If you’re just starting out with acrylic painting and you’re confused about the difference between heavy body and fluid paints, let me help you out. Read on to find out more about the types of acrylic paint and when you might use them.
First things first — if you’re really new to acrylic painting, you might like to check out my glossary of some common terms and phrases used. Then come back here for a more in-depth look at the different types of acrylic paint that are available!
Types of acrylic paint
Heavy body paint
Heavy body acrylic paint has a thicker texture than fluid paint and is spreadable like soft butter. It can be thinned with water or an acrylic medium, making it very versatile. When thinned with water, heavy body acrylic can actually be used like watercolour paint.
If you want a lot of texture in your paintings, heavy body is the way to go. It retains brush strokes very well, meaning a lot of atmosphere can be conveyed in the way the paint is applied to the canvas.
If you like painting with palette knives or this is something you want to try in the future, you’ll want to use heavy body paint. The paint can be applied thickly, like oil paints can be, as another way to achieve a lot of texture.
Fluid/soft body paint
Fluid paint and soft body paint are essentially the same thing, but different brands tend to refer to them by different names. This paint has a more fluid texture than heavy body, as you might expect. If you find yourself constantly thinning your paint, you might like to try fluid acrylics instead.
Fluid acrylics tend to level out on the painting surface, meaning they don’t hold brush strokes or texture. If texture isn’t something you want or need in your paintings, fluid acrylics are the way to go.
Fluid acrylics are great for covering large areas, and they’re also great for flicking or splattering. I also know of abstract artists that use fluid acrylics to create colours, shapes and layers in their paintings without building texture.
Like you might expect given the name, acrylic inks are a kind of very fluid, highly pigmented acrylic. I’ve never used acrylic inks, although I definitely want to give them a go.
My understanding is that you can achieve some really interesting effects, similar to watercolour effects, but with very vivid colour. It also dries waterproof, as other kinds of acrylics do. Acrylic inks can be used straight out of the bottle for calligraphy and airbrushing.
More on this when I’ve given it a go!
Acrylic Paint Quality
So now you know about the different types of acrylic paint available, you’ll also need to know about the range of different paint qualities and brands. These are as follows:
- Craft paint: This is the cheapest kind of acrylic paint and contains the least pigment. It’s available in a huge range of colours, which is great since craft paints often don’t mix to create other colours very well.
- Student grade paint: These paints are ideal for experimenting with as a hobbyist. Although they have less pigment than artist grade paints, you can still achieve good colour mixes and make great paintings.
- Artist/professional grade paint: Also known as professional grade paint. This is the best quality paint with the highest amount of pigment, and consequently the most expensive.
You get what you pay for
I think it’s widely regarded that you get what you pay for with acrylic paints. A lot of the time, the actual pigment that gives the paint its colour is expensive, and that drives the price of the better quality paints up. Great brands include Winsor & Newton, Daler Rowney, Liquitex, and Golden.
Generally, the cheaper the paint, the less pigment it contains. This can mean cheaper paints don’t cover as well, and you can end up using more paint overall. I made this mistake recently when I ran out of titanium white and needed to get some pretty quickly. I went to the nearest stationery store and bought a kind of generic brand, and it wasn’t long before I really wished I hadn’t.
When I used it, I had to use twice as much as my previous brand, and I also had to use multiple coats. I actually used it much more quickly than the previous tube, so it’s definitely a false economy. I’m now happily using a branded tube again and back to the experience I’m used to!
So all that is to say that for the best user experience, buy the best quality paint available within your budget. There’s no point buying expensive paint if you can’t afford it, as you won’t enjoy painting with it.
There’s also no point buying expensive paint if you think you might be afraid to use it liberally. Sometimes cheaper paint can actually be more freeing, as you’re not scared to slap it on. (And that’s definitely not a technical term…!) If you want to experiment, sometimes cheaper paint is the way to go. Otherwise, I’d say buy the best quality paint you can afford.