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The Arts For Life Guide to Art Supplies: Paint

It’s not about having the fanciest or most expensive materials, it’s about having the right materials for the project you want to do. 

Paint is probably the material we get asked about the most. And it doesn’t take long to figure out why; even the smallest art stores carry at least a half-dozen varieties of paint! All varieties have their place, of course, but not all paints are good for all projects.


Watercolor paints are good for use on paper, almost exclusively. That said, they probably offer the most versatility of any paint. They are easy to clean up, and good for all ages. A great starting paint.

Watercolor Sets are boxes with circles of dry paint in a variety of colors. Sets are great for easy clean-up!
Brands: Sargent Arts or Crayola for beginners, Pelikan watercolor pans for the next step up. 

Liquid Watercolors are super-bright, premixed paints that come individually in bottles. Brands: Watercolor Magic, Blick



Acrylic paints are good for painting on paper, canvas, cardboard, wood, or other crafty things. They offer super bold colors and a smooth finish when dry. They dry quickly and can be cleaned and mixed with water. BUT they are permanent and will stain clothes. We use them with young children on occasion, but wouldn’t recommend doing so if you’re at all concerned about making a mess. .

To get started you’ll need red, yellow, blue, black and white- you can mix all colors from these. Brands:  Liquitex Basics for beginners and Liquitex soft body acrylics for more advanced artists.  


Craft Paint

Craft paint is usually just a cheaper version of acrylic paint. It’s actually its lower quality that makes it a very versatile option for craft projects of all types, especially those using wood or cardboard. Craft paint is typically very inexpensive, and you can buy it in small quantities which is great if you want lots of colors. One thing to remember, though: it’s permanent and will stain. Brands: FolkArt, Apple Barrel.



Tempera paint is a semi-thick, brightly-colored paint with a matte finish that is good for use on paper, cardstock, posterboard, or cardboard. Temperas mix well and stay true to color. They can be cleaned and mixed with water. The washable varieties are great for use with any age, but if it doesn’t expressly say it’s washable, it will more than likely stain your clothes. Brands: Crayola (washable), Prang

Tempera Sticks are a no-mess alternative to liquid paints. They offer rich, bold color and dry instantly on paper. Brands: Kwik Sticks, Playcolor 

Tempera Cakes are also no-mess and offer just a little more opaque layers of color than watercolor sets. Brands: Prang, Jack Richeson 

Side note: since the applications are similar between acrylic/ craft paint and tempera, you may wonder why you should choose one over the other. Great question! It really is just a matter of what kind of surface you want on your finished project. Acrylic will produce a smooth, plastic-like surface, while tempera will produce a matte, chalky-like surface (without the dust.)

Oil Paints

Oil paints are thick, and (you guessed it) oil-based. They dry very slowly. Since oil paints are often made with chemicals and need turpentine for clean up we don’t recommend them for kids. 




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