Every artist will have their own preferred brand of acrylic paint, based on things such as the colors available and the consistency of the paint, which ranges from extremely buttery to fluid. Rather buy a few quality colors of artist's quality acrylics than a whole range of cheap colors. (Remember, student acrylic paints are cheaper for a reason: they've usually more filler in them, or made from cheaper pigments.) Here are my personal favorites from the brands I've used in paintings.
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WINSOR & 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), 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. 10 Finity colors have been discontinued and 17 new colors introduced.
I've found the longer working time removes the rush to blend colors before they dry, but isn't so long I'm twiddling my thumbs waiting for paint to dry (except on small-size paintings). The colors are rich, intense, and saturated, with a soft butter consistency that holds brushmarks. (I used them to paint my Expressive Apple Worksheet.)
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GOLDEN ARTIST COLORS HEAVY BODY ACRYLICS
My long-term favorite brand of acrylic paint is Golden's Heavy Body acrylics. Golden is an American company created specifically to produce top-quality acrylic paints for artists. I love the range of vibrant colors, which includes an extremely useful set of neutral grays. The paint consistency is like smooth, soft butter, and it thins down for glazes easily, and dries rapidly. For serious impasto, 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, a ultra-fluid acrylic called "High Flow", a heavy body matte acrylic, and a slow-drying acrylic called Open.
03 of 12
I like Liquitex's Heavy Body Professional Artist Colors for the paint's consistency (quite buttery and 'sticky', so great for using with a knife) and because they 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 are useful if you paint mostly with glazes or fluid paint.
04 of 12
Sennelier are fast-drying acrylics with a consistency that's on the soft side of buttery. The colors are strong and saturated, mixing is easy before 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, I think Sennelier would be an excellent choice.
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M. GRAHAM & CO. ACRYLICS
M. Graham & Co.'s paints have a high pigment loading, so the colors are intense. The company says the drying time is "'slightly slower' than many other brands"; back in 2006 when I tried the review samples they sent I found I had about half an hour working time (painting on canvas). 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.
06 of 12
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.
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CHROMA ATELIER INTERACTIVE ACRYLICS
The 'big deal' about these acrylic paints is that, according to the manufacturer, they "dry differently", that 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. I found I could indeed 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.
08 of 12
MATISSE STRUCTURE FORMULA ACRYLICS
Matisse structure paint is a 'normal' 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, buttery 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 effect, you'd mix it with impasto or texture medium.
09 of 12
As Daler-Rowney artist's quality paints Cryla are generally cheaper than Golden, Liquitex, or Winsor and Newton, I use them if I've got a large area to cover, especially in an underpainting. I've found 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.)
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This is an American brand of paint which seems to be distributed only in the US. I first bought various tubes from a Utrecht store in New York because the price was competitive with more familiar brands. 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. While I wouldn't make a special trip to get hold of it, if it's one of the options at your local store, it's worth considering.
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WINSOR & NEWTON GALERIA FLOW FORMULA
While I'm a great believer in using quality artist's paints sometimes it's too inhibiting because you're worrying about wasting the paint. Then it's better to use a good student's quality paint that enables you to feel free to experiment, to just see what happens if you do something, to scrape off paint and paint over something. 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 paint). And it doesn't put too huge a dent in your pocket.
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ACRYLIC PAINTS: OTHER BRANDS
There are a number of other brands of acrylic paint on the market, for example: TriArt (Canadian), Lascaux, Grumbacher, Schmincke, Brera (Maimeri), Daniel Smith. My suggestion would be to check on the tube to see what pigments the paint is made from, whether it's been graded as lightfast, and buy a tube in a color you use regularly to see how it compares to what you usually use. (See Assessing a New Brand of Acrylic or Oil Paint for more tips.)