What Is Oil Paint and How Is It Made?

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When most people think of paint and sip parties, they think of paintings done with acrylic paints. While acrylics are a popular medium for painting parties, other mediums are used as well.

Oil paints are a good example. Yes, they do take longer to dry. But, some paintings just need to have the texture and qualities that you can’t get from any paint other than oils.

You may be wondering what oil paints are made from, and what they are used for.

In this article, you will learn everything you need to know about oil paints.

Keep reading to learn more about how oil paints are made (and a bit of history about oil paints).

What Are Oil Paints?

To put it simply, oil paints are paints that are made with oil and colored pigments, and they dry quite slowly. The oil used in oil paints is usually linseed oil, although some brands do use other types of oils.

Occasionally, you will find solvents added to oil paints. This is done to change the viscosity of the paint.

Oil paint is thicker than acrylic paint. When this type of paint dries, a hard coating forms on top of the surface of the painting.

Watercolors and acrylic paints can be absorbed by the canvas or watercolor paper. The same cannot be said about oil paints.

None of the paint will absorb into the canvas. This is partially why the oil paint colors are so bright and vibrant, even if a painting is more than 100 years old.

Use Oils on a Variety of Surfaces

Oil paints can be used on many different surfaces. You will find artists using oils on canvas, paper, wood, and other surfaces. Canvas can be cotton or linen.

Even though the paint isn’t absorbed into the canvas, it is still important to use a primer coat before getting into the actual painting. This prevents any ink from absorbing into the surface being painted on, so the inks stay on top of that surface.

Brushes for Oil Painting

You can use many different types of brushes with oil paint. The brushes should have bristles that are long and stiff, because oil paint is rather thick, and the stiff bristles will hold the paint better than soft bristles.

Other brushes that can be used for oil painting include bright brushes (square at the edge), brushes that have pointed ends, and fan brushes.

The History of Oil Paints

Did you know that oil paint was first used in Europe? Oil paints have been around since around the 12th century, and in the beginning, these paints were used for painting walls and decorating other items.

You may be surprised to learn that oil paints were often used to paint over metal on bridges and even ships. This would protect the metal from water exposure.

After a couple of centuries of using oil paints for water protection and decoration, artists began using them for painting on canvas in the 15th century. It was discovered that oil paint created interesting textures that would adhere to a canvas instead of absorbing into the canvas.

You will find the first oil paintings coming from the Renaissance era in Northern Europe. Oil paints were used by all of the great masters we study today.

Nowadays, oil paints are popular with artists from beginners to professionals and everything in between. The paints have been developed a lot throughout the ages, but the concept of this type of paint remains the same after all these centuries.

Who Invented Oil Paint?

The invention of oil paint is attributed to the early Netherlandish painters of the 15th century. 

While it is unclear who specifically invented oil paint, the technique gained popularity and prominence during the Northern Renaissance period, with artists such as Jan van Eyck and Rogier van der Weyden contributing to its development and widespread use. 

They refined the use of oil as a binding medium for pigments, resulting in a versatile and durable paint that revolutionized the art world.

Does Oil Paint Expire?

Oil paint does not have a specific expiration date like some perishable items, but its quality can degrade over time.

If properly stored and sealed, oil paint can last in tubes for many years. However, there are a few factors that can affect its longevity including pigment separation, old or dried-out paint and exposure to air.

Storing oil paint properly can significantly increase its longevity and maintain its quality over time. Make sure you keep your paint in air-tight containers and place it in cool and stable temperature and away from direct sunlight.

What Is Oil Paint Made Of?

For the most part, oil paints are made with a base, oil, and pigments. You will also find some oil paints that have solvents added. These will make the paint appear shinier, and make it more durable.

Let’s take a look at what goes into oil paints.

#1. A Base

The base that is used to make oil paint is a liquid that gives the paint body. It is the ingredient that makes up the majority of this type of paint.

No oil paint can exist without a base. It ensures that the paint will be hard and resistant to scratches and other damage when it is dry. The base also prevents the paint from shrinking and cracking over time.

A typical oil paint base can be made from white or red lead, iron oxide, zinc oxide, copper or bronze powder, or aluminum powder. Often, the paints are named after their bases, such as lead paint, zinc paint, etc.

#2. The Oil

Next, we will look at the oils used to create oil paints. Also referred to as “vehicles”, the oils or oily liquids keep the pigments and base liquid and soluble.

This is what allows the paint to spread easily across the painting surface. The oil also acts as a binder, ensuring that the paint will adhere to the surface, and it helps make the oil paint to dry faster.

The most commonly used oil for oil paints is linseed oil. This type of oil aids in the drying process.

You will also find oil paints made with nut oil, poppy oil, and Tung oil. Linseed oil gives oil paint its durability. A painting made with this type of oil paint will last for many years after the paint has dried.

#3. Pigments

The pigments are among the most important ingredients in oil paint. Pigments are very finely ground particles that give color to the paints.

There are different substances used to create different colors. For instance, yellow usually comes from yellow cadmium pigments. White comes from zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.

Some pigments come from nature itself. For instance, the root of the madder tree is used to create some pigments.

You will often find that all of the paints in one set can be made from different sources, both natural and chemical.

#4. Thinner

Some brands of oil paint are made with a special thinner. This makes the paints more liquid and gives them better fluidity.

Paints that are made with thinners are more flexible. This allows artists to be smoother in their painting techniques.

Only a very little amount of thinner is needed. If there is too much, the paint could lose its shine.

Brands that do have thinner in their oil paints tend to use raw linseed oil. Turpentine oil is another option, and it is usually mixed with raw linseed oil or copal varnish.

You can check my post on how to thin oil paints for more details.

#5. Drier

Because oil paints tend to take so long to dry, a drier is often added, depending on the brand. Without a drier, it could be months before an oil painting is completely dry.

Many brands use linseed oil as a drier because it helps the paint to dry faster. When the oil absorbs oxygen, it allows the paint to dry. Other ingredients can be used as a drier, including red lead, manganese dioxide, lead acetate, zinc sulphate, and litharge.


There you have it, everything you need to know about the makeup of oil paints. I could go on and on with more information, but these are the basics that I try to teach everyone at an oil painting sip and paint event.

The next time you are at a paint and sip party that is using oil paints, you will have a better understanding of how they work because you know all about the ingredients.

Check my other articles about oil painting to learn more:

*image by Cavan/depositphotos