Acrylic Vs Oil Paint…What Are The Benefits And Differences

Art Blog | 22 Nov, 2012

The question of which is better between acrylic and oil paint arises a lot in the art community and many people have mixed opinions and of course their own preferences on which is ‘better’. The only fair way to do this is to weigh up conditions like costs, quality, special requirements, ease of use, quality and versatility. Of course not everybody will agree with everything which is said but it may serve to offer an overview of what to expect from these two popular mediums and aid you in making a decision as to which one to start painting with or in fact revert to.

So firstly we should start with the obvious difference which separates completely these two favoured art mediums and that is that acrylicpaints are water based whereas oil paints are oil based. So instantly this brings the first argument which is that acrylics are easier to pick up and put down because with them being water based they dry a hell of a lot quicker than oils. Depending on application and amount of paint used oil paints can take up to two weeks plus sometimes, but this is subject to climate and other conditions, although as a general rule this is a true time to consider before you decide to paint with oils.

This being said, there are many ranges of mediums for both acrylics and oil paints on the market tailor made to increasing drying times as well as slowing them down. These mediums come in forms of pastes, gels and liquid and have been developed for a reason. That reason is a demand for their properties requested by the artists and is actioned by the paint manufacturers to alleviate these requests.

An example of the variety of mediums designed for use with oil paints

An example of the variety of mediums designed for use with oil paints

Do you want faster drying times? If you do require this and believe that this is less hassle than oil paints with their slower drying time then you must consider whether it actually helps you as an artist to paint more effectively. With quick drying acrylic paint you have the option to walk away whenever you want as you know when it dries you can come back to it and paint over it with more acrylic. However, with doing this it is not just the color which has dried but also the texture that you have left with the brush. If you have applied the acylic paint thickly then you will have heavily textured areas of paint which once dried will not disappear. The only way to overcome this is to paint flat. This situation would simply not arise with oil paints and you will be in the position to come back again and again to alter BOTH the texture and the colors you were using. So with this in mind it is down to the individual to decide which is a better way of working.

If you work quickly and like to be able to work over your painting fast with an abundance of layers then it is acrylics you should go for. If you are a steady paced painter and like to start numerous paintings at once then oil painting would be a viable and sensible option. It is also worth mentioning that the amount of paint which you apply to your palette is crucial to consider when you are working on a budget. Large dollops of oil paint on a glass or perspex palette for example will last for over 2 weeks in the right warm climate of say your average home so you can afford to apply more paint to an oils palette. However, if you tried this with acrylic paint you would find that it is good for only a few hours before a crust and/or skin appears on the paint. This paint is ruined and you are at the point of squeezing yet more paint onto the palette. Painting this way in acrylics is foolish and you will be burning a rather large hole in your pocket so be careful and only apply the correct amount of paint for which you need and keep it regularly watered. There is one alternative though for the artist who likes to paint in acrylics but prefers a slower drying time (like oils). That alternative is a ‘stay wet palette’. Although this type of palette can extend the short term life of your acrylic paint, it can not match up to the weeks of drying time which oils offer. Here you are getting a greater increase in the logevity of the acrylic paint as well as a ‘fume-free’ environment which is a further pro for the acrylic paints.

An example of a homemade 'stay wet palette' for acrylics

An example of a homemade 'stay wet palette' for acrylics

Something I mentioned earlier was the use of painting mediums which have become extremely popular now among both acrylic and oils artists with their extensive possibilities for manipulating the paints. They can thin, prolong, thicken and dilute the paints to create maximum ease of use for the artist. With this in mind it is actually surprisingly easy to treat oils as acrylics and vice versa but the costs could quickly escalate as these paint mediums do not always come cheap!

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