Acrylic paint is a popular medium for both beginner and professional artists. Its versatility and ease of use make it an accessible option for creative projects.
However, to get the best results when working with acrylics, it’s important to understand how long the paint takes to dry. This allows you to plan your painting sessions accordingly and avoid common mistakes.
In this guide, I’ll cover everything you need to know about acrylic paint drying times. You’ll learn the science behind the drying process, what factors impact dry times, tips for speeding up or slowing down drying, how to test if the paint is dry, and more.
Understanding the Drying Process of Acrylic Paint
To understand acrylic drying times, it helps to first look at what’s happening on a chemical level as the paint dries. Acrylic paint is water-based, meaning water makes up a significant part of its composition.
As the water evaporates from the paint, the acrylic polymer chains that remain behind solidify in a process called polymerization.
The evaporation of the water is what leads to the paint drying on the surface. But polymerization allows the paint to fully harden and cure. This is why there is a difference between surface drying and full curing with acrylics:
- Surface drying occurs as the water evaporates and leaves the paint feeling dry to touch. This takes anywhere from 30 minutes to 1 hour.
- Full curing happens as polymerization completes and bonds the acrylic polymers to the painting surface. Curing can take from 2 to 3 days up to a week.
So even when acrylic paint feels dry on the surface, you should allow several days for it to fully cure before adding layers or protectively sealing the painting. Understanding the stages of the drying process will help you work successfully with acrylics.
Factors Affecting Acrylic Paint Drying Time
Several key factors impact the drying time for acrylic paint:
Humidity is one of the biggest influences on how quickly acrylic dries. Water evaporates from the paint faster in dry air versus humid air. Painting in a humid environment can double the drying time compared to dry conditions.
If you live in a humid climate or want to slow down drying, using a dehumidifier near your workspace can help speed up water evaporation from the paint. Avoid painting outdoors on extremely humid days.
Like humidity, temperature directly impacts the evaporation rate of the water in acrylics. Warmer temperatures quicken the drying process while painting in a colder environment slows it down.
Try to paint in a room between 60-77°F (15-25°C) for the fastest drying. Here’s why:
- Allows paint to fully coalesce and cure.
- Evaporation rate is ideal – not too fast or slow.
- Permits proper moisture flow through the film.
Below 15°C, drying time increases significantly. At very cool temps under 5-8°C, the paint may not cure at all.
- Evaporation is slower, so the paint doesn’t solidify as quickly.
- Moisture flow through the layers is also reduced.
Above 25°C, the paint can skin over too quickly, trapping moisture inside the film. Balance drying time if painting in warm conditions.
You can also use appliances like heaters or hairdryers to gently warm the paint and accelerate drying once applied to your surface. Don’t overheat the paint as it can cause cracking.
How Film Thickness Impacts Acrylic Paint Drying Time
Acrylic painting is a fun and accessible art form, but understanding how acrylics dry can help you avoid common mistakes.
In particular, film thickness has a significant effect on acrylic drying time that every painter should understand.
Thicker Films Drain Moisture Slower
- Thicker paint films contain more moisture that must evaporate before the paint fully dries.
- This moisture has farther to travel from the bottom up to reach the surface and evaporate.
- As the top dries, it seals over channels that moisture uses to travel through the film. This slows the process.
Doubling the film thickness more than doubles the drying time. It’s an exponential relationship, not a linear one. The moisture has increased distance to cover both laterally and vertically to reach the air.
More Acrylic Polymer Means Slower Drying
- More acrylic polymer is present in thick films, requiring more water to hydrate it.
- This additional moisture content requires more time to evaporate.
- The polymer also needs more time to coalesce and form a cohesive film.
Trapped Moisture Can Damage Paintings
If outer layers seal over before inner moisture evaporates, wet layers can be trapped inside the film. This has consequences:
- Cracking as inner moisture eventually evaporates and disrupts the film.
- Cloudiness from moisture evaporation under the surface.
Best Practices for Paint Thickness
Here are some tips for managing paint thickness when acrylic painting:
- Avoid excessively thick paint films and allow ample drying time.
- Thin layers promote faster drying, but too thin risks poor coverage and durability.
- Moderate film thickness is ideal for even drying and good cohesion.
- Use multiple thin layers for opacity rather than one thick coat.
Average Drying Time of Acrylic Paint
Under normal indoor painting conditions, here are the general drying times you can expect:
- Dry to touch: 30 minutes to 1 hour
- Fully cured: 1 to 3 days
However, depending on the factors above, actual drying times may be shorter or longer:
- Best conditions (warm, dry, thin layers): Surface dry in 10-30 minutes, full cure in 1 day
- Worst conditions (cool, humid, thick layers): Surface dry in 1-2 hours, full cure in 5-7 days
Oil and enamel paints can take up to a month to fully cure, so acrylic paint is still relatively fast drying even at its slowest. But keep these timeframes in mind as you work on paintings and plan your sessions.
How to Make Acrylic Paint Dry Faster
If you need to speed up acrylic drying times, here are some tips:
- Paint in a warm room around 70°F
- Use a dehumidifier if painting indoors
- Avoid painting in thick layers when possible
- Apply paint thinly and evenly over the surface
- Use a hair dryer on low setting or a small heater to gently warm paint after applying
- Purchase fast-drying acrylic paints designed for quick drying
Making sure your surface is properly primed and gessoed will also help the paint dry faster by allowing water to evaporate through the canvas rather than being absorbed. Avoid over-manipulating the paint once applied so the water is not worked back to the surface.
How to Know When Acrylic Paint is Dry
It can be difficult to determine just by looking if acrylic paint is fully dry yet. Here are some ways to test dryness:
- Touch the surface gently – if the paint feels dry and not cool, it’s likely to surface dry
- Check for color/sheen change – acrylics often dry slightly darker or more matte
- Try lifting paint with tape – if the tape pulls the paint up, it needs more drying time
- Inspect impasto ridges or brushstroke textures – flattened areas indicate surface dryness
- Wait the estimated time – thin layers around 30-60 minutes, thick paint 2 hours or more
Once a few days have passed, you can assume the acrylic paint film is fully cured. Acrylic maintains its flexibility when dry so check for any tackiness or coolness which indicates excess moisture.
Being familiar with how the paint feels and looks when wet versus when dry will help you estimate the dryness too.
Adding Layers to Acrylic Paint
One advantage of acrylics is the ability to layer colors quickly as the paint dries fast. But you should wait until prior layers are thoroughly surface dry before adding more paint.
- Check for dryness between thin coats using the tests above.
- Let thick layers dry for at least 1-2 hours before adding more paint to avoid lifting or cracking.
- When in doubt, wait longer – patience ensures your layers cure properly.
Wetting dried acrylic paint with water or medium to manipulate it can pull up uncured layers underneath so only do this once fully cured. Allowing enough drying time between layers results in strong cohesion.
Avoiding Common Issues with Acrylic Paint Drying
Acrylic’s quick dry time can lead to frustrating problems if you don’t understand the drying process fully:
- Cracking – Applying thick layers of paint without allowing proper prior drying time can cause paint to crack as gas evaporates too quickly from trapped lower layers.
- Lifting – Layering new paint over insufficiently dried layers leads to delamination between coats for the same reason.
- Tacky paint – High humidity causes paint to remain sticky and wet to the touch even long after application. Use a dehumidifier to dry the air.
- Shelf life – Unused acrylic paint dries out in the tube faster than other paints. Store tubes horizontally and seal lids well.
Avoiding these issues comes down to understanding impactful factors like humidity and layer thickness and painting cautiously. Rushing the process leads to cracking and lifting so patience really pays off.
Understanding Drying Times for 36 Different Acrylic Paint Brands
Not all acrylic paints are created equal when it comes to their drying speed. Some brands formulate their acrylics specifically for faster drying:
|Brand Name||Drying Time||Type||Stay Wet||Touch Dry|
|Arteza||10-30 minutes||Professional||30 minutes||15 minutes|
|Golden OPEN Acrylics||1 hour||Extended drying time||30 minutes||60 minutes|
|Liquitex Basics||5-10 minutes||Fast-drying student paint||30 minutes||15 minutes|
|Winsor & Newton Artists’ Acrylic||20-30 minutes||Standard fast drying||30 minutes||15 minutes|
|Holbein||10-30 minutes||Professional||30 minutes||15 minutes|
|Schmincke||10-30 minutes||Professional||30 minutes||15 minutes|
|Pebeo||10-30 minutes||Professional||30 minutes||15 minutes|
|Da Vinci||10-30 minutes||Professional||30 minutes||15 minutes|
|Reeves||10-30 minutes||Student||60 minutes||30 minutes|
|Apple Barrel||10-30 minutes||Student||60 minutes||30 minutes|
|Folk Art||10-30 minutes||Student||60 minutes||30 minutes|
|Plaid||10-30 minutes||Student||60 minutes||30 minutes|
|Liquitex Basics||10-30 minutes||Student||60 minutes||30 minutes|
|Golden Fluid||10-30 minutes||Fluid||30 minutes||15 minutes|
|Liquitex Professional Acrylic Ink||10-30 minutes||Ink||30 minutes||15 minutes|
|Golden Fluid Acrylic Ink||10-30 minutes||Ink||30 minutes||15 minutes|
|Winsor & Newton Designer Acrylic Ink||10-30 minutes||Ink||30 minutes||15 minutes|
|Holbein Goh-Roh||10-30 minutes||Gouache||30 minutes||15 minutes|
|Schmincke Horadam Gouache||10-30 minutes||Gouache||30 minutes||15 minutes|
|Daler Rowney FW Acrylic Gouache||10-30 minutes||Gouache||30 minutes||15 minutes|
|Reeves Gouache||10-30 minutes||Gouache||30 minutes||15 minutes|
|M. Graham||10-30 minutes||Artist||30 minutes||15 minutes|
|Gamblin||10-30 minutes||Artist||30 minutes||15 minutes|
|Turner||10-30 minutes||Artist||30 minutes||15 minutes|
|Utrecht||10-30 minutes||Artist||30 minutes||15 minutes|
|Golden Heavy Body||20-30 minutes||Heavy body||60 minutes||30 minutes|
|Liquitex Professional Heavy Body||20-30 minutes||Heavy body||60 minutes||30 minutes|
|Winsor & Newton Artists’ Acrylic||20-30 minutes||Heavy body||60 minutes||30 minutes|
|Holbein Acryla Gouache||20-30 minutes||Heavy body||60 minutes||30 minutes|
|Schmincke Acrylic Gouache||20-30 minutes||Heavy body||60 minutes||30 minutes|
|Daler Rowney FW Heavy Body Acrylic||20-30 minutes||Heavy body||60 minutes||30 minutes|
|Reeves Heavy Body||20-30 minutes||Heavy body||60 minutes||30 minutes|
|Liquitex Professional Gesso||1-2 hours||Gesso||2 hours||1 hour|
|Golden Gesso||1-2 hours||Gesso||2 hours||1 hour|
|Winsor & Newton Artists’ Gesso||1-2 hours||Gesso||2 hours||1 hour|
|Holbein Acryla Gesso||1-2 hours||Gesso||2 hours||1 hour|
Artist-grade paints like Liquitex offer the fastest drying times. But specialty acrylics like Golden OPEN give you an hour for blending wet paint before drying. Craft paints sacrifice quick drying for more flexibility in application.
If speed is essential for your project, choose fast-drying student or artist acrylics. For slower drying, look for specialty acrylic lines or use craft paints. This gives you more control over working time.
Frequently Asked Questions About Acrylic Paint Drying
Acrylic paint drying often brings up many questions for artists. Here are answers to some of the most common ones:
How long does it take acrylic paint to fully dry?
On average, expect acrylic paint to take 3 to 4 days to fully cure. The surface may dry within an hour, but it takes longer for the entire thickness to harden.
How do you make acrylic paint dry faster?
Using a hair dryer on a low setting can decrease drying time. Paint in thin layers, keep your painting in a warm room and use acrylic mediums designed for faster drying.
How do you know when acrylic paint is dry?
Touch the surface gently with your fingers – if it doesn’t indent or feel cool/tacky, it’s likely to dry to the touch. Test thickness by pressing harder. When fully cured, it won’t dent at all.
Will water ruin dry acrylic paint?
Once acrylic paint has fully cured, water will not reactivate it or ruin the painting. However, avoid getting water on partially dried acrylic.