Acrylic vs Oil Paint: 5 Reasons Why Acrylics Are King

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Learn the differences between acrylic vs oil paint.

When you begin to learn how to paint, there are many choices you can make, and the most basic of them is the type of paint you’re going to use. Most beginners generally look at acrylic vs oil paint when deciding which medium to focus on. But what are the differences between oil and acrylic, and how to determine which medium is a better choice for a budding artist?

If you are new to painting, it’s a good idea to start by focusing on just one medium so you can master it before experimenting with others. By doing this, you are likely to improve naturally across all mediums.

Both oil and acrylics are fantastic mediums, but acrylics are the better choice for beginners due to some of their characteristics, including drying time, flexibility to use on multiple surfaces, and price.

What Are Acrylic Paints?

Acrylic paints were invented in the mid-20th century as an alternative to slow-drying, pricey oils. While the first iterations of acrylics were chalky and matte and didn’t have lots of pigment in it, modern acrylics are vibrant and safe to use, and the colors boast saturated, bright hues.

Even though they are synthetic paints, acrylics mix and blend just like oils, but they come with the added advantage of drying extremely fast. There are a couple of drawbacks that come with fast-drying, such as the fact that the paints will dry on your palette if you don’t use them fast enough. The quick-drying characteristic is generally a pro for most artists because you don’t have to wait for days for a painting to dry like in the case of oils.

What Are Oil Paints?

As their name suggests, oil paints are made up of oil and pigment, which provides the color. To use oil paints, you need to use a combination of oil paint, medium (oil), and paint thinner, which makes the work quite complicated, especially if you’re a beginner.

The paint that you get in a tube is made up of the color pigment and a small amount of oil that acts as a binder. You can make the pain more fluid and thus easier to manage by adding a medium to the paint, usually in the form of more oil. To break down the oil and thin the paint, you need to use a solvent such as a paint thinner, which also speeds up the drying process.

Painting with oils generally involves finding the right balance between the amount of oil and solvent used. Most of the masterpieces you may be familiar with are oil paintings, but this is because acrylics didn’t exist during the golden age of painting.

5 Reasons Why Acrylics Are King

1) Drying Time

Drying time is the main difference between oils and acrylics. You can expect acrylic paint to dry within an hour, but in many cases, your work will be dry within 15 minutes. With oil paints, you need to wait for days or even weeks to dry completely, all depending on the temperature and humidity of your location.

This is the main reason most beginners choose to work with acrylics. By opting for this type of paint, you can get quick results and don’t have to find a place in your home to store a painting and tread carefully around it for days or weeks until it dries completely.

Because they dry quickly, acrylics allow you to layer colors quickly. Painting layers in oil is notoriously time-consuming because you need to wait for the first layer to dry completely before adding the second one, which could take days.

For some painters, the quick drying time of the acrylics can be a drawback, particularly if you’re a slow painter. If you find that acrylics dry before giving you the chance to experiment properly, you may look into adding a retarder that keeps the pain wet for longer, or use a stay-wet palette that keeps the paints moist.

When comparing acrylic vs oil paint, acrylics dry much quicker.

2) Versatility

With acrylic paints, you can paint on virtually anything, and that’s a major pro for many painters, whether they’re beginners or more experienced. Some popular painting surfaces for acrylics include canvas, paper, cardboard, and metal — you can virtually use these paints on just about any medium.

Canvas is a popular option because it is lightweight, portable, and highly absorbent. You can use stretched, unstretched, and commercially made canvas boards successfully with acrylic paints. If you’re a beginner who wants to take some time experimenting first, paper and cardboard are more economical choices.

Oil paints are a bit more complicated, and you generally need to use them on a properly prepared surface, which can be a prepared board or prepared canvas. The canvas needs to primed beforehand if you want to use oil paints, and this has an impact on the level of absorbency.

3) Price

Cost is a particularly important consideration when choosing oil vs acrylic paint, especially if you’re a beginner and you’re bound to waste some supplies as you’re experimenting. Oil painting supplies have a higher price tag than acrylics, so if you’re shopping for a kid or are a hobbyist, it’s cheaper to stick with acrylics.

Acrylic paints are more cost-effective in itself, but also when you consider that you don’t have to buy extra medium or paint thinner to use with the paint as you would have to do in the case of oils. Acrylic starter sets are an excellent solution for most beginners, as you can get 8 to 12 colors or even more at a very reasonable price.

Other costs that you need to consider when taking up painting with acrylics include retarders if you decide you want your paint to dry slower and synthetic hair brushes. Because you can clean your brushes and materials with just soapy water, you don’t have to spend extra money on cleaning supplies like oils.

4) Beginner Friendly

Acrylic paints have long been considered to be a beginner-friendly medium, mostly because you don’t need to combine multiple materials to obtain the results you want, and also because they are much less intrusive to the senses than oils.

To start painting with acrylic, all you need is acrylic paints, a canvas, paintbrushes, and water. There’s no need to use other mediums unless you want to increase the fluidity of the paint, and there’s no need to use paint solvents like in the case of oil.

If you’re a beginner or are looking to introduce a child to the world of painting, acrylic is definitely the best choice. Besides not needing lots of fiddling to get the right fluidity and being quick to dry, acrylics are also easier to clean, which can make a world of difference for beginners.

With oil paints and solvents, you need to look after your paintbrushes properly, because if you allow the paint to dry on the brushes may become unusable. To clean brushes and other accessories, you need special solvents that require some skill to handle and can also be quite intrusive to the senses.

On the other hand, when you use acrylic paints, all you need to clean your paintbrushes and materials is some soapy water. Acrylic paints are ideal if you don’t have a lot of space or a proper cleaning area, or simply if you don’t want to deal with the hassle of cleaning up after oil painting.

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5) Smell

There is a widespread belief that oil paints are more toxic than acrylic ones, and even though that’s not entirely true, some people are indeed sensitive to the smell of solvents given off by oil paint. In some cases, the odor can even cause headaches.

If you don’t have lots of space to set up a studio, the smell should be an important decision factor when choosing the type of paint. Oil paints require more room because confined spaces are really not suitable for the smells generated by the paints and solvents. In an ideal world, you should only use oil paints in large, well-ventilated studios.  Check out this article to get a few strategies for removing the oil-based paint fumes.

With acrylic paints, on the other hand, you don’t have to deal with these issues. Most acrylic paints don’t have a detectable odor, and even though they contain a small number of preservatives that may lead to a subtle odor, you can’t generally feel it unless you go close and smell the paint on purpose.

You should keep in mind, however, that mold can cause acrylic paints to go bad, so if you open up a tube only to be welcomed by an unpleasant strong smell, chances are the paint has gone bad.

Bottom Line - Acrylic vs Oil Paint

If you are completely new to painting or are a seasoned painter who wants a medium that dries fast and doesn’t release odors, then acrylic paint is king. There’s a lot to take in when choosing a medium to paint in, but the important thing is to just get on and start painting.

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