A Beginners Guide
What is the difference between Oils vs Acrylic Paints?
Do you want to learn to paint but don’t know where to start?
Get excited about all the paintings you are going to create but don’t know which types of paints to begin with?
To understand the pros and cons of oils vs acrylics you need to ask yourself a few simple questions to decide which medium is best for you…Please note: The comparison below is for standard acrylics and oil paints, not taking into account quick-drying oils ‘Alkyds Oils’ or ‘Open Acrylics‘ (slow drying acrylics) or ‘Water-mixable Oils‘ (traditional oils than can be cleaned up with water)
1. Do you work quickly or slowly?
Acrylic Pros: You can paint on anything.
This is one of the key things that make acrylics a great medium to start with when beginning to learn to paint. To be able to set up quickly, start painting on anything is brilliant. Paper, card, canvas board, whatever you have to hand.
Acrylic Cons: They dry quickly, I mean really quickly.
You want to do some painting, so you book in a little me time. You’ve got a canvas ready, you’ve prepared your ground and now you’re ready to paint.
All is quiet and at peace with the world. You carefully squeeze out your paintings, being careful not to use too much, and then what happens?
The phone rings.
In this short amount of time, the first blob of paint you’d squeezed out will now be dry, solid, unable to shift. So you scrape it off, squeeze out some more, ready to go and…
A knock at the door.
You put down your brushes, come back 10 minutes later and everything has dried! Not quite the tranquil painting experience you had imagined.
- Squeeze out more paint
- Add a retarder to keep the acrylics wet for longer (no more than 15% or the paint goes funny)
- Use a stay wet palette to keep the paints moist. See my video on How to set up a stay wet palette.
Oil Pros: Longer working time.
Because oil paints stay wet for a lot longer than acrylics, it gives you the flexibility to start a painting and then come back to it the next day and continue straight where you left off. The paint on the palette will still be wet and pliable; the colours on your canvas can still be blended together.
Oil Cons: Preparation is key
Due to the oil in oil paints (usually linseed oil) its best to on work on a prepared canvas or board. If you are going to prepare the surface of the canvas yourself the preparation time is longer. You could, of course, buy a pre-primed canvas and get going straight away. (see: preparing a surface for painting)
2. Do you like subtle blends or hard lines?
Acrylic Pros: A Crisp edge
The crisp edges that can be achieved with acrylics can be hugely beneficial if you paint with a more graphic composition. You can mask out areas, work over them quickly, and easily cover a hard shape with thicker paint. You can mix clean, bright colours very easily.
Michael Craig Martin
Acrylics Cons: Achieving a smooth blend
Blending with acrylics can be frustrating due to the speed of the drying time. Especially if you are working on a large-scale it can be practically impossible to work the canvas as a whole to bring it all to the same finish together.
This is for a size of say 6ft x 4ft. If you are working smaller than this you can create some lovely blends.
You can achieve smooth blends with acrylics you have to work quickly. You can add a medium to the paint to help keep the working time open for longer. Either use soft gel gloss, retarder (slows down drying time) or my preferred choice, glazing liquid gloss.
Pro tip: I use the glazing liquid gloss even if I don’t need a gloss finish. This is because the matting agent used in the matt glazing liquid is white when wet, it dries pretty clear but I have found it can sometimes leave the blacks looking milky)
Oil Pros: smooth blending
Oil paints are king of the ring when blending colours together. Because of the slow drying nature of oil paints they can be fantastic for creating subtle blends.
Working wet-into-wet is the sure-fire way to get a smooth transition in your painting. This is especially true for portrait painting when the subtle shading of the face can need constant revisiting and tweaking. You can also add slower drying oils to your paints to create surfaces that can stay wet for weeks.
Oil Cons: Trying to create a crisp edge without it affecting the underlying colours with oils means you have to wait until the next day, or touch dry otherwise your brushstroke will pull and mix with the paint underneath it. It is very easy to mix ‘muddy colours’ when starting with oils due to everything staying wet and the colours mixing together on the canvas.
Solution: Experience teaches you to work cleanly.
3. Colour shift
Acrylic Pros: They are lightfast
With projected laboratory tests acrylics won’t fade in time, the colours will look the same now as they will in 200 years. The binder in oil paint – oil, goes yellow over time, this causes the subtle glow on old master paintings with acrylics they are colourfast, the binder – acrylic polymer doesn’t yellow over time.
Pro tip: The most likely cause of fading is using pigments that are not lightfast, this is true of oils and acrylics.
Acrylic Cons: They change colour when they dry.
The binder used in acrylics is usually white but dries clear (the recent binder in Winsor & Newton Artists’ Acrylics is clear, but I feel still has a slight colour shift) This means it seems lighter on the canvas when you first put in on and then dries darker as the white binder turns clear.
This becomes really clear when painting portraits. You think you’ve cracked the precise colour, turn around and the colour has changed. With practice, you can learn to judge to shift but it can be disconcerting when you’re first beginning.
If you add more acrylic polymers to the paint, in the form of mediums (quick-dry mediums, flow release medium) the colour shift will be even greater.
If you use student quality paints that have extra fillers added, which are often white, the colour shift will be more pronounced.
Oil Pros: No immediate colour shift.
Initially, oils stay the same colour when painted on a canvas. However, once the colour dries it can appear to change if the oil from the paint ‘sinks in’ to the canvas.
This can lead to some areas being glossy (still have the oil in) and others staying matt (oil has soaked into the underlayer) to produce a deader colour. To overcome this, you have to “oil out’ the area of the painting you are working on. A paint surface can appear dull and is usually caused by too little oil in the paint film due to the absorption into the ground layer (or overuse of thinners such as turpentine)
Pro tip: In classical painting, you build an oil painting up in layers and one of these layers is called the ‘dead colouring layer‘ It is painted using oil paint thinned with turpentine on an absorbent gesso ground, this soaks up the oil, speeds the drying time and gives a local colour to the painting.
Leonardo Da Vinci, Adoration of the Magi, detail.
See the painting in close up: Adoration of the Magi, Leonardo Da Vinci
Oil Cons: Yellowing
Oil paints will have a slight yellow tinge to them due to the colour of the oil (think of olive oil) As oil dries over time through the process of oxidation additional yellowing takes place. This varies in degree depending on the binder used in the paint.
“Yellowing must therefore be considered as an unavoidable characteristic of drying oils and this must be kept in mind by users.”
Professors Mallegol, University Blaise Pascal in France.
4. Do you like working with thick paint or thin layers?
Acrylic Pros: Acrylics are flexible.
If you like the idea of using a palette knife and creating thick, impasto paintings, acrylics could be the choice for you. You can paint thickly, build it up and the paint will dry. If you try to achieve the same with oils the outer surface will dry to the touch but the inner paint will still be wet.
You can also work very thinly with transparent glazes or very thickly with a mountain of paint but the actual surface quality of the acrylic remains flexible, this means your painting won’t crack over time. Thin coats of acrylic paint can be used to give a watercolour look to a picture.
Pro tip: Acrylics can crack but usually only in extremely cold temperatures.
Oil Pros: Long drying times
If you have plenty of time set aside for your painting, oils can be fantastic. You can work with thick paint, wait a couple of days for that paint to dry then add thin glazes to create luminosity in your work.
Oil Cons: To work with thick paint you need to take into account the drying time of oils. Each particular pigment needs a different amount of oil mixed with it resulting in different drying time, e.g: Earth colours such as Burnt Umber is a rapid dryer whereas Ivory black takes much longer to dry.
The solution: Add a siccative to the paint. A siccative is a medium that helps to speed up the drying process in oil paints. Traditionally this was a cobalt drier, more recently, Liquin by Winsor & Newton is a synthetic medium that can accelerate the drying time of the oil paint by about 50% .
Pro tip: Its best always to work in a well-ventilated area when using liquin (Wikipedia link) as some people can have sensitivities to the Petroleum Distillates used in the product. Liquin Original Safety Sheet
5. Do you work in a small space?
Acrylic Pros: Acrylics can be a great alternative to oils if you’re working in a confined space. You just need access to water and they have a very low odour in comparison to traditional oil painting thinners.
Pro tip: Have ventilation is still advised as some acrylics brands contain trace elements of ammonia, (see Princeton University health & safety) this varies from brand to brand.
Oil Cons: The smell of turpentine
If you start painting with oils in a confined space the fumes from the thinners can overwhelm you, turpentine and white spirit can be really strong. White spirit can also be an irritant to the skin and turpentine rags can spontaneously combust!
I work with odourless mineral spirits or ‘Zest It‘ (a thinner made from citrus ) that have a very little odour compared to turpentine.
There are many new solvent-free gels now coming to market, such as Gamblin’s Solvent-free Gel. These offer a way of diluting the oil paint without using traditional solvents. You can also clean your brushes with walnut oil (Murphy’s soap in the US gets good reviews).
Pro tip: The odourless mineral spirit does not cut through the oil as well as pure artist turpentine and if you are using Dammar varnish in your mixes can cause problems.
Okay, there’s a lot to take in but once you get to grips with which paint is best for your style, oils vs acrylics, so you can just get on and create masterpieces.
What is your preferred medium, oil or acrylics? Let me know in the comments below.
You might also like:
1. Watermixable oil vs traditional oil paint for solvent-free oil painting
2. Painting peonies with acrylics & water-mixable oils
3. The 8 key differences between artist quality & student grade paint
This Post Has 469 Comments
I’ve used Acrylic from years(2-3) They are(was) perfect in every way, i like to use color over color. Hard to mix thou but it works good… even after mistakes i re-painted on it and no difference LoL. I’m really new to oil, and for me it takes like years to dry. i’m using it from a month and not a single canvas is complete, it can’t dry fast if already painted? if it can be do help me with that because acrylic can be completed within 2-3 hrs but here oil takes months to dry and i’ve used thick paint in some parts. if any help. Thanks in advance
Hi Karanveer, to speed up the drying time of oils you would need to mix in a drying medium such as ‘Liquin’ from Winsor & Newton, this will speed the drying by 50%, but will still be much slower that acrylics.
Hope this helps,
I don’t know if anyone has mentioned it, but when you open a new tube of paint you are supposed to massage the tubes first. This is because the oils can separate in storage. If all the oil comes out on your palette (because the shops display the tubes vertically) you might get a really oily mix which takes ages to dry. So the man in the art shop told me…
Hi Peter, nice to hear from you, hope you’re keeping well.
Yes, the oil can separate from older tubes if stored upside down for a long while, if this does happen to an earth colour you’re using you can use the oil separation to your advantage if you’re painting indirectly ‘fat over lean.’ Because the oil has separated you can squeeze out the paint tube onto some paper towel, leave it for 10 minutes so the excess oil soaks in and then you have a very lean paint that will dry quickly and can be used for underpainting.
Hope this helps,
Hi will Kemp.
I m just reading your guidelines but I am still confuse and can’t realize which paints are best for me.would you please guide me more?
As I m a beginner and I haven’t learn any course about painting but its my hobby and dream to be a painter.I love to draw landscapes and nature related paintings ,apart of it I am not much quick as I am a beginner and I am just going to start making paintings so being quick is impossible in start.
I would do this hobby in free time and in my living room so kindly suggest me oil paints or acrylic paints????
I am waiting for ur email…. also need guidance of landscape painting….
Hi Asma, it’s always a personal choice, but acrylics will be odour free and give you an easy clean up for your space in the living room.
I came across your site yesterday and just wanted to say thank you for taking the time to put up such useful information. I have been painting for a while and am self taught and was really looking for some foundational information for methods and techniques. This has been ideal and am looking forward to implementing it into my own work.
You’re more than welcome Kiran, so pleased you’re finding the lessons helpful in getting that painting foundation to your work.
very informative. I’m going to start with acrylics.
I have admired and followed your work and tutorials on Art Tutor (and admired your work on your website). Used your method of mixing colour through the tones (not sure that is how you describe it) even so used the technique to show depth in my work – pre mixing these colours allowed me to keep the colours consistent throughout my pieces yet get depth. Found this forum when trying to understand warm and cold colours, trying to identify warm primary colours verses cool primary colours, then creating the colour wheel, for a novice like myself ”who is learning from the web” there is no way you can just grasp the concepts the experts are talking about.
Now I have got this far not sure what i am asking… Is the warmth and coolness of the colour dependent on the colours they are next to ? There are so many blue’s red’s and yellow how can you call one warm and one cool?
Now I’ll go back to my hot australian summer studio (really converted dining room) where I shall create colour charts with all the random acrylic colours I have been suckered (wrong word – I was starry eyed/amazed) into purchasing… will I be able to recognise warm and cold?
look forward to your words of wisdom
Hi Carolyn, nice to hear from you and so pleased you’ve been enjoying the lessons. Yes, that’s right, the warmth or coolness of a colour is dependent on what colour you are comparing it to. So you can have a warm blue and a cool blue, but blue will be cooler in comparison to orange. You might find this article of interest that lists some cool and warm colours and there is also a more in-depth simple colour mixing course.
Hope this helps,
Thank you for this info. I’ve been wanting to do painting lately and started watching video tutorials and was fascinated with the art works. But since i have no background in painting, I am very confused as to what medium should I use. Now I know.
Good one Rain, so pleased it helped.
It’s been really nice learning from your tutorials in YouTube and your website. I’ve learnt water colour paints from Art School but I decided to try out Acrylics and Oil painting on my own. Your videos are very helpful. To pop up the secret, I built my own stand, fixed my canvas and now ready to start my acrylics, even though parents are quite against it. So I’m sneaking it the store room and have brought the colours on my own. So to be true I’m low to afford good quality oils and gesso (pocket money is limited). I’m starting with acrylics and yeah let’s see how it ends up. Thank you again for the videos. The are the ones that are a support to me.
Good one Prabal, really pleased you’re finding the lessons helpful in your painting journey.
Thanks so much for info. I bought oil paints and I’m a beginner I love it and yes I learned the hard way gotta with until painting dries but I love it and I can retouch when I’m ready and edit my painting some more. Thanks. If you can give me tips on washing spilt paint from brushes I’ll appreciate it
Pleased you found it helpful Liuz, glad you’re enjoying experimenting with oils.
I’m going to resume painting with acrylics and have to buy a new set of paints. As I was trying to descide which brand to buy I stumbled on your free art lessons. I’ve already learnt a lot although I’ve not started painting yet. Thanks for your amazing work!
Now to my question:
I’m thinking of buying W&N new artists (professional) paint. What I would like to know is if they will mix nicely with the ‘older’ qualities and other brands of acrylic paint as they have a new binder?
Hi Barbro, pleased you’ve been enjoying the lessons, they will mix okay with older acrylic paints although you will have a difference in the colour shift when using older paints in comparison to the W&N Artists’ as they use a clear binder rather than a white binder.
Hope this helps,
I love your blogs…just happen to see one article and could not stop reading for last 2hrs. I’m a beginner in acrylics…like all your tips. Will follow and learn few techniques..thanks.
Good one Yuvaraj, pleased you’ve been enjoying the articles.
Its been a great experience at your site Will.I am having a hobby of painting and have done glass,emboss, tile, stone and poster paintings but all what I want to try is always acrylics and oil but wont get any info abt the same..thnx fr sharing…n any suggestion if u can give for a starter will be welcomed !:)
Pleased you’ve been enjoying the site Saksham, if you start with one of the free lessons it’s the best way to learn about the different techniques.
I’ve been painting with acrylics for a while now but like you said, acrylics dry very easily. It has been a problem of mine for quite a while. I’m someone who is very critical when it comes to everything blending well together so you could guess how much of struggle it is whenever I paint. I’ve tried to paint with oils before but everything just turned out be a huge mess. I mostly only paint landscapes so would oil be a lot easier to work with when painting? Or should I just stick to acrylics?
Hi Patricia, if you’re after everything blending together oils are going to be your best bet, you can also try Alkyd oils that dry within a day so you can blend the clouds etc whilst painting but the next day can paint over without disturbing the colours underneath.
I was recently reintroduced to painting by my wife at a “painting pub” venue. I had a great time. I’m presently putting together my shopping list for this rediscovered hobby, and have a question on colors. Since I know you can blend primary colors (along with black and white) to make just about any color one might need, would you recommend acquiring many tubes/bottles of pre-mixed colors, or just getting larger quantities of the primary colors, black, and white?
Hi Andrew, you might find this article of interest when choosing a paint starter set.
I wanted to learn how to paint but I don’t know where to start. I don’t have much idea with the kind of materials and mediums to begin with. Please advice.
Hi Arnie, start with one of the free videos, most of them only use a few brushes and colours and will get you started on the basics. Also, have a look under the acrylics tab for more articles on beginners palettes.
Hope this helps,
Loved your article; it gave me some more insight in both mediums. I have used both oils and acrylics for years, and in all the art classes I took in college, we used liquitex and golden acrylics. Even with retardant and gloss mediums I still tend to prefer oils because I do a lot of blending and like to work slowly.
Lately I’ve started using acrylics again (a year since my last use), in order to complete a painting as a present for a friend. Due to limited money and us moving soon, I am limited to student acrylics I’ve had sitting around and can’t afford mediums. I do however have soft pastels and my watercolor set handy, and realized I’ve never tried acrylics in mixed media. Do you have any advice on acrylics on canvas in mixed media?
Thank you! And again, excellent article! :)
Hi Jay, pleased you found it helpful, I don’t currently have any articles on using mixed-medium with acrylics, but they can work well with anything that is water based.
I just stumble upon this page and it was very useful. Thank for sharing your knowledge Will.
Pleased you found it helpful Swapnil.
Hi, I am photographer by profession and painter by heart. Its a great article which resolve my confusion between oil and acrylic color. Just wanted to know more about poster color also. and the differences between these three color.
Thanks for sharing.
Hi Ross, pleased you enjoyed the articles, Poster paints are water soluble even after dry (like watercolours) and acrylics are permanent. Acrylics also tend to have more opacity and coverage than poster colours.
Hope this helps,
I stumbled across your website and I’m really glad I did. I’m a new painter (I use the term loosely) and have been using heavy body acrylics which I like a great deal but have some of the frustrations that you outlined above. I have been toying with the idea of trying some soft body acrylics and frankly the thought of oils scare me. I just wanted to tell you I love your website and the vast amount of information you have here. It’s extremely helpful. I was not aware of the retarders available to keep the acrylics wetter longer.. would have been helpful information sooner :-) Anyway, thank you for the all the great information, I plan on employing a lot of your teaching.
Hi Ellen, thanks very much for your kind words, so pleased you’ve been finding the tutorials helpful. Yes, a little retarder or (my personal favorite) acrylic glazing liquied, can really make a difference to the handling properties of acrylics.
Great article as always, but im after some advice regarding which paints to choose, im hoping to do some large pieces using just my fingers for painting and would like to adopt the techniques used by the likes of iris scott and kimberly adams, and using the colours straight our of the tube, however although id love to try the holbein duo oils ive simply not the budget but looking for paints that are thick, slower to dry and have little to no colour shift, can you recommend any?
Hi Emma, you could use Alkyd oil paints such as Griffin Alykd from Winsor & Newton, you could also add a gel such as Liquin Oleopasto Medium (also from Winsor & Newton) with the paint to extend the paint and give more texture.
Hi Will, thanks so much for this article, but I still don’t know about which use, I think about oil paints, but the smell theme scary me. I will think about this, wish me luck
Good luck with experimenting Anny, you can also try water mixable oils if you want more working time than the acrylics but to work without thinners.
If I’m using oil paints and I paint the background black, would I still be able to paint brighter colors over it? Would they be visible?
Hi Ohrad, you would be able to paint over, but it will take thicker paint to cover over the black, also, black oil paint is a slow drying paint so isn’t the best choice for an underpainting.
I almost always use inexpensive acrylic paint as an initial layer for an oil painting. Especially if I want to introduce any texture to the painting.
I’ve always experienced “problems” in getting oil paint to stick to acrylic over the long term. Some of my efforts have looked good at first, but over 10 or 15 years, I’ve noticed the oil paint beginning to lift away from the acrylic layer.
Do you do anything special to help permanently bond the oil paint to the acrylic layer?
Hi Mark, it’s best to apply oils over acrylic is the acrylic has been diluted with water, that way there is a better bond with the paint surface, personally I tend to paint in quite thin layers so the oil layer will be grabbing onto the texture of the canvas and the diluted acrylic surface, rather than adhering to a shiny, thick acrylic surface.
I haven’t been painting long enough to know if something I’ve painted will have problems. As I understand it, the canvases I use are primed with acrylic gesso, very similar to the paint. Most often I use acrylic paint thinned with water, either mixed with the paint or lightly sprayed on the canvas, to get the background color I want. I’ve read about artists that will do a mixed media work painting oil over acrylic. There is a particular painting I do that requires a black or very dark canvas, so I use black gesso to prepare the canvas for the painting. Then I color acrylic modeling paste for creating 3D foliage, and paint over everything with oil. I assume everything is porous enough so there won’t be an issue with the oil bonding, but as stated above the first of these paintings are just a few years old, so no idea how they will hold up over time.
Hi Steve, as you mentioned, with the porous surface of the modeling paste there should be a good bond with the oil to the surface underneath.
Hi, I am a NZ artist, I switched from watercolours to oils some years ago as I wanted to paint really large florals 1 metre X 1 metre being the smallest. I am self taught but now achieving what I want with a gallery wanting to represent me. My question is with regards to the varnish. I have spray varnished my paintings with no problem until last year when I had a disaster with the varnish stippling over the painting. I purchased a new can and the same thing happened. I tried to fix it up by brushing on a varnish which I found incredibly difficult. I may add it was winter time when I applied the spray varnish so was wondering if the can was too cold. I have to varnish 5 very large paintings mid year and I am terrified I am going to ruin them, do you have any ideas, ideally I prefer the spray as it seemed to work before but I had a few years break from painting when the varnish problem occurred last year so thought maybe I had done something different. what brand do you recommend for a gloss finish spray and are there any tips on the angle of the painting for applying the varnish please?
Hi Lee, yes it will be the cold that caused the issue, spray varnish likes the warm and ideally you’d have the varnish at a similar temperature to the canvas surface. Golden paints recommend an ideal temp of between 65 – 75 degrees Fahrenheit
So having a room temperature thermometer can give you a base for the studio and then if you want to go high-tech a Non-Contact Infrared Digital Thermometer can give you a pretty good idea of the temp of your canvas surface. I picked one up for about £10 and it’s surprisingly accurate.
Any of the big brands have good spray varnishes, Winsor & Newton, Golden, Schmincke etc.
Here are some application guidelines from Golden Paints
Hope this helps,
What do you think is better for an beginner figure painting artist: oils or acrylics?
I bought your acrylic portrait course and I was incredibily satisfy with it! (Thanks a lot).
Then, I tried to apply the same principles on painting the figures, but it s been a mess. So now I m wondering if I need to change media, or I need more confidece with acrylics.
Hi Matt, pleased you enjoyed the acrylic course, oils will give you more working time when painting larger figurative pieces. You can still use the same pigments colours and techniques used in the acrylics course with oils. Acrylics can make it easier to create cleaner mixes and paint ontop of existing lines but drawing with oils you can wipe back sections and readjust your drawing when it’s still wet. Try sketching an oil study just using one colour to see if you prefer the extra working time.
Hi, I read your whole article. It’s really good and helpful. So thought you can help to clear my doubts. I have worked on both oil and acrylic, now question is I am starting my new paint (flowers-tulips) on royal painted wall, where while flower thing needs shading and blending. So if I use acrylic on wall( which is not of wood) made of bricks and royal paint on it, it will be dry before I mix other colours and if I use oil it will take time to dry as it’s my main inner wall of the house. I have enough time to let it dry but wall is so big and so more painting t be done. Can you help or guide me which colour I should prefer??
Thanks, Aarti choksi
Hi Aarti, for murals acrylic are often preferable due to the quicker drying time, but you can try a small section of the scene on a test panel with both acrylics and oils and see which you prefer.
this comparison helped me make the decision to stick with acrylics. i do mostly abstract art, so it gets done rather fast, but i was considering switching to oil paint to get a feel for it. the comparison really helped me make the decision
That’s great to hear Nikolas.
I was interested in what you said about ‘ oiling ‘ the part of the painting you are working on with oil paints. How exactly do you do this ? With medium or straight oil? Would this make it harder for subsequent layers to adhere to the surface ?
Hi Pam, you use a very thin application of linseed oil to bring back the saturation of the colour, other layers will adhere fine as long as it’s kept a thin application.
Do you have a beginners course on starting a landscape and or still life painting in oils or will the acrylic courses be applicable
Hi Henriette, I don’t currently have a beginners oil course, you could adapt the acrylic course but it’s not ideal as I don’t demonstrate with any oil mediums and techniques on the acrylic course.
I Google what’s easier to use oil paints or acrylic paints. I’m new to this and after reading your article I’m still not sure which to use. They both have great benefits but also have their own cons. I did get the oil pastels and do enjoy them since its just like luxury coloring. What worries me on both are the drying times one fast one slow. And with what I gathered oils are pretty much on canvas where acrylics are more versatile. What would be your advice for someone going from oil pastels should go to? Have you used oil pastels before if so your take on them? My daughter in law suggested to try water colors your take? I’m a crafter I sew and crochet and woodworking so painting is new to me. Any advice for me? I’m not good at free hand know of any sure to get pictures to paint or to learn to draw free hand? Sorry for all the questions but your article was the best one I have read.
Hi Connie, oil paints would be closest to oil pastels and give you the most flexibility in longer working times. Acrylics can be good for learning colour mixing and painting over areas easily and for a quick set up and solvent free working environment. The best way to really see what suits are to try a couple of colours from both or an inexpensive starter set and then you can see which working time you prefer. Watercolours are less forgiving when mixing colours and take a different approach than acrylics and oils but can produce some lovely results that are unique to the medium.
I have a question, I’m looking to do wet on wet (like the Bob Ross style) with acrylics (on canvas), which I know is mostly done only with oils, which I’m trying to avoid because of price, clean up, dry time, etc. I’ve read that, using titanium white with liquitex slow dry gel to make a base coating my canvas and keeping my palette moist with water or the stay wet palette spray/wet box. Could you please possibly advise if this may be feasible with acrylics or if it would be best to work in sections and allow the acrylics to dry in a wet on dry format. I’m new to painting, I started with acrylics and enjoy using them, I discovered some people doing the wet on wet and I’m interested in trying it without switching, if possible.
Hi Craig, the wet-in-wet is much harder to achieve with acrylics due to the much quicker drying time than oils. The technique you mentioned with the slow drying medium would work ok on smaller paintings to give you some extra working time but is would still be working against the speed of the acrylics drying. This can be a bonus because you can build up impasto texture that will fully dry in a matter of days with acrylics that would still be curing in many months in comparison to traditional oils. I’d try an experiment with a small test piece say 6 x 4 inch and see how if it achieves the look you’re after.
Thanks for your reply, I did two things, I experimented with retarders for acrylic and tried it, I also tried it without retarders and tried section by section as it dried and decided to try oil. I liked the results of both oil and acrylic with retarders, didn’t like the section by section approach as much. It’s true you’re racing against the clock with acrylics even with retarders. I hated and I mean hated clean up in oils. I don’t like the extreme long time for oil to dry and I don’t like that acrylic dry that fast. Any suggestion without me having to buy special add on items of an easy to clean up paint that does give me longer working time, but not as long as traditional oils? I like both oil and acrylic, but both to a varying degree. Do you have an opinion on water soluble oil paints or possibly another paint?
Hi Craig, Alkyd oils will dry much quicker than traditional oils (within 24hrs) Water soluble oils diluted with water will dry pretty quick as well unless you add a linseed oil to the mix. But then you have the cleanup issues associated with oils. I’m looking to create a comparison video in the next few weeks.
When I was younger I enjoyed my oil paints. Later in life I decided I would master acrylics. I do love them but here lately thought I would have so much more fun doing my portraits in oil. So I’ve done my shopping and am ready to go.
Good one Peni, hope your portraits are going well.
Hi Sir, I bookmarked your site few weeks ago when I first discovered it( found it through YouTube). I’ve been using dry media till now, for portraits mostly. But I remain unsatisfied with it, and was at crossroads to choose between acrylics and oil paints. This article has cleared my doubts, and am purchasing oil paints (the blendalibility and slow drying process suits me). Thank you.
Great to hear it Vivo, really pleased you found it helpful good luck with your portraits.
This thread has been going for years – and all power to you for continuing to keep up with responses and encouragement.
I have brought the horse to the trough of acrylic painting a few times now – but this time I hope it will drink, as I would like to move from oils to a faster drying medium!
My concern is also to be able to varnish and deliver faster! Reading some of your early posts I would guess that may have been an issue for you too. I am so impressed with your work in acrylics – but I wonder do you still work in oils from time to time or are you totally converted?
Having rewatched the acrylic painting course, and the oil portrait glazing course and the acrylics basics video I am ready to get myself equipped for a final and more determined assault!
Before I make my shopping list – have you any comments on the usefulness of Golden MATT acrylic paints? Do they combine successfully ?
I have spent so much time getting to figure out how to work with oils, I find myself quailing at the prospect of another medium, but needs must!
I have a number of MATT acrylics from previous experiments with laying in a faster drying underpainting for portraits in oils. (not particularly successful at the time as I found it hard to use my wipe out method).
Thanks for all your excellent posts, I always look forward to your latest blog report arriving in my inbox!
Hi Sandy, lovely to hear from you and so pleased you’ve been enjoying the courses, to answer your questions:
My concern is also to be able to varnish and deliver faster!
You can use a modern varnish like Gamvar from Gamblin so you can varnish over oils when they are touch dry (whoo hoo)
But I wonder do you still work in oils from time to time or are you totally converted?
Yes, I work in both oils and acrylic depending on the subject and feel I’m after.
have you any comments on the usefulness of Golden MATT acrylic paints? Do they combine successfully?
They will mix together fine but you’ll get a different variety of sheens on the surface.
Hope this helps,
Literally answered all my questions. Usually when I get curious on something I must go to multiple websites for all my questions. I am no artist but I like to be creative so I want to work on a couple small fun projects for decoration. Looks like I am going acrylic for my purpose.
Good one Erich, so pleased it helped, hope your painting goes well.
Hello from Puerto Rico! I’m starting to paint using acrylic paints in dried bamboos. I believe acrylics are great and I would love to learn more on mixing colors to get the right ones. Gracias
Thanks for your article comparing Water soluble oils and Acrylics.
I have just completed various acrylic paintings and found that I developed a problem with my breathing when using them. I have been told that I could be allergic to acrylic paints.
I have researched Gamblin oil colours as I prefer working with oils and feel that they may be the way for me to go as they seem to be the least toxic compared to other oil paints.
Their solvents are also very low toxicity.
I would appreciate your opinion of Gamblin oils and mediums.
I always look forward to your emails so thank you very much for all your advice and tips.
Warm regards Kay
Hi Kay, Gamblin makes some great products and mediums and have recently introduced a range of solvent free mediums, the solvent free gel seems to get some great reviews (although I haven’t personally used it yet), Gamsol and Gamvar are both excellent products.
Hope this helps,
Thanks Will. Always love your emails and all the insights you give.
I use quite a bit of Gamblin paints/materials etc. if you don’t already have it , here is a link to a recent podcast which I would have found really helpful when I first started out with oils. Interesting listening too!
Thanks for the links Sandy, that’s great
I have been thinking for a while about starting to paint with oils because I was told to start it if I want to sell my pictures or ask a gallery to accept my artworks. And the dust eats up even the varnished acrylic paintings.
I think I am at around intermediate level, it means that I can mix any colors I want and paint correctly anything that I want. But there is the big question: should I paint with oils just because somebody told me an oil painting has more value? I am so confident with acrylics, I like mediums and the fast drying time, and most of the times I don’t even use the stay-wet palette, I just enjoy painting and creativity. I’d like to ask your opinion as an experienced fine artist. What do you think, is an acrylic painting worth less just because it is not an oil painting? Is it possible that a gallery refuses your acrylic paintings, no matter how good they are?
Thank you for your kind answers. :)
Hi Dora, I’ve never known of a gallery question the medium used for a painting. Occasionally, the style of an artist may not suit a galleries portfolio, but that’s usually to do with the aesthetic of the piece not necessarily the medium used. You might find some galleries that only deal in oil paintings, but they are usually historical pieces created before the invention of acrylic paints.
Hope this helps,
Thank you for posting your videos to Youtube – they have great information and tips and you explain things in a straightforward manner.
I have a couple of questions that I hope you can give your advice on please?
What is the best way to dispose of dirty acrylic brush water? Up until now, I’ve been pouring mine down the sink, but there seems to be a difference of opinion on this. Also, is it safe to use acrylics in the same space that I sleep in? I always have the window open and ensure all painting equipment is put away once finished with.
Many thanks in advance.
Hi Mark, nice to hear from you and pleased you’ve been enjoying the videos. Yes, you’ll be safe to sleep in the same room as the acrylics. Most of the paint is removed from brushes with a paper towel before rinsing in a water pot and there are other processes you can do depending on the level of acrylic disposable.
Here are some methods from Golden paints:
See Removing Water-Based Paint Solids From Rinse Water for the treatment process.
Hope this helps,
Love all of your articles and very usable tips.
I so DO want to paint in OIL. as it to me it has a depth that acryl does not, but maybe I am wrong…..
Can I paint the beginning of a picture with Acryl and the go to OIL to finish up.
Do you have a video I can buy with that topic involved ?
Thank you for your art-both-knowledge-and-the-way you-yourself-paint/draw – ect.
Hi Vibeke, yes you can paint oils over the top of acrylics as long as you slightly water down the acrylics so the oils can ‘grab’ on. I don’t have any specific courses on this technique but often start paintings with an acrylic ground before building up the painting.
Hope this helps,
Hi Will. Love reading your articles. I’m fairly new at painting. I really enjoy hard edge portrait paintings and some still pieces. I love the look of thick impasto paint. What is the best technique for applying this to canvas with a brush? Thanks in advance!
Hi Craig, for thick impasto paint with a hard edge I’d go with Acrylics. If you use a stiffer brush you’ll be able to move it around the canvas easier.
Hello Will, I’m a new painter and I have tried both watercolors and acrylics but neither has helped me do what I want so I will be trying oil paints. My question is this: how do I know which paints are professional and which are students grade?
Hi Brandy, the usual giveaway will be the cost of the paints, with artist grade being more expensive due to the cost of the paint pigments. Also, many manufacturers will label their paints ‘artist quality’.
Great information for a beginner. I always drew with pencils but as my love for Renoir, Van gogh and all the other greats grew, I wanted to try my hand with acrylic or oil paintings. I didn’t know which to start with until I read your article and decided on acyrlic(at least for now). Thanks
My pleasure Mete, glad it helped.
Will, Does Liquin too have any content/ingredient which may cause irritations on the nasal tract?
Asking this, just to be on the safer side, as I had faced much troubled with the OMS.
Thank you much…
Hi Archana, not knowingly, but I wouldn’t want to say for 100% sure. You might also be interested in water-mixable oils so you can still have a longer working time than acrylics but clean your brushes in water.
Well, I just started to paint from last year, and didn’t try oil yet, but I would like to try it out some day later. Thank you for the explanation!
Pleased it helped Haimi.
Thanks Will, appreciate your response much.
Would you advise any specific brand for – water-mixable oils???
The Holbein Duo Aqua oils are nice, you can read more about them here.
In children’s art (in a pre-school set up), what items can we use to substitute commercial paints when wanting to do painting with the kids?
Hi Itai, washable poster paint is often used for pre-school projects.
Hi Will! I’m 54 with a Michael’s gift card lol. As a teen I tried oils and loved how they easily blended. At the time, I also had the space. I’m ready to paint again, but don’t know what, and space is limited…like the end of my kitchen/dining room table. As a teen I also loved sketching. Doing either medium (probably acrylics). Do you recommend sketching out, a bit, what it is I intend to paint? Also, since I am again a beginner) do you recommend a “beginners kit” or start with a few essential items?
Hi Carla, yes I usually sketch out before painting but you can also go straight in with the brush. I don’t have any specific beginners kit list but this article looks at a beginners colour palette for acrylic.
I’ve always wanted to try painting so here I am pushing 50, trying my (not an artistic bone in it) hand at the art. I’ve been using acrylics (for beginners) bought at a local art store, but have been curious about using oils. Your article about the differences between the two was very informative. I will stick with the acrylics for now while learning and because I don’t have a open space to paint with oils (and the cleaner), but my hope is to be able to learn try the oils, too, one day.
Thank you for an informative article.
My pleasure Kellie, so pleased it helped.
it was educational to read your article.i have recently started painting on canvass and in short span of time have used both mediums.i however like my work in oil based medium.i am good at apply n mixing colors but my drawing isn’t up to mark which doesn’t give excellent result.any tip to improve upon this area.
Hi Batool, glad you enjoyed the article, daily short sketching practice can really help to improve your observation skills to match your colour mixing.
Good day Will – Wondering if you could lead me to your video on ¨How to set up a stay wet palette¨, please. Your link above leads one to a different video. I set up a stay wet palette myself with a plastic container and tight fitting lid, thin square sponge cut to fit and baking paper on which to place paint. Was wishing to see if you had any additional suggestions. Thanks for a great site! Regards – JM
Hi JM, you can see the stay-wet palette video here. But sounds like your set up will work a treat.
Great article, I really enjoy both mediums. Acrylic is fast drying, Oil blends well but both require a lot of set up and clean up. I am such a messy painter haha. I have always started off with acrylics and eventually shifted to oil. I also do mixed media with acrylic on the bottom and oil on top. It is all about experimenting!
I’ve been working with Prismacolors for a few years now, but I’m looking into getting my first set of paints now. I want to thank you for your article, because I was not sure whether to go with acrylic or oil paints. Your article has helped me make a decision and I want to thank you for that. I hope my clients will like my paintings as much as they like my Prismacolors! Wish me luck! Blessings to you!
Good one Sharon, so pleased it helped.
PS. It’s so kind of you to respond to everyone who leaves comments on your article. You never see that anymore. Keep up the great work! You’re very special!
You’re too kind Sharon!
Thank you for making this article. I came across this wondering if I should try oil painting. I’m really just a beginner with acrylics and wondering if I should spend some money on oil paints. I like cartoons but I want to try out different styles. I often worry about toxic or harmful substances and heard that working with oils was more risky to your health.
My friend told me that there is an “acrylic look” that paintings have, referring to the blending and sharp edges mostly. She told me she doesn’t like that look and gave me examples of smooth edges and realistic paintings. I like both, but wondered if acrylics can achieve that (I think it is just more difficult).
So, can the trained eye tell if a painting is acrylic or oil? There must be many factors, so I imagine that some cases are clearly one or the other, but an experienced painter could fool you.
Also, how long do oils take to dry? Like how long before you can paint over it? How long to completely dry?
The drying times and aesthetic qualities vary depending on the subject, thickness of paint and pigments used. Traditional oils dry by oxidation so can take 6-12 months to fully cure, but can be touch dry in a few days.
I’ve enjoyed so many learning tools you’ve unselfishly shared on the site! I’m an acrylic artist that has often thought about crossing over to oils, but because of the toxic properties I have refrained. Aside from using cads, cobalts, etc., I have found that the solvents are the problem with toxicity and oil painting, not the actual pigments themselves. I’ve purchased some water miscible oils and on the next pleasant day I plan to dip into them!
My question is this . . . I have 2 grand daughters who love to paint with me. The acrylics + gouache that I use is not toxic at all so I don’t have to worry when we are painting. Can I assume that the same rule would apply if they try my water miscible oils too? I’m not sure if there is off gassing with oils vs. acrylics. There’s nothing worse than knowing you’ve made a mistake when it’s in the rear view mirror!
Also, if I may ask . . . a dear friend and “oil head” told me that I could also go to the health food store and purchase food grade safflower oil to put into the water miscibles to move and thin the paint. Any thoughts?
Thanks for everything you contribute! Visiting your site is a delight, not only because the information is so informative and interesting, but you are a delight! Thanks from all of us!
Hi Roxanne, pleased you’ve been enjoying the site. Yes, if you stick with water for cleaning the brushes and avoid any of the heavy metal colours you can use the water-mixable oils without any extra solvents. Yes, you can also dilute with safflower oil.
Hope you enjoy working with them.
I personally LOVE acrylics because of the low odor. Oils have always given me a headache, no matter how ventilated the room was in art school classes (oils were used by other students). I paint inside my home and I have two family members with epilepsy. So, oil paints are out of question because even the slightest scent can trigger an episode. Can’t have any of that! Acrylics have always been my Go-To paint when I’ve felt the urge to paint something lovely. They are versatile and so much fun!! I am so happy to read in this article about how long they last!! Super exciting!!! Thank you so much! I haven’t painted a masterpiece yet, I just have fun with vibrant colors and the many ways I can incorporate different textures into my artwork. Love the article! It was very informative and interesting!!
So pleased you enjoyed it Carolyn
A very Happy New Year to you.
I haven’t painted since my teens and I am now nearly 50 so I consider myself a complete beginner. I can’t decide between oils or acrylics. I have read your article and it is very helpful but I still can’t decide as I don’t really know what kind of painter I am. Can you help please.
Hi Catherine, the best way would be to buy a small set and have a go with both so you can start to see which you prefer. Acrylics are more forgiving when painting over your mistakes when first starting and you can paint and clean up just with water but for some applications the extra working time of oils will make the method much easier.
Which Brand do you recommend for choosing an acrylic colour for a beginner?
Which one of your lessons is the best to start with for a beginner?
Thank you for your hard work .
Hi Houri, the cherry is a good video to start with. I tend to use Golden brand and Winsor & Newton brand Acrylics.
Never tried oils, but I’ve been working with acrylics for years and I do love the ability to paint thickly. The hardest thing about them is the blending. Usually requires a lot of patience because it can be tough. I have found doing shorter painting sessions and writing down the colors I mix makes it easier to continue a painting later on. I like to use disposable palette paper so I can start fresh each time.
I agree about portraits! Golden makes a good glazing medium I like to add to my acrylics, though add too much and it can really mess with the paint!
Yes, Golden Glazing liquid is ace! thanks for sharing.
Can acrylic paints and metallic paints be used on paper? Example is Strathmore paper. Hope it won’t damage the paper or cause it to tear or wear off.
The problem will occur if you dilute the paints with water as the paper will tend to buckle. You could do a couple of test pieces though to see how it goes.
Fantastic article – thanks!!
Thank you for the article. I am a new “artist” that has been using acrylics and thinking of using oils. This has helped me to make my decision.
Great to hear it helped Chris.
This is so helpful – loved the pro/con for each! I always used acrylics but now I’m venturing into oils. Wish me luck
Great stuff Laila, so pleased it was helpful