Acrylic vs Oil Paint: 5 Important differences you need to know

By Nicole Tinkham

Acrylic vs Oil Paint

Whether you’re a new artist or just experimenting with different mediums, there are certain qualities you need to know about acrylic and oil paint. You may have been going back and forth trying to decide which of the two to try out next. Most of the time, acrylic painters swear by acrylics. And of course oil painters stand by oil painting. But as we know, everyone is different. What’s ideal for one artist may not be your cup of tea. When determining which medium (acrylic or oil paint) is right for you, you must understand your artistic style. But first, let’s go over some of the important differences between the two that you should know before starting anything!

1.    Drying time
The biggest difference between acrylics and oil paint is how quick they dry. Acrylics dry quickly, like in minutes. Even thicker areas will dry within an hour or so. Oils on the other hand, take much longer to dry. We’re talking DAYS!

2.    Color
Surprisingly, there is a difference in color when it comes to oil paints and acrylics. As acrylic paint dries, it gets darker than the color when it’s first applied. This means you’ll have to adjust the color accordingly when mixing. Oil paint will dry pretty much the same color as when wet.

3.    Solubility
In most cases, oil paint requires a thinning solution unless of course you choose a water-soluble oil paint. Acrylics are water-soluble paints.

4.    Workability once dry
When acrylics dry, that’s it. There’s no going back and changing it. They are permanent when dry. However, an oil painting can be reworked once dry. All you need is a little medium to re-moisten the paint.

5.    Clean up
Acrylic brush clean up is super simple. All you need is a cup of water! Cleaning oil painting brushes isn’t too difficult but does require a thinning solution like turpentine. Water won’t work on these because the oil in the paint will repel the water.

Which to choose?
Acrylic paint tends to be a little easier to work with and can be inexpensive. If you’re just starting out, acrylic is a great choice. However, we recommend considering the way you work. Do you work quickly or on the slower side? Slower painters can definitely benefit from the slow dry time of oil paints.

If you still can’t decide, try them both! We always encourage experimentation as it’s the best way to learn. Tell us, what’s your paint of choice and why? Leave a comment below.

6 thoughts on “Acrylic vs Oil Paint: 5 Important differences you need to know

    1. Painting with oil stays wet to go back into. I find it frustrating to mix a color and. Plan on more than a few strokes. When you return to use the same mixed color it has turned to a dried clump

  1. I prefer acrylics. Mostly because when I started painting it was cheaper. I am now simply comfortable using acrylics. I remember using tempera paints in High School. You could buy it by the quart for a couple of dollars…lol.

  2. I have loved everything I’ve painted in oil, but for the convenience of my limited work space, I prefer to use acrylics.

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