Acrylic vs Latex Paint: What’s the Difference Between the Two?

I must be honest with you, painting my own house wasn’t easy being a homemaker. I had to go through several choices. Right at the start, I had to decide between oil-based paints, acrylic paints, and latex-based paints. Let me tell you, the choice was hard.

Oil-based paints are slowly exiting the market. Even then, some sort of contest between acrylic paint vs. Latex Paint remains. Sadly, there’s no clear answer for people.

You’ll have to judge your painting project and decide accordingly. Now, each type of paint has some differences, positives, and negatives. Knowing them will save you the time while making choices. You’ll be able to focus on choosing the colors and painting tools instead.

Acrylic vs Latex Paint
Acrylic vs Latex Paint | A Clear Concept Between Them

What is Acrylic Paint Actually?

“Hybrids,” if you want me to describe these in one word. These things are made from mixing acrylic resins and polymer solutions that one has. Once you paint an area with acrylic paint, give it some time to dry. Once dried, the paint will be waterproof.

However, I wouldn’t think of mixing acrylic and oil-based paints together. These two don’t behave well together. Painting a large area with these things is a no go as well. Acrylic paints have hard time spreading and covering large areas without leaving visible marks. [more]

How Many Types of Acrylic Paint are There?

The answer your question is: Many. In fact, we can classify them depending on their consistency, how fast these things dry, the paint that’s use in making them etc.

Confused? Don’t be. I’ll be explaining each and every type for you in detail. Let’s get to it then, shall we?

Dividing Acrylic Paint Based on who Uses It

Yes, the heading says it all for you, guys. We can very well classify these paints based on who uses them. You’ll find three types in this category of paint. Let’s get to know them a bit better in this segment.

1. Student-Grade Paint for Hobbyists

As the name suggests, this is meant for the students of the craft. Students will naturally waste paint while learning. That’s why the makers often put in lower binder to pigment ratio when working with these things. As a result, these paints are thin in nature.

Also, you’ll find that Student-Grade paints are lower in the “Saturation” part of things. Acrylic paints of this nature offer higher-grade transparency than normal. Opaque colors are generally stickier than normal. This might not be good for some people.

The “Get Around” to the problem is adding a few fillers. This type of paint is alright if you’re on budget and need to get your project done within limitations.

2. Acrylic Paints for Artists

This type sits smack in the middle between student-grade and professional-grade colors. I’d say, these types of paints combine great pigment count, quality materials, and your wallet together. But how do the makers achieve such a state?

The answer is rather simple. They increase the binders that keep pigments together on different surfaces. However, all the other characteristics of pigments are muted. In simpler terms, you’ll not see as much “Natural Sheen,” “Transparency,” and “Staining Capacity” as you used to.

These variants will take time to dry up as well. “Why,” you ask? Well, that’s because fillers and binders mask them in every opportunity they get.

3. Professional-Grade Acrylic Paints

These paints are the best when it comes to quality. You won’t find as much binders holding down pigments as you’d find with other variants. Also, it’s natural for opacity and staining quality to vary in different colors.

On the other hand, paints designed for artists had the same opacity and staining overall.

Let me tell you this, “These paints are great if you’re experienced enough.” Experienced artists will be able to paint with limited palettes as well. However, beginners will find the color composition and pigments hard to handle on their own.

Classifying Acrylic in terms of Viscosity

If you’re new to artistry, viscosity refers to the consistency level of paints. I’d classify the acrylic paints into three types when it comes to that (most people do it in two). Let’s talk about it a bit more!

Heavy Body Paints

These are the most popular acrylic paints out there. You’ll find the texture a lot like butter. I could get results as close to oil paints as I could with these variants. I noticed that hard body paints retain brush marks as well. You’d need canvases made specially for them though. 

Soft Body Paints

Having a hard time imagining how the paint would be? Think of yoghurt when you’re coming up with the consistency. One good thing about this type is the fact that you can mix and match it with other mediums. You’ll get varied results as per requirement.

Let me warn you, things can turn out to be ugly if you’re not careful enough. However, these paints DO retain enough consistency to paint on their own. It’s relatively easy to come up with vibrant brush strokes on the canvas.

Fluid-Style Paints

If you’re into a detailed work and need appropriate tools, fluid-style acrylic paints should be your “Go-To” options. The makers supply these paints in a bottle. You have double cream texture to work with. These paints are perfect for glazing and a bit of staining effect.

Acrylic Inks

These things are by far the finest among all the variants we talked about. The secret of ink-style paints are the pigments used in them. They are “Super-Fine” and fluid. It’ll be not wrong on my part to compare these things to watercolors.  When acrylic inks dry, they leave soft gloss finish on the canvas.

People can apply these using airbrushes, pens, and brushes of their choice. One good thing that comes out of using these in airbrushes is the fact that they don’t clog. I’ve even used them in empty markers.

Classifying Acrylic Paints Based on Drying Times

These materials are known for drying quicker than normal. However, drying too fast can result in the paints drying in the brush. That’s why we see various materials being used to regulate the time. Based on that, we can classify these things in several types as well.

Open Paints – Slowest of the Bunch

As the heading applies, these variants dry the slowest. Now, slow-drying has its own merits. For example, people can do wet-into-wet painting. Feel free to blend different types of colors if you would. Case and point: You can get as close to oil painting as you want.

Interactive Acrylic Paints – Dries Fast

These paints dry very fast when compared to alternatives we currently have. There’s no rocket science there. However, people can mix various mediums with these paints to achieve varying degree of results. 

Do you know that you’ll get a liquid called, ‘Unlocking Formula’ available on the market? Mix one or two drops of said liquid with the paint and it’ll re-wet your work. Effectively, it’ll slow down the drying process.

This fixer of sort will completely seal your painting when you’re done with the tweaking.

Gouache Acrylic Paint

For people who’re in for a creamy texture on your paint, these are great options to consider. Like the other variants, this one has specific usage as well. Gouache is particularly good if you’re thinking of using flat colors to fill up a block.

Don’t confuse it with regular gouache colors. They’re opaque and re-wettable. However, this variant isn’t. It requires expert hands to be used properly.

Acrylic Markers are Here as Well!

These markers dry the fastest by far. If you’re one of the experts and do like to combine several drawing techniques in your art, markers are your best bet. These can be used with other forms of paints (duh). One good thing is that the color is bright. Oh, these babies are water and abrasion-proof as well.

What Are Acrylic Paints Used for?

Now that we’re familiar with what acrylic-based paint is and the different types it has, this is the obvious question to go for… don’t you think? Let’s find the answer to this question we posed just now.

  • Whenever you’re putting down darker shade on your paper canvas, feel free to use this medium of paint. It can be used on wooden furniture as well.
  • These paints are breathable. In other words, you’ll notice greater resistance to sun rays and rain after it dries. Hence, people often use them to paint their houses, garage, and even outdoor spaces.
  • These paints contract and expand when you need them to. They are great when you want a wide area to be covered.

Want a hand-drawn sign to be done? All you need is a good acrylic paint for the job.

Explaining Latex Paint: What Is It?

If the paint you’re holding in your hand is rather thin and not sticky, chances are… you’re dealing with a latex paint. Sure… these paints are made from high-quality acrylic resins. But there’s a catch. Instead of using a chemical base, these paints use a water base for the job.

One good thing (among many) about latex is the fact that it covers more area than acrylic does. As a result, people will need fewer coats of latex paint than acrylic to paint their houses. Of course, you’ll be able to paint wooden furniture as well.

What’s Latex Paint Used for?

Have you ever paid close attention to the paint we use on our walls? Well, these are mostly latex paint mixed with water or oil base.

I’ve seen people use latex to paint their ceilings as well. When you’re painting over a dry surface and don’t want it to be porous, feel free to use latex paint on them.

People use this variant to paint on furniture as well. You’d do well to paint on wooden surfaces with latex paints. Don’t worry, it won’t become sketchy or bloat over time.

You can use these things on canvases as well. Latex paints use water as the base. That’s why these things are odorless. These are the perfect options for people who’re allergic to paint odor. Trust me, there ARE a lot of allergic people out there.

Coloring your child’s artbook? Use latex! These paints are non-toxic as well. Hence, children are absolutely safe when using these on their art projects.

These items come in huge quantities (it’s the opposite of their acrylic counterparts). That’s why… you’d find it easier to paint large areas with these. Yes, latex paint “Is” a bit costly. But hey, when you want quality over quantity, there’s no benefit in buying cheap paint.

Acrylic vs. Latex Paints: What Are the Differences between the Two Types?

Now that we have a basic idea about each type of paint, different types they have, and their uses… we’re free to move on and discuss the subtle and not so subtle differences the two types have. Let’s get on with it then, shall we?

The Way These Are Made

One “Key” difference between the two types of paints is the base. Acrylic paints are made using chemicals. You’ll very often find strong odor and a bit of stickiness in these paints. This is due to acrylic resins that go into the making. As a result, these paints are elastic in nature.

On the other hand, latex paints are made using water as base. That’s why they won’t stretch as much as their latex counterparts do. You’ll need larger quantities of paint to cover a large area that you see. This will obviously cost you more than you think.

Notice the Difference in Pigment Quality

You’ll immediately notice the difference in pigment quality of the two types of paints. Thanks to the chemical base and a richer tone, acrylic paints have thicker pigments than watery latex paints. Remember, I said you’ll need more elasticity from Acrylics?

This is thanks to the oily pigment count. Thanks to the thin pigments of Latex paints, these babies are great sealants. Meaning, your furniture, household walls, and old trunks won’t be affected by harsh weather conditions like abrupt rain or bitter exposure to the sun.

If and when people use these paints on paper or glass, acrylic doesn’t drip and soak the paper too much. On the other hand, latex does in every opportunity it gets. Hence, be careful when coloring your artwork using the latter variant.

Which One Is Better in terms of Paint Quality?

This is a tough question to answer. I know many of you prefer latex paint. Others tend to go to acrylic for lighting up your canvas or portraying the darkest mood. I’ll put it this way: Each paint has its own merits when you consider the different uses they have.

For example, if you’re looking for a paint that’s good on various kinds of surfaces for artworks, acrylic is your best bet. This type sits well with almost every type of canvases. Artists of every level can utilize acrylic to its fullest. Home painting is a bit far off though.

On the other hand, latex is widely used for painting walls and ceilings. It will take you fewer coats of latex paint to get the job done. Washing this thing off is no fuss either. I needed a bucket of water and soap to get this thing off my walls.

You can paint furniture with both the paints. However, latex paint edges out with needing fewer coats than acrylic paint does.

The Difference in Transparency

This little point is directly relevant to the earlier one I touched on. Thanks to the rich pigments used in acrylic variety of the paint, the end result turns opaque. In fact, that’s the precise reason why people tend to use acrylic to paint darker shades on canvas.

If and when they need to brighten the color a bit, I’ve seen artists mix binders and various materials with the paint itself. So, there IS a way to take care of things.

On the other hand, latex paints are very much transparent. This is due to their watery base. You’ll even see light being reflected from a surface painted with latex. When using on canvas, make sure to paint bright subjects with this kind of material on your hands.

Which is Better in terms of Drying Time?

Without getting into too much details, I’d say latex wins this battle. Acrylic sometimes uses resins and oil as its base. That’s why the liquid doesn’t disappear all that quickly. It takes time.

However, the manufacturers use different binders and processed liquids with the base paint to modify (lessen or lengthen) the drying time of the paint. This will help students, artists, and professionals in choosing the type of paint they want.

The choice varies from surface to surface as well. The good thing about acrylic is that it expands when dry. Some acrylic paints ensure a Teflon-like coating on canvas and your walls. You need to take this into account before and during paint job.

These days, you’d find makers mixing latex with acrylic just to give it a bit of that “Expansion” as well. Usually, these paints cost more than their parents.

Which of the Two Paints Costs More?

As with all the factors we discussed in this article, the cost is dependent on so many factors as well. If you’re thinking of buying 100% acrylic paint, it’ll cost more than latex. What’s the number, you ask?

Well, it’s “Almost” twice as much. This is why, you’ll find acrylic paints being mixed with paint thinners, drying agents, multitude of solvents to make sure it attains additional properties. In this process, the cost of the paint goes down a notch as well.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

FAQ

Let’s address the areas you guys will have concerns with in this segment. Let’s answers the questions that trouble your mind.

Q: What’s Acrylic Latex Paint actually?

Normally, latex paints use rubber resins. However, you’ll find some variants using water-thinned acrylic resins (or plastic resins) in the making. We call these paints Acrylic Latex.

Q: Is it Okay to Use Latex on Canvas?

While you might not be familiar enough with latex paint being used on canvas, people can and have used it in the past. Picasso for one comes to mind. You can use house paint on your canvas if you’ve primed it first. However, house paints don’t have much longevity.

Q: Can you use latex primer under acrylic paint?

On certain surfaces, you can. Take steel for example. I’ve used latex primer on rust-free steel. Latex primer on steel increases the adhesiveness of the steel to a great degree. In return, acrylic paint is able to grant longevity, elasticity, and durable finish to our paint jobs.

Q: How long is acrylic paint good for?

If you’ve just bought a jar/can/tube of acrylic paint, rest assured. It has a long shelf life. I’d give it 2 to 5 years before going bad. It’ll last for up to ten years if you’ve sealed the container. When it goes bad, sour smell will be a telltale sign among many.

Q: Can you thin acrylic latex paint with water?

Acrylic latex is already water-thinned or water reducible. You don’t need to go any further than that.

Final Thoughts

If you’ve endured through this long article on Acrylic vs Latex paint comparison, congrats! By now, you must know what each paint is and how many variants they have. Honestly, there ARE subtle differences between the two. However, you won’t notice them right away.

For that, you’ll need to work day in day out with these paints. Or, you’ll have to take a shortcut and read through my article instead. Whatever type of paint you end up using for your art project or coloring your house, make sure you know all about it before proceeding.

This will save you a world of trouble and probably give your projects longer lifespan than before.

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Loard Eva

Hi there! I’m Eva, artist, designer, photographer and mom of three little gentlemen altogether. When I’m not playing with my kids, you’ll find me researching and writing for ChooseMarker.

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