Acrylic vs. Oil Paints: Making the Right Choice for Your Art

8 May 2023

With so many types of paint available, it’s important to choose the right one for the job. Acrylic and oil paints are among the most popular options, and each type has unique characteristics that make them better suited for different projects. Acrylic paint is fast-drying, water-soluble and can be easily mixed with mediums for various textures. Oil paints take longer to dry and require more maintenance, but they can produce a more saturated colour palette and have great blending capabilities. Understanding the differences between acrylic and oil paints will help you pick the right material for your artwork, allowing you to create beautiful results with ease.

Acrylic Paints

Definition of Acrylic Paints and Their Properties

Acrylic paints are water-soluble and have a wide range of consistencies, from translucent to opaque. Through blending with various mediums, they offer the artist limitless opportunities for creating textures and effects. They dry quickly and are extremely versatile, making them the go-to choice for many artists.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Using Acrylic Paints

Acrylic paints are an ideal choice for artists who like to work quickly, as they dry quickly. They are also water-resistant and can be used on a range of surfaces. Artists have the added benefit of using mediums to manipulate the drying time, texture, and consistency of acrylic paints, making them one of the most versatile painting materials available.

Best Uses for Acrylic Paints

Acrylic paints offer a reliable and versatile option for artists looking to create mixed-media works or large murals. They are fast-drying and water-resistant, allowing them to be applied easily on a variety of surfaces. Plus, they come in a range of consistencies, from translucent to opaque, giving artists the ability to leverage multiple mediums and achieve interesting textures and effects.

Oil Paints

Definition of Oil Paints and Their Properties

Oil paints are a type of paint medium that consists of pigments suspended in oil, typically linseed oil. The properties of oil paints enable artists to create intricate textures and effects, making them a popular paint medium. Oil paints can be used to create various styles and techniques, from traditional approaches like portraiture to contemporary styles like abstraction.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Using Oil Paint

Oil paints are a medium consisting of pigments suspended in oil, typically linseed oil. They offer various advantages, such as slow drying properties, which enable artists to work for longer periods, as well as the ability to mix colours and create intricate details. However, some drawbacks include longer drying times and the use of hazardous solvents when thinning. With the right skills, patience, and knowledge of the medium, oil paints can provide an artist with unique creative possibilities.

Best Uses for Oil Paints

Oil paints offer a versatile range of applications, from traditional portraiture and landscapes to modern abstract works and sculptures. With a range of textures and effects available, artists can create detailed and intricate artworks that bring depth to their pieces. They offer slow drying times for detail and realism in painting, as well as unique painterly effects from different applicators. Oil paints also provide flexibility to experiment with colours, layers, and brushstrokes to create abstract designs. Additionally, they can be applied directly to sculptures made from organic materials for a beautiful finish.

Comparison of Acrylic and Oil Paints

From colour and texture to drying time, it is essential that artists choose the right paint medium when creating their artwork. Acrylic and oil paints are two popular mediums used by today's artists, each offering their own advantages and disadvantages. In this article, we will compare and contrast these two types of paint, discussing how they differ in terms of colour, texture, drying time, and more. We will also provide some considerations for those looking to make the choice between acrylic or oil paintings.


Acrylic paints are known for their bright and bold colours. They also have a matte finish unless a gloss medium is added to them. On the other hand, oil paints have a more subdued and natural colour palette. They can take a long time to dry, but this allows artists to blend and layer colours more easily. They also have a natural glossy finish that can be enhanced with varnishes.


Acrylic paints are thicker in consistency, making them ideal for impasto techniques and other textured artwork. Diluting the paint with water will also create a smoother effect. On the other hand, oil paints have a more fluid and buttery texture, making them great for creating subtle transitions between colours or glazing. Mediums such as linseed oil or stand oil can be used to further thicken oil paint, enabling artists to achieve impasto effects.

Drying Time

Acrylics dry quickly, usually within 20 to 30 minutes, making them easy to work with and reducing the risk of smudging and dirt. Oil paints, however, require more time to dry, typically ranging from days to months, depending on the paint's thickness and the environment. This slow drying time allows artists ample time to carefully craft their paintings and make adjustments as they wish.

Pros and Cons

Acrylic paints are well-loved by many artists due to their vibrant colours, easy cleanup, and quick drying time - usually within 20 to 30 minutes. This can be beneficial for those wishing to complete a project rapidly, but it can also make them difficult to work with for those looking for more layering and blending options. The water-solubility of acrylics makes them ideal for creating flowing effects when combined with water.

Oil paints, on the other hand, have a natural beauty and richness that acrylics cannot replicate. They are also more forgiving, allowing artists to make changes and adjustments over time. However, their slow drying time can be frustrating for artists who want to work quickly. 

Considerations for Making the Choice

When choosing between acrylic and oil paints, artists should consider the type of painting they wish to create, their desired drying time, and their working style. Acrylic paints are ideal for those who prefer bold colours and fast drying times, while oils may be better suited for subtlety and taking one's time. Additionally, the availability and cost of materials should also be weighed when making a decision.

Ultimately, the choice between acrylic and oil paints comes down to individual preference and the desired outcome of the painting. It is important to consider the differences in colour, texture, drying time, and other specific advantages or disadvantages that each medium offers before making a decision. With this knowledge in hand, artists can confidently select the best option for their next project.

Tips for Using Acrylic and Oil Paints

Techniques for achieving desired effects

  1. Blending
    Blending is a necessary skill for creating art with acrylic and oil paints. Wet-on-wet is used to blend acrylics, while a dry brush technique can be used to blend oils. Both of these techniques result in an illusion of depth and luminosity, creating more interesting paintings.
  1. Texturing
    Texturing is the technique of adding depth and texture to your artwork. With acrylic paint, you can use a palette knife to create different textures. Apply the paint with a palette knife in a thick layer, and create different patterns and shapes by dragging the knife across the canvas. With oil paints, you can use a bristle brush to add texture. Apply the paint to the canvas and use a stippling motion to create small dots.
  1. Glazing
    Glazing is the technique of applying thin layers of paint over dried paint layers to create a transparent effect. This technique can create a luminous quality in your artwork. With acrylic paints, you can use a clear glaze medium to thin the paint and create a transparent effect. Apply the glaze over a dried layer of paint with a soft-bristled brush. With oil paints, you can use linseed oil to thin the paint for a transparent effect.

Mastering painting techniques is key for every artist to create their masterpiece. Check out our in-depth guides to both Acrylic Painting Techniques & Oil Painting Techniques.

Proper Use and Handling of Paints and Tools

  1. Cleaning your brushes
    To ensure your brushes last longer, it is essential to clean them properly after each use. With acrylic paints, you can clean your brushes with water and soap. Rinse the brush in water, and then apply soap to the bristles. Lather the soap with your fingers and rinse the brush in water again. With oil paints, clean your brushes with mineral spirits or turpentine. Dip the brush in the solvent and wipe it on a paper towel. Repeat until the brush is clean.
  1. Storing Your Paints
    Properly storing your paints can ensure they last longer. Acrylic paints should be stored in a cool, dry environment away from direct sunlight. For oil paints, it's best to store them in a cool and dry place with the caps securely closed to prevent them from drying out.


When it comes to acrylic and oil paints, both have advantages for artists. Acrylics dry quickly, are water-soluble and can be used with a variety of techniques to create varied colours and textures. Oils have a longer drying time, are harder to remove, but produce a more luminous and transparent effect. Ultimately, the choice depends on the type of art you're creating, the look you're after, and your own preferences. It's all about experimentation, practise, and making the most of the creative process!

Additional Readings
Oil Painting For Beginners: Your Guide to Working with Oil Paints
What is A Canvas? Learn About Canvases For Painting
5 Tips for Capturing Light and Shadow in a Painting

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between acrylic and oil paints?

Acrylic paints are water-based and dry quickly, while oil paints are made with linseed oil and take longer to dry. Acrylic paints are also more flexible and less prone to cracking, while oil paints have a richer, more vibrant colour and blend more easily.

Which type of paint dries faster: acrylic or oil?

Acrylic paint dries much faster than oil paint. Acrylics can dry within minutes to hours, while oil paints can take days or even weeks to dry, depending on the thickness of the paint and the environment.

Can you mix acrylic and oil paints?

It is not recommended to mix acrylic and oil paints because they have different properties and behaviours. Acrylics are water-based and dry quickly, while oil paints are oil-based and take longer to dry. Mixing them can cause issues with adhesion, texture, and longevity of the painting.

Which type of paint is better for beginners: acrylic or oil?

Acrylic paint is generally considered better for beginners because it is easier to work with, dries quickly, and is more forgiving. It also requires less preparation and clean-up compared to oil paints, which can be messy and require solvents for cleaning.

Which type of paint is more durable: acrylic or oil?

Acrylic paint is more durable than oil paint because it is more flexible, less prone to cracking, and more resistant to fading and yellowing over time. Acrylic paint is also more resistant to water and other environmental factors, making it a good choice for outdoor murals and other public art projects.

What are the best uses for acrylic paints?

Acrylic paints are versatile and can be used for a variety of projects, including painting on canvas, paper, wood, and fabric. They can also be used for mixed media projects, such as collages and sculptures. Acrylics can be applied in thin layers for transparent effects or thickly for impasto techniques. They can also be used for decorative painting, such as murals, furniture, and home decor projects.