Oil Paint vs Acrylic Paint: Differences You Should Know

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Most of the paint and sip parties I teach at involve using acrylic paints. But, every so often a client will ask me to teach oil painting techniques instead.

Acrylic paints are the best choice for beginners, but most of the people who ask about oil painting have a bit of painting experience under their belts already. 

Now they want to learn more techniques and create works of art using oil paints that will give the paintings more texture.

Today we are going to look at how oil paints and acrylic paints stack up against each other. This includes drying time, blending and mixing colors, durability, lightfastness, and more.

If you want to learn more about oil paints vs acrylic paints, keep reading this post.

Comparison of Oil Painting and Acrylic Painting

Here’s a quick summary between acrylic vs oil:

FactorsOil PaintAcrylic Paint
Drying TimeSlower drying timeFast drying time
WorkabilityLonger working timeShorter working time
LayeringExcellent for layeringCan layer, but can be opaque
Mixing ColorsEasy to mix and blendQuick color mixing
TextureRich, buttery textureSmooth and flexible texture
OdorStrong odorLow odor, water-based
CleanupRequires solventsWater-based, easy cleanup
FlexibilityFlexible and durableLess flexible, prone to cracking
Color ShiftMinimal color shiftCan slightly darken when dry
VarnishingRequires varnishingDoes not require varnishing but should be varnished for protection
PriceMid – HighLow – High

What Is The Difference Between Acrylic And Oil Painting?

#1. Drying Time

The first thing we are going to look at is drying time. If you want to finish a painting quickly and want a fast drying time, I always recommend using acrylic paints. Oil paints take much longer to dry. It can take several months for an oil painting to completely dry.

On the other hand, if you want a longer drying time to allow for blending time or if you are working on a larger painting, oils are definitely the way to go.

The techniques used for oil and acrylic paints can differ. You can also use mediums to thin the paint, and this can help paints to dry faster or slower. For instance, you can use oils for oil paints, or a paint retarder for acrylic paints (this helps the paint to dry more slowly).

#2. Mixing and Blending Colors

The next thing to consider when comparing oils and acrylics is mixing and blending colors. Because acrylic paints dry so quickly, it can be difficult to blend colors on the canvas unless you are watering down the paint with either water or a paint retarder.

Oils take a lot longer to dry, making them much easier to work with. They are also much more flexible, and you can paint layer after layer until you achieve the results you are looking for.

The reason that oil paints blend so easily is that they have an oil base and not as many binding agents as are found in other types of paint. This allows for super-easy blending and mixing.

If you are using acrylic paints, I always suggest keeping a spray bottle filled with water handy. This way, you can keep wetting the paint to allow for better blending. Just make sure that you are not using too much water. You don’t want to turn the paint into watercolor paint.

#3. Cleaning Brushes

Painting is fun. Cleaning brushes and other materials, not so much. But, it is something that must be done every time you paint, especially if you have invested a lot of money into your brushes.

The better care you take with your brushes, the longer they are going to last. It is especially important to have high-quality brushes when working with oil paints.

Oils contain chemicals that can do a lot of damage to the bristles, so it is important to stay on top of cleaning your brushes. You will need to use solvents, oils, or mediums to clean brushes. Water is not an option here.

With acrylic paints, you can easily clean your brushes with water. If the paint is dried on, just use water and a bit of mild soap.

When using either type of paint, the best way to clean brushes is by dabbing the brush in a little bit of acrylic or oil-based medium. You can use natural mediums such as linseed oil for oil painting brushes.

After completing this step, swirl the brush in a bit of clear water and wipe them clean again. Rinse until no more paint comes off and wipe the bristles dry with a paper towel or soft cloth.

#4. Glossy or Matte Finish?

Acrylic paint and oil paint will give you different finishes for your paintings. If you want something that is a matte finish, I suggest using acrylic paint. If you prefer using acrylics but want a glossy shine on your finished painting, you can add a medium to achieve this effect.

Oils will give you a high gloss finish, and the finish has a smoother feel (I know, this sounds weird considering oil paintings have more texture). If you are working with oils but would rather have a more matte finish, there are mediums you can use.

#5. Lightfastness and Durability

One thing that can be said about both oil and acrylic paints is that since they use the same color pigments, they are similar in lightfastness. The lightfastness rating tells you how sunlight, or light in general, will affect your finished artwork.

Most paint suppliers will mark the lightfastness rating on each paint color. If you want high-quality lightfastness, you can add a sealant.

Now, when it comes to durability, oils are definitely the best option. There are famous oil paintings that are hundreds of years old and still look as amazing as they did when they were first painted.

Acrylics are also durable, but not nearly as much so as oils. Acrylic paints are not water-resistant, so they can easily be affected by any moisture in the air. Again, a sealant can help to protect your paintings.

#6. The Quality of the Color

There are a few things to consider when choosing the best type of paint for color quality. Acrylics and oils both have some vibrant colors, but acrylic colors have a tendency to be flat in appearance, and they can look quite dense (darker than what you wanted).

Oil paints are thick and glossy, as well as opaque. You can easily blend colors and they will be much more vibrant than acrylic paints.

#7. Price

Finally, we come to pricing. You can always find cheap sets of acrylic paint at any store that sells art supplies. Sometimes you can find inexpensive sets of oil paints as well.

As a rule, you are going to spend more money on oil paints, as well as on oil paint brushes. You will also have to spend more to get solvents, mediums, and other painting tools.

So, in most cases, you can expect to spend a lot more on oil painting than acrylic painting.


So, which paint is best for beginners, oil or acrylic? Both paints can be used by beginners, but I usually recommend starting with acrylic paint.

Acrylics are often easier to work with, and you can use them to learn about colors, painting styles, and learning various acrylic painting techniques.

Since acrylics are less expensive than oils as a rule, I always tell beginners to learn with acrylics and then move on to oils once they have learned the basics.

*image by Tihon6/depositphotos