Acrylics are fast-drying paint and this is one of the reasons I adore it!
I am never patient enough with the oil paint! Progressing, we are using different techniques and generating more creative ideas. And sometimes we need to slow down the dry time to achieve better color mixing or extend the work time of paint.
To make acrylic paint dry slower you can use special paint brands, special slow-drying mediums or simple water. You can also try to modify the environment or surface you paint on. There are up to 15 methods to make it dry slower, in fact.
To understand how to slow down the drying time of acrylic paint, first of all I will remind you why is acrylic paint fast-drying and by influencing on what paint properties we should extend the work time. Feel free to use my 15 methods with all recommended products and recipes included.
Table of contents:
- How long does it take for acrylic paint to dry?
- Why does acrylic paint dry fast?
- 15 ways How to Make Acrylic Paint Dry Slower
- Homemade acrylic paint retarder
How long does it take for acrylic paint to dry?
On average, artist-quality, professional acrylic takes 20-30 minutes to touch dry if used in a thin layer. Thicker layers will take 1-2 hours depending on the environment you’re painting in.
Acrylic paint is fully cured in 6 – 12 hours in a well aired, cool room.
Why does acrylic paint dry fast?
Acrylic paint is water-based. The process of acrylic paint drying is the process of water and some other agents’ evaporation.
Based on it, the hotter environment is, the faster will acrylics dry.
Acrylic paint follows several stages of drying: wet paint while we’re painting, touch dry (20-30 minutes after applying thin layer), and fully cured, solid (up to 12 hours). After this, acrylic paint starts its aging process.
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How to Make Acrylic Paint Dry Slower
There are 15 best ways to make acrylic paint dry slower. Not all of them are common, but feel free to discover them and choose the best for you or try all.
I’ll share them following the general acrylic painting process: from scratch to finishing.
- Planning and sketching
- Painting in the right environment
- Painting outdoor
- Using primed surface
- Moisturing the back of the canvas
- Using stay-wet palette
- 4 recommended wet palettes
- Homemade wet palettes
- Using non-absorbent palettes
- Spraying the palette with water
- Spraying the palette with wetting spray
- Using paint with a longer open time (longer working time)
- Using artist-grade acrylic paint
- Using paint retarders
- Using acrylic glazing liquids
- Thicker application
- Using plastic wrap after finishing
1 – Planning and sketching
You can influence acrylic paint dry time even before you start painting. Better you plan the colors you will use and the approximate amount you’ll need, less problems you will have with harden paints.
Another good piece of advice is to make a sketch in pencil or charcoal. This will allow you to know exactly when and what color or mix to use.
2 – Painting in the right environment
Remember the ideal environment for painting:
Temperature: 65-75 degrees Fahrenheit (18 – 24 C). Humidity: 40-50% Well-aired
But if you want to make acrylic paint dry slower, you will neglect it a bit the rules.
- Paint in a cooler environment, e.i. basement or with closed curtains.
- Higher humidity (50% +) will also extend the drying time because evaporation can not happen. Just use a humidifier.
- You can also use the air conditioner or a fan to cool the room, but if your workplace has high humidity, the fan will only make acrylic dry faster.
3 – Painting outdoor
If you like to paint outdoor, make sure you follow the same guidelines: no air flows, high humidity and temperature below 65F or 18C.
Here are some extra tips on how to make acrylic paint dry slower outdoor:
- Work in a shaded area, protected from air flows and sun. If the day will be hot, try to paint early in the morning or late in the evening.
- Use a sprayer if the air is dry.
4 – Using primed surface
The general rule for painting is to use primed surfaces.
It can also make acrylic paint dry slower because any unprimed absorbent surface will soak the paint and make it dry faster. The more porous and absorbent the surface is, the faster the paint will dry.
If you are using canvas, don't forget to gesso it before painting. Here is the How to article. If you are painting on the wood, same - prepare the surface. Here is the fool guide about priming wood.
5 – Moisturizing the back of the canvas
If you’re painting on the canvas, one of the easiest and most effective way to make your acrylic paint dry slower is to spray the back of the canvas with water.
This additional water slows down the evaporation process and the drying process as well.
Please, do not “soak” your canvas with water, too much water can destroy both canvas and paint and weaken paint adhesion!
How to moisture the back of the canvas to make acrylic paint dry slower:
- Fill the spray bottle with water
- Turn your canvas over to the back
- Spray the canvas with water
- Spray again when the canvas is dry.
6 – Using a wet palette
A wet palette is a very popular way to make your acrylic paint dry longer. It is a platter with a sponge and moistured palette paper for your acrylic paint to rest on. Just add some water before painting and it’s ready.
- A wet palette allows you to work with the paint for several hours and days.
- Avoid paint waisting and make blending easier
- Easy to clean compared to a normal palette
You can buy a wet palette on Amazon or make your own at home! You’ll find below 5 recommended wet palettes and a step-by-step guide for a homemade wet palette.
5 Best wet palettes:
- Masterson Sta-Wet Premier Palette
- Jucoci Wet Palette
- Rowney stay wet palette
- Travel stay wet palettes, like SAA Acrylic Keep-Wet Palette or NEEF Travel Stay Wet Palette
DIY Wet Palette
I think I’ve seen about 5 methods to make a DIY wet palette, but honestly, they are all about the same. Here are general guidelines on how to make a homemade wet palette:
Homemade wet palette #1
- Put 7-10 paper towels in layers in a plastic container
- Spray them with water thoroughly.
- Squeeze a small amount of paint onto the wet paper towels.
- Spray paints to keep them moist from the top.
- If you need to mix colors make it on a separate palette with a palette knife.
- When you finish painting close the container.
If you don’t have an airtight container or just don’t want to keep wet paint in the container, you can use a plate or a tray instead.
Homemade wet palette #2
- Place a large sponge or a pile of towels at the base of the plastic container.
- Soak the sponge with water
- Cut the wax paper and place it on the sponge.
- Squeeze a small amount of paint and start painting.
- When you finish painting close the container. You can spray the lid with water to keep more moisture inside.
- change towels to avoid mold
- don’t add too much water to avoid damaging paint quality
I would prefer to use other methods than water to make acrylic paint dry slower. Water destroys paint quality and affects its longevity, but you should try any method you find appropriate.
7 – Using non-absorbent palettes
First of all you can reuse simple food containers. Spray paint with water before closing the container and it will keep the paint from drying for days.
By non-absorbent palette, I mean not only plastic but also glass, a tile, etc, anything that will not soak your paint as paper or wood do.
8 – Spraying the palette with water
The simple way to make your acrylics dry slower with no extra cost is to periodically spray your palette. For better results use distilled water.
Spray paint as often as you need to, but avoid pouring too much water because it will affect paint quality.
Just use an empty and clean spray bottle from any beauty product:
9 – Spraying the palette with a wetting spray
As we know, water is not the best option to thin paint or make them dry slower.
To avoid the negative impact of the water, replace it with some professional wetting acrylic mediums, such as Liquitex Palette Wetting Spray for example.
The wetting spray contains slowing agents, improves color blending, and does not affect paint quality.
10 – Use paint with a longer open time
Open time is a period of time when we can work with this acrylic paint. When the paint is slow-drying, it means its open time is longer than usual. Basically, acrylic paint is fast-drying, but some brands made paints with a longer open time.
Slow-drying paint can be only used in thin layers (< 1 mm), each layer can be applied only after the last one is fully dried.
The best slow-drying paint now is Golden Open Acrylics:
|Wet||Work time||Can still be reopened||Touch dry||Cured|
|OPEN Acrylics||30-60 min.||1-3 hrs.||~12 hrs.||24+ hrs.||14+ days|
Golden Open Acrylics come in 73 different colors and sets. These paints are more expensive than a normal ones.
Another option that is basically not slow-drying but can act like one is Atelier Interactive Acrylic Paints. Mixing this paint with Atelier Unlocking Formula you extend work time and slow drying, you can also reactivate the paint again and again.
Note that you need to wait until the painting is fully cured before varnishing.
- How Long Does Acrylic Paint Take to Dry?
- 21 Best Acrylic Paint Brands for Beginners and Professional Artists
11 – Using artist-grade acrylic paint
There are 2 grades of paint: student and artist-grade. The difference between them is the quality, and the ratio of pigment to binder.
Usually, we assume that students-grade paint dries faster and the cheaper paint is, the faster it dries.
Artist-grade paint stays open a bit longer but it is still not slow drying.
12 – Using paint retarders
If any of the other methods suit you, you can also use slow-dry mediums or retarders to make acrylic paint dry slower. Retarders slow down the evaporation process and give you extra 30 minutes (less or more depending on the brand) to paint.
First of all, with paint retarder you can extend the work time of any acrylic paint, you don’t have to buy expensive Open by Golden.
Using paint retarders (also acrylic gel) is an easy and effective way to make your paint dry slower. You only need to mix it on your palette with paint in a 1:1 ratio (follow the manufacturer’s guidelines, some mediums should not exceed 15% of the mix)
You can mix a retarder with paint on the palette, but you can also use a liquid version and spray it over each layer. This will give you more work time.
One more option is using an extender to let the paint stay wet longer. They can reduce the paint quality if you add too much an extender.
11 affordable paint slow-dry or extender mediums:
|Golden Acrylic Retarder||Check price|
|Liquitex Slow-Dry Medium – *BEST*||Check price|
|Winsor & Newton Slow Drying Medium||Check price|
|Blick Artists’ Acrylic Retarder||Check price|
|Tri-Art Acrylic Retarder||Check price|
|Grumbacher Artists’ Acrylic Retarder||Check price|
|Impresa Acrylic Paint Thinner for Slow Drying Acrylic Paints||Check price|
|U.S. Art Supply Acrylic Retarder||Check price|
|Old Holland New Masters Retarder Gel Medium||Check price|
|Blick Matte Acrylic Extender||Check price|
|Winsor & Newton Galeria Extender||Check price|
How to make homemade acrylic paint retarder
To make your homemade acrylic paint retarder, we need to know what are the main ingredients of it. Typically, an acrylic paint retarder is made of an emollient and a humectant (it retains the moisture).
What we can use as an emollient for DIY acrylic retarder? Squalane, Lanolin, Sorbitol Cetearyl Alcohol (produced from coconut oil) or Glycerin, Butylene, and Propylene Glycol are all well known, and widely used petrochemical emollients.
What we can use as humectant for acrylic retarder? Glycerin, Propylene glycol, Lactic acid, Glycolic acid, urea, Hydrolyzed proteins, Citric acid, Hyaluronic acid, and Salicylic acid.
The research have shown that Glycerin can be used as retarder. In fact, it is already an ingredient in most acrylic paints. Glycerol gives the paint viscosity and extends the drying time.
Homemade Acrylic Paint Retarder recipe: mix 5:1 water to glycerol and apply 2-3 drops to your paint (or on eye).
13 – Using acrylic glazing liquids
A substitute for retarder could be an acrylic glazing liquid such as Golden Glazing Liquid.
Not all glazing liquids will work, only those that have a slow-drying effect. Check the label before buying!
A glazing liquid also improves the paint flow without affecting paint or canvas quality. It extends the working time of acrylic paint which means it will make acrylic paint dry slower.
14 – Thicker application
The basic rule of painting is that the thicker the layer is, the longer it will take it to dry. It means that only by applying thicker layers you will slow down a little bit the dry time of your paint. And this method is almost free 🙂
The fact is you still use the same paint, so it still dries as fast as it dried before and we will probably not be able to “control” how much time you have.
Experiment and make some notes on how slow the paint will dry. Make sure all layers are drier and fully cured before you apply the varnish.
15 – Using plastic wrap
This method does not involve wet canvas, paint, or using mediums. This is about how we store a finished painting session.
Remember about humidity? By covering your painting you will create something like “Greenhouse effect”.
- Spray your painting with water.
- Cover it with plastic wrap or another non-absorbent and non-breathing material
- Leave it for 3-4 days
- Continue painting!
Stay creative 🙂
Masha Eretnova is a certified teacher. She started painting and drawing 20+ years ago and now is an international abstract artist and educator passionate about acrylic painting, gouache and crafts.
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