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Acrylic vs. Oil Paints: What’s the Difference?

Just like there are different types of art pencils and brushes, artists also use a variety of types of paints for getting different effects. For instance, acrylic and oil-based paints are just a part of the commonly used painting art materials many artists tend to choose. 

However, acrylic and oil-based paints are slightly different from each other, and this is why they aren’t used for getting the same effect on the canvas. Curious? Let’s find out something more about these paints.

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Getting to Know Acrylic and Oil-based Paints

Before you visit an online art supply or brick and mortar store, it’s important to get to know the unique features of these two different painting mediums and determine what would work better on your canvas.

Oil-based Paints

Starting from oil-based paints, they’re known for their unique consistency and texture. These paints are very thick and feel “oily” when applied to the canvas as a result of their content- binding agents, colour pigments and an oil base as the key ingredient. 

Oil-base being mentioned, it typically depends on the specific manufacturer or art supply store you choose. However, most of the manufacturers use natural oils such as linseed or safflower which gives these paints their smooth and creamy consistency. On top of that, the better the oil base, the longer will these paints take for drying, which makes them ideal for taking your time to focus on intricate details, add more layers and texture to your work.

One of the greatest drawbacks of oil-based paints is that you need to use a painting medium or thinner to make them more “workable” and paintable. On top of that, most of these solvents are made from chemicals that are toxic and can irritate your skin, eyes and airways if not handled properly. This is why many artists tend to use gloves and masks when working with oil-based art materials.

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Acrylic Paints

Acrylic paints are made in the same way as oil-based ones, with the only difference being that they don’t feature an oil base. In fact, these paints are water-based, and therefore much safer to use. They’re also excellent as they give you the ability to use the same techniques and achieve the same brightness as with oil-based paints, while still not having to wait for long for the paint to dry.

Acrylic art supplies are also considered ideal for enhancing the overall colour mix on the canvas and incorporating a couple of blending techniques. Even though these paints dry faster than oil-based ones, you can easily reactivate them by using a little bit of water. Hence, they can also be used for detailed work and layering, even though they won’t deliver the convenience of oil paints.

On top of that, acrylic colours are suitable for kids and beginners in the painting world, as they’re affordable and can be washed off clothes by using only water and soap if any accidents occur.

What Differences to Consider?

Whether you decide to explore an online art supply shop or visit your nearby arts and crafts store, have in mind that the base is not the only thing that makes these painting mediums different from each other. In fact, there’re a couple of more features that shouldn’t be overlooked, as they’ll change the entire composition on your canvas.

Drying Time

As we already mentioned, oil-based colours use linseed or safflower oils as a base, which take way longer to dry than water-based mediums. This makes them way more convenient for detailed artworks such as portraits or landscapes, as well as larger pieces that require more work. Hence, oil-based paints aren’t suitable if you’re pressed by the time, as they need at least 24 hours before they’re only touch-dry.

Acrylic Paints

On the other hand, acrylic paints dry much faster and are the perfect option if working on a quicker project or you’re having a deadline. 

Blending and Mixing Colours

If you’re looking for the perfect painting medium to explore the different blending techniques, know that oil-based ones are ideal for this purpose. This is due to them taking much longer to dry as well as the fewer binding agents they use. In fact, these paints will retain moisture and glide easily over your canvas, making them very flexible and easy to use when it comes to blending and mixing colours.

Acrylic paints are, on the other hand, a bit harder to use unless you’re capable to do the job quickly. However, as we already mentioned, acrylic colours can get easily reactivated which can be very helpful if they start becoming dry in the middle of layering or blending. For this purpose, it’s best to keep some water in a spray bottle so you can re-wet your painting brush. But, make sure you don’t use too much water, as it’ll dilute the paints and turn them into watercolours.

Durability and Lightfastness

Lightfastness is the rating of how painting mediums are affected by light and sunlight. Hence, one of the things that are the same for acrylic and oil-based paints is that they both feature the same colour pigments, meaning they share the same lightfastness qualities. As a bonus tip, you can increase these mediums’ lightfastness by using sealants.

When it comes to their durability, the things are a little bit different. Because of their “heavier” oil base, oil paints tend to be much more durable than acrylic paints. However, this doesn’t mean that acrylics don’t have a long lifespan, but keep in mind that they can be affected by water or any other type of moisture. And just like increasing their lightfastness, the durability of these painting mediums can also be increased if you prime the canvas with sealants to achieve an even surface.

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Colour Quality

The colour quality should always be a key factor when visiting your favourite artist supply store. Hence, you’re going to come across different brands offering different types of qualities, and therefore prices for different budgets. 

However, this doesn’t mean that you can’t find affordable acrylic or oil-based painting mediums that will offer a good colour quality. The only thing you need to remember is that acrylic paints are dense and flat and dry darker, while oil paints are thick, glossy and opaque. In other words, it’s best to choose what works better for your painting needs and preferences, as well as something that works for your budget.

Now that you know the most important aspects, it’s time to hit your favourite brick and mortar or online art store and choose the perfect painting medium for yourself.