Art History Lab

Unveiling the Distinctions: Acrylic Paint vs. Oil Paint Which is Best for Your Art?

Acrylic paint and oil paint are two of the most popular mediums used by artists all over the world. However, even though they may seem similar, these two types of paint are quite different in terms of composition, characteristics, and uses.

In this article, we will explore the differences between acrylic paint and oil paint, highlighting their unique features, pros, and cons. What is Acrylic Paint?

Acrylic paint is a type of water-based paint that has a thick and creamy consistency. It is made up of pigments mixed with an acrylic polymer binder and a vehicle.

This binder is what gives the paint its adhesive quality, allowing it to stick to any surface. Acrylic paint is water-based, which means that it can be diluted with water to create lighter shades, or thinned with a medium to achieve a more fluid consistency.

Pros and Cons of Acrylic Paint

One of the biggest advantages of acrylic paint is its versatility. It can be used on a wide range of surfaces, including paper, canvas, wood, and even fabric.

Additionally, acrylic paint is water-resistant when it dries, making it ideal for outdoor or humid environments. Moreover, acrylics are non-toxic, which makes them safe for use by artists of all ages.

Another advantage of acrylic paint is the fast drying time. Unlike oil paint, which can take several days or even weeks to dry, acrylic paint typically dries in a matter of hours.

This allows artists to work quickly and make changes to their artwork without having to wait too long. However, this can also be a disadvantage for some artists, as it doesn’t allow much time for blending and layering.

Acrylic paint is also known for its vibrant hues, which stay true to color when mixed and blended. And, it is quite affordable compared to oil paint.

However, one of the drawbacks of acrylic paint is that it can sometimes change color once it dries, especially when it dries to a matte finish. Some artists may also not like the plastic-like feel of acrylic paint, which lacks the texture of oil paint.

What is Oil Paint? Oil paint is a type of paint that uses a rich and thick consistency.

It is made up of pigments mixed with a binder, typically linseed oil, and a solvent, often turpentine or mineral spirits. Oil paint can be used on a wide range of surfaces, including canvas, wood, and metal.

When dry, oil paint has a durable and glossy finish.

Pros and Cons of Oil Paint

One of the biggest advantages of oil paint is the richness and vibrancy of its colors. Oil paint has a higher pigment intensity compared to acrylic paint, which provides a greater depth of color.

Oil paint also has a long drying time, which allows artists to blend, layer, and correct their work for days or even weeks after application. Despite its numerous advantages, oil paint has some major drawbacks.

One of the biggest disadvantages of oil paint is its long drying time. It can take several days or even weeks for oil paint to dry completely, making it unsuitable for artists who want to work quickly or make changes to their work.

Additionally, oil paint is typically more expensive than acrylic paint. Hence, oil paints are often considered an investment.

Oil paint also requires a great deal of skill and technical proficiency to use effectively. It can be challenging to change or correct mistakes with oil paint, making it unsuitable for novice artists.

Moreover, oil paint is not water-resistant when it dries, which means that it is unsuitable for outdoor use, and damaged by water.


Acrylic paint and oil paint offer two distinct and versatile mediums for artists to create their work. Acrylic paint has numerous benefits that include versatility, water resistance, and affordability.

Oil paint is known for its richness, durability, and the ability for artists to work with the paint for extended periods. Hopefully, the information in this article has helped you to understand the differences between these two mediums, allowing you to decide which type of paint is best suited for your needs.

While we have discussed the characteristics, advantages, and disadvantages of acrylic paint and oil paint, it is equally important to understand when to use each type of paint. Therefore, in this part of the article, we will discuss the scenarios where artists should use acrylic paint or oil paint based on their unique features.

When to use Acrylic Paint

Acrylic paint has gained immense popularity among artists in recent years due to its fast-drying nature, cost-effectiveness, safety, water resistance, and versatility. Here are some scenarios where acrylic paint is the best option:


Quick Projects: Acrylic paint is the perfect medium for artists who want to work on quick projects. Its fast-drying nature allows them to complete the artwork in a short amount of time.

2. Safety Concerns: For artists who are concerned about safety, acrylic paint is the clear choice over oil paint.

Acrylic paint is non-toxic, which means that artists can work with it without the risk of harmful fumes or chemicals. 3.

Versatility: Acrylic paint can be used on a wide range of surfaces and can be easily diluted with water to create lighter shades or thinned with a medium to achieve a more fluid consistency. It can also be used with a variety of techniques, ranging from impasto to glazing.

4. Water Resistance: Acrylic paint is water-resistant and can withstand moisture, making it ideal for environments where it may be exposed to water or humid conditions.

5. Cost-Effectiveness: Acrylic paint is more cost-effective than oil paint.

It doesn’t require as many materials, such as solvents, and its fast-drying nature reduces the amount of paint needed to complete a project.

When to use Oil Paint

Oil paint has a long-standing popularity that stems from its vibrancy, durability, blending and correcting capabilities, and the time available to work it. Here are some scenarios where oil paint is the best option:


Iconic Painting: Many of the iconic paintings throughout history were created with oil paint, which shows its long-standing popularity. 2.

Durability: Oil paint is known for its durability. It doesn’t crack or peel over time, making it an excellent choice for artists who want their artwork to last for centuries.

3. Blending and Correcting: Oil paint has a slow-drying nature that allows artists to blend colors and correct mistakes with ease.

4. Vibrancy: Oil paint has a higher pigment intensity compared to acrylic paint, which makes its colors more vibrant and richer.

5. Time Availability: Oil paint requires more time to dry, which allows artists to work on their artwork for days or even weeks, allowing them to make changes and experiment with different techniques.

6. Investment: Oil paint is a significant investment for many artists due to its higher cost.

However, artists find it worth investing in it, given its unique features and its durability.

A Brief History of Acrylic and Oil Paint

The origins of oil and acrylic paint date back centuries. Oil paint, which was invented in the early fifteenth century, used linseed oil as its binder.

It became incredibly popular because of its slow-drying nature, which allowed artists to blend and correct their work over extended periods. Oil paint was used by many iconic artists throughout history, including Leonardo da Vinci, Rembrandt, and Van Gogh.

The invention of portable easels and oil paint tubes in the late nineteenth century made it possible for artists to paint en plein air, or outdoors, which became a popular trend. Acrylic paint, on the other hand, was invented in the 1940s, when German chemists developed acrylic resin.

Initially, it was used in the industrial and commercial sectors. However, in the 1950s, the Mexican muralists began using it as a medium for their artwork.

It gained global adoption during the 1960s and 1970s. The emergence of acrylic paint was a significant breakthrough for artists, given its fast-drying nature, versatility, and water resistance.

In conclusion, the choice of acrylic paint and oil paint depends on the unique features required for an artwork. Acrylic paint is suited for quick projects, safety concerns, water resistance, and versatility.

Oil paint, on the other hand, is best suited for iconic painting, blending, correcting, vibrancy, and durability. It is worth noting that despite their differences, oil and acrylic paint have contributed significantly to the evolution of painting, transforming it into the wonderful medium it is today.

In addition to discussing the characteristics and uses of acrylic paint and oil paint, it is equally important to explore the various techniques that artists can use to create compelling artworks using each medium. Furthermore, answering frequently asked questions will provide readers with more in-depth knowledge about these popular painting mediums.

Techniques for Acrylic Paint

Acrylic paint is a versatile medium that offers endless possibilities for creating unique art pieces. Here are some popular techniques that artists can use to create vibrant acrylic paintings:


Pouring: One of the most popular acrylic painting techniques is pouring. It involves mixing the paint with a pouring medium and water to create a fluid consistency.

The paint is then poured onto the canvas and manipulated to create patterns and textures. 2.

Palette Knife: Palette knife techniques in acrylic painting involve using a palette knife to apply paint directly onto the canvas. This technique can be used to create loose or textured strokes that add depth and interest to the artwork.

3. Stippling: Stippling involves using a stipple brush to create patterns and textures on the canvas.

This technique involves applying small dots of paint to create the desired effect. 4.

Dry Brush: This technique involves using a dry brush with minimum paint on it. The paint is then applied to the canvas with dry, brisk strokes that create a scratchy texture on the surface.

5. Vibrant Texture: Acrylic paint can be mixed with various mediums to create thick textures that add depth to the artwork.

Examples of such mediums include modeling paste or gesso.

Techniques for Oil Paint

Oil paint offers a range of techniques that allow artists to create unique and textured paintings. Here are some popular techniques that work well with oil painting:


Palette Knife: Palette knife is a technique that is commonly used to create textured oil paintings. It involves applying paint directly onto the canvas with a palette knife, which creates thick, sculptural layers of paint and adds depth and texture to the surface.

2. Ragged Edges: By applying paint with a ragged-edge brush, artists can create dynamic and textural brushstrokes in their paintings.

The edges of the brushstrokes create a rough and dramatic effect, adding to the artwork’s visual interest. 3.

Scumbling: Scumbling is a technique that involves applying a thin layer of paint over a dry layer. This technique amalgamates the layers and provides a subtle blend of colors.

4. Underpainting: Underpainting is a technique that involves creating a foundation layer of paint using a monochromatic or contrasting color scheme.

This technique sets the tone for the painting and adds depth and richness to the final result. 5.

Texture and Loose Strokes: Using thick oil paint along with brushstrokes, artists can create rich and playful textures. Using loose brushstrokes also offers a sense of the painting’s artistic quality, making an artwork more expressive.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Here are some commonly asked questions about acrylic and oil paint:

1. What is the best use for acrylic paint?

Acrylic paint is a versatile medium that can be used on various surfaces, making it suitable for different artistic practices such as painting on canvas, wood, fabric, murals, etc. 2.

What are the primary characteristics of acrylic paint? Acrylic paint is a water-based paint made up of acrylic polymer emulsion.

It dries faster than oil paint, which makes it a popular choice for artists.

It is compatible with different mediums and can be varnished like oil paintings.

It is safe and non-toxic, making it accessible to artists of all ages.


What is the primary difference between acrylic paint and oil paint? The primary difference between acrylic paint and oil paint is the drying time.

Acrylic paint dries fast, while oil paint dries slowly. Also, acrylic paint is water-based, while oil paint is oil-based.

Acrylic paint is also less expensive than oil paint. 4.

Which medium is better quality, oil paint, or acrylic paint? Both oil paint and acrylic paint are quality mediums that can be used to create stunning artworks.

The choice between them depends on the desired effect, the medium’s characteristics, and the artist’s skills. 5.

Can I use acrylic paint over oil paint? It is not recommended to paint acrylic over oil, as acrylic paint may not adhere as well to an oil-painted surface.

However, it is advisable to check the manufacturer’s instructions on compatibility of mixing media. In conclusion, acrylic paint and oil paint offer many techniques for artists to use to create unique and striking artworks.

Whether you’re using acrylics or oil for the first time, employing these techniques is a crucial part of creating art. Understanding the features and techniques available for each medium helps the artist to determine the best choice for their ideas and to provide longevity to their artwork.

In conclusion, understanding the differences between acrylic paint and oil paint is essential for artists seeking to create captivating artworks. Acrylic paint offers versatility, quick-drying capabilities, cost-effectiveness, and water resistance, making it ideal for various projects.

On the other hand, oil paint provides vibrant colors, durability, blending possibilities, and flexibility of time. Both mediums offer unique techniques for artists to explore, allowing them to express their creativity and create stunning masterpieces.

Whether you choose acrylics or oils, these mediums have revolutionized the art world, offering artists endless possibilities to showcase their talent. Embrace the distinct characteristics of each medium and experiment with different techniques to unlock your artistic potential.

Happy painting!

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