Which is better, Oils or Acrylics?

Acrylic or Oil Paints?

written by Leonie.e.Brown

Oil Paint versus Acrylic Paint

For beginners starting out, acrylics are the perfect medium. Less mess, easy to use, and quick to dry. Once you have more experience, you can then move onto oil paints or even combine the two by painting oils over your acrylics to add shine and texture.

What Is Oil Paint?

The first primary difference that sets oils apart from other mediums is their consistency and texture. Oil paints are very thick and oily. They are made with binding agents, color pigments, and an oil base. Depending on your chosen brand the base may differ, but usually, it is a natural oil such as linseed or safflower. This is what gives oil paints their smooth and creamy consistency, making them ideal for different surfaces and projects.

The oil base is also what keeps oils wet for longer. Artists who enjoy taking their time and focusing on attention to detail usually love this medium. Oil paints are also wonderful for using different techniques and paint mediums. Painting oil over acrylic is also an option to add more layers and texture to your work.

The downside with oils is of course the chemicals involved. When working with oils, you do need to make use of a painting medium or thinner. These add fluidity to your paints, making them more workable as well as adding a protective gloss or sheen. Most oil paint mediums are solvents and are toxic, which means they can be harmful to the skin, eyes, and airways.

Another important tip to remember is that oils take around six months to dry completely once you are done painting. Only then can they be framed or coated with a sealant or varnish.

For this reason, many choose to wear gloves or even a mask when working with these strong chemical solvents and fumes. There are also safer medium options such as natural painting oils that can be used instead of turpentine and other paint strippers and thinners. Oils are also a messier medium, given that they cannot be cleaned up with soap and water. If oils splash onto your clothing or other fabrics, they are likely to stain.

These oil paint mediums can be used to slow down the drying time, speed it up, or add texture and work as a sealant. They are also used to clean your paintbrushes and protect them from damage. There are so many options when working with oil paints, you just need to find the right one for you.

Advantages & Disadvantages of Oil Paint

Advantage: Time

Oil paints take longer to dry than other paints, such as watercolors. This provides more time for artists to work with their creations and make changes.

Advantage: Color Depth and Range

Oil paints provide for a wide range of colors and a rich color depth, as they can be layered and mixed more freely than other paints, such as watercolor or acrylics. Artists can subtly change the richness and tone of their colors by adding minute amounts of other colors, for instance. This is partially true because oil paints take longer to dry.

Advantage: Range of Finishes and Effects

Oil paints can be mixed to appear opaque, transparent or anything in between, as well as have a matte or gloss finish or anything in between.

Advantage: Consistency

Oil paints do not noticeably change in color, texture or finish once dried. This makes it easier for artists to predict what the finished creation will look like compared to other paints (such as watercolors) that can change their appearance after drying.

Disadvantage: Drying Time

The slow drying time of oil paints can be a disadvantage to some artists, especially those who purposely work with a dry underpainting or like to use a sequence of washes in quick succession.

Disadvantage: Lack of Clarity

Because oil paints can be painted over once dried—thus, essentially, correcting many mistakes—some artists have trouble focusing on a clear vision, intention or expression, according to the Notebook website. These artists may be better off using paints that force decisions.

Disadvantage: Blending Capabilities

Oil paints blend easily with one another, which can encourage certain artists to just keep blending until the colors and shapes become muddy or unclear. Once muddied, it is difficult to “unmuddy” oil paint colors.

What Is Acrylic Paint?

Acrylic paint was first developed in the 1950s as house paint and made commercially available as artist grade paint in the 1960s. Since then, it’s become a primary art material for a number of contemporary artists.

Acrylic paint is a very recent discovery in the art world when compared to oil paints and watercolours. Its versatile nature, vibrancy and stability have meant it has taken the art world by storm. The more artists take advantage of the wide range of approaches that acrylic paints offer, the more acrylic paint products come to market.

If you compare acrylic to oil paint, where pigment is suspended in oil (usually linseed oil) and the name makes perfect sense. Water is used to combine the pigment and emulsion in acrylic paints, therefore acrylics are considered to be “water-based.”

Depending on the painting techniques used, acrylic paintings may look similar either to oil paintings OR watercolour paintings. Of course, acrylic paint can also be applied in such a way that it is clearly an acrylic painting, and not oil or watercolour.

Traditional acrylic paints are fast-drying paints that have been around for the last 50 years.  

Acrylic paint is paint made of pigment that’s suspended in acrylic emulation. It is water-soluble and fast-drying and becomes water-resistant once dry.

Acrylic paint is extremely versatile. Depending on how much the paint is diluted with water, or modified with acrylic gels, mediums or pastes, a finished acrylic painting can resemble a watercolour, gouache or oil painting. It can also have its own unique characteristics not attainable with other media.

Advantages & Disadvantages of Acrylic Paint

Advantage: Drying Time

Traditional acrylic paints dry rapidly, so there is no need to wait between painting sessions for layers to dry. Paintings are dry enough to ship safely within a day or so.

Advantage: Reactivation

Unlike watercolors (another water-based paint), once traditional acrylics are dry they are on the support to stay. This makes painting new layers on top of previous ones simpler.

Modern acrylic paint reactivates. When water is applied to paint that is dry to the touch it can be reactivated and worked into and/or lifted off.

Advantage: Durability

Acrylic paints have been proven to be more flexible than oil paints. There is no need to follow fat over lean rules with acrylics so that they won’t crack.

Modern acrylic paint is more flexible and durable than oil paints.

Disadvantage: Drying Time

Acrylic paints dry quickly they cannot be easily blended to create the ‘wet in wet’ technique that is popular with oil paints. For this reason, a finished acrylic painting can look harsh compared to a finished oil painting.

Modern acrylic paint is more flexible and durable than oil paints.

Disadvantage: Toxicity

Acrylic paints can contain toxins within their pigments, just like some oil paints do. Additional toxins can be found in acrylics that use ‘retarder’ to slow down the drying time.

Disadvantage: Reactivation

Once the paint is dry, it cannot be removed or altered.

In Short...

The Pros:

  • It’s versatile. You can paint on any surface that is oil and wax-free. This includes canvas, wood, paper, rocks, glass, fabric, cardboard, metal, and plastic. With the proper preparation, you can use acrylic paint on almost everything.
  • It dries quickly. This allows you to finish your project faster.
  • It’s water-soluble. You can wash it off your hands and brushes (while they’re still wet) with soap and water with no need for paint thinners.
  • It’s less toxic and safer around children and pets.
  • It’s more affordable.
  • It’s flexible. You can mix acrylics with lots of different mediums to get different textures, adhering features, or to change the drying time.
  • It’s durable. As far as we know, acrylics are flexible and won’t crack, peel, or turn yellow.
  • It’s vibrant.
  • It’s water-resistant when dry.

The Con’s:

  • Colour becomes darker when dry, so the colour you paint with isn’t necessarily what you’ll end up with.
  • It’s fast-drying, meaning you need to work quickly.
  • It’s hard to remove from brushes, nails or clothing once dried. It’s best to keep a container of water near you while you’re painting to keep the brushes wet so they are easy to clean. You should also wear protective clothing.
  • It’s hard to remove from nails or clothing once dried.
  • It’s considered by some art galleries and collectors as ‘not as valuable’ when compared with other paint mediums
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Leonie has been painting for 30 years. she has a degree in Art as well as a Teaching diploma. Her dream has always been to help other reach their full potential, in art as well as in daily life. LifeArt School has been in operation since 2004 and has managed to help various students become full time artists. Leonie is also a well know local and international artist. She paints three days a week and her work is available in various galleries.

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