What Acrylic Paints Should I Start With?

If you are new to acrylic painting or acrylic gouache, then you know how difficult it can be to choose from a wide range of colors especially if you are using acrylic paint. There are dozens of colors available, could an acrylic paint set be easier, but you need to know which one to start with. So, What acrylic paints should I start with?

There are many colors that one can start with when using acrylic paints and they include Phthalo blue, cadmium red, titanium white, mars black, cadmium yellow, green, burnt umber, orange purple, and many others. In this article, we are going to look at them one by one.

While it is possible for any artist to mix rainbow colors using primary colors (Red, yellow and blue), it is always not easy to squeeze a particular color directly from the paint tube and mix it yourself just with the paint brush. Some colors from the tube tend to be darker or brighter than anything you want to mix. so, it is important to limit your color palette.

If you want to start painting with acrylic paints, it is important to learn the skill of mixing each color, which one to start with, and in what quantity. Each acrylic color we are going to look at in this post is good to start with when you are working with acrylic paints.

Colors to Start With

Phthalo Blue

This color is very intense and extremely versatile and when combined with burnt umber, it gets very dark. It has one of the highest tinting strengths and you only need to mix it with white and you will create a lighter blue. The light blue color formed is also called thalo blue, phthalocyanine blue, or monestial blue.

If you are still new to painting, it can be difficult to use phthalo blue because it has a high tinting strength but a skilled artist can easily work with it. Using ultramarine blue is the best option for anyone who finds it difficult to use phthalo blue because it is the best standard blue to use. It is transparent but has a different hue.


Another best acrylic paint that you can use as a starter is the cadmium red medium. You can either use the cadmium red light or the dark one. The cadmium red medium is relatively opaque, warm red, and yellowish.


If you want to start your painting career, then you need to start with the titanium white color. This color is bright, opaque and it has a strong tint power which means using a little of it goes a long way. The cheapest of the white paints is the “mixing white”. This color is cheap and it is formulated to blend well with other colors.

Cadmium Yellow

It is always good to start with a tube of cadmium yellow if you are just starting to use acrylic paints. Yellow can easily be made lighter by adding white but if you cannot mix them together, you can simply buy a tube of cadmium yellow light. If you want to darken yellow, you can add a purple color rather than using black.


Starting with mars black is also another option for new artists and you can start by adding other colors in small quantities until you get used to its strength. Another acrylic paint that you can start with is ivory black. It is made from charred ivory bones.


This color can be hard to start with unless you are very careful with the proportion and colors you are using. Phthalo green acrylic paint comes in bright bluish-green. If you want to get a variety of green shades, then you can mix cadmium green with cadmium yellow.

Burnt Brown

This color is warm chocolate and it is extremely versatile and indispensable on its own. It is the best paint you can use if you want to darken other colors. Using raw umber is also a nice idea because it is cooler and slightly lighter than burnt brown.


Pure purple is very difficult to mix with other colors and that is why you need to buy dioxazine purple. It is not easy to mix purple with blues and reds unless you are a seasonal painter.


Another great color that you can start with is orange because you can create it by mixing yellow and red. If you find that you cannot mix these colors easily by yourself, you can simply purchase a tube of ready-made cadmium orange.

There are other useful acrylic paint colors that you can start with and they include, Payne grey, golden ocher, and titanium buff, or you can simply use raw titanium. Payne grey is formed by mixing red, black, and blue. The golden ocher consists of yellowish-brown and glorious golden color.

Common Questions

How Do You Determine Your Acrylic Paint Color?

When it comes to color choice, it all depends on your taste, what you may have in your art box, and the availability of your order. The main determinant will be how it will look on your palette when mixed with other slightly different colors. The choice of color will depend on the manufacturer’s ranges. Colors differ from brand to brand.

Choosing your acrylic paint should never be a big problem unless the colors you intend to match are already laid down in your picture. The best idea is to start with not more than eight colors on your palette. Make sure to start with cool and warm primary colors.

Always remember that there are no black or green colors when it comes to acrylic paints. You can get very dark colors by simply mixing brown and blues together. And if you want to get green, just mix the blues and the yellows for great results.

Some warm acrylic paint colors include ultramarine blue, cadmium red, pyrrol scarlet, vermillion, raw sienna, and yellow ochre. Cool colors include lemon yellow, pthalo blue, Prussian blue, alizarin crimson, Hansa yellow light, permanent rose, and quinacridone rose. Other colors include raw umber, burnt sienna, and burnt umber.

What Are The Best Acrylic Paints to Buy?

Acrylics come in different brands, thicknesses, and container sizes. The good thing about acrylics is that they are all mixable. You can either purchase the student’s quality or even the artist’s quality. Buying the artist’s quality will definitely give you high performance and it is the most expensive.

I always suggest that you buy the best paint you can afford. Buy paints from well-known brands such as Liquitex, Golden, and Utrecht. Always stick it with the heavy body acrylics because they have the best consistency which is similar to oil paint.

Always buy acrylic paint from well-known brands and always go for the artist’s quality and not the student’s quality. Artist acrylic paints have more pigments which will provide you with the ability to alter your painting because you can use mediums and gels.

Which Brushes Can I Use With Acrylic Paints?

Paintbrushes can be very expensive or very cheap and they come in different types and sizes. The size and shape of the paintbrush will depend on what you are painting and your painting style. The best brushes to start with are the filbert brushes.

Always start with three or four filbert brushes with flat rounded points. These brushes will provide you with different brushstrokes. You can start with the synthetic sable filberts brushes which have thin brush details. You can buy a 1″, 1/2″ or the 1/4” brush for starters.

Never buy cheap brushes because they tend to have stiff bristles which will affect your brushstrokes. Buy brushes with flexible bristles because they will ease your work. If you want your brushes to stay in a good condition, you should always wash them with soap water after every painting session. 

On What Surfaces Can I Use Acrylic Paint?

There are many supports that you can use acrylics with but it all depends on how long the paint will take to dry. If you are not sure of the drying time, you should first test it before you start painting. The most common painting surfaces include wood panels, canvas boards, stretched canvas, and paper.

Other surfaces that you can use acrylic paint include stones, walls, vinyl tiles, fabric, furniture, and so on. It is always good to purchase canvasses that have already been primed with gesso. Preparing your own canvas for painting can be time-consuming.

If you opt for the pre-made canvas, always make sure to check if it has been primed for acrylics. Oil primed canvases will not work well with acrylic paints. Painting on an oil primed canvas with acrylic paint will make your work more difficult and messy.

Where Can I Mix Acrylic Paint?

The best place to mix colors should be on a palette made of either wood, paper, or plastic. I always prefer using non-porous surfaces when mixing my colors. Using a disposable paper palette is very easy and simple to mix different colors because it is easy to clean.

Using a neutral or grey color palette for color mixing is a good idea because it provides an accurate mixture. Since acrylic paints dry so fast, it is always good to squeeze small amounts on your palette before mixing. Use a spray bottle to add water to the mixture to keep it moist.

If you want to prevent your acrylic paint from drying during painting sessions, it is good to use a sta-wet palette. It will keep your acrylic paint wet for several days and does not leave stingy lumps of paint. You can squeeze any amount of paint you want using a sta-wet palette.

Can I Mix Water With Acrylics?

Acrylic paint is water-based and that means you should always have plenty of water at your disposal when using this paint. Water is used to clean the brushes and is also used for thinning the paint. Using small amounts of water will also prevent the paint from drying.

You should always have two containers when using acrylic paint. One container is for diluting the paint and the other is for rinsing your brushes. Cleaning your brush regularly during painting sessions will guarantee you great results.

Should I Buy An Acrylic Medium?

When painting using acrylic paints, it is always best to use acrylic mediums. There are very many types of acrylic mediums available in the market and it is always good to get familiar with acrylic paint before using a medium.  But it all depends on what you want to achieve.

Mediums are used for making paint glossy, increase the drying time, improve the flow, making the paint thick, adds texture and it modifies the density of the paint. You can use water to improve the flow but this will reduce the color intensity.

Why Should I Use Heavy Body Acrylics?

Heavy body acrylics are the best because they are thick and buttery. They are designed to work the same way as traditional oil paints. You can create a thick layer of impasto layers where the brush strokes are obvious or you can use a painting knife to create a 3D effect.

The rule of thumb when it comes to the viscosity of paint is that you should use heavy-bodied acrylics because they are creamy and buttery. Heavy body acrylics are more like toothpaste or mustard when squeezed out and they can easily be spread using a brush.

Heavy body acrylics resemble PVA glue or vinyl latex which is mostly used for walls and ceiling house paint. Acrylic paint can be used as a mixed medium or it can be used for college works because it has a PVA glue heritage. So, should you go for heavy-bodied paint?

My suggestion would be to go for the more fluid ranges from a well-known manufacturer and they are even much cheaper. Heavy body acrylic paints are vicious to spread and they have a good covering power. You can also use them to create textural effects.

If you want to thicken your paint, even more, you can always try the DIY acrylic filler in your garage or shed. But if you decide to work with heavy-bodied acrylics, it is good to buy them from a well-known manufacturer. Always do your research before using heavy-bodied acrylic paints.

VIDEO. For general tips and materials you would need before starting to paint, Emily does a great list of supplies you should have at hand! WATCH – Essential Acrylic Painting Supplies! (Beginners)

Emily Mackey Art


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Ines is a self-taught artist based in the UK. Originally from Caracas, she has dabbled in the world of arts and crafts in a diversity of ways participating in city intervention projects, sustainable practices’ open exhibitions, and her illustrations being featured in anniversary editions of literary magazines.

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