Difference Between Oil Paint and Acrylic Paint

The difference between Oil Paint and Acrylic Paint - the most detailed comparison from Smart Art Materials

Today, I want to talk about the difference between Oil Paint and Acrylic Paint. 

The difference between Oil Paint and Acrylic Paint - the most detailed comparison from Smart Art Materials
Acrylics... or Oils?

For a painting beginner, it could be quite confusing.  
Even professional artists standing face to face with an unknown painting sometimes have trouble deciding whether it's an oil or an acrylic piece. That is because they might look similar... 

However, there are distinct differences between oil painting and acrylic painting. They are especially perceptible when it comes to the process of applying and blending paints. 

Acrylic Paint vs. Oil Paint

Both 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.  So what is exactly the difference between oil paint and acrylic paint?

To make things clear let's compare main characteristics of these two media:

Acrylic Paint
Oil paint
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, there are ways to speed up the drying time.
Toxicity Safe to use, acrylics have no smell
and are non-toxic. Hence, not
harmful to 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.

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. Furthermore, 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. 

However, that the most common reason for cracks in 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  Acrylic paint is super versatile itself. It is very useful in mixed
media, allowing the use of pastel, charcoal, and pen on top of the
dried acrylic painted surface.
Furthermore, usage of acrylic mediums allows you to achieve different effects (impasto, fluid paint, etc). 

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 (water + soap). 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 more pricey than acrylics.

In Conclusion. Either or...?

The difference between Oil Paint and Acrylic Paint - the most detailed comparison from Smart Art MaterialsI hope that now you know exactly what is the difference between oil paint and acrylic paint. So, which one? Of course, you don't have to limit yourself to one media - it's all about personal preference! And it's definitely a good idea to try working with both and see how it feels. 

Although, I do believe that acrylic paint is much more suitable for beginners due to its versatility. To get more information about what is acrylic paint, you can read this article - Acrylic Paint Definition and Features

Therefore, find your inspiration, set your goal, and start taking small but confident steps to achieve it. Don't worry if you can't create a masterpiece immediately because it takes some practice, just like everything else.



6 thoughts on “Difference Between Oil Paint and Acrylic Paint

  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, but it’s drying way too long! But I still like how it turns out. Useful comparison table you have there. Thank you for sharing.

    • admin says:

      Yeah, it’s true! Oils drying time can be really long, depending on the size of the painting – 6 months plus!
      Good luck with your experiments!

  2. L7 says:

    I began painting years ago using oils. There is something uniquely special about using oils as the old renaissance masters did. Unfortunately, the harsh chemicals and slow drying time leave something to be desired.
    Then Acrylics came along with artists like Andy Warhol and Robert Motherwell who proved that vibrant colors were not limited to oils.
    I have never gone back to oils after working with acrylics because I love the simplicity of using acrylic paint.
    This is a beautifully designed and informative website with awesome facts about painting with oils and acrylics.

    • Olga says:

      Thank you for sharing your story! I’m absolutely agree with you. Both paints are amazing, but I also love the simplicity yet high expressive possibilities of acrylics!

  3. Crystal says:

    My little sister is into painting. I’m clueless. I want to get her a Christmas present that will be fitting for her age and I was thinking of a painting set with the drawing board and the whole works. I thought of getting her oil paint because it look so glossy but I think i’ll go with acrylics now that I know how complicated the oil painting situation is. She is a starter so acrylics would be best, especially with the toxicity associated with the oil paint

    • Olga says:

      Hi Crystal! Yeah, I would definitely recommend you start with acrylics for your little sister, especially if she is a beginner. Besides, acrylics also be glossy:)

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