How Long Does It Take for Acrylic Paint to Dry?

how long does it take for acrylic paint to dry

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How long does it take for acrylic paint to dry? If you want to master the art of painting with acrylics, this is a MUST-know.

But… there are so many things that can affect the drying time of acrylic paint! Pair those up with the properties of acrylic paint itself, it’s hard to calculate exactly how long it takes for wet acrylic to turn dry enough to be painted over.

SO! How is it possible to become a true master of the acrylic medium?

Whether you’re looking for a solution to delay or advance the drying time of paints, find the answer in the article below:

How Long Does It Take for Acrylic Paint to Dry?

Acrylic paint takes about 30 to 60 minutes to dry. Humidity, temperature, and the thickness of your paint layers may shorten or increase drying time, but acrylics generally touch-dry in 30 to 60 minutes and fully cure in 3 to 4 days.

If all you’re looking for is a general answer, you should be able to get by by waiting 30 to 60 minutes for your acrylic paints to touch dry before adding layers on top.

HOWEVER, if you want to understand what’s going on behind the scenes, keep reading! We’ll be talking about what delays the drying process next, and after that, there will be a quick breakdown of how to purposefully delay drying time.

7 Things That Affect Drying Time of Acrylic Paints

If you want to learn how to manipulate your favorite acrylic paints masterfully and create various effects, then learning what delays or advances the drying time of your paints is crucial:

1. Humidity


The first factor that affects how fast or slow acrylic paint dries is humidity.

Acrylic paint dries through evaporation, so the more humid the environment around the paint surface is, the slower the drying time.

This is why most artists who live by the coast, where humidity is naturally high, have naturally longer working times than those who live in dryer climates. To reiterate:

  • The MORE humid, the longer the paints stay wet.
  • The LESS humid, the faster the paints dry.

2. Temperature & Ventilation

Next, let’s talk about

temperature and ventilation. These factors are closely related to the previous one. After all, both temperature and ventilation can greatly aid water evaporation — which naturally speeds up the drying process of acrylic paint.

To make use of this rule to your advantage when working on acrylic paintings, you can arrange your space according to your needs.

temperature & ventilation

To give an example, if a hot summer day is preventing your paints from fully drying, you can introduce airflow via a fan or an air conditioner to make water evaporate quickly. Similarly, based on the ventilation conditions of your painting studio, you can adjust the heating unit to control whether you want your paint to dry quickly or to stay wet longer.

PRO TIP! Temperature that is too low may lead to issues in the process of creating a strong paint film. The ideal temperature is above 60° F, whilst any temperature below 49° F may lead to painting thin films — resulting in a paint layer prone to cracks, cloudiness, and lacking proper adhesion.

3. Thickness of Application

The third thing you have to keep in mind is the thickness of the paint you apply.

Naturally, the thicker the layer of paint, the longer it takes for acrylic paint to completely dry. If you paint in thin layers like what is shown in the image below, most of the moisture will soak into the painting surface, which naturally makes the paint dry SUPER fast.

thickness of application

However, if you prefer to paint in a THICK-impasto style, the paint will naturally take longer to feel dry to the touch. It may even take a few hours! This is because the outer layer of the paint film dries faster than the inside — resulting in trapped moisture.

This moisture can only escape as water vapor through other means (i.e., heat, soaking into the painting surface, etc.).

4. Absorbency of Painting Surface

Next, there’s the question of what kind of surface you’re painting on:

  • Porous Surfaces: Porous surfaces are surfaces that can absorb or allow liquid to pass through. So, the more porous the surface you paint on, the quicker the drying time. Examples include canvas, paper, fabric, and wood without varnish.
  • Non-Porous Surfaces: Surfaces that are smooth and sealed so liquid and air cannot move through them — which can extend drying time. Examples include glass, metal, hard plastic, wood with varnish, etc.

Knowing this, what kind of paint surface do you want to use? The go-to for many artists is canvas! After all, canvas is porous and absorbs paint very well. It’s perfect for drying thicker films of paint and you won’t have to worry about adhesion!

absorbency of painting surface

5. Brand and Quality of Paint

This next factor requires a little more effort in researching on your side. After all, there are MANY different brands of paint, and the quality of their paints differs based on grade and the pigments used. Here’s what you should look out for when shopping around:

  • Pigment Quality: Higher-quality acrylic paints dry faster because they use better-quality pigments. The quantity of pigments also affects drying time — for example, there are naturally fewer pigments used for lighter shades, which makes them dry faster than darker colors that use more pigments.
  • Pigment Type: Certain acrylic paint consists of pigments that dry faster than others. For example, acrylic paints that contain cobalt dry faster when compared to cadmium because cobalt is able to absorb oxygen faster and release moisture sooner.
  • Additives: Some paint brands add drying agents into their acrylic paint formula to slow drying times.

6. Layers of Paint

How many layers of paint have you applied? The more layers, the longer it takes for an acrylic painting to fully dry.

This is because the likelihood of painting on top of still-wet paint increases.

If you’re not careful and you paint a second coat of acrylic paint on top of a still-wet layer, the drying time will naturally increase.

layers of paint

7. Additives and Mediums

The last factor that affects the drying of acrylic paints are additives and mediums.

As an example, the drying agents mentioned before extend working time by introducing glycols. Glycols are chemicals that extend work time by separating the acrylic polymer used as a binder for acrylic paints.

If you want to learn more about these acrylic mediums, the following section will tell you everything you want to know:

How to Delay the Drying Time of Acrylic Paint?

Now that you have a better understanding of the factors that affect the drying time of acrylic paints, let’s talk about how to make the most of these factors to gain mastery over acrylics:

Method 1: Paint Volume – Paint Thicker

The first method is the most simple: If you want to delay the drying of your acrylic painting, you can just paint thicker!

The more volume the paint applied has, the longer it takes to be fully dried.

You can increase your working time by painting on a thick layer of paint! Just make sure that the thick layer is completely dry before adding a second layer on top of it.

paint thicker

Method 2: Create Humid Environmental Conditions

The next method is to adjust the environmental conditions of your painting room.

We mentioned some ideas before. You can close off ventilation to block airflow and adjust the temperature of the room to make it more humid.

Like this, the water vapor in the air will naturally prevent your acrylic paint from drying too quickly. At the very least, it should give you more time to make adjustments.

PRO TIP! To make things even simpler, you can use a humidifier! Even a small, table-top humidifier should do the trick

Method 3: Use Slow-Drying Acrylic Mediums

One of the most fool-proof ways to prevent acrylic paint from drying too quickly is to use an acrylic paint additive or acrylic medium. We’ve listed some of the best options out there to give you an example of what to look out for:

Recommended Additive: GOLDEN Professional Acrylic Retarder

GOLDEN’s Retarder is an acrylic paint additive that works by diluting the acrylic binder used in acrylic colors. It delays the drying process of acrylic paints very effectively! Allowing you at least 10-15 minutes of extra working time.

However, it comes at the cost of damaging the paint film, so it should be used in moderation! If you want to use it, although it might be a bit hard to calculate, add some at a 10-15% ratio when mixing colors. Using too much makes the paint stay wet and gummy, so be careful.

golden professional acrylic retarder

Recommended Slow-Drying Medium: Winsor & Newton Professional Acrylic Medium

If you prefer to start painting the first layer of paint ASAP and don’t want to bother with preparing your paint palette, then Winsor & Newton’s Slow Drying Medium is a better option for you!

You can delay drying times easily by mixing it with your paints at a 1:1 ratio — very easy to remember and apply in practice! Just note that adding more slow-drying medium will lower the opacity of your paint. So, it’s best to try it out on some scrap paper before use!

winsor & newton professional acrylic medium

Recommended Glazing Liquid: Golden Acrylic Glazing Liquid Gloss

Next is GOLDEN’s Glazing Liquid, which increases the flow of paints without damaging the body of the paint and extends working time — perfect for getting that nice and even first layer of paint!

With this glazing liquid, even if you’re applying thinner paint, it will take longer for it to become dry to the touch than if you were to apply thick paint without it. You don’t have to worry about mixing ratios either, it works well even if you arbitrarily dip your paintbrush into it.

golden acrylic glazing liquid gloss

Method 4: Change Palette

Next, you can extend the working time by using an air-tight container or a stay wet palette that can lock in moisture when your paints are not in use. As for when you’re working, have a spray bottle on hand and lightly mist your palette to keep paints wet.

If you want to see an example of this, you can watch the video by @JedDorsey on YouTube below:

Method 5: Change Work Surface

To extend work time, aside from changing to more porous surfaces, you can also use traditional absorbent gesso to make your surface more absorbent:

Recommended Absorbent Gesso: GOLDEN Absorbent Ground

GOLDEN’s absorbent ground dries into a porous, paper-like surface. Once applied, it will act as an extra absorbent layer — which naturally extends work time.

To use it more effectively, apply an even layer onto the canvas and mist the back of the canvas. Make sure to give it time to soak in! Just like that, you can create a stay-wet palette kind of environment directly onto your work surface!

golden absorbent ground

FAQs: Things to Know When Using Acrylic Paints

How Do Acrylic Paints Change After Drying?

Acrylic paints go through several chemical and physical changes as it dries:

  • Step 1 – Water Evaporates: Acrylic paints are water-based. As the paint dries, water evaporates and what is left behind is a solid film of pigment particles and acrylic polymer.
  • Step 2 – Coalescence of Acrylic Polymer: We mentioned previously that drying agents work by keeping the acrylic binder (i.e., acrylic polymer) separated. And so, as acrylics dry, the natural process is that acrylic polymers begin to fuse, creating a strong film that binds pigment particles together.
  • Step 3 – Color Shift: The shade of acrylic colors changes as it dries because the pigments become more concentrated (which is why acrylics dry darker).
  • Step 4 – Film Formation: The film created after drying is flexible and durable, providing protection for the underlying layers of paint.
  • Step 5 – Film Shrinkage: The film will naturally shrink as it begins to dry completely, which creates a more even surface texture. At this stage, the acrylic polymer has bonded even more strongly, which creates a harder and more durable film.

How Permanent is Acrylic Paint After Drying?

Acrylic paint is very permanent after drying. It’s waterproof and lightfast, so all you have to do is avoid extreme temperatures. For example, extremely cold temperatures can make originally flexible paint layers become brittle over time, which can lead to cracks.

Can Acrylic Paint Be Reactivated After Drying?

No, acrylics cannot be reactivated after they are dried. Once acrylics cure, the paint turns into a very strong and flexible film that is firmly bonded together.

How Long Does Unused Acrylic Paint Last?

Unused acrylic paint lasts for up to 10 years if the tubes or cans are unopened. As for opened ones, you can expect to be able to use it for 2 years if the paint is well-sealed when not in use.

Final Thoughts:

In order to become a TRUE master of acrylic paint, it’s crucial to understand it from the inside and out! BUT… Learning about the things that affect its drying time is just one step!

Take the next step forward and consolidate your mastery with this NMA Master Class on color fundamentals from a world-renowned acrylic artist!

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