How to paint clean, crisp lines with acrylics

Reader Question: 
I would love to know how to paint clean, crisp lines in acrylic. I have practiced several different mediums with art for my whole life but am fairly new to acrylic. I love your style and am attempting to create my own version of your abstract designs (they are all beautiful!). I live in Tucson so the Dia de Los Muertos ones are particularly inspiring. Well, my question is how do you keep your lines so crisp and clean? Artists tape? That seems like too much work... I'm having a hard time accidentally painting over something I didn't want to paint over and then having to totally recreate the shape which changes the balance of the overall piece. I'm sure you understand where I'm going with this, so I'd love some advice.

Great question! When I paint with acrylics, I keep my lines crisp and clean in a few different ways:

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  • I use small brushes for detail (either round or pointed round), and (smallish) flat brushes for slightly larger areas of color. This is probably the most important factor. The small brushes allow more control over the acrylics. You can read more about the different types of paintbrushes for acrylics, and what they can do, on this page about artist paint brushes.
  • When I am painting straight lines or need straight edges, I use artist's tape. (Artist tape is preferable over "regular" tape because it is easily removable and won't leave behind any visible residue.) I apply the tape gently but firmly where I want to paint a straight line, and then apply the paint right next to it, with part of the paintbrush (and the paint) going over the edge of the tape. That ensures that the line goes right up to the edge in a nice, even manner. I then wait for the paint to dry before removing the tape. It's important not to load your paint brush too heavily with paint when you use this technique, because if you do, after it dries and you remove the tape, there might be a jagged ridge of paint all along your straight edge. In some cases, you may not mind that at all, but in other cases it may not be desirable - so it's something to be aware of.
  • I paint with high quality acrylics, which allow pretty good coverage. Sometimes I can get the color I want with one layer, and sometimes it takes two layers, but usually that will be enough to get the color I want. Artist-quality acrylics have more pigment than student-quality acrylics, so they give better coverage. Student-quality acrylics have more binder and filler, so it can take more layers to get the color or coverage that you want, which provides more opportunities for mistakes.

Hope that helps, and best of luck with painting crisp, clean lines!

Check out my guide to Painting with Acrylics