Acrylics have a reputation for drying quickly, but exactly how long does it take for them to dry? This can be difficult to determine because there are so many variables to account for. The humidity, temperature, airflow, absorbency of the substrate, and the brand of the paint will affect the drying times of acrylic paint.
So, how long does it take acrylic paint to dry? Most brands of acrylic paint generally dry to the touch within 10-20 minutes. Slow drying acrylics can stay wet on the canvas for hours, depending upon the conditions. Paint that’s dry to the touch may be susceptible to damage until it fully cures. Thin layers of acrylic paint will cure within a few days while thick layers may take weeks.
You can download a free PDF summary of this post by clicking the following link: Acrylic Drying Times. It includes the table below and tips on how to adjust the drying times of acrylic paints.
Dry to the Touch vs Fully Cured
One distinction that I should emphasize is that there’s a difference between paint that’s “dry to the touch,” and paint that is fully cured. Acrylic paint dries through the process of evaporation. As the water molecules evaporate from the paint, the acrylic emulsion coalesces into a solid paint film.
Acrylic paint that’s dry to the touch may still be in the process of drying. In the “touch dry” stage, the paint is more susceptible to damage. For example, you may lift a previous layer if you aggressively paint over it with a brush.
Another concern is that if you apply a coat of varnish to a painting that isn’t dry, the moisture may make the varnish turn cloudy. This usually isn’t much of a problem if you paint in relatively thin layers because the paint will cure within a few days.
Slow drying acrylics, or acrylics with retarders added to them, may require extra drying time. Golden recommends waiting 30 days before varnishing over their line of OPEN acrylics.
|Brand of Acrylic
|Manufacturers Comments About Acrylic Drying Times
|“Acrylic colours are a quick-drying paint”
|“For controlled wet blending apply Unlocking Formula by brush or atomiser to keep paintings wet as long as desired.”
|“Cryla Artists’ Acrylic colours on average dry normally between 5 – 10 minutes”
|Golden Heavy Body
|“Wet: <5 min. Workable: 10 min touch dry: 30 min. Locked down: 3+ days”
|Golden Open Acrylics
|“Wet: 30-60 min Workable: 1-3 hrs. Can still be reopened: 12 hrs. Touch dry: 24+ hrs. Locked down: 14+ days”
|Same as above
|“Thin paint films will dry in 10– 20 minutes while thick paint films may take from an hour up to several days.”
|Page 9 of Liquitex Acrylic Book (free PDF)
|“Allowing you up to an hour of working time (depending on temperature and humidity)”
|..”they dry quickly and they are resistant to aging.”
|“Thin paint films will dry to the touch within a few minutes, while thicker quantities will need several hours.”
|“Air-dry by evaporation. Thin paint films: 10 – 20 minutes. Thick paint films: 1 hour – 3 days.”
|Winsor & Newton Galeria
|“Galeria: Thin films of colour will dry in 10-20 minutes whereas thicker films can take an hour or more.”
|Winsor & Newton Professional
|“Thin films of Professional Acrylic will dry in 20-30 minutes and thicker films can take an hour or two. This will vary according to environmental conditions.”
|Same as above
The Drying Times of Different Brands of Acrylic Paint
In the table above, I list the major brands of acrylic paint along with a statement from the manufacturer’s website regarding how long it takes for their paint to dry. As I stated in the introduction, most acrylic paints dry very rapidly. Acrylics usually dry within 10-20 minutes but you’ll notice that there’s some variation in the information from different manufacturers.
I couldn’t find any precise times from Amsterdam and they just state that their acrylics are fast drying. Whenever the manufacturer doesn’t mention how long it takes for their acrylics to dry, I assume that it’s a quick drying acrylic that takes 10-20 minutes to dry. I couldn’t find any detailed information from Sennelier and Lascaux either.
Interactive Acrylics are unique in that they work like fast drying acrylics where they dry within 20 minutes, but you can mist them with water to prevent them from drying out. Even if they become dry to the touch you can mist them with water to make them workable. If the water doesn’t reactivate the paint you can use their “unlocking formula” to rewet them. This spray only works if the paint has recently dried, it doesn’t work on paint that has had a chance to cure. Here’s a set of 12 tubes of Interactive Acrylics on Amazon. It also includes 3 different mediums: slow medium, thick slow medium, unlocking formula.
Liquitex says that their acrylics are dry within 10-20 minutes. They also make various slow drying mediums that you can use to adjust the drying times. Here’s their Slow-Dri Blending Fluid Medium on Amazon.
Golden goes into more detail and they give times for the various stages of drying. For example, the Golden heavy body acrylics will stay wet for less than 5 minutes and workable for 10 minutes. They’re dry to the touch in 30 minutes and “locked down” in 3 days or so. By “locked down,” they mean cured.
M Graham says that their acrylics will remain workable for up to an hour, depending upon the conditions. I emailed them because this seems like a long time for regular acrylics to stay wet without the addition of retarders. Their customer support responded that their acrylic paints contain 60% solids and this extends the drying times, and that many other brands of acrylics only contain 45% solids. Here’s a 6 color set of M Graham Acrylics on Amazon. I’ve never had a chance to try the M Graham acrylics out, so I can’t say how they compare to other brands. (Trying out every available brand of acrylics is very expensive).
Golden OPEN acrylics can stay wet for hours. They contain retarder so you don’t have to spend time adding retarder to your paints before you begin painting. They will dry faster if you’re painting in a hot and dry environment. Mixing them with regular acrylics will make them dry faster too.
I find that painting with OPEN acrylics is a different experience than painting with regular acrylics. The longer drying times allow me to achieve smooth blends and soft edges.
They also stay wet for a very long time if you store the palette in an air tight container. I’ve had OPEN acrylics stay wet in a palette for over a month. This saves money in the long run because you can use it up before it dries up. If you’re interested in reading more about this, I wrote a very detailed post about how to save money on art supplies.
One downside to OPEN acrylics is that they don’t have the same opacity as their line of heavy body acrylics. I believe this is because of the addition of the retarder. If you were to add retarder to your favorite acrylics, it would have the same effect. Whenever you add medium or retarder to an acrylic paint, you’re diluting the amount of pigment that it contains.
Factors That Affect Drying Time of Acrylic Paint
You can control how long it takes for acrylics to dry by controlling the environment that you work in. Below is a list of all the variables that can affect the drying times of acrylics and how to adjust them.
The amount of moisture in the air will dramatically affect how long it takes for acrylic paint to dry.
Increasing the humidity will extend the drying times, while lowering humidity will make the paint dry faster.
In an arid climate, the acrylic paint is going to dry very rapidly and painting outdoors will be challenging. You may have to resort to adding retarders to the paint and to using a wet palette to prevent the paint from drying too quickly.
Working indoors will allow you to have more control over the humidity. Heating and air conditioning systems generally remove the humidity from the air. However, some heating systems include a humidifier that adds moisture to the air.
The various areas within your house may have different humidity levels. I often paint in my basement studio which is usually more humid than the rest of the house. My basement has a humidity level of 70% without running a dehumidifier. While the higher humidity levels will allow me to blend my colors for an extended period, the higher humidity can cause mold to grow.
I use a dehumidifier to lower the humidity in my basement. It does lower the humidity but because the basement is so large, it runs almost continuously.
If you have the opposite problem where the air is too dry, you can buy a humidifier and place it near where you work. I don’t have this problem, but this humidifier from Amazon may be something worth looking into for your studio.
High temperatures will cause the water to evaporate from the paint faster, which will make them dry out faster than normal. This can make painting outdoors in the heat a challenge.
On very hot days, you may want to use a wet palette to prevent the paints from drying out on the palette. Click the following link to read the full length review I wrote of the Masterson’s sta-wet palette. It comes in two sizes. I find the smaller one is easier to use outdoors because it fits into my Pochade box. The larger palette has a lot more space, which is nice when working indoors in my studio.
Protect your work area from drafts to prevent your paint from drying too quickly.
If you work indoors then you want to avoid setting up your easel near heating or air conditioning vents, or open windows. Ceiling fans are another culprit that can cause your paints to dry quickly.
Working outdoors on a windy day will cause your paints to dry faster. When it’s windy out, I try to setup up my easel near a wind block. I try to set up my easel near a building, or any other tall structure to help reduce the wind.
The wind is also annoying because it can make your easel and canvas wobble as you’re trying to paint. Working with your back facing a wall will also prevent people from watching you while you paint. I don’t mind onlookers, but this is an option if you want some solitude while you paint outdoors.
Even though acrylics dry quickly, there are some instances where I want to make it dry faster. Glazing is a technique where you can apply transparent layers of color over previous layers of paint. If you’re interested in learning more about glazing, then you’ll want to read my post The Top 8 Uses for Acrylic Glazing Medium. I often use a hair dryer to force the paint to dry faster and to fully cure so that I can apply additional glazes without having to wait.
The combination of heat and increased air flow makes the paint dry very quickly.
Thickness of the Acrylic Paint
Thick layers of paint take longer to dry than thin layers. I apply the paint more liberally when I want to have more time for blending. It takes longer for the water to evaporate from a thick layer of paint. I use this technique in my post about how to blend acrylics. In fact, the gradient that I paint with regular heavy body acrylics looks about as smooth as the one I paint with OPEN acrylics. However, it’s still difficult to blend a large area of a canvas without having it dry before you finish blending.
When I block in the first layer of color, I usually want it to dry quickly. This is so that I can paint over it with a second layer. It’s easier to paint out mistakes and to add in the finer details if the first layer is dry. One way to make it dry faster is to paint in thin layers.
By the time I cover the canvas with the first layer of color, I can begin working on the second layer without having to wait for it to dry.
The first layer of color usually dries faster than subsequent layers because of the absorbency of the gesso.
Absorbency of the Substrate
Acrylic paint dries faster when you’re painting on an absorbent surface. The gesso that you use to prime a canvas is slightly absorbent. You’ll find that the first layer of paint will dry slightly faster than if you were painting over canvas that has a couple of layers of paint on it.
Unprimed paper is more absorbent than canvas. Painting on unprimed paper is like painting on a paper towel. The paper will absorb the moisture from the paint any won’t have as much time for blending.
Even paper that’s made for acrylics absorbs moisture from the paint, at least for the first layer of paint. When I work on paper, I often tone it with a solid color first. This will seal the paper and it also gives me an interesting color that I can allow to show through in the final painting.
Painting on unprimed canvas will cause your paints to dry faster than working on paper. I wrote an entire post about the advantages and disadvantages of painting on unprimed canvas.
Acrylics are very versatile medium. The brand of paint that you use and the conditions that you work in will have a dramatic effect upon how fast they dry. It’s possible to make acrylics stay wet so that you can take your time with blending. Alternatively, you can also take advantage of regular fast drying acrylics so that you can apply numerous layers in a short amount of time.