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Does Acrylic Paint Dry Lighter or Darker?

Acrylic paints are known for their versatile and easy use, but sometimes color matching with acrylic paint can be quite difficult. This is because it often doesn’t dry as expected. In this article we go over everything you need to know about acrylic paint drying, how you should paint certain colors, and much more!

So, does acrylic paint dry lighter or darker? Well, it depends on what type of acrylic paint you are using. If you are using normal acrylic paint, then it will dry dark. However, if you have matte acrylic paint, or even transparent colors, then it is more likely to dry lighter than you would expect. 

Should You Paint Light or Dark Colors First With Acrylic Paint?

With almost all paints, you should paint from the darkest color to the lightest color. After all, if you painted the darker colors last, it would cover up those lighter colors.

When it comes to acrylic paint, however, people tend to do things a little bit differently. Although, you don’t have to, since it’s more of a stylistic choice. Some people like to paint the middle colors onto a canvas first. The darker colors will then be painted on top of this, with the light colors wrapping things up.

The reason why you will probably want to go down this route is the fact that by painting the middle colors first, it will help those darker colors to dry a little bit lighter. It is not going to be for everybody but if you find that the colors dry darker than you would expect, and you are finding it tough to predict what a color will look like when it is completely dry, then this is something that we suggest that you do.

My favorite and top pick is always Arteza Acrylic Paints. They have so many different colors, and the quality is amazing! I usually use Arteza Paints for all my projects.

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Always make sure that you put the lighter colors last. The lighter acrylic colors should only ever be used for highlighting. Do remember that the lighter colors are still going to dry darker than you would expect, and the way in which they dry will be dependent on whatever that base layer ends up being.

When painting with new acrylic colors for the first time, I like to test out the colors and see how they interact with one another on a piece of disposable palette paper, like this one. This will allow you to predict which shades to use and the best way to approach your artwork. 

What Happens When Acrylic Paint Dries?

So, why do acrylic paints dry darker than you would expect? Well, this is all due to the way in which acrylic paints dry. As you may well know, acrylic paints are water-based paints. This means that there is water in the paint. It helps to keep the various pigments inside the paint from solidifying.

When you paint the acrylic paint onto a surface, you are spreading the acrylics and the water around in a thin layer. The acrylic paint dries as the water evaporates. When the water evaporates, all of the pigments in the acrylic paint will start to pull in close to one another. 

With no water ‘watering’ down the mixture and the raw pigments remaining, the color is going to be a lot darker than you would expect. Obviously, there is a little bit more going on in the process than just the water evaporating. There are a few solvents in there too. However, it is the water that mostly causes the color of acrylic paint to turn from a light color to a darker color as it starts to dry off.

Matte acrylic paints dry lighter due to the various compounds in the mix. Some of these compounds do not evaporate, so once they combine with the pigment, they lighten it up ever so slightly. 

Once the acrylic paint has completely dried, it should be water-resistant. Contrary to popular belief, unless the acrylic paint has had various additives in the mixture, it is not going to be completely waterproof, and you can expect it to eventually wash away or break down if it is constantly exposed to water.

This is why it’s always important to seal your acrylic paint with a varnish. I always use and recommend Krylon Sealant for all my paint projects. It protects against chips, flaking, and even UV rays!

How Do You Seal Acrylic Paint?

Sealing acrylic paint to keep it protected is dreadfully simple. However, we do want to point out that when you seal the paint, you are essentially adding an extra layer onto the mixture. This means that the paint is going to dry a little darker.

As I mentioned before, if you really want to find out how acrylic paint dries, particularly when you add a sealer onto it, then you will need to do a bit of experimentation away from your artwork. A lot of people find that once they do this, they lighten the color of paint that they are using. 

Another great brand that I use is Aleene’s Varnish Sprays. They offer acrylic paint sealer in a matte or glossy finish, which is pretty cool.

Before applying the varnish, you need to wait for the acrylic paint to completely dry. This could take anywhere from 15 minutes to a few hours, depending on the layers. You can also use an arts and crafts handheld heatgun to speed up the drying process.

Once you are sure that the paint has dried, you can apply the acrylic paint sealer and spray a thin layer over the top of your artwork. It is likely going to add a little bit of a shine to it. So once again, this is why I always encourage you to do a little bit of experimentation to ensure that the art you create ends up looking exactly how you want it to look.

It should take another 2-12 hours for the acrylic paint sealer fully to dry. Some people may also add an extra layer of varnish after this. However, this is very much a personal preference. For most, a single layer of varnish will be more than enough to protect the paint! 

Final Thoughts

Acrylic paints dry at different speeds depending on the color you are using. Most colors will dry a little bit darker, and you can expect the transparent colors to need a few layers, which can also add darkness to the original color.

Usually we apply the darkest colors first, and then work int he lighter ones. Every artist is different so you can add your own personal touch to your artwork. Adding the light colors last can create amazing spots and reflection effects as well. Make sure to seal your acrylic paint with varnish, like the one I recommend above. Your artwork will definitely thank you later.

Don’t forget to check out my other articles for all you painting Q&A’s. Happy painting!

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