How To Paint With Acrylics On Canvas

Acrylic paints offer one of the best painting experiences among the different options available. It is non-toxic, dries quickly, is versatile in the sense that it can be applied to any non-greasy surface, such as leather, fabric, or wood, and is easier to clean.

A beginner might wonder: Can I paint with acrylics with as much proficiency as a pro would? The answer is yes. Acrylic paints are very easy to deal with. In this piece, we have made a comprehensive step-by-step guide on how to paint with acrylics. 

What Are Acrylics? 

Acrylic paints are simply colorants added to a polymer mixture. These are popular painting materials and offer many different types of painting textures. Different acrylics look different on different canvas surfaces. The main advantages of acrylic paints are their easy accessibility and their fast drying time. Because of their volatility, they can be easily diluted with water.

Different Shades Of Acrylic Paint

Why Use Acrylic Paints?

There are many benefits to acrylic paints. They can be used to get different effects in your painting, whether it be translucent, transparent, or opaque/glossy. Also, whipping them off is a breeze. A solution of soap and water can easily clean acrylics painting. Acrylics work in layers, and a lot of different textures can be achieved by tweaking the layers, their color combinations, and their thickness. 

Here is an example of a painting made with acrylics.

View More Examples

What Surface To Use Acrylics On?

Whether it be acrylics or any other kind of painting material, the surface of the canvas is hugely important. It can make the whole painting look completely different, depending on the combination you use. Two great options for acrylic paints are stretched canvas and art canvas because they can endure multiple layers of paint with ease.

Another great option is canvas board. The beauty of acrylic paints is that they offer great results for almost all canvas types. And this is the reason why acrylics are not only used by beginners but by experts as well, because they offer so many textures and options.

What Should Your Equipment Look Like?

The basic equipment you need to canvas an acrylic painting includes the following:

  • Acrylic paints
  • Brushes 
  • Canvas
  • Water
  • A cleaning cloth
  • A palette to mix up your acrylics (optional)
  • A stencil (optional)
  • Masking tape (optional)

What Should Your Art Equipment Look Like

The Brushes 

Brushes are one of the most integral parts of painting. Artists use a combination of many different types of brushes that add unique effects to the canvas. Factors like variable water and paint compositions and different brush angles can also change the game. Different brush sizes are used for different purposes.

  • Large Brush Size—to prepare the background 
  • Medium Brush Size—to do the main painting and to add special effects
  • Small Brush Size—to add the detailing to the painting 

The Process

The first and foremost thing is to make your mental picture clear about what you want to make. Whether it's a portrait of a person or a landscape, you should first visualize the end product in your mind. Following are the phases of painting with acrylics:

Phase 1: Color Selection And Mixing 

The first step is your color selection, which is a part of your visualization process. If you want to make a landscape, you can jot down the color combination you want in it. A technique could be to use a color palette that has all the prime colors, which can then be mixed to get many other colors. 

Color Selection And Mixing

The next step is to mix the colors that you will be using to paint. Start with background color mixing. You don’t need to prepare color shades for the whole of the painting, as they dry quickly.

Phase 2: Surface Preparation 

Preparing the canvas involves two main steps: one, to clean the dust off of the surface, and two, to sand the canvas to smooth it out for a better painting experience and appearance (this is optional, and only some artists do this; most of the time, the artist canvas is already pre-prepared for painting).

Sanding refers to using sandpaper that will prepare the canvas surface before starting the painting. Once your canvas is ready, you can start painting. You can also set up all your equipment in an organized manner in this step, because now comes the main part.

Canvas Surface Preparation

Phase 3: The Paint 

After doing all this, now is the time to paint. You should follow what's comfortable for you instead of going by the book. Many people start a painting by sketching with a pencil. This way, they can perfect their design before the actual painting and make any changes if required. 

Now, after mixing up your acrylics on a palette or canvas, start painting the background first. Using a big brush, apply the paint to the surface. You can perform long and broad strokes horizontally to cover up the blank canvas. Here, you need to blend the colors. You can either use tick painting just out of the tube or you can use a watery painting. It’s all about the style of painting you want. 

You need to use a thin brush to obtain special effects such as clouds, birds, etc. A large brush will not do much here. You can make different layers of acrylic on the surface to get different textures and effects. Other mediums (different brush sizes, knives) can also be added to get different styles. A palette knife can help create the final textures. 

Phase 4: Blending

This stage of painting is very important to give the artwork a professional look. It's all a matter of the application of the correct technique. For example, consider the background; you need a green color on top that transitions into a blue color all the way down the canvas. 

First, divide the canvas vertically into three sections. Paint the upper segment green and the lower segment blue. For the middle part, mix both colors slightly, make sure not to blend too much, keep it half-mixed, and then start painting the middle part. Start by blending upward into the green area, using long horizontal strokes. Similarly, blend the lower part in the same manner.

A Pro Tip: To achieve perfect blending, use more of a green shade when blending into the green part and more of a blue shade when blending into the blue part. 

Phase 5: Painting An object

Each painting contains certain objects, such as ships, horses, geometric shapes, etc. Once the background is dried, use a light pencil to draw your object. Next, with a small brush, start painting the object. Once the base paint is applied, use different brushes to add different colors and shades to create a more realistic look.

Phase 6: The Drying 

Once the painting is complete and you're satisfied, it's time to let it cool off and dry. Acrylics usually dry quickly, but 24 hours should be given after your painting to let them dry completely. During this period, it is strictly advised that you do not move or touch your artwork at all, as this might cause disturbances for the paint and, as a result, a not-so-good final painting.

Phase 7: Finalization

Once the painting has dried off nicely, it is time to apply the final touches to it. The finalization depends on what you want to do with the painting now. If you want to sell it at a gallery or online, you can add varnish to it that will add a protective layer on top of the painting. 

Another important element is adding the frame to the painting, which will make it look more appealing. If you want to store the painting, you can cover it up with a friendly material that won't disturb the painting and its colors.

Some Great Tips And Tricks

Following are some tips you can use to create a better acrylic painting experience for yourself and a better final copy. 

  • Take Time Out To Prepare Your Canvas And Brushes

Prepare your canvas with gesso (a chalk-like material that provides a better surface for painting) that will get the painting surface ready to accept acrylic paints. A good canvas preparation before painting will result in a finer end quality. While some think this process isn't important and you can paint without it, it can add a different quality to your work. It only takes 5 minutes to do it, but it will benefit greatly in the big picture.

  • Get High-Quality Acrylic Paints And Brushes

You must invest in high-quality equipment for your painting because cheap brushes and acrylics will always give a poor final result, no matter how hard you try. The vibrance of cheap acrylics is also very poor. Your set of brushes and their quality are core to creating a great painting.

  • Practice Your Acrylics On A Scrap Canvas

Before starting the main painting, you must familiarize yourself with the paint brushes and the acrylics on a rough canvas. You can mix up the colors and see what blends you're getting. 

For better practice, you can use all the elements from your actual painting, like the same paint brushes, acrylics, and the canvas that is going to be used for your main painting. This way, you will have experience before actually starting the painting.

  • Use Thin Layers

Painting with acrylics is a game of layers. You should carefully work with the layers. To create a better final product, you can use thin layers and sandwich them on top of each other. A common method is to use lighter colors for the underlayers and then darker colors on top. A better way is to practice all these on an experimental basis before applying them to the main canvas.


If you haven't yet used acrylic paint, now is the time. Before using them for your main painting, try them out and familiarize yourself with them on an experimental basis. You can use them under different circumstances to see what results they offer.


How is the first layer prepared on a canvas before painting?

The first layer should always be the gesso, followed by a tone layer. The tone layer is just a slight wash that gets your canvas further ready for acrylics after the gesso is applied.

How do I remove acrylic paint?

Acrylic paint becomes permanent when it dries. Some liquids can be used to remove dry and semi-dry acrylics. These include thinners, some alcohol variants, and ammonia solutions.

Which is better: oil or acrylic?

Both oils and acrylics have pluses and minuses. Acrylics provide superior durability and adhesion qualities, while oils provide flexibility in blending choices. Oils retain moisture longer than acrylics.

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