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Basic Q&A on Acrylic Polymer Emulsion

What are acrylic polymer paints?
 
An acrylic polymer paint in its essential form consists of an emulsion of a
chain of molecules in water (or some diluent) mixed with fine granules of
pigment to act as a coloring agent. When such an acrylic polymer paint is
applied to a surface, the water or diluent will evaporate leaving behind a firm,
resinous substance which embeds the pigment in a permanent though
reasonably flexible film. The term polymer is derived from the common suffix
'poly', meaning many, and refers to the vast number of moluecules which
make up a long chain of the basic polymer structure. 
 
In what respect do acrylic polymer paints differ from other paints,
such as oil-paints or watercolors?
 
Acrylic polymer paints are more permanent than other paints - which is
to say that the binding material, the polymer, is less liable to crack,
change color or affect the embedding of the pigment than the more
conventional materials such as the linseed oil of oil-paints, or the gums
of the watercolors. In addition acrylic paints have a wider versatility of
handling to offer the artist.
 
With acrylic polymers it is possible to obtain all the effects associated
with oil colors and more. With acrylics not only you can create traditional
effects such as impastos, tinting and glazing but you can utilize it in
monoprinting, embedment and collage techniques. With acrylic paints
you have a much faster drying rate. At the same time it is possible to
obtain delicate wash effects more generally associated with watercolors,
yet with a much longer permanence and with the possibility of overpainting
which watercolor does not offer.
 
What are the disadvantages of the acrylic polymers?
 
There are no disadvantages in using acrylic polymers. Such disadvantages
as there are with polymers are largely a matter of personal likes and dislikes.
Some artists involved with delicate working, such as sfumato effects and
the like, consider that the main defect of acrylic polymer is that of too-rapid
drying. On the other hand, the more flexible painters, do consider the rapid
drying of polymers to be their main virtue. However, with the aid of careful
pigment additives and intelligent mixing within a given range, almost all the
requirements of the practising artist may be met within the framework of this
incredible medium that is called acrylic polymer paint.
 
Which medium is better, oil-painting or acrylic painting?
 
The various methods of oil-painting have been well established in the European
and American tradition for several centuries, and yet within just over a decade
acrylic polymer paints have not only been used in nearly 75% of the paintings
which would formerly have been produced in oils, but have also helped give rise
to styles of painting which would have been almost unthinkable before the advent
of polymers. The fact that acrylic polymer paints are superseding the oil
techniques can only mean that they have distinct advantages over these, and
it is the duty of every serious investor/collector to consider the advantages
of paintings that are painted with acrylic polymer paints vs oil-paints.
 
Oil-paintings are notoriously heir to a variety of catastrophic impermanences -
the film will crack, peel, fade, yellow; the canvas will rot to powder, the size
substrate absorb water and become unstable... There is so much threat of
impermanence on every hand that it is a wonder that any painter bothered to
paint in oils at all. But, as always, the painters did the best they could, and
in many cases, especially in the work produced whilst craftsmanship still
persisted, the best was very good.
 
But temprature control and impermanent materials make mockery of this:
accidental effects should cease when the painter declares his picture to be
finished. It is only since the development of acrylic polymer paints that such an
opportunity has been offered to the artist.
 
The comparison with oil-painting is, of course, a natural one because of the
important role which oils hold within our artistic tradition, but this should not
blind us to the fact that from many technical points of view the acrylic polymer
range comes much closer in actual technique to tempera/oil painting - though it is
possessed of a much wider range of application and a longer durability than this
ancient method of painting.

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