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Selecting Your Paints – The Difference Between Oils And Acrylics

     When it comes to painting, you may think choosing your paints is easy. You can buy any type of paints and just get to work. However, it’s not that simple. Each different type of paint has its own different qualities that set it apart from the others. Many artists have their own preferences and use a particular type of paint because it works best for them. I’m going to talk about the main differences between two of the most common types of paint, acrylics and oils. Once you know the main differences between the two, you can then decide which would be most suited to your needs.

Drying time

One of the main differences between acrylic paints and oil paints is their drying times. Acrylics dry really quickly, whereas oils take a lot longer to dry. In fact oils can take up to a few days to completely dry out. This allows you to work with the paint, changing forms here and there till you get the result you want. You can also spend more time on the painting itself, rather than finishing it in a few hours. Acrylics are best suited for someone who intends to finish their painting in a few hours. Oils give you the flexibility to spread your work out over a couple of days.


One of the great things about acrylics is that they can be used on practically any surface. This makes them a great option for beginners as you can use acrylics on surfaces such as paper, cardboard, wood, plastic…the list goes on. As for oils, they should only be used on a board or a prepared canvas. This is because oil paints have a corrosive nature, so they’re not suitable for all surfaces.


Acrylic paints are cheap, whereas oil paints tend to be a bit more expensive. As well as costing more, painting with oils requires more equipment. Oil paints do have the potential to be a worthwhile investment because oil paintings can sell for a lot more than acrylic paintings can. However, this isn’t always guaranteed so if you’re sticking to a budget, it’s best to stick with acrylics.

How long they last

Because artists have been using oil paints for several hundred years, we know that oil paintings can survive. Oil paintings that survive to this day are usually of a very high quality. One downside is that they do tend to yellow a bit with age. As for acrylics, they haven’t been around for as long as oils. It’s hard to tell whether acrylics would last as long as oils because we don’t have any acrylic paintings that are as old as the oil paintings from centuries ago.


Painting with oils allows for a variety of more vivid colours. Oils have more pigments in them and they can create blends of colours a lot more easily because of their slower drying time. Acrylics tend to go a bit darker as they dry thanks to the binder, which turns from white to clear as it dries. Oils tend to stay the same colour as they dry.

Correcting mistakes

Because acrylics dry quickly, if you make a mistake, simply wait a few minutes for the paint to dry. Then all you have to do is paint over the mistake. Acrylics can be cleaned from your hands or brushed with plain water. But if you want to clean up oil paints, you’ll have to use turpentine or mineral spirits. With acrylics, make sure to clean your brushes quickly because the paint will dry and harden quickly.


Generally speaking, acrylics are safer than oils. They are non-toxic and don’t have a smell, so you can work with them in the smallest of rooms without any problems. As for oils, they’re not actually toxic, but they do contain a few chemical substances that should not be ingested. So if you’re painting with oils, make sure you’re in a big room and have the window open, or at least have the air conditioning on.

What type of painter are you?

Acrylics are probably best for beginners or anyone who is still learning the ins and outs of painting. They are easy to control and blend easily with other colours. Because they dry quickly, if you make a mistake, you can wait for it to dry then paint over it. Oils are probably best for more experienced painters and anyone who wants to spend a lengthy amount of time on their painting. They take several days to completely dry so you can spend hours perfecting your colouring. So if you’re just starting out, acrylic paints are the ones to go for. If you’re a bit more experienced and can invest a lot of time into a painting, then oil paints are your best bet. Which one would you go for?

Article Source:

Joanne Perkins is a Berkshire-based artist with a BA (Hons) in Fine Art and specialises in painting Berkshire landscapes. She is happy to accept all queries and questions. For more information about Joanne, her work and her current projects visit:

Posted on 2014-06-22, By: *

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