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For Beginners: Winsor and Newton
"Provides a wide range of colors and painting options with which to experiment."
For Impasto (Thick) and Knife Painting: Liquitex
"The paint's consistency is quite 'sticky' and buttery, great for using with a knife."
For Glazing and Blending: Sennelier
"Mixing is easy because of the soft consistency of the paint."
For Vibrant Colors: Golden Artist Colors Heavy Body
"Top-quality acrylic paints for artists in a range of vibrant colors."
For Oil Painters: Golden's Open
"An extended drying time makes them most comparable to oil paints amongst all acrylic paints."
For Color-Rich Painting: M. Graham & Co.
"Colors are sumptuous, strong and saturated, and blend together beautifully."
For Watercolor Artists: Chroma Atelier Interactive
"Don't form a skin as they dry so you can rehydrate to keep working wet-in-wet."
For Background Painting: Daler-Rowney
"Useful if you have a large area to cover, especially in an underpainting."
For Kids: Matisse Structure Formula
"Soft consistency that will hold brushmarks if used undiluted, straight from the tube."
Honorable Mention: Utrecht
"Thickly buttery but spreads easily when diluted."
For a Limited Budget: Winsor and Newton Galeria Flow
"Good strength in colors and works easily."
For Beginners: Winsor and Newton Artist's Acrylics
W&N launched this range of acrylics in January 2009 to replace their Finity series. It is indeed a different product, having a longer working time (up to half an hour), a minimal shift from wet to dry (because of a new binder), and a satin finish (rather than gloss). The tube labels have a painted color swatch rather than a printed one. Ten Finity colors have been discontinued and 17 new colors introduced. The colors are rich, intense, and saturated, with a soft butter consistency that holds brushmarks. This brand is a nice option for beginners because it provides a wide range of colors and painting options to experiment with.
For Impasto (Thick) and Knife Painting: Liquitex Acrylics
Liquitex's Heavy Body Professional Artist Colors is a well-known favorite. The paint's consistency is quite buttery and 'sticky' (so great for using with a knife) and the paints come in plastic tubes which are incredibly robust. (To be technically accurate, Liquitex comes in Glaminate, tubes made from laminated layers of plastic, metal, and paper.) There's also a Soft Body option, which is useful if you paint mostly with glazes or fluid paint.
For Glazing and Blending: Sennelier Acrylics
Sennelier makes fast-drying acrylics with a consistency that's on the soft side of buttery. The colors are strong and saturated, and mixing is easy because of the soft consistency of the paint. The paint spreads smoothly and easily on a canvas. If you like glazing and blending more than textures, Sennelier is an excellent choice.
For Vibrant Colors: Golden Artist Colors Heavy Body Acrylics
Golden is an American company created specifically to produce top-quality acrylic paints for artists. They provide a range of vibrant colors, including an extremely useful set of neutral grays. The paint consistency is like smooth, soft butter which can be thinned down for glazes easily, and dries rapidly. For serious impasto (thick layers of paint), you'll most likely want to add some medium (Golden produces a range of options, including gels and molding pastes).
Golden also produce fluid acrylics, an ultra-fluid acrylic called 'High Flow,' a heavy body matte acrylic, and a slow-drying acrylic called Open.
For Oil Painters: Golden's Open Acrylics
Launched in mid-2008, Golden's Open Acrylics have an extended drying time, making them the most comparable to oil paints amongst all acrylic paints. Open Acrylics stay workable on a normal palette for hours rather than minutes, eliminating the need for a moisture-retaining palette. Open Acrylics provide the ease of using water as a medium (and for cleaning brushes) with a long working and blending time. The color range isn't as extensive as for Golden's Heavy Duty acrylics, but the fundamentals are included.
For Color-Rich Painting: M. Graham & Co. Acrylics
M. Graham & Co.'s paints have a high pigment loading, so the colors are intense. The colors are sumptuous, very strong and saturated, and blend together beautifully. If you were used to working in oils and wanted to swap to acrylics, this would be a brand to try for the rich colors and slightly thicker consistency.
For Watercolor Artists: Chroma Atelier Interactive Acrylics
The special feature of these acrylic paints is that, according to the manufacturer, they don't form a skin as they dry so you can rehydrate them to keep working wet-in-wet by spraying some water on the paint or using a wet brush. This means it is possible to work back into the paint with a wet brush, which makes blending colors less of an urgency and easier. If you do a lot of blending of colors rather than glazing, consider this brand of acrylic.
For Background Painting: Daler-Rowney Acrylics
As Daler-Rowney artist's quality paints Cryla are generally cheaper than Golden, Liquitex, or Winsor and Newton, they are useful if you have a large area to cover, especially in an underpainting. Some colors (e.g. Prussian blue) are a bit darker than other brands, which can be useful. The consistency of the paint is stiff to buttery. (Daler-Rowney's student acrylic range is branded System 3.)
For Kids: Matisse Structure Formula Acrylics
Matisse structure paint is a typical acrylic paint that does what you'd expect from a decent artist's quality acrylic. Probably the only unexpected thing about it is that it's made in Australia and has some unique color names (such as Southern Ocean Blue or Australia Sky Blue). It has a soft consistency that will hold brushmarks if used undiluted, straight from the tube. It can be diluted with water and/or medium for painting without leaving brushmarks, for glazing, or for watercolor-type techniques. To increase the impasto (thick paint) effect, you'd mix it with impasto or texture medium.
Honorable Mention: Utrecht Acrylics
This is an American brand of paint which seems to be distributed only in the U.S. The paint is thickly buttery but spreads easily when diluted. The colors are what you'd expect from an artist's grade paint: saturated, with good tinting or covering strength depending on what color it is. If it's one of the options at your local store, it's worth considering.
For a Limited Budget: Winsor and Newton Galeria Flow Formula
Winsor & Newton's Galeria brand is an affordable or student's grade of paint that has good strength in colors and works easily (though you'll have to add texture paste if you want thick paint as it's quite soft). And it doesn't put too huge a dent in your pocket.
Color selection and saturation The range of colors available varies by brand, with some offering a more limited selection than others. If you like to experiment with unique hues, look for a wide color spectrum. If you’re just starting out, a basic palette should be enough. In addition to a variety of colors, different acrylic paints offer varying levels of saturation. Highly-saturated paints will produce more vivid colors, while less saturated brands will give a more sheer effect.
Consistency Not all acrylic paint is created equal when it comes to consistency. A butter-like texture is common, but some paints are stiffer than that while others are softer for easier mixing and blending. If you want to build texture or produce impasto-style masterpieces, look for a brand with thicker paint or add a medium to the paint formula.
Drying time Some brands of acrylic paint dry faster than others, which means you’ll need to work faster if you want to make changes or adjustments after that first brush stroke. Other acrylic paints have extended drying times, which means it may be possible to re-wet the paint for modifications, blending, or touch-ups.