What is the Difference Between Oil Paints and Acrylic Paint?

There are several different types of paints in the world of art, each with their own special areas of expertise.

Depending on what you are trying to create and the ancillary tools you plan to use, it’s important to understand the purpose and intricacies of the paint you work with.

Acrylic vs. oil paint

oil paint palette and brush

Let’s take a look into two of the most popular paints used among artists today:

Oil painting

Many of the most famous paintings in art history are oil paintings, including the Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa” and Vincent van Gogh’s “The Starry Night.”

Oil painting allows you to play with colors, textures, and different methods of abstraction, making it perfect for the experimental artist.

Oil paints:

  • Thickest paint
  • Long dry-time
  • Cannot be easily cleaned up

If you don’t like how the paint is looking, you can simply wipe it off in most cases and begin the layer again without damaging the layers underneath.

Take your time with oil paints

Oil paints are for painters that take their time—they take a longer time to dry, so much so that you can feasibly return to a painting the next day, and the paint itself will still be wet, and applicable.

This allows you to easily blend and balance the desired color mixture and textures you desire.

But keep in mind, oil is also corrosive, meaning that you’ll really need to have a prepared canvas on hand that can work well with the material.

Oil paints are top-of-the-line for blends

In fact, most children learn their color palette by blending oil paints when they’re young, providing an easy opportunity to learn what colors work well with one another.

As a result, oil paints are fantastic for shading in portraits (and the most famous portraits in history are painted with oil), and other smooth blending techniques.

But again, it’s a matter of timing: blending colors can take a while, as the paints don’t immediately change colors.

So, remember patience is necessary with oil paints!

If you’re interested in getting some hands-on learning, check out our oil painting classes at Hunakai Studio.

acrylic abstract painting with many colors

Acrylic painting

Acrylics offer the most creative opportunities without limitations for an artist.

You can adapt the consistency and surface absorbency of acrylics.

These paints can be made to look and feel like watercolors (thinner) or oil paints (thicker).

Acrylic paints:

  • Thinner than oil paints
  • Quick dry-time
  • Often used in mixed media projects

This paint serves as a great medium for beginners, giving starting artists a medium that stays fresh for several minutes to allow some color blending while painting, yet still drying in less time than oil paints.

The quick drying time also allows acrylic painters to rapidly repaint or retouch their works.

Acrylics are also available in fluorescent colors and can serve as a base for later drawn-on artwork or combined with other materials like sand or rice to create unique textures.

Acrylic paints dry fast

These paints are generally for speedy painters—they dry extremely fast, and can virtually be painted on anything.

So, they’re a sort of grab-and-go paint: multi-purpose, and multi-use.

That also means they blend colors much faster!

You can’t predict with acrylic

Acrylics are usually recommended for more graphic-oriented painters, as they’re best for crisp edges rather than smooth blends.

But like oils, it comes down to how much time you have—acrylics dry fast and they also shift colors when they dry, making them a bit less predictable than oils.

Want to test your skills with acrylic? Check out Hunakai Studio’s acrylic painting class here!

What about watercolors?

paintbrush and watercolor paletteIf you’re wondering how watercolors fit into the painting world, here’s a bit more information:

Watercolor paints are the least expensive paints listed and tend to provide the lightest shades as well.

They are easily applied to canvases or other painted surfaces, and usually dry to provide a subtle, nearly transparent color.

As the paint dries, it also develops a slightly different color as the water evaporates and absorbs into the painted surface, leaving a more faded, lighter color behind.

Advanced watercolor painting allows artists to blend wet shades to achieve different results, while the highly watery nature of the paint requires attention to the flow of the paint on the surface being worked.

Children often start painting with watercolors, allowing them to be creative without such a mess!

Now that you understand the differences between these types of paint, you’ll be ready to start your next painting project!

At Hunakai Studios, we offer adult classes in both types of paints and more, starting up again this fall. Give us a call at 508-543-5665 if you have any questions and we hope to see you there!