Difference in Acrylic And Oil Painting

I get this question asked alot in emails. "Hi Paul, what is the main difference in oil and acrylic paints?". It seems that most beginners have the same question in mind and I thought that it would be a good idea to start an article to clarify this.

The binder used in oil paints is typically linseed oil or other kind of drying oils whereas most acrylic paint binder used is water.

This is the reason that people know oil paints as oil based and acrylic oils known as water based. The major practical difference between the two is kinds of paints are their drying time.

Each one of these paints has its own unique advantages. The fact that oil paints take more time to dry means that their color also blends better and one can even apply glazes in an oil painting.

This slow drying process is beneficial in some painting techniques; however, it is also a hindrance to working quickly. On the other hand, one can slow down the drying process of acrylic paints with the use of acrylic retarders, which slow down the waters evaporation rate.

Another major difference is that oil painting brings richness and heritage to classic pieces of art whereas acrylic paint brings in versatility of the contemporary world of art.

Their background

Oil painting has been in use for about five centuries, and began with the Italians in the renaissance era. Oil paints are primarily made of vegetable oils that include linseed oil amid other pigments.

On the other hand, acrylic painting began in 1880 with the first form of paint formulated out of acrylate. It then became popular with contemporary painters and artists in the middle of the 20th century. Acrylic paints are primarily man made using water based polymerized paints.


Their creative appeal

Oil painting conveys realism and this is largely the reason why it is highly respected in comparison to any other form of art. It is in a position to provide bright colors and vivid imagery along with rich and intense layering of color. Needless to say, the most well known paintings of all time are usually oil paintings. ( Think of Vincent Van Goug )

Conversely, an acrylic painting gives a shinny appearance with a distinctive blend of colors. This brings a smoother texture regardless of how the layering is done. One notable feature with acrylic paints is that as the color dries they also become darker. Acrylic paint also generates an even and transparent finish with illuminating appeals that seems to match the conventional dynamics of art at large.

Their characteristics

Oil paints dry more slowly than acrylic paints do. Within 15 minutes, most acrylic paints would have dried, and once they have dried, they are inerasable. On the other hand, oil paints require days or even weeks to dry completely.

It is also notable that it is easier to mix colors with oil paints than with acrylic paints, which allows a painter to produce a variety of color variations. Nevertheless, acrylic paints are resistant to chemicals as well as reactions to ultra violet light and oxygen. Although they can be diluted in water easily allowing the production of painting similar to oil and water coloring, when they dry they are water resistant therefore making long lasting pieces of art.


Because oil paints dry more slowly, this makes them ideal for beginners since they can make as many corrections as they need to. However, they are messy and some paints are known to emit toxic fumes which requires a spacious studio and protective clothing to work with. On the other hand, acrylics are cheaper but one needs to invest in retarders to slow down the drying process.


Oil paints will often discolor and crack with time and their nature deteriorates with continued exposure to air and other elements. Conversely, acrylic paints last longer than oil paintings.

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