What can You Use Acrylic Paint On?

The medium has to go onto something, though, and so it’s no surprise that one common question is: “What can you use acrylic paint on?”

Q: Will acrylic paint adhere to any surface? How will acrylic perform on a variety of surfaces?

A: In general, acrylic paint can adhere to a wide range of substrates. Acrylic polymers and related polymer compounds form the basis for a variety of special-purpose adhesives within industrial settings. Acrylics, by their nature, inherit some of the adhesion properties that specialty polymers possess so that they’re compatible with many surfaces. The deeper question is how will these surfaces perform over time and continue to honor the marriage of acrylic polymer paints to the substrate chosen.

Acrylic paints are water-soluble, but become water-resistant when dry. Depending on how much the paint is diluted with water, or modified with acrylic gels, mediums, or pastes, the finished acrylic painting can resemble a watercolor or an oil painting, or have its own unique characteristics not attainable with other media.

Acrylic paints require a long curing time before they take on characteristics similar to traditional oil paints. Once an oil paint is dry, it’s fairly impervious to any method of removal with the exception of strong chemicals meant to break down the binder. The same holds true for acrylics. Within the first few hours, most acrylic paints can be removed with water and vigorous scrubbing. However, wait several weeks and water and aggressive scrubbing will cease to satisfactorily remove acrylic paint. Once it has fully cured, it becomes nearly as tough and solid as traditional oil paints on some surfaces.

Unlike oil paints, acrylics are subject to visual and surface texture changes when subjected to solvents or water and mild scrubbing. Components in acrylics can easily be removed from paint films, resulting in a change in surface appearance.

Substrates play a key role in determining how well an acrylic will adhere or fail to remain bonded to a surface. Some surfaces have no porosity or “tooth.” Like any other paint, acrylics need something to grab onto in order to form a suitable bond with a substrate. Critical factors that influence bonding longevity are exposure of the substrate to touching, rubbing or movement and the flexibility of the substrate. Materials that have oil-based glossy surface treatments that can leach out are incompatible with acrylic adhesion.

Also consider the stability of the environment; one absent of quick or extreme temperature changes, substrate movement or surface agitation and drastic shifts in humidity or exposure to extreme conditions such as water, chemicals, ice, sand, etc., is ideal.