Oil Painting Vs Acrylic: Why And Which Medium Is Best For You

Oil-Painting-Vs-Acrylic-Painting: a guy thinking which medium he should choose.

From pros to cons and from similarities to differences, here’s everything on oil painting vs acrylic.

To a normal eye, any painting can look similar, but it’s up to you —the artist— who should be able to tell the difference between mediums and different styles of paintings.

Although these mediums look the same to some extent, there are a lot of differences that make them unique.

Whether you’re an art lover who has just started to gather art pieces or you’re a beginner who wants to start their painting journey, knowing the oil painting and acrylic painting differences will come a long way.

To make things easier for you, I have broken down this comprehensive topic into chunks (you can thank me later).

Before we dive directly into oil vs acrylic painting, let us first understand what these two mediums are. Yes, if you’re impatient you can just jump down to the main part.

What Is Oil Painting?

It’s no secret that oil paintings require the use of oil paints; but it is the binder: oil, that gives the oil paints their properties. They are made by mixing binder (usually linseed oil), and pigments that give the paint its color.

Being thick in consistency, oil paints need to be thinned out with a thinner before use. You might know that the world’s famous paintings were made with oils! Due to the richness of the oils, they are much more preferred than any other medium.

Giving depth to the painting and being able to add layers of colors is only possible with oil paints.

What Is Acrylic Painting?

This type of painting requires the use of acrylics. (P.S: don’t hate me yet, I’m just pointing out the basics.) Acrylic was created to mimic oil paints but had an added advantage: quick drying time as compared to oils.

For acrylics, the pigments are mixed with binders like acrylic polymer. On many occasions, the binders can be plasticizers, silicone oils, or metal soaps.

Acrylics are water-based paints that are versatile and can be used to create effects similar to that of oils and watercolors. Now that you’ve got an understanding of oil and acrylics, let’s see the indifferences that make them unique.

Oil Painting vs Acrylic Painting Differences

On left is a beautiful acrylic painting called poppyscape sunset painted by Mona Edulesco. On the right is a oil painting made by isidorkaisidi
Photo credit: L: Poppyscape Sunset byMona Edulesco; R: www.saatchiart.com/isidorkaisidi

If you’re wondering what the difference is between acrylic and oil painting is, I’ll give you 11 differences. Before we jump into the broad topic, I’d like to tell you that no medium is better than the other!

Whether it is oil, acrylic, watercolor, or charcoal: each of them has its own uniqueness and differences. After a detailed study, I’ve come up with 11 major differences between oil painting and acrylic painting.

Check them out!

12) Drying Time

oil and acrylic paint squeezing out paint  for artistic effect.
Just look at the texture of the paints <3

What sets oil paint apart from acrylics is the drying time and you can guess what paint takes time to dry.

Yes, oil paints!

With oil as a binder, oil paints can take days to dry, thus lengthening the process of painting itself.

This means that you can paint a layer and come back after a day to continue with the process.

But brace for the versatility of the paint (more on this later), so you can push the paint and blend it for continuity of the painting.

What about acrylics?

Acrylics, as mentioned above, can dry quickly. You don’t have to wait for days, the pigments will set within minutes, with as little time as 3 minutes!

So, if you’re a person who wants to take their time and complete painting over a period of days, oil painting is what you should choose. If you prefer to complete your painting in one sitting, acrylic painting is going to be your way 🙂

11) Supplies

a lady holding paint brush and palette and standing against background that has  painting supplies.

One of the prominent differences between oil painting and acrylic painting is the art supply.

Acrylic painting requires canvas (or paper), brushes, acrylic paints, and a pallet for mixing colors, and you’re good to go. But when it comes to oil painting, you’ll need additional supplies like a thinner, primer, and pallet knife.

If you’re going with oil painting, take into consideration that you’ll be needing more art supplies.

A key point here: whatever medium you choose to practice, always get high-quality supplies —this way you’d be able to have a good experience while painting, and your finished artwork will reflect the hard work you put in!

10) Versatility

blue paint and black paint on table and turpentine to show how versatile the paint is.

When it comes to versatility, acrylics rule the game.

With water-based paint, acrylic can have a wide range of applications. You can use them directly from the tube for a thick texture, you can add water to use them like regular paint; and if you add more water, they can give the effects of watercolors.

They can also be pushed to act like oil paints!

Apart from this, acrylics can be applied to any media including canvas, cardboard, metal, glass, wood, and some types of plastics.

When it comes to oil paints, they portray their versatility in the art! Although every medium has its own aesthetic touch, the beauty of finished oil painting cannot be compared.

Multiple layering and the ability to blend multiple layers softly are possible with oil paints with the precision that even acrylics cannot match. 

Acrylics are malleable, but if you’re looking to create a layered painting (like impasto), oil painting is your way to go.

9) Safety

oil painting supplies and a glass of oil paint thinner on the table

For the paint to easily spread on the surface, they’re mixed with solvents. For acrylics, solvents like water can be used which is pretty harmless (duh!)

But the same is not the case when working with oil paints. Oil paints need thinner like turpentine or white spirits.

Now here’s the thing with these thinners: they can create fumes that can be dangerous (or at least overwhelming) if you inhale.

Yes, the chances of inhaling the fumes are subjected to the place where you’re working. If you’re working at a small pace, the chances of inhaling are high.  For some, thinners can cause irritation if it comes in contact with the skin. So, take caution.

So does this mean that you should choose oil painting over acrylic painting?

Nope! you can combat the problem of inhaling fumes with a little bit of preparation and proper ventilation in the area where you’re working.

A fun question: Do you know what will happen if you use water to thin oil paint? Tell me in the comments!

8) Cleaning up

painting paper and  painting supplies covered with oil and acrylic paint

As said above, acrylics do not involve the use of thinners, just water. so cleaning the mess afterward is quite easy. You can clean the brushes with water (and soap for dip cleaning) and any spilled paint can be cleaned with just a wet cloth.

But with oil paints, the brushes can get dry and turn hard due to the properties of oil paints. To clean them, you’ll need to rinse the hardened brush with thinner, let them soften, and then clean it. It can get messy and tiring as compared to cleaning acrylics.

But this shouldn’t de-motivate you from choosing oil painting over acrylic painting! There are numerous benefits oil paintings have to offer.

P.S. If you own an oil painting, you can check out our blog on how to clean an oil painting)

7) Composition

a photo showing the comparison between acrylic paint vs oil paint tube

The major difference between oil paint vs acrylic boils down to their base: their composition.

Oil paints are made of colored pigments suspended in slow-drying oil like linseed oil. Depending upon the brand, many oil paints can have additional binders for improved texture.

Acrylics, on the other hand, are composed of colored pigment and a binder, usually acrylic polymer. Before the use, oil or acrylics need a vehicle (not an automobile) to transfer the pigment onto the surface of the canvas.

In a nutshell, you’ll need to squeeze a decent amount of paint on the pallet, add the vehicle and make the paint thin for use.

And for that, the type of vehicle sets apart both of the paints.

Oil painting being oily in nature needs a thinner like turpentine or white spirit; while acrylics can get the work done with just water.

6) Lightfastness

the painting "the persistence of time by salvador dali" is faded a little bit.
The Persistence of Memory by Salvador Dalí

Lightfastness is the property of a dye or paints to resist change or fade when it’s exposed to light.

In simple terms, lightfastness can be used to determine how soon the paint will become lighter in tone.

So here’s why:

The oil painting that you’re working on will appear the same until the oil paint is dried completely.

Once it dries, the paint may look different as the oil sweeps into the canvas. Oil paintings also shift color and appear yellowish over time.

If you’ve ever seen an old painting, you’d notice that the painting is slightly yellowish: the reason for this being the pigment vanishing and the oil showing through.

For acrylics, the story is different.

Having synthetic binders in their composition, they’re less prone to fading. So it’s safe to say that acrylic paints have excellent lightfastness.

Well, you can say that acrylic paintings will look the same after decades, without showing any sign of fading (although it’s not proven yet).

But on the flip side, acrylics may darken in tone after drying.

Bonus!

Lightfastness chart showing lightfastness by using measuring scales: ASTM rating and Blue wool rating.
The data for the table is taken from wikipedia.org/wiki/Lightfastness

When buying oil or acrylic painting, you can look for a lightfastness rating on the tube. The two most common lightfastness measuring scales are ASTM and Blue Wool Rating.

ASTM rating goes from I to V, where I have the highest lightfastness and V is the least lightfast.

And when it comes to the Blue Wool Rating (1-9), 1 means that the paint has a poor lightfastness and 9 has the highest.

You can find more info in the table below.

Whether you’re choosing oil, acrylics, or any other type of paint for your artwork; always go for the one with excellent lightfastness.

5) Vibrancy

a handmade couple portrait made by the artists of portraitflip

The vibrancy of colors is going to give a zest to the painting. In the war between oil painting vs acrylic, choosing the right type of paint will need a careful examination of both the medium.

In terms of vibrancy, oil painting wins 100/100 times!

Although you’d want your painting to be lightfast and not look yellowish, oil paint can give your painting a vibrant taste that no other medium can possibly achieve.

This is because of the composition difference between the two mediums. Oil paints have a higher pigment concentration than acrylics, giving you the advantage to create colorful and bold paintings.

Another benefit oil paints can give is the ability to add layers of paint to create striking artworks. Layering with acrylic is difficult because of the low pigment composition (as compared with Oils) and the fact that acrylic paint gets hard when dried.

If you want to create vivid paintings with amazing colors, oil painting is what you should go with. But to get a thorough idea of what medium you should choose, keep reading (or scroll down below a bit)

(P.S. You can check out our top blog on acrylic painting tips for beginners if you’ve chosen to pick up the acrylics!)

4) Texture

image portraying the comparison of texture of oil vs acrylic painting

Another deciding factor when choosing between acrylic painting and oil painting can be the texture of the finished artwork.

If you, like me, love the concept of getting oddly satisfied at looking at smooth symmetrical objects, oil painting is the fix!

If you love smooth strokes and want to see the buttery texture on your canvas,  oil painting is your preferred medium. All thanks to the consistency and the composition of oil paints.

Comparatively, acrylics are not as smooth and the dried paint strokes can get hard—so effective layering is not possible with acrylics.

Acrylic paint can also shrink after drying, thus making the layering difficult and the dry stroke appears rough.

Although acrylics can be used to create paintings that need sharp strokes, oil paintings are well suited for creating a uniform flow.

3) Painting Media (Surface)

A canvas on an easel against a wall

Having different properties, oil and acrylic paint can act differently on different media.  This is majorly due to the fact that acrylics are water-soluble paints, while oil paints aren’t.

Surface for Oil painting

As oil paints are made with vegetable oils like linseed, poopy,  or cottonseed; the raw canvas can tear down and decay as a result of oil paint being heavy.

A thin paper should be avoided for the same reason. Absorbing oil can make the paper unable to take on additional paint and the paper can tear easily.

Although the painting won’t decay instantly, it will take decades to show the signs of decay (now don’t say that you want your masterpiece to live for 100s of years)

One solution for this can be the addition of primers to the canvas before painting.

Oil painting can be done on canvas, wood, metal, cardboard, and even some plastics.

Surface for acrylic painting:

Having a binder (acrylic polymer), acrylics are pretty flexible when it comes to application—they can be applied almost anywhere.

Only smooth surfaces like glass and some type of plastics cannot hold the paint. This is because the bond between the dried paint and the surface will be weak and the paint won’t adhere.

But you can solve this problem by making the surface rough with the use of sandpaper before applying acrylic paint.

Acrylic painting can be done on canvas, wood, plastics (most of them), metals, papers. clay, plasters.

2)  Lifelong!

a pet portrait made by artists of portraitflip is shown to be lifelong by various graphical representations.

As an artist, you sure would want your artwork to last for years, and so it can be achieved with both painting mediums!

Oil paintings have been proven to last for centuries. If you have noticed, almost all the famous paintings from history were made with oil paints.

Acrylics made their way into the art world only a few decades ago so not enough data is available on their longevity. 

As acrylics are made from acrylic polymers (which belong to the plastic family), it is said that they will last more as compared with oil paints.

Either way, both mediums are best when it comes to keeping your art alive for decades (and even centuries). 

1) The Cost

an image describing what is more effective: oil painting or acrylic painting.

In the end, learning to paint is a journey that’ll need your determination for years. 

Even if you pick up acrylic or oil painting just as a hobby, it’s important to know the amount you’ll spend in the long run.

So you might be wondering: Which painting will be pocket-friendly, acrylic or oil?

When it comes to the cost involved in pursuing the hobby,  acrylic paints are more economical than oils. One of the major reasons for this being oil painting requires more materials like cleaning agents, primer, pallet knives, primer, etc.

The paint and paintbrushes required for oil painting are expensive as well.

Acrylics on the other hand are cheap and do not involve the use of additional painting materials. The paintbrush and the paint are also cheap as compared to oil. (Although you can spend more to get quality materials)

(Suggested reading: Read our blog on oil painting tips if you’re thinking about choosing oil painting)

Oil Painting Vs Acrylic Painting: Which One Should You Choose?

a decorated table with art supplies and a notepad where "Oil Painting Vs Acrylic Painting: Which One Should You Choose?" is written.

Now that you know the differences that set acrylic apart from oil, choosing the best painting medium for you shouldn’t be a task anymore. You already know what to choose.

But if you’re like me who spends more time analyzing and over-analyzing and never coming to a decision; here’s some help for you.

1) Decide your painting process.

If you’re here, you’ve probably gone through all the pros and cons of oil and acrylics above; nevertheless, oil painting requires more drying time compared to acrylics.

So if you’re a person who wants to finish the painting in one go, acrylic should be your preferred choice; if you want to finish the painting in breaks and in the span of days, oil paints are your friend.

2) A prepped painter or a fast goer?

Oil painting requires a little preparation like priming the canvas and thinning the paint before you actually start painting. On the other hand, acrylic painting just needs you to grab the supplies and start painting!

(A note to remember: just because acrylics are easy as compared to oils, doesn’t mean that they’re better. With oils, you can create wonderful paintings.)

3) Smooth flow or rough edges?

Do you want your painting to be smooth and blend in the color seamlessly that looks like a flowing river? If yes, then bless your muse with oil painting.

If you prefer a certain roughness in your painting, acrylics can deliver tiny rough edges for the graphical painting that you want to create.

4) Texture or versatility?

With oil painting, you can exercise the power of layering to create in-depth paintings that speak to the onlookers. This is possible because of the slow drying time of oil paints.

As acrylic paints dry quickly, layering is quite difficult; but you get the power of versatility here. Add more water to make acrylics behave like watercolors.

5) Paycheck to paycheck

The money you’re gonna spend on pursuing acrylic painting will differ from that of oil painting.

Oil painting requires additional and high-quality supplies, increasing the cost of pursuing; while acrylics are generally cheaper in the long run.

This doesn’t mean that you’ll run your bank account dry for practicing oil painting; it’s just expensive as compared to Acrylics alone.

6) Give me some space!

If you’re gonna paint in a compact place, oil painting can cause trouble due to the constant smell of the thinner (turpentine or white spirit). However, you can go for some odorless thinners that are available in the market.

When it comes to acrylics, they’re pretty odorless than oils and do not run the risk of irritating the skin as is the case with oil thinner. But a note to be considered: many acrylic paints can have traces of ammonia.

So it’s best to have some kind of ventilation regardless of the medium that you choose.

7) Clean up!

Wow, you just finished the painting. Now, look at the mess around! better clean it before someone complains about the clutter!

If you’re painting using acrylic paints, there’s no extra effort needed. Just wash the brush with water, and clean the mess with tissues! Viola! the place is cleaned within a minute!

But what if you’ve used oil?

The effort needed: 10x!

As oil paints are not water-based paints, you’ll need spirits to clean the brushes. Any spilled paint won’t come off with just water; you’ll need to use thinner to clean them.

Final Thoughts On Choosing Between Oil Painting And Acrylic Painting

A vector of a woman who is thinking final thoughts on oil vs acrylic painting.

As you know, there are two sides to every coin. Likewise, both oil painting and acrylic painting have their pros and cons. It’s up to you what you feel like choosing.

Choose oil painting if

  • You want to create a vivid painting
  • Have patience
  • Wouldn’t mind completing the painting in breaks.
  • Prefer painting slowly
  • Want to try oil painting techniques like chiaroscuro, impasto, glazing, or other techniques.

Choose Acrylic painting if

  • You want to create a painting in one sitting.
  • Want a versatile medium to work with.
  • Prefer painting fast.
  • You’re a little tight on the budget
  • Want sharp paintings or want to create graphical paintings.

Regardless of the painting medium you choose, the real deal is to enjoy what you do. If oil painting is what you think you should try, go for it! If you feel acrylic is made for you, choose that. In the end, it’s up to an artist—you—what art you wanna make (and the type of medium you wanna choose).

But here’s a decent approach

Start with one of the mediums for a while, after a while switch to another medium. This way you’ll know which medium you’re more comfortable with. But I’ll suggest that you try both mediums before cashing in on one medium for a lifetime!

Whether you’re doing painting as a hobby or you want to be an artist, this way, you’ll be able to find what suits you more—whether acrylic painting or oil painting.

Oil Painting vs Acrylic FAQs

a beautiful brush stroke of yellow paint on a paper. below it is written commonly asked questions on oil painting vs acrylic.

Below are a few common questions netizens ask! I’m sure by the end of this section, all your queries will be solved (if you still have some).

The basic difference between acrylic and oil painting is that the oil paintings are not water-based paints and are made with oils, so they’re slow drying. On the other hand, acrylics are water-based, so they dry quickly and are easy to work with.
Both are good for painting on canvas! The only difference is that acrylic painting involves you directly painting on the canvas; whereas, oil painting needs the canvas to be coated with primer before painting.
Yes. you can use both acrylics and oil paints on the same canvas. The only care that should be taken is that you don’t mix the paint and if you’re overlaying, use oil paint over acrylics.
To check if the painting is acrylic or oil, hold the painting at a certain angle that’ll reveal its texture. If the painting appears textured and layered, it’s a sign that the painting is oil painting. Acrylic paintings are not smooth, and have a texture of rubber, and don’t appear to be layered.
Both the painting mediums have their advantages and disadvantages, so deciding which painting medium is best cannot be answered. In the end, it boils down to what medium you like to work with. Period.
The major difference between oil painting and acrylic painting is the drying time. Oil painting being oil-based takes longer to dry. Acrylics, as they are water-based paints, dries quickly.
No! Neither is acrylic paints better than oil paints. Both the mediums have their own pros and cons- it is up to you what medium you feel is easy to use and work with. Also, you can achieve unique different results with acrylics or oils.
Many people prefer to paint with oil instead of acrylic due to the fact that oil paints have a slow drying time i.e they stay wet for a long time as compared to acrylic which dries quickly. Long drying time allows you to leave the painting in middle and come the next day to continue where you left without affecting the quality of the painting.
Oil paintings have been proven to last for more than centuries; the paintings from history are the record that proves it. When it comes to acrylic, they were invented in the 1930s, so not enough data is available to answer the question. However, as acrylics are made from acrylic polymer (a type of synthetic plastic), they’re expected to last more than oils —but as I said, it’s too early to predict.
Acrylic painting can be said to be beginner-friendly as the acrylic paint is non-toxic, water-based, is simple to use with a wide application. Also, acrylic painting requires less material and no preparation before painting. Another advantage of acrylic painting is that the supplies are cheap as compared to oil painting.
Oil painting is not a very great choice for beginners, especially if one is just starting out painting in general. This is because of the high cost, additional supplies, and other aspects that come under oil painting. Although it can be a bit difficult for beginners, it doesn’t mean that it should be avoided. With oil paints, you can learn to blend, add tones, depth and make vibrant paintings.
Yes, you can paint oil over acrylics. The only care that should be taken is that the acrylic paint should be dried before applying oil paint. Also, you need to make sure that you’ve used a thick layer of acrylic paint as oil paint being heavy can spoil the canvas. And yes, you cannot paint acrylic over oil.
Nope! You cannot mix both mediums! Acrylics are water-based paints and oil paints are oil-based paints; as you might be aware that oil and water do not mix together due to differences in their density.
Both mediums come with their own challenges and have their own uniqueness. If you’re just starting into the art world, acrylic painting can be a good choice since it is easy to do. But, the uniqueness Oil painting has cannot be matched ever!

Yay!

It’s time to take a breath!

That was so about oil painting vs acrylics! By the end of this blog, I’m certain that all your doubts on this topic are cleared and you have a pretty fair idea of what to do next (apart from sharing the blog with your artistic friends):

Going to the art supply store to get art supplies. Weeeee!

Simpsons Monkey Knife Fight meme by portraitflip on oil painting vs acrylic

Hey Artists!

I’m glad you’re here!

Thank you for reading our blog on oil vs acrylics: the differences and which medium is best for you.

There’s a lot of info on this topic, but I tried to include as much as I could and I’m praying that I didn’t bore you (well, if you’re here, it certainly means that you liked what I’ve written. Cheers!).

If you feel I’ve misstated something or missed mentioning an important aspect of this topic, please feel free to comment below! Also, tell us about your experience with oil painting and acrylic painting.

You can reach out to us on Facebook Instagram Pinterest

Also, check out our website PortraitFlip where we make handmade paintings from photos.

You’ll love our paintings.

3 thoughts on “Oil Painting Vs Acrylic: Why And Which Medium Is Best For You

  1. Larry Kirkland says:

    Oil Painting now days is solvent-free. Out of the tube you add solvent-free medium and to clean the brushes you use Baby Oil that removes the paint very easily. NO THINNER at all. So that being the case then Oil should win this .. hands down…

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