Can Acrylic Paint Be Used Outdoors

Can Acrylic Paint Be Used Outdoors?

Acrylic paint is great to use on so many projects.  From painting canvases to ceramics, acrylic paints can make a project stand out.  The colors can be mixed to create the perfect color for your creation.

Many wonder if acrylic paint can be used outdoors.  The answer can be a tricky one.  If you are placing an object outside that has been painted with acrylic paints, it will be ruined in the rain.  However, if you take the time to varnish it, it can last outdoors.

When you paint anything with acrylic paint, it must adhere to the surface to stick.  But if the object is exposed to water before the paint is fully cured, it will rinse away.  So you will need to know how to seal your project to ensure that it lasts a long time.

Here we will discuss more using acrylic paint for outdoor use and how you can safeguard your creations so they last a long time.

Acrylic paint and the outdoors

Acrylic paint is made by mixing pigments with acrylic polymer emulsion.  Essentially, this makes it water-based paint.  By using the acrylic polymer emulsion, the paint dries fast.  It is able to do this as the water in the paint evaporates, which allows it to dry faster.

You may wonder what you would paint to set outside?  There are a number of projects that you can create to decorate your front and backyard with.  Some ideas include:

  • Painting signs that label what you have in your gardens, such as peas, carrots, lettuce, green beans, and more.  You may wish to paint wooden signs with those words and little pictures of the vegetables.
  • A rock garden is a great addition to any home.  Large rocks can be painted with flowers, sayings, bees, paw prints, and so much more!
  • A large rock can be painted with your house number or your last name.  You may even wish to make smaller rocks and add everyone in the family’s name to them.
  • Thicker wooden cutouts can be painted to hang on the siding.  You may wish to make up some for every holiday to decorate.  Think a bunny rabbit at Easter, a reindeer at Christmas, or a flag for the Fourth of July.
  • Welcome signs are all the rage right now.  Use a large piece of wood to simply paint WELCOME down it. These look great placed on front porches.
  • Another great idea that everyone is in love with right now is a barn quilt.  These are made from wood and can be hung on barns, sheds, or houses.  With so many designs, you can find one that your family will love.

Waterproofing your creations

Sealing your creations is a simple task that will not take you a long time.  But the results will astonish you.  Those squirrels you painted for under your tree will last for years.  Your rock garden will dazzle anyone who walks by it.  The garden will showcase your labor by having all your vegetables clearly labeled.  Your barn quilt will make you smile every time you look at it.  All of your hard work will be preserved for years to come simply because you took a bit of extra time to seal your creations.

If your artwork is not waterproofed, over time, the water will begin to seep into the acrylic paint, which is porous.  This will make the paint crack, peel, or chip.  Tiny bubbles can also appear as the pigment in the paint separates from the emulsion.  If your artwork is destroyed because it was not waterproofed, there will not be any way to save it.

There are many surfaces that can use protective finishes.  These include wood, glass, plastic, metal, and more!  Many individuals are surprised that paint will stick to plastics.  Although not many kinds of paints will stick to plastic, acrylic paints tend to last on such surfaces for a great period of time.

Likewise, while painting on plastic, do know that you will have to put several coats to get the job done properly.  Otherwise, the paints may peel or scrub off easily.

Once you have painted and dried the plastic creation, you can move on to varnishing the surface with a coat or two. This will seal in the paints forever and make the object resistant to elements in the weather.

Metals are another popular surface that many have outdoors.  If you would like to use acrylic paints on metal products, you can give a single coat of protective finish to give the paint longer to wear.  Metal objects that you may wish to paint could include garden signs or metal artwork in various outdoor shapes (bees, flowers, bugs, cats, animals, etc).  Many will find metal watering cans and paint artwork on them to display outdoors.

Products to use for waterproofing

The following products can all be used as a means to protect your creations after you have painted them using acrylic paints.

  • Varnish: A finish that contains alkyd resin, oil, and solvents that have been around for years.  Many do not recommend using this type of waterproofing, but it is up to the individual crafter.
  • Polycrylic Protective Finish: A glossy, matte, satin, or semi-gloss finish that self-levels and smooths out like a resin once applied.
  • Water-Based Urethane: Glossy finish that won’t turn to an amber color as time passes.

Varnish vs. protective finish

You may wonder what the difference between varnish and a protective finish is.

A varnish will cure once it has been applied to your creation.  It will give a faint glossy amber or yellow coloring.  Varnish will protect the paint from fading as it is exposed to elements.

Acrylic paints and varnish are pretty tacky and can dry out fast. Should you not rinse your brushes thoroughly right after painting, the varnish can damage the bristles.

You will only need to use water and soap to remove the paint and varnish, rinsing well with fresh water afterward.

Another thing is that varnishes come as sprays.  This can be used in place of a brush if you desire.  However, you will have to spray several layers to get a proper coat if you opt to use one.

A protective finish can provide a durable outcome for your acrylic painted objects.  These have a tendency to dry quickly, are very durable, and protect well against heat.  However, they have an odor and may be more toxic.

When looking for a protective finish for your acrylic paints, you will want to make sure they are water-based (not oil-based).  Your brushes should clean up easily with soap and water.  You will want to make sure that the finish is non-yellowing, and does not show any brush strokes.  Look for one that is self-leveling and be sure to get the finish you prefer (matte, glossy, or satin).

Steps to waterproofing acrylic artwork using a brush and protective sealer

Once you have painted your creation, you will want to protect it before setting it outside in the elements.

Step One:  Pour protective sealer on a plate.

First, you will want to pour a small amount of protective sealer onto a plate.  We like to use disposable plates for quick and easy clean up.  Pour out a small amount as more can be added later.

Step Two:  Apply with a foam brush.

Next, you will apply the protective sealer with a foam brush.  Use light strokes that are even.  Apply over the entire surface of your creation.

Step Three:  Rinse brush.

While you wait for the first layer to dry, rinse the brush with soapy water.  Then rinse with fresh water to remove all soapy residue.

Step Four:  Add more layers

Add more layers of the protective finish in the same manner as step two.  Continue steps two and three until there are enough layers of protectant on the project.

Note that the brush and the creation should both be completely dry before moving on to adding another coat.  This will take at least 2 hours.  You will want to add between 2 to 4 coats of the protective layer.


If you will be using anything you paint outside, you will want to make sure you use a varnish to seal it.  By creating a seal, you will make it waterproof so your hard work can be showcased outside for many years to come.