Acrylic vs Oil Paint: Which Should You Choose?

Here’s a fact for anyone who’s just starting out in painting: it is hard to choose the medium that best fits the style that you want.

There are three most commonly used: watercolor, acrylic, and oil. However, of the three, the two most pondered about are acrylic and oil.

It’s not surprising given that to the untrained eyes, the results look quite the same.

To answer that question once and for all, we will host a paint showdown of acrylic vs oil paint based on our research and personal experience.

The Differences Between Acrylic and Oil Paint

We will take a look at both of these mediums in the following criteria:

1. Longevity

Oil paints have been used for a very long time; centuries, even. We have certainly proven their quality already.

While acrylic paintings don’t fade, we still don’t have enough experience with it to say for sure.

Hence, in this category, oil paint wins.

2. Drying Time

The next factor is the drying time. Oil takes a few weeks to dry, and it will highly depend on the temperature and humidity of your studio.

On the other hand, you’d have to work fast with acrylic since it dries within the hour. There are even brands that dry within fifteen minutes.

If you value a fast drying time, like us, then acrylic paint wins.

We do understand, though, why some people would prefer oil even if it dries painfully slow.

It makes them feel that they don’t need to rush to finish their work right away.

That said, there are ways for the acrylic paint not to dry quickly but still won’t take weeks.

Ways to Prolong Acrylic Paint Drying Time

Here are some of our go-to techniques, which are especially helpful if you want to paint outdoors.

  • Use Water

Adding water is one of the most effective ways for acrylic paint to dry slowly.

You don’t want to add too much, though, so as not to dilute the colors and mess up the thickness of your paint.

The secret to it is to add water in a spray bottle. In this way, you can simply add a few spritzes and control the amount of water with more ease.

  • Use an Acrylic Medium

It is a product formulated specifically to slow down the drying process of acrylic paint.

Read the packaging to determine the right amount to use. We usually need a few dollops per color.

Here’s a pro tip: make sure to mix your colors before you add the medium. As for brands, we love using Golden and Liquitex.

  • Change Your Paint Brand

As mentioned, some brands dry faster than others, while others are specifically formulated for outdoor use, so they dry longer, like Golden Air.

3. Colors

Color is a big factor that usually determines the choice for a lot of painters.

Acrylic paint can be very vibrant, especially if you use high-quality brands, but even the best acrylic paint can’t match the sheer vibrancy of oil paint.

In this category, oil paint wins hands down. Not to mention that acrylic paint can slightly change its original color and turn a shade or two darker.

4. Cleaning

There are artists, like us, who don’t really consider the process of cleaning brushes a big deal or a chore.

We simply keep our brushes wet when we’re working with acrylic paint so that we can easily wash it off with plain water when we need to.

Unfortunately, washing off oil paint from paintbrushes is not that simple.

You’ll need either turpentine or mineral spirits to do so, and both can be quite toxic, so make sure you do this in a well-ventilated space with the proper precautionary measures.

Acrylic paint wins undoubtedly in this category.

5. Price

Finally, you also need to consider the cost of supplies.

Acrylic paint wins this category being more affordable than oil paints.

Not to mention that you don’t need to purchase any solvents anymore to get started.

You can paint straight out of the tube or dilute your colors with water.

Acrylic vs Oil Paint

Here, we will discuss more reasons why you should pick either of the two to help you determine the better choice for you.

Oil Is a Better Choice If You:

  • Love Color

As mentioned, oil paints produce more vibrant colors than acrylics, and they don’t change even if they dry.

Beyond that, though, oil paint allows you a cast spectrum of colors. They’re infinite, so you’ll also be able to achieve more realistic results.

You see, acrylic paint dries too soon, so you can’t really achieve the same range of colors given the shorter time you have to mix unless you are an absolute master already and supported by more experience.

Acrylic paint simply won’t give you enough time to experiment and go through the whole trial-and-error process in preparing the perfect palette.

  • Love Tradition

Do you marvel at the masterpieces of the masters in the annals of art history and wondering what medium they used?

There’s a huge chance that it’s oil, and unless that work is done fairly recently, there’s no chance it could be acrylic.

  • Enjoy Detail

Oil paint allows smoother strokes thanks to its inherent consistency and smoother texture.

Hence, if you love elegant strokes that flow with more ease, you certainly need to go for oil.

We’re not saying that this is not achievable with acrylic paint.

It’s just going to be harder to achieve the same amount of detail based on our personal experience.

  • Need to Paint With a Lot of Layers

In relation to the previous factor, another reason why oil paint produces more detail is that it allows more layers piled on top of each other.

You don’t even have to worry about drying time since it takes quite some time for anything to be completely permanent on your canvas.

You can just pile and blend layers for as much as you want. In fact, this is even the secret of Vincent Van Gogh and how he was able to build all those vibrant colors and more powerful layers and effects.

  • Strive for Perfection

Finally, you can take all the time you need to bring your work to the state that you want it to be, something that is simply harder to do with acrylics.

Don’t get us wrong, though. While oil paints certainly have their charm, in the end, we just love acrylic paints. It is our medium of choice.

acrylic vs oil paint

Acrylic Is a Better Choice if You:

  • Are Just Starting Out

That’s due to a couple of reasons. First, as we mentioned, acrylic paint is more affordable, so you won’t feel bad using them to practice your technique.

Second, you only really need four things to get started with acrylic painting: your paint, your brush, a tumbler of water, and your support, which is the surface that you plan to work on.

On the other hand, oil paint requires more supplies: solvents, mediums, gesso, rags, and more. The list goes on!

  • Want to Paint Anywhere

Since you only need a few supplies, it is simply easier to paint anywhere with acrylic. You don’t need a complicated studio setup.

It’s almost as easy as painting with watercolors. In fact, acrylic paint is easier to manage and control than watercolors, which are loose and more fluid.

  • Want to Achieve Different Effects

Speaking of watercolor, did you know that you can achieve that light, ethereal effect with acrylic, as well?

To do so, you just need to dilute your paint with more water.

You can also achieve that thick and bold look that oil is known for by painting with your acrylic paint straight out of the tube.

  • Need a Healthier Alternative

It’s a story we’ve heard many times before: “Oh, I want to start painting, but I can’t tolerate the smell!” or “I’m afraid to paint because I don’t want to expose my kids and pets to toxic substances”.

Fortunately, you don’t have to worry about anything with acrylics.

Sure, they’re not advisable to leave on your skin for an extended period, and drinking your paint won’t end well.

Still, if you only use your paint as intended, you’ll find that they are relatively non-toxic and don’t require toxic substances to work.

  • Not Very Strong When It Comes to Blending

Don’t get us wrong, blending is one of the fundamentals in painting, and you should definitely practice this technique, especially if you want to achieve a more realistic look.

However, we also understand that there are times when you want to achieve high-contrast layers that you don’t want to blend, or you’re not just confident with your blending skills at all.

If that’s the case, then the fast drying time of acrylic will actually work to your advantage since you won’t need to worry about muddying up your previous layers. They’re already dry.

  • Have a Fascination With 3D

Did you know that you can attain a sculptural effect with acrylic paint?

They reach a point in their drying stage where they get super malleable and flexible that you can integrate 3D elements into your piece.

We definitely encourage you to experiment with it.

How Do You Know Which Paint Is Best for You?

You can probably tell by now which paint you need to use to achieve the results that you want.

In a nutshell, if you want to have more fun and experiment around a little bit more like us, then acrylic is the way to go.

If you want to go the more traditional route and you love realistic works, you should definitely go for oil paints.

Even so, we still recommend you to try both of them out if you can. There’s nothing more revelatory than actual experience!

Have a feel of each of the mediums we mentioned today and see which one speaks to you more.

While you’re at it, why don’t you give watercolors a try, as well?

You Can Even Paint with Both!

There’s also no need to stick to just one medium. Some works require acrylics, while certain projects will require oil paints, but don’t limit yourself to just one medium.

Our life is too short to set a finish line to a creative pursuit.

Yes, we know that oil and water don’t mix well. It’s basic chemistry.

However, there is a way to make them work and use them in the same painting to produce a mixed-media piece.

The secret is in proper layering. You should paint your chosen acrylic parts first before painting over with oil.

Apply gesso on your canvas, paint with acrylic, wait for it to dry, then paint over your piece with your oil details.

Be aware, though, that doing it the other way around simply won’t work. Believe us. We’ve tried it.

Deciding on Acrylic or Oil Paint

Different factors go into deciding which painting medium to use.

You need to consider the longevity of the piece, the drying time of your paint, the look and colors that you want to achieve, the cost of supplies, and even the cleaning process that you need to subject your brushes into after you’re done.

Oil paint has its own merits. It offers a wider spectrum of color, produces more vibrant and realistic results, and most of all, allows you to paint more layers that will help you achieve more detailed works.

It’s no wonder why oil paint is the medium of choice by the masters. On the contrary, they weren’t lucky enough to give acrylic paint a try yet since it is a fairly recent invention.

We love acrylic paint because it is more cost-efficient, can achieve various painting effects (even 3D!), only requires a handful of supplies to get you started, and, most of all, healthier to use than oil.

In the end, though, the decision all boils down to you.

What is the aesthetic that you want to achieve? What are the projects that you are planning to make?

We have given you a detailed guide on the difference between acrylic vs oil paint and how to choose the right medium, so we hope you already have an idea of what to use on your projects.

Stay artsy!


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