Basic Supplies for Painting With Acrylics

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Painting with acrylics is a great way to express your creativity as it’s such a fun and versatile art form, but first, before you can get started you’re going to need a few basic painting supplies.

If you are a beginner, you don’t have to go out and buy a lot of products, you can start with just a basic kit and then gradually add to it as you gain more experience. Here is a list of essential art supplies that you will need when painting with acrylics:

Acrylic Paints

Acrylic Paint Tools- Brushes, Palette & Painting Knives, Sponges

Acrylic Paint Palette

Acrylic Paint Canvases

Acrylic Mediums & Additives

Artist Easel

Water Jars

Spray Bottle

Cleaning Cloths

Acrylic Paints

Acrylic paints come in a range of consistencies and textures that offers you the versatility to choose whatever style of painting you prefer, anything from the transparency and delicacy of watercolours through to the thick flowing textures of oils.

Acrylic paints come in both tubes and jars. The tube paint “heavy body acrylic paint” has a thick consistency and can be used directly from the tube or thinned down with water, whereas the paint in the jars “thin body acrylic paint” has already been diluted to a flowing consistency. If you are working on very large surfaces or want to paint in a watercolour-style then using the acrylics in jars would be the best choice.

In addition to consistency, acrylic paints also come in different grades, both student-grade and artist-grade acrylic paints.

The cheaper student-grade paints contain less colour pigment and are not as colourfast as the top quality pigments contained in the artist grade paints. The cheap paints will usually have either “student” or “hue” on the label.

The artist grade paints are much stronger in colour, have better coverage, are easier to mix and will last a lot longer than the student-grade paints.

There are many different brands of acrylic paint and each artist will have their own preferences based upon available colours, strength and consistency.

Even if you are a total beginner it is worth the extra investment to add at least some artist-grade paints to your palette.

Don’t get overwhelmed by the amount of colours available when you go to buy your paints. Most of the colours are just variations of what you can create yourself using just the basic primary colours.

Start out with a just a basic palette of colours (4-7 primary colours plus white), then once you gain some experience and your confidence grows, you can gradually add other colours.

For a seven colour palette plus white, you will need: cadmium red, cadmium yellow, cobalt blue, ultramarine blue, vermillion, burnt umber, burnt sienna and titanium white. This is a very basic palette and you may find it won’t mix all the colour combinations you may want, but is is a place to start.

There are also several beginner acrylic paint sets on the market that are of good artist quality and contain more than enough colours to get off with a good start. If you become serious about painting with acrylics then you might find it easier to buy your paints online as often your local store won’t carry the full range of colours.

Safety Note: some paints contain poisonous pigments, such as cadmium so just remember not to put paint brushes in your mouth and keep them away from children and pets.

Acrylic Paint Tools

Paint Brushes

You can use almost any type of brush with acrylic paints but the most suitable brushes for painting with acrylics are synthetic/nylon brushes and bristle brushes as used with oil paints. These brushes come in a wide range of sizes and shapes and are fairly inexpensive to buy.

You can also use watercolour brushes with thin acrylic paints, but it’s not usually recommended as they don’t stand up long to the abrasive nature of acrylic paints, so will tend to wear out sooner.

Acrylic paint brushes have nylon fibers that are softer than the bristle brushes but are coarser than brushes used in watercolours. Nylon brushes leave a smooth finish to your work.

Bristle brushes are coarser and are great if you like the brush marks to show through in your work, especially when using thick acrylic paints.

When choosing your brushes, don’t buy cheap craft brushes as these tend to loose a lot of bristles. Also, don’t buy natural fiber brushes like sable as they are too delicate for acrylics and are expensive.

If you are a beginner, you only need to start with a few different brushes. The best way to work out what sizes and types of brushes to get, is to just buy a couple and try them out to see how you like using them.

As a guide to get started, you could buy: a round and a flat synthetic brush and a round and a flat hog-bristle brush. Choose smaller sizes if you want to paint small details or go bigger if you want to paint large or less-detailed paintings. Choose at least one large flat brush for filling in backgrounds.

Acrylic Palette Knives

It’s up to you whether you want to use a palette knife or a paint brush to mix your paints. Palette knives are made specifically for mixing paint on the palette when working with thick acrylic paints. Ideally, if you are mixing a lot of paint at a time, then a palette knife would make the process faster before the paint begins to dry.

Painting knives are used for moving paint around on your canvas. You may like to experiment and use a painting knife instead of a brush to paint your picture. A painting knife is really only suitable if you are using thick acrylic paints and you want to create a rough textured look to your work. If you want to add a lot of fine detail or are after realism then you won’t get that with a painting knife.


There are various types of sponges that you can use in your painting to create interesting effects. They are very handy for spreading out paint over a large surface area.

Acrylic Paint Palette

A palette is a surface that you use to lay out your colors for mixing and application. There are a wide variety of paint palettes available that are suitable for acrylic paints. You can use anything from glass,wood, plastic etc as long as it holds water and doesn’t get ruined when the paint dries. I recommend that you cover your paint palette with plastic wrap before using it to keep the surface clean and prevent the acrylic paint from staining the surface.

You can also buy or make your own disposable acrylic paint palettes if you don’t like the inconvenience of having to clean your palette after every use. You might already have something at home that you could use as a palette such as an ice-cream lid or an old plastic tray. Line it with some plastic wrap or waxed paper and then when you’ve finished painting you can just throw the plastic wrap or paper away.

If you don’t want to waste the paint on your palette, you can buy a sealable paint palette with an airtight lid that keeps the moisture in and prevents the paint from drying. However, if you don’t want to go to the expense of buying one you can always make your own that will keep your paints moist for a few days or more.

Acrylic Paint Supports

A support is any surface on which a painting is applied. There is a wide variety of supports you can choose to paint on, including canvas, canvas board, cardboard, masonite, plywood, watercolour paper (at least 300gsm thick) and wood panels. Each surface affects the way the paint is absorbed and the end result can create a different effect. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different surfaces until you find one you like.

Acrylic Paint Canvases

Pre-primed stretched canvas can be bought ready for use. It comes in various textures from fine to course.

For a beginner, the easiest way to start painting is to either buy acrylic paper or canvas. Begin with cheap canvas boards which are cardboard wrapped in canvas and usually come in shrink-wrapped packs and can be picked up at art and craft stores. After you’ve experimented on these you can graduate to stretched canvas or other surfaces as you gain more experience.

Artist’s Paper

If you are just learning to paint, then any kind of paper will do to practice on.

If you want your painting to last then choose acid-free papers. Papers come in different textures from smooth to rough. Choose a texture that is suitable for the style you will use and the subject your are painting. Cold pressed papers have the roughest textures and are great for painting things like landscapes.

Papers also come in weights which affect the thickness of the paper.

Papers that are less than 300gms will need to be stretched before painting otherwise they will warp when wet paint is applied and make painting difficult. So if you don’t want to go to the hassle of stretching your papers, then choose papers that are 300gms or thicker.

Stretching Paper

To stretch paper you will need a clean firm board, a 3cm width of gum strip, a large basin of water to soak the paper in.

Soak a single sheep of paper in the water for about a minute until it’s saturated. Then, lay the paper carefully onto the board and smooth out the creases starting from the center out to the edges.

Next, cut 4 lengths of gum strip to cover the edged of the paper. Make the strips a little longer to fit over the edges. Moisten one gum strip at a time and then stick it along one edge of the paper. Repeat, until all sides are stuck down, smoothing out the paper along the way making sure it lays flat without any creases. Leave flat to dry. Allow to dry naturally.

You can also buy acrylic papers and thick watercolour papers that you can paint on straight away.

If you are using an easel, use bulldog clips to attach your paper to a sturdy backing board mounted on your easel.

Panel Boards

You can use masonite, plywood and MDF panels for painting with acrylics. Compared to canvas, these surfaces tent to provide more support and give you more control over the paint.

Whatever support you decide to use (ie. canvas, paper, masonite, MDF, plywood etc) make certain that the surface is primed beforehand so it’s suitable for painting with acrylic paint.

Priming refers to the process of using a sizing agent to seal the surface of what you want to paint on, to make it less porous while allowing the paint to flow freely and the colours to retain their brightness. You can use gesso as a primer or you can even use cheap flat plastic household paint. Just make sure you are using a water-based primer as you can’t paint acrylics over oils. You can also add a little colour to the primer to work as an under-painting layer.


To prime your surface you will need 2-3 coats of primer. Apply each coat in different directions and allow each layer to dry between coats. The finish will be slightly textured depending on how thick you apply the primer. For a smooth surface you can lightly sand each coat before applying the next.

While you can buy paper or canvas that has already been primed, these tend to come in standard sizes. If you want to paint on a surface other than paper or canvas or you want to work with odd sizes or shapes, then learning how to make your own canvases would be very useful. Making your own canvases is very easy and something that even a beginner can do.

Acrylic Mediums & Additives

You can add more versatility to painting with acrylics by mixing the acrylic paints with one or more of your choice of acrylic mediums. Here is a short list of the most common mediums:

Gesso Primer

Gesso primer is used to seal porous surfaces such as unprimed canvas ready for acrylic painting. It produces a matt surface with a slight texture and can be sanded to give a smoother finish. Gesso primer is available in white and black.

Glazing medium

This medium is added to acrylic paints to give them transparency. With all mediums it takes some practice to learn how to use it. The colour looks milky when wet but once it dries, the colour becomes transparent and the colour will become clear again. It is available in gloss or matt finish.

Acrylic Gel Retarder

This is a white, semi-clear medium which when mixed with acrylic paint, slows the drying time by up to 50%. You just add it to your paint before applying to the canvas. The more you add to your paint the more transparent your colour will become. Follow the instructions on the bottle properly, as adding too much may prevent the paint from drying.

Acrylic Matt & Gloss Varnishes

Acrylic varnishes are painted over the top to protect your finished paintings from cracking, yellowing and pollution. They are available in a both a liquid form for brush application or as a spray. Acrylic varnishes are water-based and once dry they are permanent.

Flow Enhancer

This is a colorless liquid that when added to colours enhances flow. Good for large areas of work where a smooth finish is required.

Impasto Gel Medium

This is a heavy gel medium that when added to paint, it creates a thick, bulky texture, good for covering large areas with colour. Shows up brush and knife marks. It’s available in matte or gloss.

Texture Paste

This is a thick, white paste which is applied to the surface to create texture before painting. There are a large variety of painting mediums available and can become overwhelming to a beginner. Therefore, if you have never used these mediums in your painting before, I suggest that you start with one that you think you’ll actually use a lot and practice working with it until you are happy with the results. Once you master one medium you are then free to move on and explore the others.

Artist Easel

You may not even need an easel to begin with, but if you are painting on a large surface then an easel would making painting easier.

If you’re a beginner, then go for a cheap basic easel and not a high tech one with lots of attachments. There are two basic types of easels, floor easel, if you prefer to stand to paint and a desk-top easel if you prefer to paint sitting down.

If you are only working with small supports then you can lay your canvas on a flat surface to paint.

Water Jars

You will also need an empty jar or tall container to store your paint brushes. Remember to always store your brushes with the bristles upright to keep them in their right shape.

Spray Bottle

Keep a spray bottle of water nearby. Make sure it is on mist spray setting as you only want to lightly moisten the paint on your painting to stop it from drying out, you don’t want to drown the painting in water as this will cause the paint to run and ruin your work. You will also want to spray the paint on your palette ocassionally to prevent it drying out as well. Just remember, not to spray too much water, otherwise the paint will lose its cohesiveness and the paint won’t dry properly.

Alternatively, you could use a palette wetting spray which contains a special resin that keeps the film on your paint intact while preventing the paint from drying too quickly. The film that forms on acrylic paint is important as it allows the paint to dry properly.

Cleaning Cloths

Always have cleaning cloths handy to wipe up spills, wipe your brushes off after rinsing and to keep your painting area clean. If you are painting on a table, cover it with a large cloth or plastic sheeting to protect the surface. If the area you are painting in is on carpet you might find it useful to cover the floor in a plastic cover sheet. Acrylic paints dry quickly and can stain your work surfaces and any that get onto carpet will dry hard and be very difficult to get out.

Painting With Acrylics

Hopefully, this introduction into painting with acrylics will help to inspire you to try acrylic painting for yourself. Now that you know what supplies you need to get started painting with acrylics, your next step is to learn how to use them. This is where the fun begins!

To start you on your journey, I have put together a beginner’s guide to painting with acrylics. It is filled with simple techniques, tips and inspiration that will show you how to get the most out of painting with acrylics.

If you have already started painting, then here is a list of topics that you might find useful when painting with acrylics. Just click on one of the titles below to view the page:

Beginner’s Guide to Painting With Acrylics

Acrylic Painting Techniques

Acrylic Painting Tips

Acrylic Painting Tutorials

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