Why does acrylic paint dry so fast and how can you “stall” it a bit, so you can add that one all-too important detail? It’s great that it doesn’t take an eternity for them to dry to the touch…but in all seriousness, sometimes you can be working on something and you want to make a change, but before you know it, that spot is dry and you can’t re-wet it or anything.
If that’s you, take heart. Luckily I have some solutions to slow it down a little so you can get on with doing what you want to do most – paint.
What Makes Acrylics Dry Faster?
But first a look at the question itself – why do acrylics dry so much faster? Compared to oils, which can take days due to the process of oxidizing in response to the air around which have a “top down” approach, acrylics being water based, have a different approach. When exposed to air, the moisture present in the paint evaporates.
When there is less moisture in the air, the paints are more prone to drying quickly. During certain times of the year (usually spring through summer) when I paint I usually have a ceiling or box fan on at low speed. It does, unfortunately, expedite drying time, but it gets pretty darn hot down here and I can’t have it any other way(!)
Another thing that is a factor is the type of paint body too. I have noticed that my craft paints which are considered “soft body” as they have less pigmentation, tend to dry the most quickly. Heavy body acrylics, not so much. These do give me more leeway .
Acrylic paint is, in general, dry “to the touch” within 20-30 minutes. It is fully “cured”, or as I like to put it “dry dry” within a day. This becomes more apparent if you work in multiple layers.
Using a Humidifier
The climate you live in may affect this too. I live in the Southeast which is renowned for being humid. Even though I hate that, it does help keep my paints from getting dry too fast, as say, someone living in a more arid place. If you can get your hands on a small humidifier for your work area, that could be of help.
Ideally, you want to have around a 50% humidity in your workspace to have an effect on paint drying time. Here are three models I picked out that are well suited to a workspace. All of them have adjustable settings that you can calibrate for best results (those of you who live in places like Arizona and New Mexico, I’m sure, understand this better than I do!)
Using a Misting Bottle
Misting with a little water is a good way. By that I mean by using one of those little water bottles that you can get from any store for under a buck. Apply a little burst (don’t drench it) onto your paint palette or the canvas surface itself. This will not degrade the pigmentation in any way. and it can help by replacing moisture lost via evaporation.
You could also look into a proprietary moistening spray made by Liquitex, This is a fluid acrylic resin that will slow drying time a little, keep the colors intact and prevent “skimming over”. If you notice, a film develops on your paint dabs as you work, this is the polymerization process in action.
Paint Additive Retarders
To minimize polymerization, there’s another option to consider and that is the addition of an “additive retarder”. You can find proprietary products like this widely available. They will help you to buy some time as you work by slowing down the dry time. To use them correctly follow the rule of 10, add 10% of the additive to your paint.
On average it will give you 10 minutes of additional working time to do what you need to. be careful that you don’t add too much, as that can result in the paint becoming too goopy, or worse yet, the paint may end up not drying at all.
Can You Make Your Own Paint Retarder?
You can put together a homemade acrylic paint retarder, if you’re looking to go the cheap route. The product you want to use needs to have glycerin in it, which is a humectant. The right amount will effectively slow down paint drying time. Obtain some glycerol and add one part of it to 5 parts water, and add a small amount to your paint mixture until you are pleased with the consistency.
Glycerin is an actual ingredient in the paint itself so this is just another way to “hack” its usability for your benefit.
Slow Drying Mediums
Another is a “slow drying medium”. These also kind of do the same thing. The label will read exactly those words. I have used Floetrol which is in the same neighborhood if you will recall from my attempt at doing a little fluid artwork. If you can find a clear medium that can be a real boon as opposed to white as clear products are unlikely to affect color shifting. As you may recall acrylics tend to dry darker. The use of a white medium could affect this.
(By the way, Floetrol is white in appearance, and I didn’t think the colors were affected. So it may all depend.)
Also its a good idea to use it sparingly, especially at first until you learn what the product is capable of. The bottle label may tell you that a 1:1 ratio of medium and paint is recommended. That might be good for fluid painting, but if you are doing traditional techniques that can be a bit much and could reduce the pigmentation of the different colors.
Using Specialized Palettes
I have a palette with its own cover which I find satisfactory for protecting my unused paint. If you can find one of these more power to you. Another thing I used to use was “tear off” sheets – they are coated with a glossy material that prevents paints from becoming demoisturized.
Resist the temptation to dispense paint into paper plates or styrofoam ones. They too can deplete the paint moisture. Especially paper plates – the paint will just dry on the surface and won’t be re-wet. I learned that the hard way when I used Styrofoam egg cartons for this. I know I used to advise this in the past, now I take it back.
Specialized Acrylic Brands
Did you know that the well known brand Golden has come out with a new range of paints called “Open Acrylics”? They are formulated to dry at a slower rate….something to look into. If you like to paint in layers, this would be a great addition to your toolbox. If you’re not sure you could mix them in with your regular paint repertoire to test them out and see what works best.
Well these are all of the ways you can slow down paint drying time. be sure to test them out and see what works best for you. Good luck. And if you think of something else I haven’t added here please feel free to mention in a comment.