Student grade paints are made with less expensive materials and are considerably cheaper than professional paints. There are many student grade paints on the market, and they vary in quality.
While I typically recommend professional grade acrylics if you can afford them, there are many circumstances where student grade paints may be the best option. I was once an art student on a budget and I have purchased student grade paint to save money. Occasionally, I still use them for toning canvases and in other projects.
What Is the Best Student Grade Acrylic Paint? Liquitex Basics are the best student grade acrylics that I have found. The colors won’t fade and they contain the same acrylic resin that’s found in their professional acrylics. They’re also widely available in stores and online.
A Good Balance Between Price and Quality
If you compare the prices of Liquitex Basics with their professional line of acrylics, you’ll notice they’re about a third of the cost. That’s a substantial savings.
One tip about comparing prices is that you have to figure out what each brand costs per ounce, and then compare the prices. For example, professional acrylics are typically available in 2 oz tubes (59 ml) whereas the student grade paint is availalbe in 4 oz (118 ml) or 8.5 oz (250 ml) tubes. So you have to do the math to figure out what it costs per oz and then compare.
Why Are Liquitex Basics Less Expensive?
Since the pigment is the most expensive component, the student grade paints contain less of it. Later in this post, I compare Liquitex Basics with the professional grade acrylics. Most of the colors look very similar when compared side by side, but a few of them do look like they contain less pigment.
They also substitute the more expensive pigments with inexpensive pigments that have a similar appearance. For example, the Cadmium Yellow Deep Hue contains Diarylide Yellow instead of real cadmium.
One important point about student grade paints is you should avoid buying the cheapest generic brands. You want to buy your paints from a manufacturer that has a good reputation for manufacturing quality art supplies.
If they use pigments that aren’t lightfast, the colors may eventually fade. It’s not worth saving a little money on art supplies only to have the painting fade years later.
Saving money is important , but you have to be practical about it. It can take many hours to complete a painting. How much is that time worth to you? You don’t want to compromise a painting by using subpar materials.
I recommend Liquitex Basics because they don’t sacrifice the archival nature of their paint just to make them cheaper. Liquitex Basics are a good compromise between economy and quality.
Liquitex Basics Contain the Same Resin as Professional Grade
According to the literature from Liquitex, the acrylic resin that the use and the student grade paint is the same as the professional grade acrylics.
So that means that the resin won’t yellow with time, nor will it crack. The paint should remain flexible even as it ages.
The acrylic resin is the main component of acrylic paint. The other component is the pigment which is what gives it the color. The pigments they select are important because they need to be lightfast so they won’t fade or shift in color.
If a manufacturer wants to make the absolute cheapest paints, they could use dyes instead of pigments. But that would mean that the colors could shift or fade dramatically as they age.
Liquitex is completely aware of these concerns and they don’t use dyes or inferior pigments. They have a reputation that spans decades. In fact, they were one of the first manufacturers to create acrylic paint.
The way that they make student paints more affordable is they use less pigment or substitute pigments.
The colors that they do offer are “lightfast” which means they won’t fade. I tend to think of the Liquitex Basics as their professional grade of acrylics that have been extended with acrylic mediums. They’re also similar to the hue colors from the professional line that use less expensive pigments. I discuss how to use mediums to extend paint later in this post.
If you download the color chart for Liquitex Basics, you can find the lightfast rating for every single color. They also list all of the pigments that each color contains. For example, Primary Yellow contains Arylide Yellow.
Of the 48 colors, 44 of them have a lightfast rating of I, which is “Excellent.” The rest of the colors have a rating of II which is “Very Good.” None of the colors fall below this level which should give you confidence in their ability to resist fading. This is reassuring if you sell your artwork or give it away to friends or family. It would be disappointing if the colors in your painting faded.
According to the color chart, a lightfastness rating of I “means you can expect more than 100 years without any changes.”
Another reason why I believe Liquitex Basics are the best student grade acrylics is because of their availability. At least in my area, I can find them in numerous stores. They’re carried at every craft and art supply store in the area.
There are other brands of good student acrylics but I can only find them online. It may be worth ordering a different brand online if you really prefer them over the Liquitex Basics. However, you have to plan ahead so you don’t run out of a color while you’re working on a painting. Having to wait for paints to arrive in the mail before you can finish a painting is frustrating.
Another issue that comes up with ordering paints online is that they may be out of stock for days or even weeks.
There are approximately 6 stores within a 10 mile radius of my home that carry Liquitex Basics. I’m confident that I can find the color that I’m looking for, when I need it.
It’s also more convenient to be able to look at the color in the store rather than the color swatch in the brochure. Sometimes the printed swatches aren’t entirely accurate to the actual color of the paint. The most accurate color swatches are made with the actual paint samples.
There are 48 colors available. It’s not practical to have 48 colors on your palette so you have to decide on which ones you’re going to use. My post The Seven Colors You Need to Begin Painting may be of interest to you.
Applying the information from that post to the Liquitex Basics, I recommend the following colors.
Which Colors Do I Recommend Starting With?
- Phthalo Blue
- Ultramarine Blue
- Primary Yellow
- Primary Red
- Quinacridone Magenta
- Titanium White
The 6 colors above are enough to match most of the colors that you need to finish a painting. You may notice that black isn’t on the list.
Black is optional. You can mix your own black or you can buy a tube of it for the sake of convenience. There are two blacks to choose from, Ivory Black or Mars Black.
When I paint with professional acrylics, I have a transparent yellow and an opaque yellow on my palette. None of the yellows in the Basics color chart are listed as being opaque, so I wouldn’t recommend buying a second yellow.
You can mix a variety of greens from Phthalo Blue and Primary Yellow. To make a green less saturated, try adding a small amount of a warm color to it, such as a red or magenta.
There are metallic colors available such as Gold and Silver. These may be useful if you paint abstractly, or if you use them for craft projects. I imagine the metallic colors are useful for painting figurines too.
If you’re interested in realism, you can paint the illusion of metal without using metallic paint.