Tip #6: How to Keep Acrylic Paint from Drying So Fast

Ok, it’s true, if we opt to use acrylic paint it is probably because we like the fast drying time it provides us with.  But sometimes fast is a little too fast. And if you have ever used acrylic paint in any of your art projects then you’ll know I’m talking mere minutes here.

Over time I have found a few things you can do to extend the drying time of acrylic paint whether it be on your palette or on your canvas. I’ll go over some options you can purchase at your local arts/craft store and then, being the big money-saver that I am, I’ll go over a few things you make or do at home.

You’ll notice that when working with acrylic paint straight out of the tube it has a nice smooth consistency when being worked on a palette. Then about 30 minutes later it starts to develop a rubbery “film” over the top meaning that the drying process has begun.   There are a few ways to combat this:


  • A spray bottle filled with water:  One of the simplest things you can do is take a spray bottle filled with water and occasionally mist your paint on your palette. Since acrylic paints are water-based, I find that misting with water occasionally does extend the workable life of your paints once you expose them to air.  And I am going to stress the suggestion that you “lightly mist” your paints – no need for Niagara Falls here, unless you want to end up with watercolors. 😉

  • Paint Retarder (A.K.A. Retarding Medium, Slow-Dri Fluid….or for those of you who prefer a more politically correct title,  using this substance simply causes your paint to become “Pigmentally Challenged” 😉 ): Retarding medium is a substance you can add to your acrylic paint that will extend the drying time by about a few hours or so. I don’t use it often for my smaller paintings, but I use it quite often for larger canvas paintings as it also increasing the workable time of the acrylic paint once it is applied to the canvas. This is especially helpful when you are doing large amounts of applications and blending, such as when you are painting things like a sky. Liquitex and Golden make great brands of Retarding medium. You usually don’t want to add anymore than 1/4 of medium for the amount of paint you will be using. Or a good rule to follow, if you have a quarter-sized glob of paint on your palette, add in about a dime sized amount of medium and mix together with a palette knife. Adding more will cause your paint to have a tacky/sticky texture as you are painting on your canvas. So unless you enjoy painting with Elmer’s glue, stick to the old adage that “a little goes a long way.” 🙂


  • Moisture-Retaining Palettes:  The most effective moisture retaining palette I have seen of the market is the Sta-Wet Palette (pronounced STAY-wet). I have been using these things since high school!  They are one of my top 10 recommended art supplies! If you are an acrylic user, a palette like this is a must. The Sta-Wet Palette is an airtight container lined with a yellow Shammy cloth (sponge) and layered above that is a disposable paper palette. It is simple to use – take the Shammy/sponge and run it under water and ring it out a little bit until it’s just a bit damp. Take your disposable palette and layer it over the top and then start putting down your acrylic paints. Once you are done with a painting session, you can simply cover with the airtight lid and store until the next day or longer – The paint will continue to look and feel like it is fresh out of the tube.  Or if you prefer to save quite a few dollars, I have a tutorial for a homemade version here that works exactly the same!

  • Non-Absorbent Palettes: For general painting you can use just about anything as a palette:  wood, plastic, a paper plate, a piece of tile, a piece of cardboard, and the list goes on and on. But just know that your choice in palettes could be affecting your acrylic’s drying time. Using a palette with a porous surface can quickly start to suck the moisture out of your paints causing them to dry faster. Therefore it is better to choose a palette with a non-absorbent surface, such as glass or certain plastics. The palette I have pictured above is a great non-absorbent palette for a few reasons. It is called the Mijello Peel Off Palette, and you can read my full review on these palettes here. Glass is useful, however, it is not practical as it’s weight can be a burden when painting. However, if you are like me and do not hold your palette when painting, then glass is a great alternative, and cheap at that if you do it yourself. You really don’t need to buy anything fancy – just buy an old picture frame at a yard sale or thrift store, carefully pop out the glass, and you have yourself a non-absorbent palette. However, if you feel like Bob Rossin’ it up, they do make oval glass palettes with a little hole cut out for your thumb for easy carrying.

You can use one or any combination of these methods to help extend the life of your acrylic paints. And I highly recommend at least doing one of them if you are like me and have a habit of squeezing way more paint out of the tube than you are going to need for your painting – It will save you lots of money in the long run since you wont have to keep throwing away solidified gobs of expensive paint after every painting session. And I can remember quite a few occasions where I “accidentally” mixed up a really cool color for a painting and didn’t think to add any medium to it…big mistake – A few hours later the paint was dried out and I just couldn’t seem to mix up the same color again. Live and learn, I guess.

Anyhow, try these easy methods out and see which one (or combo) works best for you. Anything to make the painting process a bit easier, and a bit less stressful, is always welcome in my book. But then again, should painting ever be stressful? My little friend Bob Ross used to have the philosophy that painting should always be a happy thing, and I completely agree! So having said that…

…Happy Painting!




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