How to Make Acrylic Paint Not Sticky? How to Make Acrylic Paint Not Sticky?

Sticky or Tacky Acrylic Paint: 15 Common Causes and Quick Solutions

Acrylic paint can feel sticky due to several factors: applying it too thickly, high humidity, slowing drying, improper mixing, or working in cold, damp conditions. To avoid stickiness, apply paint evenly, thin it correctly, and ensure suitable drying conditions. Patience is key; let the paint fully cure for a non-sticky finish.

Last week I received an email from Jenny, a loyal reader of the blog that read, “Hello, I’ve been painting with acrylic paint on glass bottles. I dried them for a minimum of 24 hours. What I observed was that the bottle remained tacky afterward, and it’s still sticky even after 5 days. What’s the reason behind this stickiness?”. Well just like Jane, a lot of acrylic paint experience tackiness quiet often. Here’s why;

Acrylic paint can feel sticky due to several factors: applying it too thickly, high humidity, slowing drying, improper mixing, or working in cold, damp conditions. To avoid stickiness, apply paint evenly, thin it correctly, and ensure suitable drying conditions. Patience is key; let the paint fully cure for a non-sticky finish.

After Painting with acrylic paint for years, I can tell you that stickiness/tackiness happens. However, it can be fixed. So here is an entire blog that highlights all reasons why stickiness happens in the first place. This blog will also give you proper solutions so that your art projects come out perfect. But first, Is acrylic paint supposed to be sticky at all?

Related Reading: Can You Add Water to Acrylic Paint?

Is Acrylic Paint Supposed to Be Sticky?

Acrylic paint is generally not supposed to be sticky. It should dry to a non-tacky finish under normal circumstances. However, there are exceptions. When artists intentionally use a retarder to extend the drying time for layering or blending purposes, some stickiness may occur, but this is a deliberate and controlled effect. In this context, the temporary stickiness serves a greater specific artistic purpose, it allows for more manipulation of the paint before it sets. So, while acrylic paint is not meant to be sticky by default, controlled stickiness can be a useful tool in certain painting techniques.

15 Reasons Why Acrylic Paint Feels Sticky With Solutions on How to Make Acrylic Paint Not Sticky?

Let’s get into it. Here are reasons why acrylic paint may feel sticky or tacky;

1) High Humidity

High humidity causes acrylic paint to become sticky and slow down its drying process. Acrylic paints dry through a process of evaporation, as the water content within the paint evaporates into the surrounding air. When the air is already saturated with moisture due to high humidity, this evaporation process becomes hindered. When air is saturated with moisture, the paint remains wet for longer periods, leading to a tacky surface. The ideal humidity level for acrylic paint is generally recommended to be 40%-75%.

The Solution

Firstly, increase your ventilation by opening windows to get moist air to escape and bring in drier air into your art space. You can also get a dehumidifier . A dehumidifier reduces indoor humidity levels and will give you a more controlled environment for your painting. I personally use HUMSURE Dehumidifier 30 Pint 1 and recommend that you check it out. It brought down my humidity from a staggering 80% to 60%.

2) Temperatures Below 49oF (9oC)

A lot of painters may not be aware that acrylic paint’s drying process can be adversely affected by temperatures below 49°F (9°C)( Source). The best temperatures for acrylic paint to fully cure is between 65°F (18°C) to 75°F (24°C). When exposed to colder temperatures, the paint particles may not coalesce properly, causing slower evaporation of water content. This slower drying process can lead to a sticky or tacky surface, as the paint remains in a semi-liquid state for an extended period.

The Solution

I recommend using a heater such as De’Longhi Convection Panel Heater, Full Room Quiet 1500W or a specifically designed paint dryer can effectively raise the ambient temperature around your artwork, facilitating faster evaporation and curing of the paint. Alternatively, you can move your work to a warmer environment altogether.

3) Bad Acrylic Paint Quality

Low-quality and really cheap acrylic paint can cause stickiness in your artwork. This problem often arises due to the composition of these inexpensive paints. Low-quality acrylic paints typically contain fewer polymers and more fillers compared to their higher-quality counterparts. These fillers may include extenders or other additives that dilute the concentration of pigments in the paint. So when the paint dries, it lacks the necessary polymer content to form a durable and intact solid film. Instead, it gets more soft and sticky. This is why using a good quality paint will save you a lot of headache.

The solution

Use high-quality, reputable acrylic paint brands with a proven track record in the industry. Brands like Liquitex Professional Heavy Body Acrylic Paint, Winsor & Newton Acrylic Artist’s paint, ARTEZA and Nicpro 14 Colors Large Bulk Acrylic Paint Set known for their quality products often have a higher concentration of pigments and a better balance of polymers, resulting in more reliable drying and a non-sticky finish. By the way , I have an article on the Best Acrylic paints, you can check it out if you need head-ups on the best in terms of quality and drying time. Personally I also love using acrylic paint pens to add details to my work and Neon Acrylic paint to add a little spark and pop .

My advise – Expensive doesn’t always equate to quality; instead, look at the paint’s pigment concentration and the brand’s reputation for producing dependable, professional/ students-grade acrylic paints.

4) You are Thinning Your Paints Too Much Either With Water or Medium

Thinning acrylic paint is common when using techniques like glazing, where achieving translucent layers is desirable. However, excessive thinning with water or medium can lead to undesirable stickiness in your artwork. This occurs because when you dilute acrylic paint too much, you reduce the concentration of acrylic polymers, which are responsible for binding the pigments together and creating a solid, non-tacky surface when dry.

The Solution

For normal painting applications, a recommended ratio for thinning acrylic paint is typically 2 parts acrylic paint to 1 part water( Source). This ratio is perfect if you do not want any stickiness. You might also want to exercise caution and control when thinning acrylics to avoid over-dilution.

To also prevent stickiness, use matte mediums instead of water for thinning such as Liquitex Professional Matte Medium. This matte medium maintains the paint’s adhesive qualities, preventing it from becoming excessively tacky. Additionally, when working on pre-primed surfaces, adding approximately 30% water to the paint mixture can be suitable. However, exceeding 50% water or more can result in a watery paint effect called a wash, which may not adhere well and can lead to a sticky finish.

5) Applying Acrylic Paint on the Wrong Surface

Applying acrylic paint to the wrong surface can indeed lead to issues of stickiness and poor adhesion. Different acrylic paints are formulated for specific surfaces, and using them on surfaces they are not intended for can result in less-than-ideal outcomes. For instance, while some acrylic paints can perfectly work well on ceramics, rocks, or leather due to their unique properties, these same paints may not perform well on paper, canvas, or wood.

The solution

The best way for you to avoid stickiness caused by surface incompatibility is to carefully examine the product’s surface recommendations before placing your purchase. Pay attention to the manufacturer’s instructions and any labelling that specifies which surfaces the acrylic paint is designed for. Luckily for you, Nicpro 6 Colors Large Bulk Acrylic Paint Set is multi-surface acrylic paint that is both suitable for a wide range of materials. And, it dries really fast too.

6) Old or Expired Acrylic Paint

Old and expired acrylic paint can lead to issues of stickiness in your artwork. After it expires, the components within acrylic paint(polymers and pigments) degrade, causing the paint to lose its intended properties. While expired acrylic paint may still appear usable, it can result in undesirable outcomes such as a sticky texture when applied to surfaces.

I had a similar experience when I bought acrylic paint in Mexico. I didn’t bother to check the expiration date and brought it back to New York. When I finally used it, the paint ended up feeling all tacky and just didn’t behave as it should. It hit me then that the paint had actually gone bad, and it was a bummer because it messed up my project and was a total time-waster.

The Solution

To avoid such disappointments, it’s crucial always to check the expiration date of acrylic paint before purchasing it. I use this trick all the time and it has worked, prevented stickiness and ensured my art stayed top- notch.

7) Lack of Enough Curing

Insufficient curing time is a common culprit behind the stickiness of acrylic paint. If the paint is not allowed enough time to undergo this curing process, especially when applied in thick layers, the surface can remain tacky or sticky. Thicker layers contain more moisture that needs to evaporate, and thus, they demand more time to dry thoroughly. Rushing this process by touching or varnishing the artwork prematurely can disrupt the curing and lead to sticky results.

The solution

Be patient. Acrylic paint can dry fast depending on the thickness of the paint layers and environmental conditions, this can range from 30 to 48 hours or even longer for very thick applications( Source). However, you can actually speed up the drying process by using either a dryer or heater.

8) Unsealed Surface

Not sealing your acrylic paintings can totally cause them to get all sticky and tacky. Acrylic paint, when left unsealed, remains vulnerable to environmental factors like humidity, and pollutants.

Dust particles or airborne contaminants can also settle on the painting, adhering to the slightly tacky surface, and altering its appearance. High humidity as we have seen can also contribute to this problem by slowing down the paint’s drying process, leaving it in a semi-liquid state for an extended period.

The solution

Use appropriate sealers, either spray or Varnishes. I recommend Plaid Clear Acrylic Sealer Aerosol Spray ( Matte). Selecting the right sealer for your specific artwork and applying it according to the manufacturer’s instructions can help preserve the integrity of your acrylic paintings, ensuring they remain free from tackiness and maintain their original appearance over time.

9) Thicker Layers of Acrylic Paint Can Feel Sticky

Thicker layers of acrylic paint will lead to a sticky or tacky surface if not applied with the proper consistency. That is not to mean that you should not use a thick paint. Actually the best acrylic paints have a thicker consistency and are of higher quality. However, you should use thickness to your advantage. When paint is too thick, it can take a significantly longer time to dry, and the outer layer might skin over while the inner layers remain semi-liquid. This leads to a surface that feels sticky to the touch and can easily attract dust or other contaminants.

The solution

Thin out the paints to the appropriate consistency, especially when working with thicker layers. You can use water or an acrylic medium. To achieve this, gradually add small amounts of water or medium to your paint while mixing until you reach the desired consistency. This process will test your patience as it may need some practice. But, finding the right balance will help you avoid the problem of sticky acrylic paint and give you a successful painting experience.

10) Dirty Painting Tools

No doubt, dirty painting tools are a source of stickiness when working with acrylic paint. When brushes, palettes, or any other tools used in acrylic painting are not adequately cleaned between sessions, old paint residue can mix with fresh acrylic paint. Moreso, using dirty painting tools introduces impurities and contaminants into the new paint layers. These contaminants will disrupt the paint’s drying process and adhesion. Furthermore, dirty tools can cause color contamination and alter overall appearance of the artwork.

The solution

It is pretty much straightforward: maintain cleanliness in your painting process. Regularly clean your brushes, palettes, and work surfaces to ensure that old paint residue doesn’t interfere with your current work.

11) No Proper Air Circulation /Ventilation

Not having enough airflow or ventilation can actually make your acrylic paintings turn sticky. When you’re painting in a spot with lousy ventilation, the stuff in your acrylic paint, like the solvents and water, just takes forever to evaporate. So, even though it looks dry on the surface, it can stay kind of tacky underneath. And to make matters worse, the lack of fresh air moving around can lead to dust and other junk settling on your painting, messing with how it looks and feels.

The Solution

For beginners, work in a well-ventilated area to avoid these issues. Ventilation will speed up the paint drying process and ensures that the paint cures properly. Now, if you are working indoors( like in apartments or tiny spaces most of the time, consider using fans, opening windows, or using air purifiers to promote better air circulation.

Expert Pro- Tip: Wear a mask to protect yourself from inhaling any fumes or airborne particles.

12) Using Acrylic Paint with Epoxy

Epoxy is a resin that when mixed and applied properly will form a hard and durable surface. However, when acrylic paint is mixed directly with epoxy, several factors can contribute to stickiness;

  • Incompatibility: Acrylic paint and epoxy have different chemical compositions. Mixing them can lead to a chemical reaction that interferes with the curing process of epoxy, causing it to remain tacky or sticky.
  • Drying time: Acrylic paint may dry faster than epoxy. If the epoxy takes longer to cure, the paint’s surface might dry but still feel sticky beneath it, creating an undesirable texture.
  • Thickness: Applying acrylic paint too thickly in combination with epoxy can hinder proper drying and curing, leading to stickiness.

The Solution

To prevent stickiness when using acrylic paint with epoxy, consider using epoxy-compatible pigments or colorants instead of mixing acrylic paint directly. Follow the manufacturer’s guidelines and ensure that the epoxy fully cures before handling the finished piece to avoid any issues with tackiness.

13) Retarders Can Cause Stickiness of Acrylic Paint

A retarder in acrylic painting is an additive used to slow down the drying time of acrylic paint. While retarders can be valuable for extending working time, they can also potentially cause stickiness if not used correctly. A retarders typically contain glycol or other ingredients that temporarily inhibit the evaporation of water in acrylic paint. This delayed drying can be useful for blending, layering, and achieving certain effects in your artwork. However, if you overuse retarders or don’t follow recommended ratios, retarders can affect the paint’s ability to bond effectively with the surface, resulting in poor adhesion and a surface that feels sticky.

The Solution

Use retarders sparingly. I recommend Winsor & Newton Galeria Acrylic Fluid Retarder. Typically, just a small amount of this retarder mixed with acrylic paint is sufficient to achieve the desired effects without causing stickiness. Properly controlled use of retarders will help you maintain the integrity of your acrylic paintings while benefiting from extended working time.

14) Mixing Different Acrylic Paints All Together

I am guilty of this. I tend to blend different brands . I realized that mixing different types of acrylic paint can sometimes lead to issues of stickiness due to differences in formulation and compatibility between the paints. Acrylic paints come n different grades s. The main ones are; artist-grade, student-grade, and craft-grade, each with distinct characteristics. Here is why I do not encourage mixing different brands together;

  • Incompatibility: Different brands or grades of acrylic paint may contain varying proportions of acrylic polymers, binders, and additives. When you mix paints with significantly different compositions, they may not blend seamlessly. This may lead to improper drying or curing and causing stickiness.
  • Quality Differences: Lower-quality acrylic paints, such as craft-grade paints, often contain more fillers and fewer high-quality pigments and polymers. If you mix craft grade paints with higher-quality artist-grade paints, it can dilute the overall quality and alter the drying properties of the paint mixture, leading to stickiness.
  • Additives: Some acrylic paints contain additives like extenders, retarders, or mediums. Mixing paints with incompatible additives can interfere with their drying times and cause the paint to remain sticky.

The Solution

When mixing different types of acrylic paint, please stick with paints of similar quality and composition, ideally from the same brand or product line. For example; if you are using Liquitex acrylic paint, it is best to use Liquitex Medium . If you need to mix paints from different sources, perform a compatibility test on a small surface before applying them to your artwork.

15) You are Applying it Wrong

Mates! Applying acrylic paint all wrong can totally lead to a sticky mess in your artwork. If you use super thick layers of acrylic paint on your Canvas, it’s gonna take ages to dry, and that outer layer might dry up while the inside is still squishy. That’s when you end up with a tacky surface. And don’t even get me started on painting in mega-humid conditions – that’s a recipe for extended drying times and more stickiness. Then there’s the issue of not mixing your paint with water or medium properly. If you don’t get the consistency right, you’re in for uneven drying, and some areas might stay sticky.

The Solution

To dodge all that stickiness, Use the correct paint consistency, apply it evenly, and make sure your drying conditions are spot on. And don’t forget to prep your painting surface properly – clean as a whistle! Patience is key, too. Let those layers dry properly, and you’ll avoid the dreaded stickiness in your acrylic masterpieces. Cheers!

Best Non- Sticky Acrylic Paint

1) Nicpro 24 Colors Large Bulk Acrylic Paint Set (16.9 oz,500 ml) Non Toxic Artist Painting Supplies for Multi Surface Canvas, Wood, Fabric Leather, Rock, Glass, Paper, Crafts, Hobby with Color Wheel

2) Liquitex BASICS Acrylic Paint Set

3) Mont Marte Discovery School Acrylic, 6 Basic Colors, 1/2 Gallon (2 Litre), Ideal for Students and Artists. Excellent Coverage and Fast Drying. Pump Lid Included

Why Is Paint Still Sticky After Drying?

One common reason is applying the paint too thickly. When acrylic paint is layered on too heavily, especially in deep, dense areas, the outermost layer can dry faster than the inner layers. This creates a situation where the surface feels dry to the touch, but underneath, the paint remains somewhat soft and tacky. Apply your brush strokes one at a time.

Humidity levels also play a crucial role. The moisture in the air can interfere with the paint’s ability to evaporate water and cure properly, leaving it in a semi-liquid state for an extended period. This can result in a sticky surface that feels unpleasant to the touch. So yes, you need to monitor your humidity levels.

How Do You Know When Acrylic Paint Is Fully Dry?

If you are an artist, it is important for you to be able to know when acrylic paint is totally dry. This keeps your art safe from smudging or accidental damage. Acrylic paint goes through various stages of drying, and it’s crucial to distinguish between them:

  • Touch Dry: This is the initial stage when the paint surface feels dry to the touch. You can touch the paint at this point without leaving any residue on your fingers. Acrylic paint can become touch dry quite quickly, often within minutes to an hour, depending on factors like paint thickness, humidity, and temperature.
  • Surface Dry: The next stage is surface dry, where the top layer of paint feels dry, but the underlying layers may still be wet. This can be misleading, as the paint may remain tacky underneath. It’s best to avoid touching the surface during this stage.
  • Fully Dry: Acrylic paint is considered fully dry when both the surface and underlying layers have cured and are no longer tacky. To be sure, leave the artwork to dry for at least 24 hours or longer, especially for thick applications.
  • Cured: Acrylic paint reaches its maximum hardness and durability when it’s fully cured Artwork should be handled with care until it’s fully cured to prevent any potential damage.

To ensure your acrylic paint is fully dry, always allow ample time for the paint to cure thoroughly, especially for thicker layers. Testing the surface for tackiness is a good way to determine if it’s ready for further handling or varnishing.

Final Thoughts

Looking to eliminate that sticky issue in your acrylic paintings? These secrets will ensure your artwork dries flawlessly, free from any stickiness! Start your acrylic art journey with confidence and have fun while at it. Thanks!