Golden Heavy body vs Open acrylics paints review, which is best?

by Will Kemp

in acrylic painting

openacrylicreview

Imagine the scene.

You’re halfway through your painting, it’s going really well.

This could be your breakthrough piece, a personal Mona Lisa.

A quick look on your palette and you spot the perfect mix to finish the piece, you dip the brush in with vigour, and guess what?

Its dried on the palette.

You then try to mix more of that exact colour,

2 minutes goes by, then 5 minutes, when we hit 10 minutes and review our mixes, the initial colour has become a distant memory.

Emergency tea break with chocolate is needed.

So what’s a painter to do?..

One of the most common issues beginners have with acrylics, is they dry too fast.

You’ve already invested money in your acrylics and don’t want to work with oils or the smell of turpentine. There are a few options to help increase the working time of your paint.

  • You can add slow drying mediums (called retarders)
  • Use a stay-wet palette will keep the acrylics open for longer
  • Put out larger quantities of paint

But what if this is not enough?

A few paint manufacturers have developed ranges of paints that aim to address this issue.

  • Chroma’s Atelier Interactive Acrylics: These paints allows you to re-activate paint that has gone to the touch-dry stage, using either a fine mist of water or Atelier Unlocking Formula.
  • M.Graham & Co: Their acrylic range is formulated to have an longer working time than most acrylics, up to about an hour, depending on conditions.
  • Golden OPEN acrylics: These paints have an extended working time, up to 10 times longer than Golden Heavy body Acrylic range. They also can be reactivated with a fine mist of water or Golden OPEN thinner.

But do they work? And are they any good?…

The review below looks specifically at the comparison between Golden Heavy Body Acrylics and Golden OPEN Acrylics.

Regular Heavy body Golden acrylics vs Golden OPEN acrylics

Golden OPEN acrylics review

When learning how to paint, you’ll hear artists talking about the ‘working time’ of paints.

This refers to how long the paint is available to move around on the canvas and ‘work’ with. This can also be called the ‘open time’ of a paint (just to confuse matters!)

Golden OPEN acrylics have an extended working time, in comparison to regular Golden heavy body acrylics, a drying time of up to 10 times longer than standard acrylics.

  • Standard Acrylic paints have a short working time (short open time)
  • Oils have a long working time (long open time)

So are these paints the perfect solution?…not quite.

Lab test review

In a Golden Paints lab test using a 6mm thick depth of paint, the following drying times applied.

Wet
Heavy body: Less than 5 minutes
OPEN acrylic: 30 to 60 minutes

Workable
Heavy body: Less than 10 minutes
OPEN acrylic: 1 to 3 hours

Re-worked (this means you can add water or a thinner to ‘reactivate the paint’)
Heavy body: N/A you can’t re-open
OPEN acrylic: 12 hours

Touch dry
Heavy body: Less than 30 minutes
OPEN acrylic: 24 + hours

Varnish ready
Heavy body: 24 hrs
Golden OPEN Acrylics: Minimum of 30 days before varnishing if you have used thin layers. You can apply an isolation coat in half the time (minimum 14 days) to help protect the surface.

However, there is one interesting thing about this experiment, the thickness of the paint application.

The test was created using 6mm depth of paint, when Golden’s recommend maximum depth of application using OPEN acrylic is only 1.58mm, about the thickness of a penn.

There’s a big difference between the test conditions and their recommended painting conditions.

The thicker application in the test means the working time would obviously be much longer. In reality when painting with much thinner layers, there is a longer working time, but not as long as you think it’s going to be.

Lets have a look through some of the key characteristics between the two.

Colour range

Standard Golden Heavy Bodyacrylics have 110 colours (not including specialist effect paints)
Golden OPEN acrylics has 80 colours.

Is this a problem? Not really, I always adhere to the approach of less is more.

It’s better to have 3 or 5 pigments you really get to know rather than always jumping to the next paint colour to try and ‘help’ with the colour mixing in your painting, so this isn’t really an issue.

Consistency

The consistency and flow of the paint with the Golden OPEN’ acrylics is slightly thinner than the heavy body. This means it doesn’t hold its shape as well or hold in stiff peaks.

Is this a problem? If you like painting thickly with a palette knife, yes.

Compared with standard acrylics they have a softer consistency. This can feel nice straight from the tube in comparison to heavy body paints that often need a touch of water added for mixing the perfect consistency.

As I’ve mentioned before, Golden recommend a thickness of paint application of no more than 1/16” thick, that’s only 1.58 mm thick.

That is really, really thin, only about as thick as a cent or penny.

With standard acrylics you can apply the paint as thick as you like.

Why do they recommend such a thin application?

You can paint thicker with the OPEN acrylics but the repercussion aren’t worth it.

You’ll have a paint film that takes weeks to dry and the paint, when pressed, feels mushy and a very strange surface to work with.

Also, when drying, the OPEN acrylics goes through a strange process of ‘tacking up’.

The paint surface starts to become tacky before it finally dries completely. It goes through different textures under the brush which can feel damn right weird if you’ve been using standard acrylics. The paint feels initially very oily and slippery and as it dries becomes increasingly stiff.

So although the paint has a long drying time, the actual working time is alot less.

You have to work quickly before the painting starts getting tacky, and then if you miss your window of opportunity, you’ll have to wait, for what can feel like a really long time for the layer to completely dry before you paint on top.

You can easily find yourself accidentally lifting up the previous layer of paint from underneath – you thought was dry.

Very frustrating!

Golden refers to this drying period as a “Sweet Spot” where you find the perfect texture for your particular needs.

I’ve found it to be the ‘not really sure when the sweet spot was’.

When you’re first starting it can be hard to judge when this perfect moment is and as the thickness of paint application varies, so does the timing of the drying.

The paint seems to get tacky after an hour, but remains workable for much longer. You need to let your layers dry completely before you attempt to add a new layer, otherwise you risk ruining a layer that hasn’t set yet. This is something you could get used to, though.

If you’re used to applying acrylics thickly and with a stiffer brush this can cause havoc to your painting as you are constantly reworking the layer underneath you thought has already dried. You can quickly ruin a area.

But when is this useful?

If you are using soft brushes (such as sables) and you are looking to achieve a very subtle, diffused blend to the paint surface.

blending with acrylics

Subtle diffused blend using OPEN acrylics

Coverage

The coverage or opacity of the paint depends on the amount of pigment in the paint (called pigment load) and the binders used in the paint manufacturing process (called the vehicle)

The OPEN acrylics have a good pigment load but I’ve found the acrylic binder used, gives the paint a poor coverage in comparison to standard acrylics. So the appeal that you easily paint over your mistakes and create clean colour mixes when you’re first beginning, is lost.

Colour shift

All acrylics darken slightly as they dry, the better the quality of paint, the less the colour shift. However, with OPEN acrylics, I have noticed a definite colour shift when the paint film dries.

Compatibility

One of the great things about OPEN acrylics is you can mix them with standard acrylics. So you could paint 80% of your painting with heavy body acrylics and then introduce a few paints of the OPEN colours for areas of your painting that you just need to increase the working time slightly.

For example, adding a soft blend to the edge of a cloud or working on thin glazes over a portrait painting.

You can mix OPEN acrylics in with standard acrylics easily and without any real problems, the more standard acrylics that are mixed in, the quicker the drying time will be. So say you love the opacity of standard Titanium white but want it to stay workable for a bit longer then you can add in some OPEN acrylics to the mix.

Convenience & cleaning

Not having to constantly put out fresh paint or work on a stay-wet palette can be a joy, especially if you are working on a portrait where the subtle colour changes need very slight adjustments in pigments.

Cleaning wise they are more convenient than standard acrylics as the paint doesn’t dry on the brush. You can leave the paint on the brush for a couple of hours and still be able to easily remove in by dipping in OPEN thinner and then washing with soap & water.

If you’ve painting outside, or in hotter climates than the UK they can be great as in a large pile of paint remains workable for such a long period of time and if you mist the paint with water or OPEN thinner the paint can stay wet even longer.

But if you like to work quick, or have deadlines for clients who want paintings that can’t be varnished in time – it can be tricky.

Pro tip: OPEN acrylics remain tacky when drying so it is advisable to leave your paintings in a dust free environment before varnishing.

Conclusion

So should you rush out and buy OPEN acrylics? It depends, I think the labeling is a bit misleading, they should have called them:

Golden glazing paints for thin layers and fine detail

Because, essentially, this is what they are best for.

If you use standard acrylics for 90% of your painting, this leaves you free to apply thick impasto and painterly brush marks, then use the OPEN acrylics for the final 10% you can achieve some lovely results. Especially if you’ve been finding standard acrylics dry too quickly for subtle blending.

As they are compatible with regular acrylics it might be a worthy investment to buy a couple of tubes to experiment with and get the feel of them.

You might also like:
1.The 5 key differences between Acrylics & Oil paints – a beginners guide

2.The 8 key differences between Artist quality vs Student grade acrylic paints

 

{ 49 comments… read them below or add one }

Steve October 18, 2012

I’ve bought a Modern Open colour set to try. Currently struggling with the very very high tinting strength compared to a traditional palette and the Hansa yellow included in the set.

I’d be interested in a comparison with oils, especially drying time, but also in use for a finishing layer to regular acrylics in the same way as you suggest a suitable use of Open acrylics for final subtle glazes and blends.

Reply

Will Kemp October 18, 2012

Hey Steve,

The Hansa yellow can be a useful colour for creating some very nice glazes as it is so transparent, but can easily mix some harsh greens.

Cheers for the suggestion,

Will

Reply

Jasson October 18, 2012

I really liked this article Will. I have heard there where different acrylics for drying times but didn’t know what they where called.

It’s very interesting to know what the options are and what are the key differences between this types of paints and when to used them. Also will help out to pick better quality and working paints rather than experimenting and ruining a piece because you didn’t know how to work them.

Thanks a lot. Cheers!

Reply

Will Kemp October 18, 2012

Pleased to hear it Jasson, the choice of materials can make a big difference in the success of your painting, it’s nice to be aware of what’s out there.

Thanks,
Will

Reply

Mark Szymanski October 18, 2012

Thanks Will, I had been wondering about these paints and how long they took to dry. I tend towards very thin layers of paint, I personally am not a big fan of impasto techniques so that isn’t an issue here. Because of their longer open time I had been considering trying these paints out. It is great to hear an unbiased review from you, since I value your opinion so highly. The color greater color shift is a deal breaker for me and it is good to hear this from a reliable source. I may try a color or two in time, but if find misting my palette with a super ultra-fine mister will keep my paint workable for over an hour outdoors if you are diligent about keeping it in a humidified environment. I have used a stay wet palette for this, but I found an ultra-fine mister works better for me. Thanks for the review!

Reply

Will Kemp October 18, 2012

Hey Mark,

They might be perfect for you if you work in those thinner layers, as you’ve had experience with acrylics I think you’ll be able to handle the colour shift, no problem. The ultra fine mister is a good tip, I stole mine from Vanessa’s hair salon!

Cheers,
Will

Reply

Dale October 18, 2012

Great stuff, Will! That was very interesting indeed.

Reply

Will Kemp October 18, 2012

Pleased to hear it Dale,

Cheers,
Will

Reply

Linda Parent October 18, 2012

Thank you Will for a great review. I might actually purchase a few for finishing touches. I’m used to oil and find it very difficult when i go back to acrylics.

Linda

Reply

Will Kemp October 18, 2012

Hey Linda,
You’re welcome, if you’ve worked with oils previously the open acrylics can help to add that extra working time, and for finishing touches they can be perfect.

Cheers,
Will

Reply

Adriana Pusztai October 19, 2012

Thank you Wil; much appreciated. It’s great to be learning so much about art and paints in the convenience of my own home.

Reply

Will Kemp October 19, 2012

Hi Andriana, thanks for stopping by, pleased to hear you enjoyed the article.

Cheers,
Will

Reply

Mick October 19, 2012

Hi Will
A very fair and balanced review, very honest. They had caught my eye in the Jacksons catalogue but on balance no, retarders work well enough for me when necessary.

Reply

Will Kemp October 19, 2012

Cheers Mick,
Pleased it was helpful,
Will

Reply

Paula October 19, 2012

Thank you Will that was really interesting. I was actually considering replacing my entire palette with these Open Acrylics expecting them to behave much more like oils. Having seen your review I am not sure now that the Open acrylics would be the right choice for me so you may have prevented a very expensive mistake! You mentioned Atelier Interactive acrylics, have you tried these at all yourself?

Reply

Will Kemp October 19, 2012

You’re welcome Paula, as for Atelier Interactives, I’ve had a quick play with them but haven’t really used them enough to give a rounded review, if any reader have used them extensively I’d love to hear their experiences with them.

Cheers,
Will

Reply

Kate Myers October 20, 2012

Thank you for such a wealth of information! Your tutorials have given me the confidence I was lacking in transitioning from graphite to paint, and your work has inspired me to leave my realistic comfort zone and experiment with more impressionist techniques.

Tim Gagnon (http://www.timgagnon.com/) is an artist who works almost exclusively with Atelier Interactives, focusing mainly on realistic landscapes and wildlife. It may be worth a shot to ask him for his experiences with that particular brand of paint.

Happy painting!
- Kate M.

Reply

Will Kemp October 20, 2012

Hey Kate,

So pleased to hear the tutorials have helped in giving you the confidence to take the leap into paints!

And thanks for letting me know about Tim’s use of Atelier Interactives.

Thanks again,
Will

Reply

Francie Gannon October 21, 2012

Hi Will,

Thanks so much for this very informative article. It is sooo helpful. I am learning so much from you and I am grateful! I think I might buy a couple of tubes of Open Acrylics and check them out.

Thanks again,

Francie

Reply

Will Kemp October 21, 2012

Hey Francie,

Cheers for the comment, really pleased you found the article helpful.

Enjoy experimenting with the OPEN acrylics!

Thanks,
Will

Reply

Yuval October 21, 2012

Hi Will,

Many thanks for this great article.
Got all the answers needed.

Cheers,
Yuval

Reply

carol October 23, 2012

Hi Will,

It’s great to get such brilliant info straight into my mail box ~ I love this ‘updates’ thing!
Your article is full of interesting, useful and practical info ~ I really appreciate you taking the time to write and post it, thanks!

I’m pleased to be able to get an idea of your experience with Open acrylics before having a play myself ~ I’m kind of itching now to have a go at some fine blending with them!! Oh, and thanks for the links at the bottom of the article :) also excellent!

Reply

Will Kemp October 24, 2012

Oh Hi Carol,

Thanks very much, really pleased you enjoyed the articles.

Cheers,

Will

Reply

Babli November 5, 2012

Thanks Will, It’s helpful. I’ll keep that in mind while painting. Thanks a ton.
Can I see some of your own paintings?

Reply

Will Kemp November 5, 2012

Hi Babli, pleased it helped, you can see examples of my paintings throughout the demos on the blog. Click on the about page for some more examples.

Cheers,
Will

Reply

Eduardo de la Cruz November 23, 2012

Hi, Will.
This is my first comment on your blog. Like the rest of your subscribers I, too, appreciate and enjoy your tidbits of valuable and practical information. Thank you very much for them. As to trying out new paints I learned that, like you said, fewer is better. After doing watercolours for years I find myself favoring fewer colours and stocking on them and no longer have a need to buy exotic/uncommon colours. I hope to remember that lesson now that I’m learning to paint in acrylics, which are a bigger investment overall. And I like the way you present your ideas and opinions.

Reply

Will Kemp November 23, 2012

Hi Eduardo, nice to hear from you.

Yes, the less is more approach can help in so many ways when first learning a new medium. So pleased you have found the articles helpful in your paintings.

Thanks again for your kind words,

Cheers,
Will

Reply

Lynn December 28, 2012

Hi Will
I live in Australia where it can get quite ‘warm’ and I find Artelier Interactive Acrylic to be a great paint to work with. As I tend to work slowly in layers. I don’t use the impasto style very often and would probably recommend a more structured paint for that.
As you mentioned the Interactive paint can be rejuvenated with a spray of water and if used with a painting medium instead of water have a lovely look and feel to them.
Regards
Lynn

Reply

Will Kemp December 28, 2012

Hi Lynn,
Thanks for your comments on using Atelier Interactive paints,

Cheers,
Will

Reply

filiz January 12, 2013

I would like to say Thank you as your webside is helping me!
I’ve just started painting I was confused but when I watched your videos on youtube then I’ve got lots of easy way.. Thank you

filiz study in KCC collage chelsea, Fashion designer class

Reply

Will Kemp January 15, 2013

You’re welcome Filiz, great to hear it’s helping you understand painting.

Cheers,
Will

Reply

Tom Waters February 12, 2013

Will, just went through your still life on-line course and learned a ton. One question I kept having is “how does he get so little paint to go so far?” It seems I have to mix far more paint and coverage is less. I assume you used heavy body paints for that course. Does the brand of paint (I am using student grade Liquitex Heavy Body) affect coverage?

By the way, love the site. Painted a little in oils 30 years ago and just started again in Acrylics. Learned more in one lesson than 4 months of weekly lessons in oils in High School.

Reply

Will Kemp February 12, 2013

Hi Tom,

Thanks for dropping by, really pleased you’ve learnt loads on the still life course. The difference in coverage is down to thw quality of the paint. Artist quality paints will always have much more covergage than student quality. I would invest in an artist quality titanium white first so you can see the difference. The liquitex artist acrylic heavy body are the closest to the paints I use in the tutorial. Have a look at this article for a further look at the differnces.

Cheers,
Will

Reply

R. A. Muller February 26, 2013

Very helpful review. I have experienced the problem of assuming that Golden’s open acrylics are dry – i.e., dry to touch and after even several days of waiting – only to find that the paint lifts or rubs off when another layer, notably a glaze is applied. Now, at least, have have a clearer sense of why I had a problem and a clearer sense as well of how and when I should add open acrylic paints to my acrylic palette. Thanks!

Reply

Will Kemp February 26, 2013

Hi Richard,

Pleased you found it helpful, in the right context the OPEN acrylic they can work really well, having the paint rub off can be molto frustrating!

Cheers,
Will

Reply

Laura W May 3, 2013

I am loving your lessons! I haven’t painted in some years, and then just with crummy (cheap) acrylics on my kids walls, doing fanciful murals. Now, I want to put one on canvas — a 49″ x 49″ canvas. So, I’m worrying about the open time of my heavy body paint. Heading out to purchase some regular gel and a large pot of yellow ochre for the background, a large paintbrush and a drop cloth. Any tips you have for doing really big pieces is welcome. Wish me luck!

Reply

Will Kemp May 3, 2013

Hi Laura, pleased you’ve been enjoying the lessons. Depending on the style of painting you’re after the 49″ will be fine with standard acrylics. Just make sure you can get back from the canvas throughout the painting process so can view your work from a distance, this will make the biggest difference in bringing all the elements together when working on the larger scale.

Good luck with your painting!

Cheers,
Will

Reply

Laura W May 4, 2013

How kind of you to get back to me! I will certainly take your advice. I do have one question. This will be primarily a landscape with a slender section of blue sky at the top. I watched your video suggesting putting down a base coat of yellow ochre. Will this somehow be a barely perceptible tone under the blue of the sky and the water in the canyon, etc. that somehow pulls the pallet together? Or is it just so you don’t accidentally leave any white canvas? I understand that it makes the canvas texture easier to work on, but unclear why a color is suggested. Thanks!

Reply

Will Kemp May 7, 2013

Hi Laura,
the coloured ground colour can change depending on the scene you are painting and the mood you are after. The yellow ochre is great for sunsets/beach scenes/ scenes with a glow of sunlight on them. If you’re after a cooler effect you can use a neutral grey colour (raw umber & white) or a soft blue (ultramarine blue & white). The ground helps you to judge tonal values in your painting, pull the colours in your painting together and stop any accidentally left white canvas.

Hope this helps,
Will

Reply

Bernie May 5, 2013

This is a great article! I am wondering what Golden Open vs. Atelier Interactive reviews are. I have a few tubes of each. I see they are softer, thinner but have not painted with them…just dabbled. I think Atelier was on the market first but not where I live in Western New York. I used to read about European artists using them.

I haven’t had much trouble until last summer when paint was drying on the trip from my palate to my canvas. It was a dry summer. I use deep wells of paint, a stay wet sponge sitting above the wells and sometimes a mister. Just trying to learn all I can about this.

Reply

Will Kemp May 7, 2013

Cheers Bernie, pleased you found the article of interest.

Will

Reply

Glissie May 15, 2013

This article is awesome!

I am a beginner and I have found answers to most of my questions in this blog!
Although, I have a couple of questions regarding using swarovski crystals on canvas.

I am planning to paint leaves and embellish them with Swarovski crystals over my summer break.

Which brand of acrylic paint is the best available in the United States?
Also, which is the best adhesive to keep the swarovski crystals in place?
Can I use Martha Stewart glitter as a replacement to swarovski crystals?

Appreciate your suggestion.

Thanks,
Glissie

Reply

Will Kemp May 19, 2013

Hi Glissie,

Pleased you enjoyed the article, to answer your questions:

Which brand of acrylic paint is the best available in the United States?

I like Golden paints, Liquitex are also nice.

Also, which is the best adhesive to keep the swarovski crystals in place?

Check out this article on gluing swarovski crystals.

Can I use Martha Stewart glitter as a replacement to swarovski crystals?

Mmm, you got me, not up on Martha Stewart glitter! But I can’t see any reason why not.

Hope this helps,

Will

Reply

Jed June 18, 2013

I really love Golden OPEN acrylics. My experiments are ongoing. I find that at times (especially summer w/ more humidity) I can put a dollop of this paint on my palette, and it will be sitting there quite wet and ready to use 24 hours later! By contrast, I can do a very thin wash on unprimed paper and it’ll be dry in minutes, especially if there’s a fan about. Everyone should remember that a sealed surface will significantly increase open time. I love that I can go in and soften edges so well w/ OPEN, especially on a sealed surface.

I like to paint flat and I like to do impasto. Generally I’ll have OPEN versions of my regular colors, as well as regular versions (usually Golden and Winsor & Newton). I like that I can program in my desired drying time by mixing OPEN w/ regular acrylic, and I like that I can work a little longer doing more impasto type if things by adding a bit of OPEN to regular acrylic (regular acrylic holding the peaks better). Of course OPEN can be used atop regular acrylic which has been used for impasto, so there’s that option as well. It’s a drag that OPEN isn’t really good for heavy impasto on its own, but then again, regular acrylic for heavy impasto is nice in the sense that it doesn’t have the extremely long drying times of thickly-applied oil.

I use retarder at times as well (I like W&N’s). It all depends on what is called for by a given situation.

Reply

Will Kemp June 18, 2013

Hi Jed,

Thanks for taking the time to write a detailed analysis of your experience using Golden OPEN acrylics.

Cheers,
Will

Reply

Sue dee August 3, 2013

Thanks Will for this just what I needed to know will try OPEN Acrylic just for my sky . What would I do with out you. Sue D

Reply

Will Kemp August 3, 2013

You’re welcome Sue, really pleased the article helped.

Cheers,
Will

Reply

Debbie Nicolaisen September 6, 2013

Amazing article! Thanks so much for sharing your expertise & experience. Thanks to you, I have a much clearer understanding of OPEN acrylics.

Reply

Will Kemp September 6, 2013

Thanks Debbie, pleased to hear you’ve got a clearer understanding of the OPEN acrylics. Enjoy experimenting!

Cheers,
Will

Reply

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: