is linseed oil, and the solvent are turpentine or a petroleum derivative.

For acrylic paint the binder is a man-made liquid plastic, or polymer, and the solvent is water which makes acrylic paint very easy to clean up when still wet. The acrylic binder is milky-white when wet, but dries completely clear, giving to acrylic paint the characteristic of drying a little darker.

Acrylic Paint tubes have info on the paint characteristics on the back. You can combine different opacity, thickness, etc. to personalize even more the paint.
Acrylic Paint tubes have info on the paint characteristics on the back. You can combine different opacity, thickness, etc. to personalize even more the paint. | Source

Acrylics Vs. Oil Paint

Even if some professional artists that have been formed academically and according to a classic teachings strongly prefer oil paint and consider acrylics a lower quality medium, acrylic paint has several advantages that make it the medium of choice for beginner painters and established artists that want to experiment with its versatility.

One reason for people to prefer acrylics to oil paint is that acrylics, being water-based and odor-free, are a very convenient option for artists allergic to oil solvents, such as turpentine and mineral spirits, or that dislike their smell.

Also, acrylics dry very fast, allowing the painting process to advance quickly by rapidly adding consecutive layers of paint on dry under-painting.

Among the advantages of acrylic paint is the fact that its waterproof film is permanent, and will retain its color indefinitely. It will not yellow with age, as oil paint does, effect of the linseed-oil binder.

The fast drying quality makes it also very easy to transport a picture from a painting location to another, or to store it shortly after the end of the painting session.

Time is not the enemy with acrylics. Think of the fast-drying characteristics of the medium as an invitation to paint and repaint, until you see something you like.

— Brad Faegre

You can paint with acrylics on any non-oily surface. That makes canvases primed for oil paint unsuitable for acrylics.

If the support is pliable it can be bent or rolled without the paint to crack.


© 2012 Robie Benve

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    • Robie Benve profile image
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      Robie Benve 4 years ago from Ohio

      Glad you found my article interesting, greeneryday. Thanks a lot for reading and leaving a comment. :)

    • greeneryday profile image

      greeneryday 4 years ago from Some tropical country

      Interesting hub about acrylic paints, I have learned something new today... thank you...

    • Nettlemere profile image

      Nettlemere 4 years ago from Burnley, Lancashire, UK

      Thanks Robie, I didn't know you could get acrylic varnish (I'm quite ignorant about art stuff!)

    • Robie Benve profile image
      Author

      Robie Benve 4 years ago from Ohio

      Mmmmhh, good question. I'm pretty sure you can paint with acrylics in tiles, though I have personally never tried. I would seal it with an acrylic varnish to prevent peeling. Make sure the tile is perfectly clean and grease-free before you paint. Thanks for reading and the interesting question, now I'm curious to try too.

    • Nettlemere profile image

      Nettlemere 4 years ago from Burnley, Lancashire, UK

      I'm interested in the idea that acrylic paints are good for stencils on to walls. Do you think they could be used on tiles as well or would it peel off too easily once dry?

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