Oil vs Acrylic Paint: What’s the Difference Between Them

The world of choices for painting with colors is endless. While the plethora of options might seem overwhelming at times, there are three popular choices used by beginners and professional painters. The types include watercolor, acrylic paint, and oil paint. Among the three, oil and acrylic paints are reasonably popular.

Some painters prefer using acrylic colors, given that they dry quickly and are safer for use. Others tend to use oil paint due to its durability and fantastic texture.

Regardless of what you choose, it is better to know all about oil and acrylic paints’ similarities, key differences, and workability. So, let us check out the key elements in perfect detail.

Oil vs Acrylic Paint

Oil vs Acrylic Paints: The Key Differences

Before you start using a new medium for your painting escapades, it is essential to check out the features that make them unique. So ask yourself a question: What sets your choice of medium apart from others? Why should you use one as opposed to another?

Well, if that is the case, let us check out the significant differences between the two.

  • Oil paint has a slower drying time as compared to acrylic paint. Moreover, oil paint provides you with more flexibility given its long drying time. Oil paint takes anywhere between 6 months to 1 year for complete drying. Therefore, when using acrylic paints, one needs to be decisive when applying the strokes as they might dry off post-application.
  • When using oil paint, you need to use the fat over lean technique. If your top paint layer dries out before its lower layer, the top paint layers might crack. The fatter and thicker your paint is, the slower its drying process.
  • Acrylic paint hue darkens as they start to dry out. However, you might not see this issue with oil paint. However, oil paints can get a slight yellow tint with time. So, paint while keeping these color changes in mind.
  • Oil paint allows more effortless blending. However, the same isn’t true when you use acrylic paints, given that it dries out too fast.
  • When using oil paint, you might end up making much mess if you aren’t careful. In addition, oil colors are harder to control and clean as compared to acrylic paints. So, if you use oil paint, make sure you get some high-quality materials for the cleaning purpose.
  • The finishing you get with oil paint tends to be glossy and refined, while acrylic paint shows up with a matte finish.

What are Oil Paints Made Of?

The prime differences setting apart oil paint from acrylics are the texture and consistency. Oil paint is thicker in consistency with an oily texture. They are comprised of binding agents, oil bases, and color pigments.

Depending on the brand you choose, the base can differ. However, it usually is naturally-occurring oil like safflower or linseed. The inclusion of this oil gives the paint a creamy and smooth consistency, which is ideal for different types of objects or surfaces. Its oil base keeps the paint wet for a long time to help you paint with convenience.

Artists that love to focus on attention and take their time can use this medium for painting purposes. It can be used for different techniques and paint mediums. You can also paint oil colors over acrylic to add beautiful textures and layers to work.

Choose the Thinner Wisely:

However, the downside to using oil paint is the array of chemicals involved. Artists that use oil paints mix it with a thinner or paint medium that could be chemically laden.

However, they are essential to the process for adding fluidity while making them perfectly workable. These paint mediums can also add a protective sheen or gloss to the painting. When using these solvents, make sure you wear protective gear to ensure it doesn’t harm your eyes, skin, or airways. Make sure you work in a well-ventilated area.

You can opt for safer mediums like natural painting oil as opposed to turpentine or other paint thinners. Oil paints can also be messier because they can’t be cleaned with simple soap and water. If you accidentally splash oil paint on your clothing, it could lead to staining, which is challenging to clean up.

Oil paint thinners or mediums can also help in slowing down the overall drying time. Alternatively, some variants can also speed up the process, add a distinctive texture, or serve as a paint sealant. The mediums can also help in cleaning the paintbrushes while protecting them from any damage.

Another fact you need to keep in mind is that oil paint can take six months or more to dry, depending on the thickness. Therefore, you can frame the colors only after it dries out entirely with the help of varnish or sealant.

What Are Acrylic Paints Made Of?

Acrylic paint is created similar to that of oil paint, except it doesn’t have an oil base. So, if acrylic paint isn’t oil-based, what is it made up of? Acrylic paint colors are water-based and are very safe to use as compared to oil paint.

A well-known benefit of using acrylic paint is that you can achieve the very same color pigmentation as oil paint. Moreover, you can also apply similar painting techniques without waiting for the piece of art to dry.

Most portrait painters don’t use acrylics for the portrait paintings as they have many layers, details, and shadows that can dry out too quickly, leading to cracks. Oil paint is a better option to paint portraits.

The use of acrylic mediums enhances blending and color mixing techniques just as is possible with oil paints. Acrylic mediums can slow down the quick drying time when working on larger projects.

Apart from this, you can also make the acrylic-based paintings reactive after they have dried off using some water or acrylic paint medium. The liquid allows your paint to be ready for use.

Remember to add water slowly till you achieve the desired consistency. Do not go overboard, or you will end up with a watery liquid color.

With acrylics, you need to use sealant and fixatives to prevent peeling or chipping of the paint in future. You can get acrylic-specific varnishes or sealants in matte or glossy texture. Acrylic paint does come off with ease as compared to oil paint.

So, if you do have spilling accidents when painting, a simple soapy water solution can be used to wash out or wipe out the paint.

Read Also: Make Watercolor Paint from Acrylic

Comparisons Between Oil and Acrylic Paint

Let us check out the prime difference between acrylic and oil paint in in-depth detail.

FeaturesAcrylic PaintOil Paint
Drying TimeDries Up Faster (2 to 3 days depending on the thickness)Dries Up Slow (6 months to 1 year)
LightfastnessYesYes
Color VibrancyDries Up DarkerDries Up With Same Pigmentation
BlendabalityDifficult to Blend Due to Faster DryingEasy to Blend Due to Oil Base
DurabilityLess DurableMore Durable
Color ShiftingDoesn’t Yellow with TimeMight Develop a Yellow Tint
Smooth StrokesSmooth Strokes Achievable When Water is UsedEasy to Achieve Smoother Strokes
Layering AbilityNot as Good for LayeringBetter for Layering Techniques
Cleaning DifferencesEasy to CleanDifficult to Clean
Expense FactCheaper (Varies Depending on the Brand)Expensive (Varies Depending on the Brand)

Drying Time

As mentioned earlier, oil paint takes a long time to dry compared to its water-based counterpart. It’s why oil paint is perfect for larger paintings that need detailed work. Acrylic paint dries up faster.

However, you can either delay or speed up the drying process with the help of a painting medium. It’s one of the essential painting tips to remember when using acrylics.

Lightfastness

Given that acrylic paints and oil paints contain the same type of color-rich pigmentation, the lightfast qualities are shared. Lightfastness is the rating that determines how the painting gets affected by sunlight and other light variants.

Most oil paint or acrylic color suppliers list out the lightfastness rating on the colors. You can spike up the lightfastness with the help of a sealant.

Color Vibrancy

Acrylic color is generally flat and dense in texture, which means it dries darker than the fresh colors. On the other hand, oil paint is thick, glossy, and opaque, making the color mixing and blending opportunities endless. Oil paint retains vibrant colors post drying, depending on the complexity of color.

So, you can expect the painting to retain the same hue as it did during the painting process.

Oil paint retains vibrant colors post drying, depending on the complexity of color. So, you can expect the painting to retain the same hue as it did during the painting process.

Blending and Mixing Ability

If you are looking for something that blends and mixes with ease, you would be better off using oil paint. Its blending capability comes from the oil base and the use of fewer agents of color binding.

Oil paint can retain moisture for longer while gliding effortlessly on the canvas. The delayed drying feature helps with easier blending while making it more flexible.

With acrylic, unless you are quick, it would be challenging to blend the colors. You can benefit from spraying water on the artwork to mix the paint.

Durability and Versatility

It is obvious that oil paint is more durable as compared to acrylic paint. Famous paintings from oil artists dating back centuries are still displayed while retaining their amazing condition. It’s because oil paint medium features high longevity.

Acrylics can also last long. However, these aren’t resistant to water as compared to oil paints. They can get affected by moisture and weather components. Both mediums can experience increased durability with sealant coating.

Color Shifting

Acrylic colors are lightfast, and they don’t yellow with time. However, they do change the color as they dry out. Oil colors do not show an immediate shift in color, but they do start to get yellow due to oxidation.

Smooth Strokes

Given that acrylics dry out fast, they do not give off as smooth strokes as oil paints that dry out late. However, you can use water to increase the blending ability and achieve smooth finishing and strokes with acrylic paint.

Layering Ability

Acrylics are challenging to layer with unless you can work fast. On the other hand, oil paint is easy to layer with due to its delayed drying feature. You can work with the latter as long as you want in multiple layers.

Moreover, it works with wet-on-wet techniques as well as wet-on-dry techniques.

With the acrylic style of painting, you need to let the base layer dry out before you paint another layer, as it could lead to peeling issues or a mixing of colors.

Cleaning Differences

Thorough cleaning of paintbrushes isn’t as exciting as the painting process. However, it is important for the long-term durability and maintenance of the brushes.

Cleaning oil paint brushes can be tougher as compared to cleaning the acrylics. You will have to use thinners or mineral spirits to clean off the paint, especially after it has dried out.

On the other hand, acrylic paint brushes can be easily cleaned with water or a soapy solution.

Read Also: How to Soften Acrylic Paint Brushes

Expense Fact

Oil paint is an expensive option as compared to acrylic paint. Plus, the brushes used for oil painting need to be of better quality to handle the corrosion due to the chemicals in color.

However, the end price comes down to the brand you plan on selecting or the quality, type of paint used. So, you can choose from a wide variety of oil colors and acrylic options to adhere to your budget.

What Is Oil Paint Used For

Oil paint was primarily used on thicker boards or canvas boards, but it is also ideal for painting on wood, ceramics, and certain metals.

Due to their oil base, this paint works best when you prime the canvas with a high-quality base coat. Doing this helps the oil paint stick onto the surface while giving you something that lasts for years.

Oil paint can also be used for the following techniques:

Chiaroscuro:

This painting technique offers a significant contrast between darker and light painting aspects. It was used primarily by the renaissance artists like Caravaggio and Rembrandt. It helps increase the overall drama in the piece while pushing the subject into your painting’s foreground. Moreover, it creates a beautiful 3D illusion.

Scumbling:

Scumbling is an amazing way to add extra textures to work. The artists use a stiff, dry brush that applies thin paint layers onto the canvas in this technique. While the resulting painting won’t show a smooth finishing, the overall effect is something to look forward to. This technique was used mainly by Turner

Alla Prima/wet-on-wet:

Alla Prima is a welcoming technique that lets you paint on layers without allowing the base layers to dry out. It is also termed the wet-on-wet technique, which artists loved like Monet and Van Gogh.

Glazing:

Glazing involves using transparent color layers applied on an opaque base layer. When subsequent color layers are applied, it creates a glossy finish with a multi-faceted look. Glazing can also be done over thin layers of paint to add shine. This technique was used primarily by Vermeer.

Underpainting:

Beginner oil painters might not be comfortable with painting on a completely blank board or canvas. With underpainting, you can sketch the initial design on the canvas with a thin paint layer. This technique is used by artists such as Giotto and Jan Van Eyck.

Impasto:

This particular oil painting application requires much practice. Impasto technique has been featured on several paintings by Van Gogh.

It requires the application of deliberately thick paint strokes where each paintbrush mark is visible clearly after the piece is finished. For thicker strokes, some artists might also use palette knives as opposed to a brush.

Grisaille:

The Grisaille oil painting technique isn’t as popular today. However, it was prevalent during the famous renaissance era. This painting technique refers to monochrome colors, which include white, black, and grey that helps show dark, light, and shading.

Pro Tips for Using Oil Paints

  • When working with oil paint, it is essential to use oil painting mediums to increase workability. It ensures seamless blending, color mixing, and shading capabilities.
  • When you paint with layers of oil colors, it is crucial to let its bottom layers dry out before adding a fresh one. Unless you are using the wet-on-wet technique, beware that wet colors layered on top of each other can change the pigment.
  • Always start with a thin layer of paint on the base when painting with oil paint. It’s known as an underpainting. This underpaint layer must have an equal mix of oil medium, paint, and solvent. Then, as you switch layers, start decreasing the solvent and end up with the third layer that doesn’t have any. In this way, the top layers tend to be bolder and thicker than the base ones.

If you wish to paint for a longer duration, keep the paintbrush moist by dipping it in the oil medium. When you use them next, simply wipe off the colors using a dry cloth and resume painting. The brushes will be just as flexible and soft as you started with.

What Is Acrylic Paint Used for

On the other hand, acrylic paints are applicable in painting or craft projects. Given that the nature of acrylic paints is to dry out quickly, they can be used on canvas, paper, glass, wood, or even the ceramic base. If you plan on an outdoor painting project, make sure you purchase a specially-created acrylic paint that helps stand against the harsh outdoor conditions.

Direct canvas application:

Unlike oil paint, primary acrylic colors can be applied directly on the canvas without the need for gesso or turpentine. As a result, they tend to stick better on the surface as compared to oil paint.

Use as glazes:

Acrylic colors are easy to water down into a consistency suited for the pouring technique or glazing requirements. It gives the painting a gloss and shine that helps make it look as natural and beautiful as possible. You can also use some chemicals in acrylic paint to create a unique glossy look.

Pour Painting:

While oil paint might not be as fluid, acrylic paint is generally used for the pour painting. In this technique, the colors are poured directly onto the canvas while tilting them on different sides to paint a pattern. Again, no knives or brushes are used in this technique.

Pro Tips for Using Acrylic Paints

  • As a beginner painter, you don’t necessarily have to invest in any acrylic medium. Using water would be just as good. The key is to fill in a small spray bottle with water and spritz your canvas and paint palette to help retain the moisture for longer without messing with the workspace.
  • When using acrylics, painting in multiple steps is helpful for the prevention of faster drying. Start by using 2-3 colors in one go. It allows you to finish each segment of the painting without the need to rush.
  • When cleaning the acrylic paint brushes, use oil-based or natural soap for the conditioning and protection of the bristles.

Make sure you apply a fixative or sealant for the painting to ensure that the painting lasts longer.

Oil vs. Acrylic Paint: Which One Is Best For Beginners

If you are looking for something for beginners, acrylic paint is the way to go. It is easy to use and requires fewer materials as compared to oil paint for the painting process. In addition, it is way less irritating to your senses as compared to the oils.

Oil paint tends to be responsive for a long time, so you can take your time to work with it. However, acrylic paint tends to dry very fast.

So, it would help if you were extremely cautious as a beginner when handling the paint. You need to be fast with complete precision when painting due to its quick-drying qualities.

All you need when using acrylic paint are colors, a canvas, paintbrushes, and water. You can use various mediums to aid in the increase of paint fluidity without watering it down. Also, several accessories can make acrylic paint easy to work with.

So, if you have just started learning the art of painting, you might fare well with acrylics and then move on to oil paint as you progress to the expert rank.

So, Which Paint Should You Use?

If you are wondering what to choose between acrylic paints or oil paints, the answer is simple. For experts, oil paint fares better, given its slow drying time that can help you create elaborate masterpieces. Plus, they require caution when used to avoid staining during the painting process.

On the other hand, beginners should always start with acrylic paints. The downside to using acrylic paint is the fact that it tends to dry fast.

However, it can be corrected by adding some water to the paint, giving you extra time. So, determine the type of artist you are and invest accordingly.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q: Which is more durable, acrylic or oil paint?

If you look at the historical evidence, paintings made with oil colors prove relatively durable than acrylics. They have been present for more than 500 years. Plus, oil paints do not fade out quickly compared to acrylic when exposed to UV light.

Q: Why do most artists use oil paint?

Oil painting provides flexibility along with color depth that is richer in comparison to acrylics. There are several techniques for using oil paint, including thin glazes that are diluted using turpentine or thick, dense impasto. Primarily, as oil paint dries out slowly, artists can work on the painting for longer to achieve perfection.

Q: Are oil paintings worth more than acrylic?

Oil paintings are expensive as compared to acrylic paintings. So, if an artist plans on creating a painting that holds high value, choosing oil paint is the key. It’s because oil paint lasts longer and stays as it is for longer, probably even 100s of years, when maintained properly.

Q: Is oil painting easier to blend?

For artists that have a hard time blending acrylic colors, oil paint could be their best friend. Given that oil paint dries out very slowly, it is easy to blend with. Simply get a large-sized blending brush and work your way through the canvas.

Q: What is one advantage of acrylic paint over oil?

A major advantage of using acrylic paint over oil paint is that it dries out in less time. Oil paintings, in most cases, can take as long as a year to dry out completely.

So, if you are a professional artist planning on transporting the paintings, acrylic is best suited for them.

Final Words

With all this information considered, both mediums are perfect for beginners. However, acrylics are hands down the perfect choice for beginners.

When learning the painting process initially, acrylics allow you to explore and understand the colors, painting style, and techniques. Although they do dry out quickly, the issue can be dealt with using painting mediums or water.

In the absence of acrylic paints, you can prefer to learn all about the oil alternative. Oil paint is usually avoided, given the high pricing. However, once you master the art, they can be perfect for adding depth, tones, and perfect color blending.

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Loard Eva

Hi there! I’m Eva, artist, designer, photographer and mom of three little gentlemen altogether. When I’m not playing with my kids, you’ll find me researching and writing for ChooseMarker.

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