History of Acrylic Paint

History of Acrylic Paint

Posted Jun 02, 2016

It’s hard to imagine the art world as we know it without acrylic paint.  It has so many fantastic attributes!  It is affordable, non-toxic and is also water based.  How did artists ever manage to get by without it?

In terms of art, acrylic paint is still considered a fairly new product.  It may sound strange, but the art community was very reluctant to embrace this new medium, and to be honest it has only really become popular in the last 30 years.

So when was acrylic paint discovered?  Well, acrylic paint can be traced back as far as 1934 – created by a German chemist called Otto Rohm.  Rohm developed an acrylic resin that was quickly transformed into paint.

The first acrylic paints were designed as house paints and for use on military vehicles; the fact that the resin dried so quickly and adhered to almost anything made it perfect for these purposes.  The paint had a low viscosity and was seen as too runny to be of any use to an artist.

Acrylic artist quality paint as we know it appeared in the early 1950’s, and high viscosity artist quality paints in the 1960’s. As previously mentioned, artists were very reluctant to use acrylic paints, mainly due to the attributes being so different to that of oil paints.  Acrylic paint dried so quickly that it could not be smoothly blended with itself, creating artistic boundaries for painters.

The ‘new’ acrylic paint required a different approach.  It was not until the pop artist Andy Warhol embraced the medium that it started to gain real recognition.  His famous ‘Campbell Soup Cans’ series demonstrated the sharp, bold clarity possible with acrylics.

Other artists’ work started to also demonstrate the possibilities of acrylic paint.  It became the staple paint for the pop movement, and employing new techniques, they discovered the true versatility of it as a medium.  When thinned down, it featured the softness of watercolour, but also exhibited the sharpness of oils.  Once this was discovered, this ‘new’ acrylic paint medium was seen as having countless possibilities.

David Hockney and Roy Lichenstein demonstrated acrylic paint’s ability to enhance formal elements, and Robert Motherwell used acrylic paints and charcoal to achieve striking effects.  Bridget Riley also took advantage of its ability to set easily on support mediums such as wood, paper and linen.  The fact that acrylic paint would bond to almost any substrate also opened the door to many exciting mixed media possibilities.

Since the initial invention of artist quality acrylic paint, the quality of the medium has been continuously improved.  Most artist quality acrylics have an ASTM (American Society for Testing & Materials) rating that ensures a lightfastness of 50-100 years before the paint will fade and degrade.  This has contributed to artist quality acrylic becoming the most popular painting medium amongst artists all around the world.

There are many wonderful new additives that can be used with acrylic paints. There are pastes that help model the paint, retarders that slow the drying process, mediums that adjust the finish, and even new ‘effect’ additives that create a crackle look and add different textural elements.

There are now also many new exciting acrylic colours – iridescent pigments, pearl tones and reflective interference pigment-based acrylics – creating a huge variety of choices for today’s artists.

So, as you can see, acrylic’s future as a medium continues to unfold, and its full potential and possibilities have not yet fully been discovered.   If you haven’t tried acrylic paint, you should give it a go – you may just find that you will enjoy its versatility and many benefits.



  1.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acrylic_paint
  2. arthistory.net/acrylic-paint/
  3. My memory

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