There has been a lot of debate over how long paintings need to dry before they can be successfully sealed. It is a month? A week? What does “dry” mean? These are common questions with what seem like conflicting answers.
In this article, we’ll discuss the impact different surfaces have on dry time. Once you better understand dry times on different surfaces, you can get brave and give something new a try, like these artists: 5 Acrylic Pours on Wood that’ll make you trash that Canvas. We’ll also explore the science behind drying so that you can better understand how exactly the process works.
Is it Really Dry?
When the surface of your piece looks dry, that means it’s ready to seal, right? Not necessarily.
When the surface of your paint is dry, that means that you can safely and gently move the piece without worrying about causing immediate damage or the continuous movement of paint. Commonly referred to as “dry to the touch,” what you’re really seeing is a dried skin covering the surface of the paint. At this point, the movement of the water content of the paint has slowed, allowing this skin to form. Skins can also be used to create some really cool art, learn how here: New technique! The “Acrylic Skin Stickers”
Typically, for pour paintings with the proper thickness of paint, this skin will form within 48-72 hours. If your paint layer is too thick, this skin can take quite a bit longer to form and will likely be uneven.
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This is only step one of the drying process, and the point where many a novice artist stops waiting and starts sealing!
If you were to seal a painting after 48-72 hours, no matter what surface it’s on, you are extremely unlikely to get a good result for a few reasons.
For example, if you apply your sealant of choice manually with a brush or other utensil, you will likely break the thin skin covering the still-drying paint beneath. Using a flood coat will help you to avoid surface damage that brushes could cause, but it still won’t work. Since your drying paint still contains moisture, that moisture will get trapped beneath the surface of your sealant, causing it to become cloudy or not adhere—if the sealant even cures at all.
The Final Stage of Drying
The second and final stage of drying occurs when the moisture in the paint completely evaporates. At this point, the painting is safe to seal.
The length of time it takes for your painting to reach the end of the final stage depends on a number of factors: the material you used, ambient temperature, humidity, and air movement all contribute.
How Surfaces Impact Drying Time
There are a few schools of thought on how surfaces affect the drying time of a piece. However, the majority of sources detail that canvas and other porous surfaces have a slightly faster drying time than non-porous surfaces like ceramic tiles.
This applies more so if your canvas is elevated; this is because the moisture in the paint will be able to escape not just out of the top of the painting, but from the bottom, too. If you’re using canvas sheets and have laid the canvas on a flat surface with the underside flat against the surface, the moisture will not be able to escape from the bottom.
Essentially, using a porous surface that is well elevated with the proper thickness of paint will result in a piece that dries slightly faster.
How Humidity Impacts Drying Time
Humidity impacts drying time on both ends of the spectrum; if it’s too humid or not humid enough, your painting will not dry as expected. High humidity will lengthen your drying time, while very dry conditions may cause the piece to dry quicker. In both cases, extreme humidity can cause cracks or other undesirable issues.
To avoid this, it’s recommended that you pour in a room that is above at least 50% relative humidity, but you may want to keep the humidity under 80% for optimal results.
How Temperature Impacts Drying Time
Like humidity, temperature affects drying when the temperatures are in extremes on either side of the spectrum.
Your pouring area should be between 60 – 80F when pouring, with 70F working well for areas where you’ll be both pouring and using resin. At lower temperatures, your painting will not dry as quickly and may even freeze, and at high temperatures, the painting may dry too quickly and crack.
How Air Movement Impacts Drying Time
Air movement definitely has an impact on drying time! If your painting is placed directly in front of a fan, for example, a few things may happen:
- If your paint has not set, the fan will blow the paint. Even subtly, this will change the design of your piece.
- The direct air flow will cause the top layer or “skin” of the acrylic paint to dry very quickly, while leaving a very wet layer underneath that causes cracking.
When it comes to air movement, even ceiling fans or open windows on a breezy day can cause issues. For this reason, it’s best to pour in a well-ventilated space that does not have cross-breezes, powered fans or aggressive air conditioners or heating units that will force air over the top of the painting. Long story short, save the extra air for manipulating a pour, not for dry time, see how here: Air Manipulation Exploration
There are so many factors that go into drying a painting properly, and the time it takes to dry the painting seems to vary from artist to artist!
The best way to make sure your painting is dry is to wait. If you’re not sure if the painting is dry, wait a bit longer. Time is your friend when it comes to paint curing, and a little patience and forward planning with things like air movement and ambient temperature will give your piece the best chance for success!
After being told in high school that she was so bad at art that she should switch to another subject, Deby didn’t paint again for 35 years. Then a stroke released a new wave of creativity and she began exploring with dot painting, abstract and eventually acrylic pouring, and at last the joy of working with color returned. You don’t need ‘talent’ to be an acrylic pouring artist – just enthusiasm, some basic instruction, and a willingness to try, fail and try again. Paint along with her and learn from her many mistakes, and you’ll soon make great art together.