Which Acrylic Paints – Student Or Professional Quality?


Artist quality paints:

  • smoother consistency
  • make it easier to achieve good results
  • high quality pigments and pure colors, or a combination of pure colours
  • better coverage due to higher pigment load suspended quality binders
  • easier to blend, mix and layer
  • you know exactly what hues are in the paint so colour mixing is easy and you can follow the principles of colour theory
  • wide range of colours
  • from the correct limited palette any colour can be mixed so you don’t need a large number of colours
  • better permanence. The degree of light fastness is stated

Student quality acrylic paints and craft paints:

  • not as much covering power – they have less pigment (or synthetic colours instead of pigment), more filler and cheaper binders
  • colours do not blend as well as professional quality paints
  • less range in colours and the pigments used are not specified. A “red” or “blue” is achieved with a mix of colours. It’s impossible to apply colour theory without knowing the hue
  • some effects and techniques are not possible
  • many are not light fast and light fastness is not usually stated
  • the integrity and longevity of the paint will not be as good

There is a difference between craft paints and student grade acrylic paints. Craft paints are great for the uses they are intended for. For example Americana paint is described as an all-purpose, premium quality acrylic paint used for decorative painting, home decor, and general craft painting projects.

Student grade paints are better suited to paintings on canvas and are more affordable than professional quality paints but they have their limitations.

The best student quality paint I have tested is Winsor and Newton Galeria. It has a nice soft consistency and good pigment strength. It can be mixed with medium or texture paste for thicker applications. After this I would suggest Amsterdam Standard.

But keep in mind that student quality paints have more fillers than professional paints, resulting in poor colour strength. The pigments used will dull quickly when the paint is diluted The hues are not usually given so you don’t know what results you will get by mixing two colors together. You may end up wasting paint trying to achieve what you want.

Also, I have noticed with my students, that using lesser quality paints can be very frustrating. Even if you are just “practicing” it is not worth struggling with paints that won’t give good results. Is it worth saving a few dollars for a painting that you are going to spend hours working on? It is better to use a limited palette of artist quality paints. The three correct primary colours (Magenta, Yellow and Cyan) plus white will enable you to mix any other colours you need. Add a couple of earth tones and you will be all set. Of course there are extra colors that are handy to have so you don’t have to mix them, and there are others that are nice to have as “fun” colours. So you can choose how many tubes you want to buy.

One option to save money is to get the earth tones in a student quality paint and use the artist quality paints for the ones where pure, intense colour is more important. The underpainting, where the intensity and coverage are not as critical can be done with student quality paints.

Artist grade paints have better working qualities and better covering power, making it easier to achieve good results, especially for blending (as in florals or portraits). Because of the higher pigment load, a little goes a long way and it doesn’t take several layers to get the desired coverage. The paint can be mixed with mediums and still maintain it’s colour and intensity. The colors are made with single pigments, making them more vibrant. You know exactly what hue you are using and what can be achieved with it. This makes colour mixing straightforward. You may end up using less paint than with the cheaper brands.

The brands I usually use are Liquitex and Golden. Both have excellent coverage, excellent pigment load and archival qualities. I love the soft, creamy consistency of Liquitex Soft Body for easier blending on my floral paintings. It is also great for landscapes. If you prefer a thicker consistency, there is Liquitex Heavy Body, which is thick and buttery. On the tube they list the relative hue, Munsell hue, pigment number, value, opacity, light fastness and chroma (saturation). This means you know exactly what you are getting.

Golden tube paints are a little thicker than the Liquitex Soft Body, but sill very workable. I buy these if I want a particular colour that is not available in Liquitex. Golden Fluid paints are my choice for looser paintings where I want fast coverage. They are very versatile and I also use them for abstracts. For these I can just pour the paint straight out of the bottle and mix on the canvas.

Winsor and Newton paints are also excellent. The professional line has a thicker consistency, which gives a longer working time, and they don’t darken as much as other brands when they dry. As mentioned above they also have a good student quality paint – the Galeria range.

Painting should be a rewarding experience. Learning new techniques is hard enough without struggling with paints that are not up to the job. With more filler, less pigment (or imitation pigments) and less or inferior binders you will be limited in what you can achieve. The paints won’t perform as well as you want, which makes it difficult to do your best work and progress as an artist.

If you want to sell your work as fine art paintings it is important to use quality paints that are archival – lightfast and not subject to degradation.

I encourage you to buy the best possible paints you can afford. If necessary limit your colours, rather than going for cheaper paint.

If you wish to learn more about colour theory see my two DVD set  on COLOURS AND VALUES here:



About Marianne

For Marianne painting is a celebration of the endless beauty to be found in the natural world and an expression of my concern for its preservation. Her hope is that her work will inspire in the viewer an appreciation of nature’s gifts and contribute to a greater collective environmental consciousness so that we may tread lightly on this earth of ours.



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