The Best Student Grade Acrylic Paint

In Acrylic Painting by Chris BreierLeave a Comment

Pigment Strength

Below are side-by-side comparisons of student grade paint with professional grade paint. In most of the cases I was able to compare the same exact pigment with the professional version. I paint the swatches of color over a black line so you can compare the opacity of each color.

In each example, the Liquitex Basics are on the left.

Titanium White

Golden heavy body Titanium White is on the right.

Surprisingly, both versions have similar covering power. One small difference is the Liquitex Basics Titanium White seems to be a little more streaky than the Golden version.  I thought it may just be a random variation, but the green and purple have the same streaky pattern.

Phthalo Blue

The Phthalo Blue on the right is the professional heavy body acrylic from Golden.

Phthalo is a very transparent color. The Golden version seems to have a little more saturation as you’re brushing it on. When it dries they seem fairly similar.

Permanent Light Green

The basics is on the left and the Liquitex heavy body is on the right.

One thing that I notice in some of these samples is the student acrylics are more streaky than the professional acrylics. It’s most obvious in the green and purple swatches. I used the same brush for all of the colors so it’s not the brush that’s the cause.

Dioxazine Purple

The difference in the pigment strength between the student and professional acrylics is most apparent with the purple. The Liquitex professional version is very dark. When you apply it at full strength, it almost looks like black. The student version is mush lighter and streaky.

Primary Yellow

I don’t have “Primary Yellow” in the heavy body acrylics that I have in my studio. According to the Liquitex Basics color chart, they use Arylide Yellow for Primary Yellow. So I compare it to Hansa Yellow from Golden which also contains Arylide Yellow. They seem similar although the basics primary yellow on the left seems to be less transparent. This may be due to the thickness of the paint.

Napthol Crimson

I didn’t have Napthol Crimson in a professional acrylic, so I compare it to Liquitex Soft Body Napthol Red Light.

Most of these colors are fairly comparable to the professional grade acrylics. However, I do notice that some of the colors are lighter than the professional versions, especially the purple. Depending upon your style, you may not even notice this.

The student grade paints use the same names for the colors as the artists grade acrylics. This will make it easier if you decide to switch to professional acrylics in the future.

What Other Brands of Student Grade Acrylics Do I Recommend?

Perhaps you don’t like the Liquitex Basics or you can’t find them in your area. You may be wondering what other brands of student great acrylics are worth purchasing.

The general guideline that I would give you is to purchase a student grade acrylic made by a manufacturer that is well known for making artist grade paints. For example, Winsor & Newton makes student Galleria acrylics. Utrecht also is makes a student grade acrylic. Golden doesn’t offer a student grade acrylic.

Another option is to make your own student grade acrylics from professional acrylics. You can do this by adding your own acrylic mediums to extend the paint. See the section below for more information.

How Can I Save Money While Using Professional Acrylics?

One strategy you can use is to buy the less expensive colors in the professional line of acrylics. Another way to make them even more affordable is to extend them with acrylic mediums. I would also recommend using a limited palette of 6 or less colors. When you have less colors, you’ll use them up before they dry up, go bad, or get misplaced.

You can add acrylic gloss or matt medium to extend your colors. It will increase the transparency and make them more fluid. If you like thick paint then try the gels. The benefit of this approach is that if you want really strong color, you can achieve that by applying the colors at full strength.

Another strategy is to extend the colors for the early stages of the painting. Then you can use them at full strength for the final layers, or only in the areas that require them.

If you’re interested in learning how to save money on paint you may want to read my post about how to save money on art supplies. You may be surprised to learn that professional grade acrylics can cost up to $900 per gallon. In that post, I explain how you can get the most mileage out of your paint. The viscosity of the paint matters!

When Should I Switch to Professional Acrylics?

At some point in your career, you may notice the limitations of student grade acrylics. When that happens you may want to start replacing the student grade acrylics with a line of professional acrylics.

If your work requires a paint that has maximum opacity, then you will benefit to switching to professional acrylics. I would rather apply one coat of professional acrylics than apply two coats of student acrylics.

Another reason why you may want to switch is that your work would benefit from using acrylics with a different viscosity. Professional acrylics are available in different thicknesses. There are acrylics that have a consistency similar to ink. Fluid acrylics have a consistency similar to heavy cream. Heavy body acrylics are as thick as oil paints, and Soft body acrylics are somewhere in the middle.

If you’re a professional artist earning an income from your artwork, then it may make sense to upgrade to professional grade acrylics. You can mix different brands of acrylics without a problem. This will allow you to use up the student grade paints as you make the transition.

Final Thoughts

Student grade acrylics are popular among students, crafters, hobbyists and even professional artists. It makes sense save money when possible but it’s important to select a quality student grade acrylic paint that will stand the test of time. There’s nothing wrong with using student grade acrylics as a professional artist as long as you select one that’s made from quality materials.

Leave a Comment