How to Read a Paint Tube Label like a Pro

Understand the 6 key components on choosing acrylic paints that are best for your painting project based on the tube labels

Acrylic paints are a ton of fun to play with, but did you know that not all paints are created equal?

As cray cray as that sounds, knowing how to handle your various types of acrylic paint can give you a leg up on your painting experience AND gives you plenty of awareness the next time you are out buying more paint.

So with that being said….

Why is reading a paint tube so important?

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I know in the beginning, just getting a tube of acrylic paint seems daunting enough, let alone understanding all the mysterious markings on its person. But, understanding your paint and the ingredients that make up that pigment can improve your paintings and save you lots of headaches in the long run.

This includes knowing which brands give you the best paint for your money, which paints will give you the right brush effects, and even how to expertly replace your favorite paint tube without compromising on quality or color.

Now that we have that covered….

What exactly is acrylic paint?

Acrylic paint is a fast-drying paint made of pigments (aka color) suspended in acrylic polymer emulsion. They are soluble when wet, but become water-resistant when dried, giving you lots of various layering advantages in your paintings.

Acrylics are made up of various pigments and specific binder compounds, which contributes to the overall paint quality, viscosity, saturation, duration, and color. And depending on the paints (and the paint ingredients) you choose, you can get different results – for better or for worse.

What are the key things to look for in a paint tube label?

Pigment Number

Paint is made of pigments, which gives it its unique color! Every pigment has a unique Color Index Name, consisting of two letters and some numbers. For example, PB29 is ultramarine blue while PB 15 is Phthalo blue.

Lightfastness/Permanence

Resistance for paint color to fade over time. Most paint labels follow the ASTM standard, from I (paint color lasts 100+ years) to III (paint color lasts 15-50 years)

Opacity Type

Indicates how opaque or transparent your paint is. Transparent paint is represented as  an empty box, semi-transparent, as a half-filled box, and opaque as a solid box. Other manufacturers may include a swatch of the color over a black line to physically indicated opacity.

Series Type

An indicator of how expensive it is to produce a certain pigment. Series numbers of 1 are typically the cheapest to make. The higher the number, the higher the price.

Paint Viscosity

The binder or acrylic resin added to the pigment gives more or less body (viscosity) to the acrylic paint. In other words, the more binder added to paint, the denser, less viscous, more paste-like it will be.

There are 3 famous types of paint viscosities, which include the following:

  • Heavy body acrylics: a peanut-buttery, paste-like consistency of paint that is great for palette knifes, impasto-style paintings, and textured brush strokes. They can also be diluted with water to create a higher flow of color.
  • Soft body acrylics: a soft, creamy paste with the consistency of custard that is great for brush details, glazes, undercoats, or painting large flat areas.
  • Liquid Acrylics: a free-flowing, extremely diluted with pigments paint with the milk-like consistency, liquid acrylics are ideal for paintbrushes, airbrush and frescoes (to name a few).

As far as viscosity preferences goes, I personally like the heavy and soft body paints, which was something I figured out through simple trial and error. So I highly suggest you to try out each paint type to best figure out what it is you like most for your projects.

One paint type may do great for one type of acrylic project but may bomb miserably with another; so take the time to play and figure things out for yourself.

Pigment Color Vs Pigment Hue

When considering your paint colors, you may also want to think about the color index number as well. In some cases, if a paint color is not purely made from one pigment and is instead made up of a mix of pigment colors, the paint label would then be classified as a hue.

This can make a big difference in the price of the paint, but also in the mixing capabilities of that paint – hailing back to good ol’ color theory.

The more pigments that are introduced into a mix, the more likely the colors will turn into mud or become muddier.

For example, if we were to compare cobalt blue hue from Liquitex vs cobalt blue from Golden, Liquitex uses 3 different pigments to create that color of cobalt blue, which makes it easier to produce (priced at $7.58), but can be a mixing liability with colors.

Golden’s cobalt blue is made of pure pigment (PB 28) and is a Series 8, which means it is much more expensive to produce (priced at $14.47 or $7.24 per fluid oz, almost 7 times more than Liquitex!). However, this will give you the most vibrant mixes!

Liquitex Cobalt Blue Hue- priced at $7.58, or $1.87 per fluid ounce.
Golden Cobalt Blue – priced at $14.47, or $7.24 per fluid ounce!

So, if you want to get the most vibrant color out of your painting, consider finding a paint that is as close to pure pigment as possible, which means you may need to find another brand for that particular color, but that’s totally OK and normal for most artists!

What did you think of my tips? Have you learned anything new about choosing paint? Comment below and let me know!

How to Read a Paint Tube Label like a Pro

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2 Comments

  1. Hi Amanda, I don’t think I rate to be a Queen Bee, I’m a 67 year-old-grandfather and I just love watching your videos and I am now enjoying trying to do pop art. I love your tips and teaching style and look forward to learning so much more from you and your courses.

    1. lol hi Rush! You definitely sound like a Queen Bee to me! 🙂 Thank you so much for your kind words and encouragement. It really is nice to know my videos are so helpful! I hope you have a wonderful rest of your day, love!

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