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If you’re just starting to explore painting, you’ll notice that there are a ton of different types of acrylic paint and it can be so overwhelming. Do you use student grade? Why is heavy body so expensive? Is it okay to use craft paint? AAAGGGHHH!
Take a deep breath, friend, and let me tell you all about the types of acrylic paint, how they’re different, and when you would use them.
In This Article...
Different Types of Acrylic Paint
Acrylic paint can come in different consistencies and different “grades”. Here are six types of acrylic paint that most people are familiar with or have at least heard of:
- Heavy Body
- Student Grade
- Soft Body/Fluid
- Craft Paint
- Acrylic Inks
- Acrylic Paint Pens
Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty, shall we?
A lot of people will call this type of acrylic paint “professional grade” and they aren’t wrong but there are other types of professional acrylic paints, as well, so keep that in mind.
The key tidbits:
- Thick creamy consistency that reminds me of soft butter
- High pigment (color) load
- Covers really well
- Holds its shape
- Best used when you want texture or using a palette knife
When people really start to get into painting this is what I like to call “the transition” type of paint. Some artists will tell you that this type of acrylic paint is one level above craft paint but one level below heavy body paint. This is the type of paint that I have the most of and I’ve been pretty happy with it.
- More affordable than heavy body
- Less pigment load than heavy body so it may take more layers to reach the level of coverage you’re looking for
- Has some color shift (will dry darker than when it’s wet)
- Best used to cover large areas (like backgrounds) or even when you’ve been painting for a while (as long as you don’t mind painting at a slower pace and having to buy paint more frequently due to coverage)
I don’t have very much experience using this type of acrylic paint but I know that it’s very popular with artists who do acrylic pouring.
- Has a fluid consistency (very close to craft paint but even a bit more fluid)
- High pigment (color) load
- Good coverage
- Best used for drip/splatter effects on abstract paintings or paint pouring
Okay, let’s get this out of the way right out of the gate. This type of acrylic paint is probably the most controversial because it is best used for crafting and some artists don’t count craft paint as an option for acrylic painting. This is, also, the paint that I started with on my art journey.
Some people have said that it’s hard to do any color mixing (to create your own colors) but that’s not something I’ve personally experienced. Here are the details so you can make your own decision:
- Has a liquid consistency but it’s not watery (sort of like school glue)
- Most affordable
- Can be found just about anywhere that craft supplies are sold (even the dollar store!)
- Mostly filler and least amount of pigment load of the six different types of acrylic paint
- Perfectly acceptable solution if you’ve just started painting and aren’t sure if you’ll continue with it
- Best used for practicing with your brushes or when you love to paint but can’t afford to spend too much. Paint on, my friend!
And, hey, if you want more ideas for when you’re on a tight budget, check out my article “How to Save Money on Painting Supplies“.
I have never used these but I’ve seen others use them and I’m looking forward to trying them out soon!
- Super liquidy
- Highly pigmented
- Don’t fade
- Best used for abstracts, spraying, or watercolor techniques
Acrylic Paint Pens/Markers
This type of acrylic paint is an absolute life-saver for anyone who has trouble painting thin lines. They’re pretty affordable and you can even find them on Amazon.
- Can come in different grades so make sure to read up on the company if you’re looking for a high pigment load (Liquitex sells them)
- Have different tip sizes
- Can come in a pack just like colored pencils/markers
- Best used for writing (signatures, etc.), tree branches, stems, vines, or anywhere you need a fine line
Comparing 4 Different Types of Acrylic Paint
For this demonstration, I’m sticking to plain ol’ boring Titanium White acrylic paint so that you can better see the differences between them. The different types of acrylic paint I’m using are:
- Heavy Body – Golden
- Student Grade – Liquitex Basics
- Craft Paint – DecoArt Americana (Local Dollar Store)
- Paint Pens – Artistro Multi-Surface Extra Fine Tip (Amazon)
As you can see, in the image above, the heavy body paint is thick with well defined ridges in the paint blob. The student grade is still pretty thick but the shape is softer looking than the heavy body. The craft paint is much thinner than the other two and is dripping but it’s not so thin that it drips quickly. And, lastly, the paint pen is a whole different ball game.
After you’ve primed the pen, by pushing down on the tip multiple times, the paint comes out with an even and thin flow. If you noticed in the photo at the very top of this article, the paint pen kind of splattered a bit but that was because I was holding it straight up and down instead of at a slight angle which caused it to “skip” over the dry painted canvas. You literally hold it like you would a felt tip pen.
In the image, you can see that all of the different types of acrylic paint have some amount of coverage to them but there is a slight difference. Now, it may seem that such a slight difference should make that much of a difference when you’re painting but it really does. I can tell you from my own experience that I typically only use one coat of heavy body paint compared to two coats of student and even more coats if I’m using craft paint.
The paint pen doesn’t have as much opacity as the heavy body or student but it’s pretty close to the craft paint. You can get more opacity from the pen if you apply pressure but I wouldn’t suggest it because you might damage the tip.
If you decide to use a paint pen and you want good coverage, wait for the first coat to dry and then apply another coat. I like that the pens are semi-transparent especially for writing my signature. I don’t want my signature to be the focus of the piece and the transparency helps it to blend with the background.
As an artist, experimenting with different tools is part of the fun and paint is no exception. There are several types of acrylic paint and every single one of them is useful depending on what you want to do. Really, when it comes right down to it, there is no right or wrong and you are free to choose whatever you’re drawn to or what your budget allows. Which type of acrylic paint is your favorite and which are you dying to try?