Learning your acrylics is a lot of fun. You get to learn how to mix them up properly and little tricks like baking it into glass or adding salt on acrylic-painted canvas for interesting textures. Drying time can vary with different applications and sometimes you find yourself wondering ‘why does my acrylic paint feel sticky?’.
When acrylic paint is applied to a medium you reach a state in between dry and wet and this state is naturally sticky. This is normal, though if it seems to be ‘stuck’ this way then you’ll want to consider some variables like the room temperature, humidity, or even your chosen brand of paint – it might have extender added.
In today’s article I’ll talk a little about that annoying half-dry phase of acrylic, reasons why your acrylic might not be drying, and tell you a little more about fixing this. Let’s talk about touching up that ‘tacky’ paint!
Why is acrylic paint not drying?
When your acrylic paint isn’t drying then there is generally a good explanation. Let’s break down the most common reasons why this might be occurring:
- Humidity – If it’s humid where you live and work, this can slow your drying to a crawl. If you don’t want to wait it out (and don’t touch, by the way!), then consider adding a dehumidifier to your workspace. It can really make difference in your drying time in cases like this.
- Type of acrylic – Did you spring for some fancy acrylic paints? Some of the paints on the marker have ‘extender additives’, meant to give you more time with wet acrylic for details and other artistic wizardry. Check the product information and you can verify is this is the case.
- It’s too cold – Ideally you want it to be over 60 degrees when you paint and you want to avoid painting when it’s under 49 degrees, otherwise the paint films poorly.
- Your layers – If you are applying thin layers over thick ones, then you’ve got uneven drying time at play from this. Give the thick layers a little more drying time and see if this helps.
- Painting too thickly – If you are painting with very thick applications of acrylic then this will naturally take longer to dry. Try using a little less thickness in your application or invest in that humidifier I mentioned… you should see a difference.
How do you fix sticky acrylic paint?
Once you’ve isolated the reason that your paint isn’t drying from the list, there are a number of strategies which you apply to keep your paint from being tacky so long. For my own painting area, I like to have a space heater when I am painting in the winter. You can do this too, just be sure that the heater is placed away from you in a corner where it’s safe.
In the summer I have a dehumidifier that I use as well but really these best way to ensure that the sticky acrylic doesn’t vex you, is to spend a day playing with different thicknesses of paint on a specific surface. Acrylic dries at different rates on different surfaces, so using the same surface for your testing is required if you want to get a ‘feel’ for the drying times until it’s intuitive.
Once you’ve picked a medium like an inexpensive canvas or even some posterboard, start playing with your paints. Apply lines of varying thickness in one section and do some test-layering in another. Take a pen and write the time that you applied it underneath each little test-strip and then you can note how long it actually takes to dry in your specific workplace.
This is good practice, because it quickly helps you to become intuitive about drying times and when you want to do layering, it comes in quite useful. It sounds like an odd exercise, but this little trick can teach you a lot fairly quickly and help you avoid mistakes in a piece that you have spent a lot of time on already.
It’s fun, too, so give it a try!
How long does it take for acrylic paint to dry completely?
Just so you have a basic, ballpark figure to go by, let’s say that you are in a workspace that’s dry, it’s about 60 degrees, and you are working with a basic set of acrylics (no extenders) on a standard canvas. In a scenario like this, your acrylics generally take 20 to 30 minutes to dry, with a little more time added in if you like to use bold, thick strokes.
When you get a lot of variance in drying time, it generally breaks down to environment, paint brand, and technique – so give it some time, your acrylics WILL dry.
Some closing words
Today I’ve talked a little about that frustrating acrylic phase between wet and fully dry. Don’t worry, it’s completely normal! If your acrylic is taking a long time to dry, just consider your environment, tools, and technique. Painting when it’s under 49 degrees is not recommended, for one thing, and too much humidity can also slow your drying time. Also, check your paints to make sure they don’t have an extender additive slowing them down. Finally, if you are painting with thicker lines, it’s only natural that they’ll take longer to dry.
Before I go, if you’re still a little vexed with drying times, take a look at this 3rd party link which I’ve found for you. It gives you a few tips and tricks specifically designed to help you dry those acrylics faster.
In the meantime — be patient — don’t touch that sticky acrylic!