If you're new to painting, you've probably heard that acrylic paint is perfect for beginners – which is true. Still, you may be wondering about other types of paint, exactly how they differ from acrylic paint, and if they're a better fit for your painting needs.
One type of paint that's often compared to acrylics is oil paint. Both types of paint can produce beautiful works of art.
Oils and acrylic paints do come with their own unique properties and characteristics that make for some key differences between them. Knowing what those differences are can help you come up with a more informed decision.
Acrylic Paints vs Oil Paints
If you're wondering how each paint's characteristics can help in your next painting project, then you're in the right place. Here We'll explore the differences between acrylic and oil paints, compare their advantages and disadvantages, then choose the right type of paint for your artistic needs.
So, let's begin:
What are Acrylic Paints?
Acrylic paint is a painting medium first used in the 1950s and has become one of the most popular types of paint today. This type of paint consists of pigments suspended in an acrylic emulsion which acts as a binder for the pigments.
Most acrylic paints use water as a vehicle. When the water evaporates, the pigments left behind stack up onto each other, held together by the acrylic binder. It's this use of water that makes acrylic paints water-soluble and dry faster than oil paints.
Advantages of Acrylic Paints
Because of their composition and water-solubility, acrylic paints gain certain characteristics that artists of any skill level can find pretty advantageous. These advantages include the following:
- Vibrant Colors - Because they can use natural or synthetic pigments, acrylic paints come in an incredibly wide variety of rich colors. For instance, Our Nova Color paints come in over 90+ vibrant colors that you can mix and blend to create a nearly infinite number of shades and tones for all your painting needs.
- Can be Used on Most Surfaces - One of the most frequently asked questions We get is whether Our Nova Color paints can be used on X surface – We even wrote articles on the subject. Well, you'll be happy to know that acrylic paints actually stick to any porous surface, especially when prepared and primed correctly.
- Safe and Non-toxic - Most acrylic paints use non-toxic ingredients and are thus completely safe to use even without gloves.
- Quick Drying - Since most acrylic paints are water-based, they dry in just a fraction of the time you have to wait compared to other types of paint. Drying time does differ from brand to brand, though. For example, in the absence of any paint extender, Nova Color paints become dry to the touch in about 30 minutes and completely dry between 1 ½ to 2 hours.
- Easy to Use - Acrylic paints are simply easier to use overall. Another advantage brought about by its being water-based, you won't need to buy toxic or noxious chemicals to thin your acrylic paints. This also makes it easier to remove accidental paint splatters and clean your paintbrushes using just ordinary soap and water.
- Durable - Because of the acrylic resin that binds the pigment together once dry, acrylic paints tend to keep their color longer, even without being sealed by varnish. They're also more resistant to physical damage and, when varnished, can retain their vibrant look for even longer.
- Widely Accessible - Acrylic paints can use natural or synthetic pigments to get their rich coloration. They're also water-based so you can just use ordinary tap water to dilute them. These two characteristics make acrylic paints more affordable and widely accessible to every painter from absolute beginners to seasoned artists.
- Versatile - Perhaps the most often mentioned characteristic of acrylic paint is its versatility. Acrylic paints can not only be mixed and blended with other acrylic paints but also with acrylic mediums and additives. This gives acrylic paints unique qualities and lets you achieve even more awesome effects.
Disadvantages of Acrylic Paints
You can't please everyone and the same is true even for acrylic paints. The same characteristics that make acrylic paints a joy to use for some artists are also the same characteristics that make them a bad choice for others. Acrylic paints' disadvantages include the following:
- Choice Overload can be a Thing - Acrylic paints can come in almost any shade or tone of color you can imagine. To some artists, particularly beginners, this can instead lead to choice paralysis as they become overloaded by the sheer number of possible color options at their disposal. Pro tip: Avoid this by starting with your classic rainbow colors plus a pure white, pure black, and a medium brown color that you can brighten or darken as you see fit.
- Darkens When Dry - Most acrylic paints do darken once they dry so you'll need to take that characteristic into account when using them. Pro tip: Restore your acrylic paints' brightness by sealing them with gloss varnish once they dry.
- May Dry Too Quickly - Since acrylic paints dry quickly, you may need to tighten up your work time, especially for techniques such as blending on the canvas. Acrylic paints can also dry quickly even while in your palette or brush thereby requiring you to replenish or load up more often. Pro tip: Extend your working time without affecting paint adhesion with Nova Color's Acrylic Retarder.
- Not All Surfaces - While acrylic paint sticks very well on porous surfaces, nonporous surfaces (like glass, metal, and some plastics) simply don't take acrylic, or any paint for that matter, very well. That said, it's not impossible to use acrylic paint on these surfaces and you can definitely do so if you prepare and prime the surface correctly.
- Can Be Hard to Remove Once Dry - Acrylic paints are easy to clean with soap and water while they're still wet. However, because they're so resistant to physical damage, you may have a harder time cleaning and removing them once they dry. Pro tip: Never leave unwanted acrylic paint to dry where they're not supposed to be, especially on your paintbrushes. Take time to protect and cover the surrounding area with a tarp or newspaper and always have a spray bottle of soapy water ready.
- Some Cheap Brands - Not all acrylic paints are created equal. Since acrylic paints are easier to manufacture, it's easier to find low-quality options on the market. Feel free to check out Our blog post on the difference between cheap and professional acrylic paints for a more detailed discussion.
What are Oil Paints?
Oil paints were invented as early as the 7th century but only gained widespread artistic popularity at the turn of the 15th century. This type of paint consists of pigment suspended in a slow-drying oil, usually linseed oil.
As their name suggests, oil paints use oil as a vehicle for pigments. Because oil takes quite a long time to dry, oil paints generally take 6-8 hours to become dry to the touch and a full 24 hours before a second coat can be applied.
Advantages of Oil Paints
Being oil-based gives oil paints certain characteristics that some artists find advantageous. These advantages include the following:
- Longer Work Time - Since oil paints take hours to dry, artists, therefore gain more time to work on their painting. If you need to take a break, you can pretty much leave your palette and canvas for a few minutes without worrying about your paints abruptly drying.
- Deeper and Wider Color Range - Oil paints can be layered and mixed thoroughly, thereby letting you give it subtle nuances in color and depth. This characteristic is only possible due to oil paints' long working life.
- Versatility - You can use oil paints in many painting techniques like glazing and impasto.
- Predictable Color - Oil paints remain the same color even after drying, making the finished results more predictable to the artist.
Disadvantages of Oil Paints
Of course, different artists have different preferences when it comes to paint. What makes oil paints great for one artist can make them disadvantageous to another. Oil paints' disadvantages include the following:
- Dries Too Slowly - The same slow drying time that makes oil paints a boon to some artists is also the same that makes it a bad choice for others, particularly those who wish to apply several washes quickly. Oils also extend the time it takes before the painting is cured entirely, which is needed before the painting can be varnished. Depending on the thickness of the paint, this can be anywhere from a few months to a year to fully cure.
- Easier to Muddle Colors - Because of their consistency, it's easier to blend oil paints on the canvas to get an ideal color. However, this skill takes some experience to truly master and beginner artists may find themselves accidentally muddying their canvas instead.
- Changes Color with Age - Most oil paints use linseed oil as a base. This can be a problem as linseed oil tends to yellow or darken as time passes by. While it's possible to prevent this from happening by using higher-quality materials, the same may not be widely available for the average artist.
- Requires Toxic or Noxious Chemicals - Since oil doesn't mix with water, oil paints require chemicals like turpentine or white spirits to change their viscosity or clean them off your brush after painting.
- Less Accessible - The pigments used in oil paints are hard to find and produce. Since high-quality oil paints consist of 75% pigment, this makes them more expensive and less accessible.
- Some Low-quality Brands - Since the best oil paints can be out of reach for most artists, cheaper brands crop up to fill the demand. However, you often get what you pay for as you may notice cheaper brands also come with lesser quality.
What's the Difference Between Acrylic and Oil Paints?
Now that you've gained a deeper understanding of both acrylic and oil paints, how do they stack up to each other? To make it easier to compare these two popular painting mediums, let's look at them through the following factors:
1. Color vibrancy and saturation
What made oil paints rise to popularity in the 15th century was because of their deep rich color which, by then, could not be replicated by any other painting medium.
In fact, the reason why acrylic paints took so long to gain a foothold in the art market was that earlier versions simply weren't as vibrant as oil paints
With the leaps and bounds in pigment technology, modern acrylic paints now stand on par with oil paint when it comes to richness of color.
2. Mixing and blending
High-quality acrylic paints can be just as easy to mix and blend as oil paints.
But if we're talking about average acrylics vs average oils, the latter will be easier to mix and blend because of their long working time (though you could always add acrylic retarder or an acrylic medium to extend the working time of your acrylics).
3. Health and safety considerations
Acrylic paints and oil paints are non-toxic and safe to use.
However, oil paints do require chemicals like turpentine and white spirits to thin them making them harder to use in small enclosed spaces like your bedroom or basement.
Since acrylics only require water, and maybe a little soap, they can be used wherever you want.
4. Cost and accessibility
While both acrylic and oil paints can range from student-grade to professional-grade quality, acrylic paints are simply much easier to produce and are therefore much more affordable and accessible even to casual hobbyists.
Acrylic and Oil Paints: Which One is for You?
Acrylic paints are just as vibrant as oil paints. They're also very versatile, easier to use, more durable, dry quicker, and more affordable.
Oil paints are also rich in color, are easier to mix and blend, give you a longer working time by default, dry predictably, and are almost as versatile as acrylics.
So, between acrylic and oil paints, which one is right for you?
We'll leave that to you to decide based on your own preferences and painting needs.