Oil vs Acrylic Painting: Which medium should you consider?
I’m a dyed-in-the-wool traditionalist at heart, even though I talk about digital art to a great extent here. These two mediums always made up the lion’s share of my “art-senal” of tools.
I enjoyed both and found advantages and disadvantages with each. It is definitely not a contest of good or bad, but rather, contingent on your needs and preferences.
Without further ado, here is the “meat and potatoes” of these 2 distinct paint mediums; I will let you decide!
What is the difference between oil and acrylic paints in general?
Well, in a nutshell – their composition is different, which of course leads to different results at times. The physical makeup of oils are pigment comprised of linseed oil, which of course stands to reason that they will only bind to, mix or thin with other oil-based substances.
Acrylic paints are composed of an emulsion of water and synthetic polymers that act as the binder. They thin easily with water, dry quickly, once dry are very permanent and resistant to water or moisture.
Oil-based paints require oil-based solvents in the mixing, thinning, and distribution of paint as you work. Products like turpentine and linseed oil are a few of these; they help improve paint viscosity and may speed up drying time. Acrylic paints work in conjunction with our good old familiar friend, H2O, as they are water-based. Meaning all the color mixing, thinning and cleaning part involves water.
Oil Paint vs Acrylic Paint Compared: Benefits of Working in Oils
- Oil-based paints blend the best: they create rich textures, layer great, and take longer to dry – sometimes 72 hours, sometimes a week (depends on the season – slower in winter, faster in summer)
- This slower drying time can be helpful to you in between layers, something that is important to get the most lifelike representation possible. If you are dissatisfied with an element of your work in progress, you have some leeway to make changes. It is the gold standard for detailed work like portraits and landscapes.
- Sometimes my acrylic work looked “flat” with the best intention. I never worked in impasto but I did tend to have to work a little more quickly at putting in highlights, shadows, values, etc., so they would have a chance to blend together and not look too “pasted on”.
- You are able to use substances like linseed oil that will improve the paint flow and make it do what you want more. Another product is liquid white gesso which will also help you accomplish some skillful wet-on-wet effects. You can add this to any color and it will flow like silk on glass!
Acrylics vs Oils: Main advantages of acrylics
- Oil paints have a distinctive odor to them, so do the respective thinners. You also have to store the thinners and rags you work with carefully since anything solvent-based is flammable. Acrylic paints themselves have little to no odor. This is good news for you if you have certain chemical sensitivities or have respiration conditions.
- Acrylics dry faster, you may want to add or change something but it’s dry before you can blink! This can work to your advantage however and not be a stumbling block.
- If you are someone who enjoys techniques like “impasto” with the building of layers, it can work really well for this, as the first layers will dry and then the second and so forth. This is not as doable with oils as the first layer may remain moist under the others and negatively affect the end result.
- Acrylic paint cleanup can be a breeze – you’re spared the messy smelly solvents! It is the main reason f I used them predominantly whenever I was renting a place – I wanted to keep the messy factor down to a minimum. They will stain just like any paint but it will come out if you get to it right away 🙂
Well there you have it, oil vs acrylic painting and the enjoyment to be had from working with each. Now you may have figured this out by now, but I’ll mention it anyway: Don’t mix together oils and acrylic paints. There is nothing wrong with alternating between mediums, but keep it strictly one medium per painting. You don’t want to go through the headache of trying to clean off acrylic paint with solvent or vice versa!
I hope this has been helpful to you if you’re just starting out and this guide saves you some time when looking for supplies. The main takeaway here is that in the issue of oil vs acrylic paint that it isn’t a contest; it is a matter of what each medium does the best at and how easy or not it is to work with.
Best of luck and HAPPY PAINTING!!