The Best Acrylic Painting Tools

I’ve been painting for over 25 years, and in that time I have figured out some favorites when it comes to paint, brushes, and canvases.  I am not shy to admit that I am a bargain hunter, so these recommendations will deliver quality and a fair price. I get absolutely nothing from recommending these brands; these are just my favorites. Here we go!

Acrylic Paint Recommendations

When it comes to paints, there are three things to consider: pigment load (concentration of pigment in the paint), lightfastness (how much it resists fading), and consistency.  Cheaper brands of acrylic tend to have less pigment load, fade more quickly, and don’t have a refined, smooth consistency. Some cheap paints rub right off with water, even when dry. So, reserve the cheap paints for practicing, but if you want your works to last, I recommend the higher quality paints. Here are my favorites.

Beginner/Intermediate Painter: Blick Studio Paints
Blick studio paints are good quality, have a decently high pigment load, and are very affordable. I now predominantly use Blick in my art workshops because I know the quality is good and the price point is just right.

Intermediate/Advanced Painter: Liquitex Professional Series or Golden Paints
Golden, in my opinion, is the best acrylic paint. They have a high pigment load and perform beautifully. They also have a wide variety of viscosities. Golden has a wealth of “how to” information on their website.

Liquitex Professional is also a great choice, and a bit more affordable. Just like Golden, they have a high pigment load and a variety of viscosities.  Half of my paints are probably the Liquitex Professional series.

Do Not Use: Liquitex Basics. You get what you pay for here.  My biggest problem with this line of paints is that they rub off with water even when dry. They are fine if you are truly playing or experimenting, but you might want to put a layer of Golden’s Glazing Medium between layers so the paint doesn’t rub off.

Paint Brush Recommendations

Purchase a variety of brushes, at least a few flats and rounds.  Some of the other brushes like fans and filberts tend to be useful for realism. Also, match the size of your brush with the surface onto which you are painting. Be sure to get large sized brushes if you are working on anything over 20” x 20”.  I usually skip numbers. So I will get a 2 and a 6 but skip on the 4 if the brushes are expensive. Down the road I will add the in-between sizes.

Beginner/Intermediate: Blick Scholastic Wonder–great all purpose brush at a good cost.

Intermediate/Pro: Princeton Summit 6100–for low to medium viscosity paint, good for blending

Princeton Catalyst Series–for all viscosity paint, even paint with heavy gel mediums.

Large Round Brushes: Escoda Chungking–these are among my favorite brushes! They make big, bold marks, which I love!

Palette Knives

Palette knives are used to mix and apply paint. I often paint with a palette knife, especially when I am using heavy mediums mixed in with my paints.

Blick makes a decent set. Get a wide variety of sizes and shapes. Liquitex also interesting shapes of palette knives and painting spatulas.

Painting Surfaces

When it comes to acrylic painting, you want to shoot for porous surfaces such as canvas, wood, and paper. You can choose surfaces that are pre-gessoed or not. Some artists like to use acrylic paint on un-gessoed surfaces. This yields a different effect and is worth experimenting with. Most people will tell you to gesso first because that’s how the acrylic sticks to the surface, but I’ve been experimenting with painting pours on un-gessoed canvas, and I love the stain effect it produces. Some rules are meant to be broken!

Canvas

Beginner: Michael’s Super Value by Artists’ Loft

These are VERY inexpensive. A pack of 5 canvases is about $20 depending on the size. These canvases are often a bit loose when I get them, but all you need to do is spritz some water on the back and use a warm hair dryer to tighten it up. Don’t tighten it too much or the wood frame part of the canvas will warp! These are great for practice pieces. Michael’s always offers coupons, too, so this makes buying these canvases even better.

Intermediate/Advanced: Blick Premier Stretched Cotton Canvas

These are very professional canvases for an excellent price point. They have the wide 1.5” profile so that you can paint around the sides of the canvas and hang right on the wall without a frame (gallery wrap). They are usually tight and perfectly square, and arrive to my house undamaged.  I have ordered a lot of Dick Blick art supplies for my personal artwork, but also for my high school art classroom. Their customer service is great, so if a canvas arrives bent, rest assured they will send you a new one!

There are more expensive stretched canvas options out there, but I personally have not needed to experiment beyond Blick’s Premier canvases. You might check out your local art store if you want really professional stretched canvases. My local art store, Artisan’s, makes awesome stretched canvases, so if you are in the Santa Fe or Albuquerque area you might want to check these out. Generally speaking, I would recommend starting out with Blick’s Premier line, and if you want something better, then move up the ladder of investment!

Wood Panels

Have you painted on wood? If not, it’s a totally different experience. I love how smooth it is to work on wood, and how the wood grain is visible in different parts of the painting.  If you haven’t worked on wood, then I would recommend giving it a try. What’s nice about wood panels are that they are not as delicate as canvas, so you can scrape and lay down lots of texture and rough the surface up without worrying about damaging the canvas.

Most Economical: Go to local wood stores or Home Depot/Lowes. Grab a plywood or hardwood sheet (4’ x 8”) and have them cut it up for you. Lowes usually won’t cut anything smaller than 12”. Here’s an example at Lowe’s.

Another option is the circular wood panels at Lowe’s. This is an economical way to work on wood, and I think a circular painting would be super unique! If the surface is not smooth, I would gesso this really well. You might also consider sanding it first.  The circular wood panel is also a great option if you do encaustic painting.

Mid-Range: Ampersand Birch Value Packs or Blick Studio Wood Panels

You will find the surface of these much smoother than the panels at Lowe’s.  This is a good product if you want to see what it’s like to paint on wood.

Blick also makes a premier wood panel that is well-priced and excellent quality.

Expensive: Ampersand Wood Panels. Superior quality. These are amazing panels if you are serious about painting on wood! They come un-gessoed, or gessoed.

Acrylic Paper

For all levels:  Strathmore 400 Series Acrylic Painting Pad

I LOVE this paper!  I do demonstrations on it and use it for workshops in which students don’t want to carry stretched canvas home. I have worked on the same piece of paper over and over again, and it holds up really well. Plus, it is acid-free so could be framed safely if you make a masterpiece with it!

Palette

For acrylic painting, don’t buy those adorable wooden palettes with the thumb whole. I know, wearing the beret and holding the cute little wooden palette is THE artist stereotype, but wood palettes are for oil paint, and won’t be as easy to scrape the acrylic off as glass is.

What I recommend is to make your own palette out of glass. I go to my local glass store and ask to buy off-cuts, and sometimes they give it to me for free. Wear safety gloves AT ALL TIMES when handling glass!  I would try to get a rectangular piece of glass that is at least 18” x 10” or so.  It’s nice to have a big palette, so don’t go too small.


Golden Paints


Escoda Brushes

Ampersand’s Gessobord

How to make your own glass painting palette:

1–Put on safety gloves! The sides of the glass will be VERY sharp!

2–Cut a piece of cardboard to match the size of the glass you purchased.

3–Gesso the cardboard on at least one side of the cardboard and let it dry.

4. Paint another coat of gesso and let dry again.

5–Make sure the gessoed side is facing up so it’s visible through the glass.  Tape the cardboard to the glass around the sides with enough layers of duct tape to make the corners soft (not sharp and pointy!). Look at the image to the right and notice how painted white on the cardboard gives the palette a bright white surface. That’s because the best color to mix against IS white—you can see the true hue of the color that way.

I hope these recommendations are helpful to you. Feel free to comment on what products/brands YOU love to use, and tell us why.

As always, keep making great art!

Do you know I teach painting classes and 3-day artist retreats at my professional studio in Santa Fe, NM? I teach people how to paint using a step-by-step method that I developed from 28 years of painting experience. I make learning how to paint approachable, relaxed and fun, while at the same time teaching students the fundamental principles of good design so they develop the confidence to continue art-making at home. Book a class today!


Student Using One of My Handmade Glass Palettes

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