Best Acrylic Paint Sets

Updated November 2021
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Buying guide for Best acrylic paint sets

Painting not only allows you to express yourself artistically, but it can also help reduce stress, alleviate anxiety, and combat depression. Unlike oil paints, acrylic paints are easy to use, quick-drying, and simple to clean up. They’re great for students and pros alike.

If you’re a beginner, It helps to know about pigments, fillers, colors, and quality, as well as the other supplies you might need for your new hobby. But trying to sift through hundreds of different acrylic paint sets to find the one that is best for you could end up being more stressful than relaxing!

To help you have the most pleasant, stress-free shopping experience possible, we've put together this helpful buying guide on acrylic paint sets. It contains all the key components to consider when shopping.

I1 
Acrylic paint is considered the most beginner-friendly painting medium because it’s affordable, simple to use, and easy to clean.

Key considerations

Student vs. professional

While the lines blur a little, there are two basic types of acrylic paints you can purchase: those for students and those for professional artists.

Student: All paint is made using a mix of pigment (color), binder (the material that holds the pigment together when the paint dries), and filler. Student-grade paints tend to have a higher ratio of filler to pigment than artist-grade paints. As a result, student paints can be manufactured for less money, but their colors aren’t usually as vibrant. (Craft paint is lower quality than student-grade paint. It’s fine for projects, but it isn’t durable enough for fine art.)

Professional: Acrylic paint that is made for professional artists features a higher ratio of more finely ground pigments for more vibrant color. These paints also come in a wider range of colors and last longer — they won't lose their color over time. The downside is that an artist-grade paint set can be much more expensive.

Colors

Contrary to what you might think, it’s better to start with fewer colors in your acrylic paint set. As you gain experience, you can purchase sets that offer more variety. The following are the most important colors to have in your set. These colors may vary slightly depending on individual taste and preferences, but if you have some version of these, you will be able to paint nearly anything you can imagine.

  • Alizarin crimson
  • Burnt umber
  • Cadmium red
  • Cadmium yellow
  • Ivory black
  • Phthalo blue
  • Raw sienna
  • Titanium white
  • Ultramarine blue

Even if you’re just starting out, it’s better to purchase professional-grade acrylic paints rather than student-grade paints because of the higher quality and the vibrancy of the colors.

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Features

Permanence

Permanence, also called lightfastness, is the ability of the paint to resist the natural fading that occurs when the paint is exposed to light. The more durable the color, the longer your artwork will hold up. You will be happiest with an acrylic paint set that includes paint that is highly rated in this area. As a guide, the American Standard Test Measure (ASTM) rating of I means excellent lightfastness, ASTM II means very good, and ASTM III means not sufficiently lightfast. Manufactures may also denote the degree of lightfastness in other ways, such as with letter grades or stars. Make sure you understand the rating system so you aren’t disappointed by a fading masterpiece in the years to come.

Viscosity

The thickness of the paint is its viscosity. If you want acrylic paint that retains brushstrokes and makes it easier to mix colors, you want paint with high viscosity. If you prefer detail work or want to paint using more of a watercolor or dry-brush technique, you want lower viscosity. While it’s possible to thicken the consistency of the paint with different products, it’s usually easier for beginners to thin the paint, so start with a high-viscosity paint.

Drying time

One of the reasons artists love painting with acrylics is the quick drying time. However, if the paint dries out on the palette or brush, you won't be able to get much painting done. Also, it will be much more difficult to blend the paint consistently. If you prefer to work with paints that have a longer drying time, you can purchase a “retarder” or medium to slow the drying time of acrylic paints. Alternatively, you can purchase certain brands of acrylic paints that are formulated to stay wet for up to an hour and workable for several hours.

Quantity

A little paint goes a long way. If you’re in the initial stages of testing out different brands, it’s best to stick with a set that contains smaller tubes with around 2 ounces or so per tube. Once you find a set of paints you like, you can purchase larger tubes with confidence.

Supplies

It’s fine to buy an acrylic set that only contains paints because you can purchase everything else you need separately. However, a selling point of some acrylic paint sets is the included supplies. If this sounds appealing, look for an all-in-one set that includes brushes, palette, canvases, and maybe even an easel. Other bonus features are a palette knife or two, sponges, and a convenient case for storage or travel.

CAUTION 2 
Caution
Adding too much water to acrylic paints breaks down the binding agent and could cause the paint to flake off the canvas.
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Accessories
 

Easel: Art Alternatives Marquis Artists Adjustable Easel
Painting on an easel is better than painting horizontally because it allows you to be more accurate with perspective. This portable desktop model can be positioned wherever you like to paint.

Brushes: Crafts 4 All Paint Brushes
Even if your acrylic paint set comes with brushes, it’s likely only a few. This set contains 12 professional brushes that will allow you to indulge in an impressively wide range of techniques.

Palette: Art Advantage Palette
A palette is where your creativity is born. This generously sized nonstick plastic palette is designed so dried acrylic paint easily peels off.

Canvas panels: FIXSMITH Canvas Panels
Just because you have paint, easel, brushes, and palette, it doesn't mean you're ready to create. You also need a canvas. This 12-pack of canvas panels measuring 8 by 10 inches offers ample opportunity to express yourself.

If you’re just starting out, it's best to purchase your acrylics and supplies from one manufacturer. That way, you can learn how the paint and related products work together.

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Acrylic paint set prices

Inexpensive: You can purchase a set of half a dozen acrylic craft paints in little bottles for under $10. This set likely won’t include paint brushes, palette, or canvases.

Mid-range: From roughly $15 to $30 is where you will find the bulk of affordable acrylic paint sets. Within this price range, you can expect to find up to two dozen or more colors and a few basic paint brushes. Some sets come with a few canvas panels so you can get started painting right away.

Expensive: In the $50 to $100 range, the kits can vary greatly, so you have to pay attention to what you want. You can find an acrylic paint set with all the supplies you need from desktop easel and canvases to palette knives and sponges. Alternatively, you might find a set with higher-quality paints or a set with 72 colors. When you're paying more for an acrylic paint set, it’s important to research what you get to determine if it’s the right set for you.

Tips

  • Keep paints away from small children and pets. Some acrylic paints are toxic. The pigments that are used in some colors contain chemicals such as cadmium and cobalt. Be sure to read all the labels to learn if the color you’re using is toxic.
  • Don’t eat or drink while painting. Besides getting crumbs in your paint, you could get paint in your mouth.
  • Wear eye protection. If you’re engaged in a technique that requires any kind of vigorous motion where splashing or spattering is possible, it's best to protect yourself with some safety glasses.
  • Clean as you go and after you’re done. Don’t allow the paint to dry. Whether it’s on your hands, a brush, or your clothes, once acrylic paint dries it becomes much harder (but not impossible) to remove. It's best to clean as you go. When you’re done for the day, clean all the brushes and your hands with soap and water. Dried acrylic paint on the palette can often simply be peeled off. You can then soak the palette in water to remove any residual paint.
I2 
One trick to learning how to paint is to limit yourself to just three colors. You can then teach yourself how to effectively see both objects and negative space as well as light and shadow.

FAQ

Q. What are some advantages of using acrylics?

A.  Acrylics reside between oil paints and watercolors, offering qualities of each. You can apply acrylics to a wide range of surfaces, they’re water-based, and quick-drying. While some of the pigments may contain toxic chemicals, most of the colors are nontoxic (though you should always read the label to be sure). Acrylic paints are lightfast and permanent and can be cleaned up with soap and water.

Q. Are acrylics as permanent as oils?

A. Yes, acrylic paint does hold up as well as oil paint. Once cured (which can take anywhere from one week to several months depending on the thickness of the paint), acrylics are chemically stable. However, as with all paints, acrylics are only as permanent as the material they’re painted on. Once your acrylic painting has cured, it’s important to add a coat of nonporous varnish to protect the paint from dust and dirt.

Q. I'm used to using oil paints. Are acrylic paints applied the same way?

A. The biggest difference between painting with oils and painting with acrylics is the drying time. It can be very difficult to use a wet-into-wet technique — a process where wet paint is applied to or blended with wet paint — with acrylics. However, any type of dry-brush technique will be similar.

Q. Can I mix oils and acrylics?

A. No. The chemical makeup of oils and acrylics is fundamentally different, so mixing the two is not advisable. It’s possible to use oil paint on top of dried acrylic paint, but painting acrylic over oils is not a good idea.
 

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