Acrylic Vs Oil Paint – Know All About the Differences, Techniques, & Uses

Acrylic Vs Oil Paint

Acrylic Vs Oil Paint: Which Medium Is Better?

Confused about the Acrylic Vs Oil Paint debate? Well then, the next few sections should clear that up with info on their qualities and uses. Along with the best option, depending on the artist and the kind of art they are interested in. For Acrylic Vs Oil paints distinction, you should get a better idea about art in general. So before we cover the whole Acrylic Vs Oil paint debate, let’s talk about art and its history in general.

When it comes to painting, artists have their personal preferences of paint based on their style of painting. After a lot of experiment and experience they either settle for one particular medium they are most comfortable with or mix different ones to add texture to their paintings. Each kind of paint has its distinctive properties and gives varied effects on the canvas or the platform you are applying them on. With that said, there is often confusion between Acrylic Vs Oil paint. If you are a beginner and are just starting to fill your canvas with colors, then you need to have a good foundation on these colors and know the difference between the two. 

Evolution of Paints: Some Different and Interesting Types of Paint Combinations That Painters Have Used Throughout the Ages.

Medium plays a vital role in expressing art and telling stories. While the artists create artwork or paintings to express themselves and their emotions and to showcase their talent and creativity, they must have the right medium to do so. Paint is one such medium that not just makes the artwork colorful but also helps in adding emotions, textures, effects into it to make it visually appealing.

The history of painting goes back to the Stone Age when the artists first started with charcoal and then went on to expand their options of using colors. They used different natural pigmented elements like blood, sap from trees, pigments extracted from roots and dried plants, dyes made from dark-colored vegetables, and fruits like pomegranate, turmeric, saffron, different kinds of minerals like iron oxide, calcite, manganese oxide, ochres, etc. 

Acrylic Vs Oil Paint

Image source: Prehistoric cave painting

As the painting evolved, so did the medium with new technology and colors. New types of materials were utilized in the paints to make them last longer. Egg tempera became a popular form of art during the Middle Age. The painters mixed egg and water with the pigments to bind the color to the canvas and added a transparent layer to give it a finished look. 

The egg was later replaced with walnut oil or linseed oil during the Renaissance. They would use these oils as a base material for their paints which are used to give a long-lasting and polished look. They could also increase or decrease the purity of the color by changing the oil and pigment ratio which helped them in creating different effects. The famous artists during the Renaissance period,  Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and others used chalks made of different mineral combinations that were extracted from the ground.

A Little More History Lesson

Acrylic Vs Oil Paint

The Last Supper: famous Renaissance art by Leonardo da Vinci

During the eighteenth century, the premixed colors came to light. From the nineteenth century, artists started opting for watercolors. This made painting much easier for the artists and gradually different shades were made and sold in the market. 

With the advancement of technology and knowledge, during the mid-nineteenth century much more developed and processed forms of paints came into existence that was made out of synthetic pigments and chemicals and gave a much wider spectrum of colors than one could imagine. This gave the artists a lot of options to experiment and play with colors and create diverse effects in their paintings.

Acrylic Vs Oil Paint

Source: I and The Village (1911) by Marc Chagall

Modern Age Paints Used by Artists

There are several different kinds of paints with significantly different properties that are being used in modern-day paintings. Like watercolor, encaustic, oil and acrylic, and many more. The artists love to explore and experiment with these paints and try to find the best possible medium that will cater to their needs. Among all the different types of mediums used for painting (which will be covered in detail in the later sections of this article), artists often find it difficult to choose between acrylic vs oil paint. When it comes to creating better effects on canvas. 

Now, coming back to the question is acrylic vs oil paint- which is a better option? Look at the detailed overview of what is acrylic paint used for, the difference between acrylic and oil paint, acrylic vs oil paint longevity, and more. 

Acrylic Paints

Acrylic Paints

Acrylic paint is considered a Modern Age paint that first came into existence in1940s but gradually became popular during the 1960s. This is when the artists started exploring pop art forms, giving photorealistic effects to their paintings. Also, abstract art because of its versatility and diversified effects on canvas. It is a water-based paint that is mixed with a synthetic medium, commonly called acrylic resin to make it suitable for painting.

Acrylic paints offer solid pigmentation and their transparency and opacity can be controlled by adding water. It gives beautiful watercolor effects if needed, and can also mimic oil-based paint consistency. Artists often add different kinds of other media to add textures to their paintings like sand, ashes, grass, etc. 

Most often used for landscape painting this type of paint is ideal for different kinds of brush strokes, like thick and thin lines, rich glazing effect, light and gliding effect, staining, etc. Some of the other different painting techniques that come out well with acrylic paints are dry brush, stippling, splattering, dabbing, sponging, palette knife, and detailing. 

The most common characteristics of acrylic paint are it dries up super fast, it is non-toxic, gives a long-lasting effect as its hold-up time is amazing owing to the synthetic medium (resin or epoxy) mixed in it, great color quality and strength, and is cost-effective which makes it a convenient medium for beginners, intermediaries as well as professional artists.  

Acrylic paint is often used in mixed media art and combined with watercolors, pastels, and other forms of color to give an aesthetic look to the finished art. Acrylic paints come in tube or bottle form and are easily available in physical art supply stores or e-commerce stores. 

Acrylic Paints

Source: Tomorrow’s Another Day by Hanna MacNaughtan, Acrylic on canvas

Best Acrylic Paint Brands

Here’s a list of some of the top-rated acrylic paint brands that you can try your hands on: 

  1. Winsor and Newton Professional Acrylic paints
  2. Blick Studio Acrylic paints
  3. M. Graham Artists’ Acrylic paints
  4. Blickrylic Student Acrylic paints
  5. Liquitex Heavy Body Artist Acrylic paints

Oil Paints

Oil paint is another well-known medium for painting that has been popular among artists from prehistoric times when primitive artists mixed natural pigments like minerals, dried roots, and plants, shells, etc. with oils to form colors to express their art. With the evolution of technology, new synthetic pigments or colors came into existence giving the artists a diverse range of oil-based paints to work with. 

It is a medium in which the pigment is combined with oils, usually linseed, poppy seed, or walnut oil to form a paint that is then used on canvas. It can also sometimes be mixed with cold wax, turpentine, white spirit, or resin along with oil as a base to change its consistency or viscosity. Oil paints are also pretty versatile as it allows the painter to add textures and gives a nice glossy finish to the painting because of its oil content resulting in a rich look. 

Oil paint has many unique characteristics. Its slow arid duration enables the artist to do their art at ease without needing to rush. This is also advantageous for the artist in case he has to make any additions. Its thick consistency allows the artist to create different kinds of textures. On the downside, these contain toxic ingredients and need to be handled with utmost precaution. It is combustible. 

A Little More About Oil Paints

Also, consider using water-mixable oil paints available in the market. These oil paints are the same as the actual oil paints and are suspended in a base oil. The only difference is they are formulated with an additional emulsifier which allows them to get mixed with water easily. This enables easy cleaning of the paintbrushes under running water without using harsh chemical-based cleaners and also dries up faster when compared with the non-water-based oil paint.

Oil paints are a great medium for mixed media art and artists often use a combination of different paints along with oil paints to add different effects to their painting.

These are commercially categorized into two different types: student grade and professional grade. The main distinction between the two is student grade oil paints are less pigmented and have reduced purity of color because of poor inert fillers. Therefore, they are cost-effective and are great for beginners to experiment with. The professional-grade oil paints come in pure form and are expensive. They are highly pigmented and as a result, have great effects on canvas.

Oil Paints

Source: Nicholas Poussin – ‘The Arcadian Shepherds’ – 1638/9 – Louvre, Paris – Oil on Canvas

 Some of the popular oil paint brands that you can check out are listed below

  1. Winsor and Newton Winton oil colors (student grade)
  2. VanGogh oil paints basic set (student grade)
  3. Gamblin artist oil color (student and professional grade)
  4. Williamsburg Oils (high professional grade with thick consistency)
  5. Holbein Artist’s Oils (professional-grade and expensive)
  6. Michael Harding Artist oil paints (for beginner and professional)
  7. Grumbacher Oil Paint (for beginners and low cost)
  8. Old Holland Classic Oil Paints set (professional grade)

What Is the Difference Between Acrylic Vs Oil Paint?

Some of the key differences between acrylic vs oil paint will help you choose the one that is best suited for you:

Drying Time

Depending on consistency, acrylic paints can become arid in 30 to 60 minutes. Oil paints on the other hand take many days or even weeks depending on the temperature of your surroundings. Therefore, if you are a beginner or you paint at a slow pace, then oil paint is the best option for you. You can reuse the oil paint color on your palette when you come back the next day and make modifications on your canvas without hassle.

Application on Surface 

You can use acrylic paint on multiple platforms like canvas, cardboards, paper, etc. without any difference in effect while oil paints are restricted to the oil-resistant primed canvas only. 

Preparation Time

You can use acrylic paint almost instantly on any surface. As you can apply the paint directly or by adding water to get the desired consistency. The preparation of canvas is important in oil-based paints. You need to make the canvas ready by priming the surface. If you do it yourself it is going to take a much longer time. If you want to save time there, you can buy a readymade pre-primed canvas as well. 

Blending Ability

Acrylic paints give sharp edges and crisp lines. While blending minute areas of your work is easier due to its quick-drying property, blending large areas is challenging as you need to work fast to achieve the desired result. On the other hand, oil paints are extremely effective when it comes to blending and texturizing because of their slow arid time, but if you need crisp edges, you need to wait for a long time as the paint needs to dry before you apply another stroke. Otherwise, the paint may get smudged.

Mixing Paints

When it comes to mixing paints, it is much easier to mix oil paints to get the desired shade you want because the oil base gives a smooth consistency and it dries slowly. Trying to mix acrylic paints is tough because till you put the colors in the palette it is already in the process of drying up. 

Color Shift and Longevity

This is one of the major concerns for painters when it comes to preserving the painting’s originality. Oil paint is known for its longevity as they don’t dry out as compared to acrylic paints but they turn yellow with time so proper maintenance on time is essential. 

Acrylics are lightfast, they don’t tend to change color over time. The only color change in acrylics is when initially painting on the canvas. It will be in a lighter shade but as it dries up the color tends to change into a darker shade. This happens because the binder in these paints turns transparent after drying revealing the brighter tint of the color. Therefore, the exact shade isn’t possible for your painting. 

Applying Thick or Thin Layers

If you want to work with thick layers acrylics win here because of their quick drying consistency, however, acrylics can crack in very cold temperatures. 

Working with oils and want to apply heavier coatings? you need to wait until the previous ones become arid which may be time-consuming. The reason being each color in oil paints needs a different amount of oil for the right consistency. Therefore, has a different drying time which prolongs the process. If you still want to stick to oil paints for thick layers the only solution is to add “siccative” which is a medium that speeds up the drying time of the paint by about 50%. 


The cost between acrylic vs oil paint is pretty distinctive. Acrylic paints are much more economical than oil paints therefore they can be a good medium for the students to experiment on. 

Small Workstation 

If you are working in a small space then acrylics are always a better option because when it comes to oils, it has a strong chemical smell of the turpentine, which can cause suffocation, therefore you need to work in a properly ventilated place. An important tip here is you can use odorless mineral spirits which have a relatively lesser smell than turpentine. 

Cleaning the Brushes 

Cleaning paintbrushes is often challenging yet a crucial part of the painting session. Though Cleaning acrylic paint is much easier and can be washed off with simple paint soap and warm water but because of its quick drying time, you cannot leave it unwashed for a long time. It needs to be cleared instantly. Oil paints on the other hand are tough to remove and take a lot of time and care unless chemical-based solvents are used. You can use natural solvents if you are sensitive to chemicals but it will take much longer than the usual time.

There are many other different types of mediums that artists employ in their art. They cater to the different needs based on the different properties they have. Also, the different effects they create on canvas. In the next section of this article, you will get an overview of some of the other mediums apart from oil and acrylic. 

Some Different Types of Paints and the Kind of Painting Are They Used for 

Choosing paint for your painting project can be tough. If you thought acrylic vs oil paints was your only choice then you are wrong. Here are some other options of paints that you can consider based on your preferences:


Watercolors are one of the oldest mediums used by artists. It is also the basic paints that provide a great learning curve for beginners. Because of its user-friendly nature, people talk about oil vs acrylic vs watercolor paints. They are made of pigments and a binder which in most cases is gum arabic which holds the color together and gives a smooth free-flowing effect on the surface. It is mixed with water to get different consistencies. If you are planning to paint something which is on the lighter side, then watercolor is a great option for you because of its transparent effect. Watercolors are relatively cheaper making them a convenient medium for students. When it comes to versatility, these colors can be used on multiple different surfaces like paper, leather, wood, fabric, etc. 


Gouache is a unique type of paint that has combined characteristics of watercolor and acrylic paint. It is water-soluble paint that gives an opaque and matte finish on the surface. In Gouache, the paint can be dampened and used again like that of watercolor. When it comes to drying it takes a while to dry leaving some room for the artist to make modifications to the painting.

Artists use Gouache in thick layers to get an acrylic effect on canvas but these paints are vulnerable to damp weather and can lose the luster and get discolored easily. Therefore, once completed, a sealed transparent coating of varnish should be applied to the painting. Gouache works best on watercolor papers or any other thick paper used for artwork. 


Encaustic is yet again a unique form which is a hot wax paint. They are very similar to oil paints except for the fact that they are formed by mixing strong pigments with liquid wax. It is preferred by professional artists for its rich effect and durability. This type of paint is used on hard surfaces most of the time like wood but can be used on canvas as well. It proves to be a great medium for knife and palette technique.

The artist applies the color on the surface and uses a metal tool to add texture to the painting before it dries up. Oftentimes, heat guns are used to add detailed effects to them. Painting with encaustic can be challenging for beginners as it requires a lot of practice to master it but once you are an expert at it, you can create amazing realistic pieces.


Pastel is a well-known painting medium for centuries now. They come in pigmented stick form and are of different types like soft, hard chalk, wax, and water-soluble pastels. It doesn’t need a solvent and can be used directly on the paper therefore there is no time lag in between. They are known as dry mediums, therefore, are very easy to use for beginners. If you want to get watercolor consistency with pastels, there are water-soluble ones available, however, they are not quite durable and can come out of the surface if not taken care of properly. So once the painting is completed, it needs to be framed with a glass sheet. 


This is probably a lot of information for you right now when you are trying to understand the differences between acrylic vs oil paint. Along with the different aspects of acrylic vs oil paint. However, the only way you can truly figure out what will work best for you is to get your hands-on on it and understand your style of painting first. Once you get comfortable with these paints you can create amazing artwork with them!

Frequently Asked Questions(FAQs) 

Acrylic vs oil paint on wood- which is a better option?

Acrylic paint works best on wood because of its quick-drying property as well as its consistency. However, it is always advisable to apply a couple of layers of sealer on the wood before you apply acrylic or any other paint. Oil paints can also be used on wood however, because of their oily consistency, it may take a long time to dry. You also need to coat the surface with base primer properly for the oil paint to set on the surface. 

Which paint is good for beginners when it comes to acrylic and oil?

There are several different aspects to consider when it comes to deciding which paint is good for you if you are a beginner. It depends on your painting style, how you handle the paints, what kind of painting do you do, etc. But if you are painting slowly as in most cases the beginners do, then oil painting will be a good option for you because acrylics dry off super fast when exposed to air. But handing oil paint is also not an easy affair. You need to first set the base by priming the canvas properly. Color mixing has to be right. Click on the above link to read more about the differences between the two.  

Which one is cost-effective between acrylic and oil paint? 

Acrylic is cheaper than oil paint. Several different brands are available for you to choose from. The list of popular brands for both of these is mentioned in this article.

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