Acrylic vs Oil Painting – Who Wins?

Acrylic vs Oil Painting – What is the main difference?

Even professional artists standing face to face with an unknown painting sometimes have trouble deciding whether it’s an oil painting or an acrylic piece. That is because they might look similar. However, there are distinct differences between acrylic paintings and oil paintings. They are  especially perceptible when it comes to the process of applying and blending paints.

In the chart below, I’ve conducted a detailed comparison of all the main acrylic and oil painting characteristics.

Acrylic vs Oil Painting

  Acrylic Painting Oil painting
The Base Water-based, or sometimes “water-borne”. Oil-based with a use of  linseed oil or another drying oil. Also, there are some water-based oil paints available nowadays.
Fast drying. Depending on your goals, drying time of acrylics can be a bonus or your worst nightmare Nevertheless, the fast evaporation of water from regular acrylic paint films can be slowed with the use of acrylic retarders. Slow drying . Oils allow for more time to blend colors, which is useful for many techniques. Besides, the are ways to speed up the drying time.
Toxicity Safe to use, acrylics have no smell and are non-toxic. not harmful for painting support. Oil paints require the use of solvents to thin the
paint and clean up, These solvents generally have some level of toxicity and are often objectionable.
Durability Good quality acrylic paints are very durable.  They don’t fade in time, due to acrylic paint’s more flexible nature they don’t crack. Usage of varnish will prolong the lifetime of your painting even more. 

However, bad or student quality acrylics slightly change their shade to
a darker one once dry. 

With the time oil paint films can become increasingly yellow and brittle. They lose much of their flexibility and might crack. 

It is fair to add that the most common reason of cracks on the painting is the artist’s technique mistakes, and not the quality of paint. Usage of varnish will also extend the longevity of oil painting. 

Pigment Load Pigment load varies on the quality and grade of paint – whether it’s  student or professional artist paints (read more here). However, the amount of pigment in the acrylic paint is less than the one
in oils.
Oil paint has a higher pigment load. Linseed oil contains a smaller molecule than acrylic paint, so oil paint is able to absorb substantially more pigment. Not all the pigments of oil paints are available in acrylics.
Priming Unnecessary. Priming is recommended, but you can safely apply acrylic
straight to the canvas.
Necessary. Canvas needs to be properly primed before painting with oil to prevent it from eventually rotting the canvas
Versatility Super versatile. Acrylics are very useful in mixed media, allowing the use of pastel, charcoal and pen on top of the dried acrylic painted surface. Usage of different acrylic mediums allows you to achieve different effects (impasto, fluid paint, etc). Mixing other bodies into the acrylic is also possible.  You can create a vast array of effects with oils but it doesn’t lend itself to mixed media.

The usage of oil mediums is also available, but presented in a smaller range.

Ease of removal Removing acrylic paint from hands and tools is easy and only requires washing them. Completely removing oil paint requires turpentine.
Cost Last but not least – in general, acrylic
paints are cheaper.
Oil paint and all accessories necessary for painting process tend to be much more pricey than acrylics.

paintsbrushessmartBoth, acrylics and oils, are super popular, serve their purpose and are great to use. Oil paints have been known for centuries when acrylics are pretty young and contemporary. There are some artists that are very conservative and use oils. because they like their buttery nature and paint blending process. Some artists prefer acrylics because of mentioned above acrylic paint’s characteristics and benefits, and they don’t inferior to oils in terms of expressiveness.

Personal Experience…

I prefer working with acrylics because I like to use a painting knife and create thick, impasto paintings. Also, I like to experiment with different acrylic mediums and textures, work on special effects. I think it’s amazing that you can make acrylic paint look just any way you want it. For example, you can make it look like a watercolor or like oils because it’s super versatile. Some people think acrylics have a plastic-like finish, however, it’s not true. Another aspect of acrylics that I like is their affordability :).

So how to choose between oils and acrylics?

The best way to decide which paints are the best for you is to ask yourself which painting style do you like the most? Google famous oils and acrylic painters, check their artworks, see what you like the most.  Of course, you don’t have to limit yourself to one medium – it’s all about personal preference! It’s definitely a good idea to try working with both and see how it feels. 

Set your goal, find the inspiration, and start taking concrete steps to achieve it.  Don’t worry if you can’t create a masterpiece immediately because it takes a practice, just like in everything.

If you have more questions about the difference between acrylics and oils please
leave me a comment below. I will be happy to help you and to chat about any aspects of art process :).


2 thoughts on “Acrylic vs Oil Painting – Who Wins?

  1. lilywong says:

    I have just picked up painting and I have been experimenting with both methods. I personally think oil painting has a more textural and richer quality to it. Yes, it’s slow drying, so completing a painting using oil-based paint usually takes a long time! But I still like how it turns out. Useful comparison table you have there. Thank you for sharing.

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