Oil-based vs Acrylic Paint

As painters, we find ourselves looking up to the greats. We tend to imitate their idiosyncrasies and use what it is they use in the pursuit of being better.

For as long as we can think of, famous painters like Da Vinci or Van Gogh have been using oil-based paint. But is that really the best choice for us? Can oil-based paint really make our paintings better?

Let’s find out!

What is oil based paint? Well, it’s basically a compound mixture composed of pigments infused and suspended in oil. It was first developed in the 12th century and was used extensively to create noteworthy pieces like the Mona Lisa or the Starry Night. Basically it’s what all the acclaimed painters were using.

Fast forward to the mid 1900’s and a new kind of mixture was created. In the 1950’s, the first batch of acrylic paint was commercially sold. It was cheaper, more consumer friendly and instantly popular.

The mixture of an acrylic paint composed of pigments that were suspended in an acrylic polymer emulsion. And unlike oils, the painter wouldn’t need special chemicals to thin and clean acrylics—water works perfectly fine.

Aside from that, Oil-based and Acrylic paints have several differences. However, there is one difference that affects every aspect of the painting process—that difference is time.

Oil-based paints take more time drying than acrylic paints. You have to work fast with acrylics. The pigments in acrylic paints can dry in 20 to 30 minutes while the pigments in oil-based paint range from 24 hours to twelve days to completely settle in the canvas.

Time really affects the painting process altogether, and choosing between oil-based paint and acrylic paint is synonymous as deciding how much time you will give for a certain piece.

As painters, we have to consider most of the factors before we start committing to our work. Choosing the kind of paint can be the most basic decisions we’ll be forced to make. However, that decision can ultimately change the course of our paintings.

With that in mind, here are several things to consider when choosing between acrylic and oil based paint:

1. The Cost

In whatever we do, we should always consider the costs. It’s not different in painting or in art in general. That’s the more financially responsible thing to do.

In these modern times, you’ll find that oil-based paint is more expensive than acrylic paint. Today, you can get an professional grade acrylic 5oz tube of paint for around $16.02—while professional grade oil-based paint will cost you around $19.46.

Keep in mind that these kinds of expenses accumulate and you’re not only paying for the paint. You’ll also need brushes and canvases. And more importantly, you’ll be spending a considerable amount of time when painting.

2. The mixing process

One thing that experienced painters consider when choosing between acrylic and oil-based paint is the mixing process.

Don’t get me wrong, a season painter can yield similar results when using either kind. However, because acrylic paints dry faster, it can be more challenging to mix colors.

If you’re new to color-mixing, we recommend oil mixing. It can be extremely forgiving in these situations since it can take time to dry. Consequently, oil-based paints can be a great tool for experimenting with colors.

3. Color Shift

If you didn’t know yet, some paints change colors—or at least they’ll not be what you expect—when you put them on the canvas. This is called color shifting and is extremely common in acrylic paints.

We must keep in mind that when acrylic paint is still wet on the canvas, it can appear lighter than when it dries. Consequently this can affect your process in terms of deciding on what values and colors to use.

This is not a problem for oil-based paints since they will look the same from the time the brush hits the canvas until it dries.

4. Blending and Lines

What we mean by this is the ease of painting, blending colors and making lines. When we’re choosing which kind of paint to use, we should also remember what we’re trying to paint.

Oil-based paints tend to be more vibrant compared to acrylics right out the bottle.