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Top 10 Key Differences Between Oil and Acrylic Paints

If you are interested in taking up painting, one of the first decisions you will have to make is which types of paints to begin with? This post is meant to demystify these two types of paint in order to help you decide which might be best suited for you and your unique style of painting.

Oil and acrylic paints are indispensable mediums in the art world. Each has its own distinct properties, histories, and benefits and disadvantages while working with them to create a painting. Oil painting is a form of art that has been around for centuries; various artists from different parts of the world have been doing it. Oil paints illustrious history as being the premiere medium used by the most talented artists of past centuries has made it attractive to those who want to use its inherent depth and texture to create their own masterpieces.

Acrylic paints relatively new formation and versatility have given it a reputation for being one of the main paints of the modern world. Famous artists like Vincent van Gogh and Andy Warhol have used these respective paints in their most celebrated works.

To understand the pros and cons of oils vs. acrylics paints you need to understand the following key differences between oil and acrylic paints:

1. Speed of drying

For those artists who want to work quickly, acrylic is preferred due to the rapid rate of drying. Acrylics are water-based as compared to oil paints that are oil based. Some artists prefer oil to acrylics because of the drying time. This is actually a big disadvantage with acrylic if you prefer a slow dry time. There are acrylic retarders on the market that allow painters to have the advantage of slow drying times when using acrylics. I have used them, but since I am not an oil painter, they did not work well for me personally.

2. Odor

Acrylic paints have no odor, but working with oil paints you can smell it. So if you choose to work with oil paint, make sure that you know the safety measures, such as ventilation needs you should be using.

3. Cleaning brushes

Acrylic paint brushes can be cleaned with water. Brushes used for oil paint, however, will repel water, making this an ineffective mode of cleaning. Instead, a paint-thinning solution such as turpentine is used to clean brushes.

4. Blending

If you are blending colors, you may choose to work with oil paints because due to drying time and molecular makeup, oil blends nicely. This is not to say that blending is not possible with acrylics you just need to learn the special techniques involved; such are layering and dry-brushing.

5. Solubility

Acrylic paint is water soluble, whereas traditional oil paint requires a paint-thinning solution, such as linseed oil, to mix.

6. Quality of dried paint

Once acrylic paint dries, it is permanent and cannot be altered; oil paint can be re-moistened with a medium and added to or altered.

7. The color of dried paint

Acrylic paint will typically dry slightly darker than when it looks when wet, which requires a bit of forethought in your painting. This means that you will have to mix a color that is slightly lighter than you’d like, as the paint will dry slightly darker. Oil paint, on the other hand, will dry pretty much the same color as applied.

8. Stability

Acrylic is more permanent than oil. Acrylic paints were created to be more stable and permanent. They last through just about anything. Through naturally occurring oxidation, oil paints become brittle or turn yellow in color. This, however, can be prevented by applying varnish or protective surfaces over the painting.

9. Versatility

When it comes to versatility, acrylic paints are better than oil paints. You can paint on just about any surface with acrylics. Surfaces include tin, wood, plastic, paper, canvas or cloth. If you choose to mix the medium, that is possible too.

10. Prepping your work surface

While acrylic can be painted directly on a work surface, oil paint absolutely requires a prepped work surface. Oil paints can corrode a work surface over time, so you always have to prime a canvas, board, or even paper before painting.

The Bottom Line:

Both acrylic and oil paint choices have advantages and disadvantages. However, choosing the right medium is as important as learning more about canvases. Depending on the skill, talent, and desire of the artist, either material can be used effectively. There are many high-quality acrylic paintings on canvas as well as those created with oils. It will be left up to time and the artist’s preference to determine which is truly best.

There’s a lot to take in but once you get to grips with which paint is best for your style, oils vs. acrylics, so you can just get on and create masterpieces.

What is your favorite medium, Oil or Acrylics? Let us know in the comments below. Happy painting!