How to Paint with Acrylics: 13 Steps

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How to Paint with Acrylics: 13 Steps
How to Paint with Acrylics: 13 Steps

Acrylics are particular colors based on acrylic resin whose main feature is extremely fast drying. They are used like watercolors, but once dry they are waterproof. Acrylic paint is extremely versatile, so it can be exploited in hundreds of different ways. The only limit is the artist's imagination! This article contains some tips on basic techniques, color mixing, coloring, and adjusting opacity.


Method 1 of 2: Prepare the Surface to Paint

Paint With Acrylics Step 1
Paint With Acrylics Step 1

Step 1. Prepare the surface you are going to paint on

It can be painted on plywood (or pieces of wood with crossed supports) or on canvas. Choose the material you prefer among those suitable for acrylic paint.

Step 2. For the wood, you can choose to cover the surface with textured or origami paper

For an even background, paint the surface white. To fix the sheets, coat the wood with Mod Podge glue and then with paper. Use a book or other heavy object to get rid of air bubbles. Let it dry, then add another ten coats of Mod Podge.

Step 3. Sand the surface with sandpaper

Wet the surface, then sand it with 120 grit sandpaper. It is advisable to paint on as smooth a surface as possible.

Method 2 of 2: Paint

Paint With Acrylics Step 4
Paint With Acrylics Step 4

Step 1. Store acrylics properly

These colors tend to dry easily. If they start to dry out, it will be more difficult to use them. Make sure you keep them in good condition by following these guidelines:

  • From time to time, as you paint, sprinkle a little water on the palette. Use a spray bottle for convenience.
  • Squeeze a little color at a time. No need to overdo it - only use the amount of acrylic you need.
  • You can purchase a wet palette to prevent acrylics from drying out quickly. This type of palette is generally sold together with blotting paper (for the bottom layer) and wax paper (for the top layer). The absorbent paper is impregnated with a little water and then covered with greaseproof paper.

Step 2. Adjust the opacity of the colors with water

Use the acrylics as they come out of the tube, or you can mix them with white, obtaining a matte effect. Adjust the opacity by adding more water. As water is added, acrylics become more and more transparent. Use clear varnish for a watercolor or airbrushed effect.

Paint With Acrylics Step 6
Paint With Acrylics Step 6

Step 3. At first, use large brushes, then add details with thinner ones

Outline the larger edges first and define the details later. Maybe it can be useful to work on the edges with the opaque ones and to realize the details with the transparent colors.

Step 4. Make it a habit to dry your brushes

After rinsing the brushes with water, gently blot them with a clean cloth to dry them. In this way, you will avoid dirtying the canvas with any splashes and drips.

Step 5. Learn how to dilute acrylics

Acrylic painting is not complex, there are a few simple rules to follow. One of them concerns the dilution of the color: mix the acrylics with water (or white spirit) in equal parts. Do not use more water (or white spirit) than the color, otherwise the acrylics may detach from the surface after drying, even if you use a binding substance.

Mix acrylics with other substances, such as nail polish or a bulky matte paste. The enamel is used to obtain different effects, such as marbling, trompe l'oeil and glazing. The paste adds volume to the acrylic, softening the hue a little after drying, but you can make the color more glossy by adding a coat of glossy paint

Paint With Acrylics Step 9
Paint With Acrylics Step 9

Step 6. As you paint, observe your creation in a mirror

This method is for noticing some flaws.

Step 7. Learn how to mix different acrylic colors together

Mixing acrylics is not only fun, it is a fascinating experience. It is also quite difficult at times. With a little patience and a lot of experience, you will make great progress.

  • Use a humidifier: it is an acrylic resin that extends the drying time of the colors to allow you to spread them more easily. It can be used on both canvas and brushes.
  • Use the side of the brush to distribute the color. Use the tip of your finger or brush to scrape the acrylics rather than distribute them evenly.
  • Mix two different colors with the dry brush. Sometimes, it is a good idea to soften acrylics so that they mix more easily and more evenly, unless you want to get a thicker consistency and avoid full blending.

Step 8. Create the edges with masking tape

Just like painters do, you can use masking tape to create extremely straight lines. You can also apply it on an already dry painting without the danger of ruining it; spread it over the painted surface to prevent the fresh color from overflowing. Then, after painting the straight edges, remove the masking tape to contemplate your work.

Step 9. Learn how to perform highlighting and shading

The first is used to lighten acrylics, the second to darken them. Basically, do you have a gorgeous green, but you want to make it lighter, or is there a nice fuchsia, but would you rather it be darker? In acrylic paint it is possible to lighten or darken the colors by adding white and black respectively.

  • The effect obtained with the highlight depends on the starting tone. Start by adding a pinch of white, without overdoing it, modifying the hue to your liking.
  • Shading is used to darken colors. Add some black, much less than white. Mix well, otherwise you will find dark streaks in the color.
Paint With Acrylics Final
Paint With Acrylics Final

Step 10. Finished


  • After making several passes of Mod Podge, sand the surface with sandpaper (120-150 grit).
  • After choosing the surface to paint, you can cover it with textured paper, some drawings or photographs, then spread a layer of Mod Podge on these materials.


  • Some paints contain heavy metals. All good quality colors contain toxic substances, so always use gloves, especially with titanium white (which generally contains lead).
  • Acrylics get darker when dry, so keep this in mind when mixing colors.
  • If you prefer, you can purchase children's acrylics which are non-toxic. You can preserve your creations with a few passes of Mod Podge.