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Acrylic Paint Vs Oil [ Differences & Ideas]

Ever been astonished by the sheer number of options on your visit to an art supplies store? 

Acrylic Paint Vs Oil

Well, you aren't alone, as it's quite bewildering to see the development in the area of painting mediums. Even though we appreciate the choices, they can often end up being intimidating for a beginner. 

One of the most challenging decisions is to choose between acrylic paint vs oil paint. Both the mediums are equally popular, and you can find proponents on either side who swear by the paints and their advantages. To make your choice a tad easier, we have come up with a guide laying down the differences between top grade acrylic paints and its high quality oil paints counterpart. 

So, without further ado, let's get started! 

Essential Differences Between Oil And Acrylic Paints 

Acrylic Paint Vs Oil

1. Composition

When you're getting to know paint mediums, one of the first things to focus on would be the composition of a particular paint. Before beginning, we would like to point out that the composition or formulations vary between brands. So, even though a popular brand may list the ingredients used in the paint, they won't be open about their particular quality. 

On observing popular oil paints closely, we found that most of them have an oil base, color pigments, and a binding agent. The oil of choice is usually linseed or safflower, but it may differ based on the price of the paints. These natural oils are responsible for providing the paints with a smooth and creamy texture, helping them glide on the canvas. 

We were surprised to know that most acrylic paints have a very similar composition to oil paints except for the use of an oil base. Instead, the binder used in acrylic paint is an acrylic polymer that holds the pigments and turns into a protective film once the water has evaporated. 

Water is also added as it acts as a binder between the polymer and pigments, leading to an acrylic polymer emulsion. Overall, the presence of water instead of oil makes the acrylics fast drying and safe for almost everyone, including children, if the paint has non-toxic pigments. 

Both acrylics and oil paints can be used for diverse projects and applied on different surfaces. However, before using oil paints, it's advised to apply a primer so that the oil doesn't get soaked or affect the surface. 

2. Drying Time

We can start with oil paints and then see how long acrylic paints take to dry

When it comes to the oil paint medium, one of the advantages often highlighted is the slow drying time. As we have already mentioned, it comes from the presence of an oil base which takes more time to dry. 

If you prefer to work on a piece for long and have the flexibility of correcting mistakes, then oil paints are the way to go. However, it means that you'll need to be much more patient and careful while working with the paints. Layers need to be applied with precision following the thin-to-thick method and left to dry in-between to get the right outcome. 

Coming to acrylic paints, they do have a bad reputation for drying too quickly. It's not really a negative as the paint is more versatile and can be applied on a number of surfaces where the quick drying time minimizes the chance of mistakes. Nevertheless, when working with acrylics on a canvas, it's best to use a combination of retardants and wet palettes to keep the paint fresh. 

These days you can also find relatively slow-drying acrylics, which can help get an experience similar to working with oil paints. Still, the threshold of making mistakes is quite low with acrylics, so you need to plan well before starting to work on a big project. 

3. Blending And Mixing Colors

Professional painters often rave about using oil paints due to how easy it is to blend colors. Most of them prefer to have a limited color palette consisting of primary colors, along with brown, black, and white. It's said to be sufficient for creating numerous colors in various tones and shades. The creamy texture of oil paints and their slow drying time also contribute to the comfort of mixing colors. 

Moreover, the presence of fewer binding agents lets the different paints come together and blend into each other creating the typical soft effect. The colors remain fresh on the canvas for a longer time, so you can come back to the painting and blend a layer to fix any mistakes or add textures. 

Another popular blending technique for oil paints is wet-on-wet which lets you achieve some of the smoothest transitions. It especially comes in handy while painting portraits owing to the subtle shadings that need to be added. 

Your painting experience is going to be quite different with acrylics as the paints tend to dry quickly. So, you need to be fast in mixing colors when working on a large canvas. Besides, acrylic paints from other brands may at times not work with each other due to the presence of different binders. 

4. Color Shift

Have you ever experienced a color-changing entirely after it has dried? This phenomenon is known to be quite familiar with acrylics, so it's advised to test out a color before working on a big project. The culprit is usually the white binder used in acrylic paints, which can change color when dry. 

However, you can easily avoid this problem by getting paints with a clear binder. Another option is to splurge a bit more before you start acrylic painting to get artist-quality paints that don't have the problem of color shifts. 

The problem of color shift isn't usually seen for oil paints when they are of a good grade. But, if you aren't careful while priming the canvas, it can soak oil from the paint, making a color appear dull. To avoid this, make sure to prime the surface adequately and refrain from using too much solvent with the paints. 

Nevertheless, apart from the immediate color shift, you may even see the color of a painting becoming dull or yellow with time. It's usually due to the poor lightfastness of the pigments or oxidation of paints. 

The problem is more apparent in oil paintings, where some bright colors may turn yellowish with time as the oil dries and oxidizes. To make your paintings long-lasting, make sure to check the lightfastness rating of your oil-based paints. You may want to get oil paints with inorganic pigments as they are less prone to getting dull with time. 

Artists using acrylics have an advantage regarding lightfastness as most of the excellent quality paints have been extensively tested for being long-lasting. Some acrylic paints even guarantee to last more than 200 years without getting dull. You can test the phenomenon yourself, as the vibrant colors of acrylics retain their quality even after drying. 

5. Layering

For a beginner artist, the concept of painting in layers can be a bit challenging to grasp initially. On observing famous paintings closely, you're bound to notice that most of them are composed of multiple layers. The masters spend countless hours perfecting the application of the paint layers with paintbrushes. To be a good painter, you'll need to learn the techniques based on the paint medium. 

For instance, the oil medium is thought to be quite forgiving as the paints take time to dry completely. So, the painters have more time to blend the layers or fix mistakes. Painters may choose to work with thick paint layers, but they must wait for the subsequent layers to dry before moving forward with a painting. 

Having said that, the slower drying times of oil paints can also be frustrating, especially as they can vary based on the pigments used in a particular color. You may choose to add a siccative to slow drying paints to accelerate the process. 

When it comes to acrylic paints, most artists like the flexibility of acrylic paints that can be laid in thin or thick layers. In fact, many people prefer to work with acrylics and a palette knife to create elaborate impasto art pieces with thick paint layers. And the great thing is that the layers of acrylic dry quite quickly, letting painters finish projects within a day. 

Besides, you can even thin down acrylic paints with other mediums or simply water to create transparent glazes or watercolor-like washes. The only downside is that acrylics can easily crack when exposed to extreme temperatures or contaminants, so you have to let them dry in a cool, dry place. 

6. Finish Of Paintings

When you're choosing between two painting mediums, you'll also need to consider the expected finish of the painting. While oil is known to provide a high gloss finish, the most common acrylics may leave a matte finish. 

But, thanks to the availability of mediums, you can now purchase high-gloss or matte additives to change the finish of your painting. You can even get mediums to make your oil paints thick to get an opaque texture. 

7. Availability Of Space

If you didn't know already, oil painting needs to be done in a well-ventilated and spacious area due to the presence of fumes in some of the colors. This is usually due to the oil base used in paint or the use of a medium like turpentine while painting. Moreover, white spirit can especially irritate the skin, so you need to be careful about handling the substance. 

Even though most painters may think that oil paintings can't be made inside, that isn't necessarily true. You'll need to find a space that gets enough air so that the fumes wouldn't be able to affect your body. Otherwise, it's better to take your work outside in an area that doesn't receive direct sunlight. 

If you want to enjoy painting using oil paints without worrying about the harmful fumes, try using non-toxic colors and an odorless solvent for the purpose of mixing. However, some artists note that odorless solvents aren't great at cutting through the paints, unlike solvents like turpentine. 

Those who have limited space and want to avoid the hassle of spending time prepping can opt for acrylics which are much more manageable. You can easily mix the paints with just water and begin to paint. Besides, most acrylic paints are completely safe for children, so you can use them when they're close to your workspace. 

Irrespective of the paint of your choice, it's important to invest in high-quality paints and check their composition before making a purchase. This is especially true for oil paints, as high-quality oil paint will seldom let you down, and they have premium pigments that aren't harmful. 

Also, check your acrylic colors to see if there's any mention of trace amounts of ammonia which may require you to use the paint in a well-ventilated area. 

8. Cleaning Painting Materials

Along with spending a lot of money on the paints, you'll also need to buy other painting supplies to start creating your art pieces. So, the last thing you'll want to witness is a paintbrush ruined with dried paint. To avoid this, you'll need to clean your painting tools routinely. 

The cleaning process is pretty simple with water-based paints like acrylics, as all you need to do is place your brushes and palettes under running water. You can even use a bit of soapy water to get rid of the stubborn colors. Just make sure not to let the acrylic paints dry on your brushes, palettes, or other art supplies, as removing the colors would be tough. 

Compared to acrylic paints, removing oil paint from art tools and other surfaces is pretty hard. As they aren't water-soluble, you'll need a medium like linseed oil or walnut oil to dilute the paints for easy removal. 

After you're done painting, dip the brushes in your choice of oil and wipe them on a paper towel. You may need multiple passes before the brushes are clean and free from color residue. Next, run your brushes under warm water and clean them with a bit of soapy water to remove any staining. 

Remember to wear gloves while handling oil colors and supplies used for an oil painting to remain safe from any harmful elements. Also, never leave a brush sitting idle in a solvent or paint thinner for too long as they may hurt the bristles and the handles. 

Acrylic Paint Vs Oil

Painting Tips

As we have said already, using acrylic and oil paints is much more than just applying the colors on a canvas. So, we would like to share some painting tips that we came across while researching different painting mediums. These will surely help you become a better painter by enhancing your skills with paints, be it acrylic or oil. 

1. Tips To Work With Oil Paints

Here are some tips to know before you start an oil painting: 

    • Spend time looking for suitable solvents or paint thinners for oil paints
    • Picking colors is an important aspect of oil painting, so decide your palette beforehand
    • Mix colors with a palette knife as it provides more control than brushes
    • When painting with oil paints, let a subsequent layer dry before applying a new color
    • As oil paints stay wet for longer, remember to carefully handle the canvas
    • An oil painter should always start by applying thin layers, gradually moving to thick
    • If you plan to paint the next day, keep your paintbrushes dipped in solvents overnight

2. Tips To Work With Acrylic Paints

Here are some tips to know before you start an acrylic painting: 

    • There's no need to purchase acrylic mediums for your first art piece as the paints are water-soluble
    • To keep the acrylic paints fresh in the palette, you can occasionally spritz them with water
    • Once you have started painting, don't rush to finish the piece; instead, work in sections as acrylics dry fast
    • After the drying process is over, make sure to apply a sealant or fixative to your acrylic paintings to make them last longer
    • Instead of throwing away your leftover wet colors, store them in small airtight containers to use in later paintings

Acrylic Paint Vs Oil Frequently Asked Questions

Acrylic Paint Vs Oil Frequently Asked Questions ?

Is oil paint better than acrylic?

Even after learning about the key differences between the two painting mediums, people still want to know which one is better. Well, the answer varies based on the preferences of whoever is using the paints. Someone who has just started to paint and has little to no skills would definitely appreciate a versatile and quick medium like acrylic. 

On the other hand, those who have spent some time perfecting their techniques or know the basics of painting may prefer oil paints. One of their common reasons behind it is the flexibility offered by oil paints due to their slow drying time. 

In the end, we would advise you to try out both mediums to see which one suits your style the most. If you're a total beginner, try using heavy body acrylic paints, then slowly graduate to more accessible oil paints. 

Can acrylic paint be directly applied to a canvas?

Unlike oil paints that require you to prime the canvas, acrylics don't demand it. You can very well begin by applying the paints on a canvas, paper, or even board. Having said that, to get a better outcome, it's always best to prep your canvas with gesso. 

All you need is to apply a double layer of gesso on the canvas and let it dry. Or, you can buy primed canvases that have already been treated with gesso to reduce your tasks. 

One of the reasons artists prefer to use primed canvases is that the colors appear much brighter and smoother. In an unprimed canvas, the paints may sink into the weaves of the fabric leading to a textured and dull appearance. 

Do professional painters use acrylic paints?

A common myth you'll come across as a beginner is that professional artists don't prefer to use acrylic paints. But, it's far from the truth, as the choice of painting medium often depends on the outcome a painter is trying to achieve. Even though oil paint is a pretty popular medium among professionals, there are plenty of people who like using acrylics. 

Moreover, with the advancement in technologies, it has become easier to bridge the gap between the two paints. The foremost complaint about the quick drying time in acrylics can be easily fixed with a retarder or slow drying medium. Plus, artists often state that layering is easier with acrylics, along with the simplicity of using the medium. 

Some famous artists who have preferred using acrylic paints include Andy Warhol, Robert Motherwell, Mark Rothko, and Bridget Riley. 

What is the best surface for oil paints?

As a beginner, one of the first things that you need to figure out is the surface to use for your art pieces. In the case of oil paintings, the surface of choice is usually primed and stretched canvas. Earlier, the canvases needed to be stretched and primed by the painter, but now readymade canvas options are available online and in stores. 

Essentially, you need to make a surface non-porous so that it doesn't soak up the oil from the oil paints, which can lead to cracking once dried. Another pretty popular option is the canvas board, which is more economical and takes less space than stretched canvases. You can also try painting on MDF boards after prepping them adequately with proper primers meant for oil paintings. 

Even though paper may appear an unlikely choice, you can find papers meant for oil paints. Try looking for heavyweight papers with canvas texture or oil painting pads as they are excellent options and may not require the use of gesso. 

Acrylic Paint Vs Oil

Acrylic Paint Vs Oil Final Words

That's everything we had to tell you about the differences between acrylic and oil paints. We hope that this guide will come in handy for you to choose between the two paints when you're thinking about investing in a new art project. 

Irrespective of their differences, there's a learning curve associated with both mediums. So, even though you may find it challenging at first, you'll get comfortable using the paints with time. 

Also, ensure to invest in decent quality painting materials as they can make quite a bit of difference in the outcome of an art piece. We recommend trying out both acrylic and oil paints before settling for one. This will ensure what acrylic paint is for and for oil paints too. 

All things considered, we'll suggest a beginner to side with acrylic painting as it's less daunting and an easier stepping stone. Additionally, the water-based paints dry faster, letting you spend time on multiple projects. 

Until next time, take care, and happy painting!