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With evidence showing that humans have been painting for at least the past 40,000 years, the desire to paint is as natural to us as breathing. These days, artists have a huge range of options when it comes to painting, with each type of paint producing its own unique results. Deciding what type of paint works best for you will be a very personal journey that requires a lot of experimentation.
Here are some things you should know to help get you started.
Types of Paint for Art
As you begin experimenting with different media, you’ll find that different types of paint will require very different techniques and tools. Below, we’ve included a list of some of the most popular types of paint, along with their typical properties. Please be aware that there may be some variation between paint brands and series.
Relatively easy to work with, and requiring fewer supplies than other types of paint, acrylic paint is a highly versatile medium that can be used on a wide variety of surfaces. Due to its low odour, ease of cleaning, and ability to adhere to most surfaces, acrylic paint is a popular choice for professionals and beginners alike, and is also suited to children’s activities.
Here are some of the most common properties of acrylic paint:
- Fast drying (depending on your goals this can be an advantage or a disadvantage)
- Can be thinned with water
- Plays well with painting mediums and gels to achieve different textures
- Brushes can be cleaned with water (no need for harsh chemicals!)
- Can be painted over once dried
- Tends to dry a little darker than when first applied (more apparent in student quality paints)
Oil paint has been a popular medium for many years, and this is the most common type of paint used by the Old Masters. Composed of pigments suspended in oil, oil paints can be a little harder to work with than other media, and, due to the need for harsh chemicals during cleaning, may not be the best option for children.
Here are some of the properties that oil paints are known for:
- Slow drying, meaning you get plenty of time to work and blend
- Rich colours that maintain their intensity once dry
- Can be applied thickly for impasto techniques, or thinned with turpentine or white spirits
- Must be used in a well-ventilated space
- Brushes must typically be cleaned with harsh solvents
- May need to wait months before varnishing
- Incredibly long-lasting (oil paintings can last hundreds of years)
A highly expressive paint that allows for a great deal of play and experimentation, watercolour is a fun medium to play with, but can be a difficult paint to master.
Watercolour paints usually come in two formats. You can either purchase watercolour pans, or tubes of watercolour paint, which allows for a great concentration of colours and more freedom to mix.
Here are some other things to consider about watercolour paint:
- Mixes and cleans with water
- Highly transparent (this can make mistakes quite difficult to hide)
- Great for expressive work
- Due to its transparency, paint must be applied from light to dark
- Paint can be lifted off by rewetting
- Paints that have dried on the palette can still be used by adding water
- Watercolour paint typically dries lighter than when first applied
- Requires specific watercolour paper for best results
- White comes from the paper and cannot be painted in
At first look, gouache and watercolour paint may seem very similar. However, there are some notable differences between the two media:
- Gouache paint is more opaque than watercolour paint, meaning that the white of the paper (or any underpainting) will not show through as clearly
- Higher pigmentation
- Features more of a matte finish
- Allows for more detailed work, making it popular with illustrators
- Can be applied dark to light
- White can be painted in
Adhering to a range of surfaces, including wood, fabric, and canvas, airbrushing paint is a highly versatile medium with a diverse range of applications. The most popular paints for airbrushing are typically referred to as high flow acrylic paint, though you can also use acrylic ink instead. Here are some of their most defining properties:
- Many airbrushing paints and inks come pre-thinned, meaning they can pass through the airbrush nozzle straight from the bottle!
- Highly versatile
- Can be used for highly detailed and even realistic art
- Excellent option for painting minis for tabletop games
- Vibrant colours
- Can be mixed
- A little goes a long way
A durable acrylic paint that can be used on a number of different surfaces, gloss enamels are an excellent option for outdoor applications and objects that will experience heavy wear and tear.
- Air-dries to a hard, often glossy finish
- Highly durable paint is weather-resistant and can withstand high variations in temperature
- Slower drying than regular acrylic paint
- Typically colour-fast
- Water-based enamels easily clean off brushes with water (oil-based enamels require harsher chemicals)
A unique paint that’s known for its matte and chalky appearance, chalk paint is a particularly popular option for DIY home decorators wanting to achieve a more vintage style in their home. Chalk paint is usually applied to furniture to add a bit of rustic charm, but it can also be applied to walls for a shabby-chic look.
- Dries to a matte and chalky finish
- Relatively thick and opaque (excellent coverage!)
- Surfaces often requires little to no prep work
- Can be placed over some painted surfaces without the need for stripping
- Water based paint is easy to clean off brushes
- Great for furniture
- Can be sealed with waxes and finishers for a distressed or vintage look
Chalkboard Paint for Kid
Not to be confused with chalk paint, chalkboard paint is a unique type of paint that allows you to turn virtually any surface into a chalkboard! That means you can turn walls, tables, and doors into a board where your kids can explore their creativity. All you need is some chalk!
Chalkboard walls can be a great statement piece in any home, but also make a fabulous addition to classrooms. You can even apply chalkboard paint to the walls of a store or café for advertisements, announcements, or to simply personalise your space by encouraging staff (and patrons) to participate in decorating the walls.
- Chalkboard paint is great for creating an activity space for kids
- Creates a writeable surface
- Relatively low-cost
- Non-toxic and safe for kids
- Surface may require priming, depending on the material
- Can be applied to a wide variety of surfaces, including metal and plastic
Face and Body Paint
What’s more fun than drawing all over your face and body? A great activity for the kids, and an excellent option for dress-up parties, it’s important to remember that you can’t just put any old paint on your skin.
Face and body paints are typically water-based (which makes them easy to remove and resistant to melting), though there are also powder based paints available. When buying a paint, it’s essential that you check that the packaging says it’s non-toxic and safe for use on the skin.
Fabric Paint, Dyes, and Spray Paints
Another good one for the kids (though fun for adults as well), there are a range of fabric paints and dyes available that allow you to customise your clothing. Design Line’s range of 3d fabric paints, for example, allow you to create a raised line of paint that not only looks fabulous, but offers a tactile experience for kids. You can even apply glow in the dark paints to make a stylish fashion statement, no matter the time of day!
Alternatively, you can use specially designed, non-toxic dyes to give a boring white shirt a gorgeous pop of colour, or a faded old top a new lease on life. Fabric dyes can be used for a range of exciting customisation projects, including dip-dying and tie-dying.
What is the Difference Between Artist Quality and Student Quality Paints?
Paint is often divided into two main categories: artist quality and student quality. Artist quality paints are typically highly pigmented, meaning a little will go a long way. Artist quality paints also offer a broader range of colours, greater vibrancy, better coverage, and reduced fading over time. In the case of acrylic paints, this higher quality paint also tends to display less colour shift when drying, meaning that what you first paint on the canvas will more closely match the dried results.
However, it’s important to note that this higher grade of paint will reflect in the price tag.
Student quality paint, on the other hand, is significantly cheaper, though that reduced cost often comes at the expense of colour saturation and lightfastness. Often more transparent than higher quality paints, student quality usually requires a lot more paint to achieve the same level of coverage. You may also notice that your paints dry a lot darker.
To save money while painting, many artists choose to purchase both student and artist quality paints. They can then use the lower-grade paints for their underpainting, while the professional quality paint can be used on the visible top layers.
Other Painting Supplies for Beginners
Depending on the medium you choose to use and the effects that you wish to achieve, the painting supplies you’ll need to get started will vary. Here are some of the most common supplies for beginners:
- Painting surface: canvas, watercolour paper, wood, and more!
- Paintbrushes: the type of paintbrush you need will depend on the medium. Check out our range of paintbrushes, click your paint type from the ‘Collection’ drop down menu, and explore our relevant selection of brushes.
Easel: if you plan to paint out in the field, a highly portable field easel will be your best option, while a tabletop or studio easel gives you a more sturdy option for working indoors.
Paint palettes: flat paint palettes are a popular option for acrylics, while 'well' paint palettes are more suited to watercolour and other thin paints.
- Primers: for the best effects, many surfaces need to be primed prior to painting. Gesso is a popular priming medium that gives the paint something to adhere too, while also helping to prevent the canvas from rotting.
- Sealers: sealing your painting after it’s dry is a great way of protecting it from degradation. Mod Podge is a very popular sealer that comes in a range of finishes, including glossy, matte, and even antique!
- Paint sets: gathering all materials you need to start out with paints can seem overwhelming. Sometimes, the best way to get going is to purchase a paint set that contains the majority of the supplies and materials. Many paint sets feature student-quality materials, making them a more affordable option for a beginner.
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