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Acrylics: The Definitive Guide Before you Buy

  • 4 min read

With so many different brands, applications and price ranges, here are some key indicators that might help you find exactly what you need whether shopping with us or at any other retailer, and more specifically when shopping for Tri-Art products.


Product Levels

For Tri-Art Mfg. there are 3 main levels for acrylic paints; professional, developing artist and academic.

Professional quality product lines are designated such for their high pigment loading, high ratio of acrylic binder, and high quality binder selected. They are generally more expensive because of this. 

Pros
  • highest colour saturation, binding capability, flexibility
  • can be extended very far with acrylic mediums
  • has widest colour range
  • contains pure single pigment colours
  • superb colour mixing ability
  • high lightfastness capability
  • pigments are true to their natural finish whether glossy, semi-gloss, or matte, when dry
  • will experience minimal "shrinkage" when dry due to low water content
Cons
  • higher price tag
  • lower shelf stability over time

Always purchase exactly what you need of professional quality products for a painting session. The high pigment loading, high resin content and relatively low amount of water lead to lower stability in exchange for high colour saturation and permanence. Pigments are relatively unpredictable especially when in extremely high loading.

Developing artist product lines are designated such for their lower concentration of pigment and acrylic resin. Tri-Art Mfg. however uses the same quality of pigment grind for our developing artist lines as our professional quality level, simply in much lower concentration.

Pros
  • good colour saturation and binding capability
  • affordable product line
  • ideal right out of the tube or jar
  • can slightly be extended with acrylic mediums
  • high shelf stability
  • good lightfastness
Cons
  • not as many pure single pigment colours available
  • general performance will only ever be "good"
  • colours generally have one uniform semi-gloss finish
  • will experience more "shrinkage" when drying due to higher water content

In general purchase these products if you are new to acrylic painting, or wish to use these products for underpainting. The high shelf stability and lower cost make it ideal for student or hobbyist who may not always be painting.

Academic product lines are designated such for their low concentration of pigment and acrylic binder. These are products that are ideal for children and classroom use for their very budget friendly price and ease of cleaning. Tri-Art Mfg. however uses the same quality of pigment grind for our academic lines as our professional quality level, simply in very low concentration.

Pros
  • very affordable by volume
  • colours still has good mixability so accurate colour theory can be taught
  • easy to clean up, lower staining
  • all pigments are safe to use
  • very high shelf stability
Cons
  • low overall performance if compared to professional products
  • lower binding capability
  • will experience a lot of "shrinkage" when drying due to high water content
  • all colours will appear very matte and flat
  • lower paint permanence
In general these products should be reserved for classroom use or fun craft projects rather than fine art application.

 


Purchasing Acrylics: Two Rules of thumb

1. Ensure that the paint you are purchasing is 100% acrylic polymer emulsion paint.

Acrylic polymer is the highest quality water-based resin possible that manufacturers can select for paint manufacturing. It is the superior resin to use for its high binding capabilities, flexibility, and uv stabilization.

A shocking fact is that some "acrylic paint" brands may not actually contain any acrylic resin in its formulation, often using PVA resin instead. Why don't manufacturers always use acrylic polymer resin? Price. Acrylic polymer resin is the most expensive water-based resin that a manufacturer can use so often times manufacturers will either use a blend of acrylic polymer and a cheaper PVA resin, or will solely use PVA resin in their product formulation.

What is PVA resin, and why is it so bad? Polyvinyl acetate is another cheaper water-based resin that has much lower binding capabilities, is water-soluble, has low flexibility, and low UV stability compared to acrylic polymer emulsion. If present in artists paint, adhesion issues, cracking, and yellowing are all probable and undesirable effects that can occur over time.

You can identify when a product contains or might contain PVA in two ways. The product label - if only containing acrylic polymer emulsion - will likely state, "100% acrylic polymer emulsion paint". If variants of this like "made with acrylic polymer" are listed instead, or nothing is listed, chances are that the "acrylic paint" contains PVA.

Another identifier is smell. We all know the ammonia-like smell of white glue from our childhood. White glue is PVA. If you smell this ammonia-like smell when working with acrylic paints, chances are that your paints contain PVA.

All of Tri-Art's acrylic product lines no matter the product level is 100% acrylic polymer emulsion paint.

2. If purchasing professional quality products, look to ensure that the pigment ID is listed.

Although not as important as the first rule, finding the pigment ID on product labels can be a good indicator of quality especially if you are wanting to purchase a professional quality product. A pigment ID looks something like this:

PW6, where P means "pigment" and W means "white", with identification number 6. This means simply, the source for the pigment is Titanium Dioxide. This is probably the most common pigment you will find in acrylic paints - Titanium White - as it can be desired for its covering properties.

Sometimes however manufacturers may not want you - the consumer - to know what pigments are in a product specifically as certain pigments could be used as filler, or to create the perception of pigment strength - adding black pigment for example to increase the perceived "depth". 

If you are purchasing a product with the pigment codes listed the manufacturer has chosen to be transparent about what pigments they have selected specifically so that you can ensure that your colour mixes are as pure as possible.

Tri-Art manufacturing lists the pigment codes for its professional and developing artist level products.