Skip to main content

What is the difference between oil paint and acrylic paint?

I am asked this question with some regularity in the gallery. So time for a Blog! Artists use a variety of media to produce their works of art. Chalk, pencil, photography, aerosols, paint, digital art. The possibilities seem almost endless. In painting, the most common materials are oils and acrylics. But what is the difference really?

Differences:

  1. Drying time: Oil paint dries slowly, giving artists time to mix and work on details. Acrylic paint, on the other hand, dries quickly, which means that layers can be applied quickly on top of each other.
  2. Flexibility: Oil paint remains flexible even after it dries, meaning artwork can expand and contract over time without cracking. Acrylic paint dries hard and retains its shape, resulting in less flexibility.
  3. Solvents: Oil paints often require solvents such as turpentine or linseed oil for mixing and cleaning brushes. Acrylic paint can be diluted with water and generally requires less solvent.
  4. Color change: Oil paint tends to take on a slight yellow tint over time, while acrylic paint retains its original color for a very long time.
  5. Odor and toxicity: Oil paint and its solvents can have strong odors and are potentially harmful with prolonged exposure. Acrylic paint is generally odorless and much less toxic.
  6. Price: In general, acrylic paints are cheaper than oil paints, although prices can vary depending on brand and quality.

Both media have their own unique characteristics and advantages, and the choice between oil and acrylic paints often depends on the artist’s preference, the desired effect and the techniques used.

What is oil paint?

Oil paint is a type of paint that consists of pigments mixed with an oil-based binder, usually linseed oil. It has been used in painting for centuries and is still one of the most popular media among artists. Oil paint is often used by beginners and experienced artists alike because of its versatility and ability to create complex and detailed works. Well-known professional brands of oil paint include Rembrandt Oil Paint from Talens and the Old Holland Oil Paint.

What is acrylic paint?

Acrylic paint is a popular type of paint that consists of pigments mixed with a water-based synthetic binder known as acrylic resin. It is a versatile and fast-drying paint that has been widely used in the art world since the 1950s. Acrylic paint has become a favorite choice for many artists because of its fast drying time, versatility and durability, and it is often used in various types of paintings, from abstract to realistic. One of the best types of acrylic paint is American Golden Artist Acrylics. The ARA Acrylics developed at the Gerrit Rietveld Academy is also popular with (professional) artists.

How can you tell the difference between a painting made with acrylic or oil paint?

Despite my experience of more than 25 years with these materials, it is sometimes even difficult for me as a gallery owner to tell the difference between the paints. This is partly because acrylic paint used to look rather “plastic,” but the quality has improved tremendously in recent decades. With these tips, you can probably perceive the distinction between acrylic paint and oil paint yourself:

  1. Drying time: One of the most striking differences is the drying time. Acrylic paints dry quickly, while oil paints dry slowly. If you see a painting that seems to dry within minutes to an hour, chances are it was made with acrylic paint. However, if the painting dries slowly and the paint remains manipulable for some time, it is probably oil paint.
  2. Flexibility after drying: Oil paint retains its flexibility after drying, while acrylic paint has a solid and hard finish. If the painting shows some flexibility when you press lightly on it, it is probably oil paint.
  3. Color change over time: Oil paint tends to take on a slight yellow tint over time, while acrylic paint retains its original color. If you see a painting that appears slightly yellowed, it may have been made with oil paint.
  4. Odor: If you notice a strong odor of solvents, such as turpentine, the painting may have been made with oil paint. Acrylic paint is generally odorless or has only a slight odor.
  5. Reflection: Oil paint can have a richer sheen than acrylic paint. If you look at the painting from different angles and it has a deep, glossy look, it may have been made with oil paint.

Examples of Acrylic and Oil Paintings.

Now if you are curious to see what the different techniques look like in real life, come visit our gallery. Here we have a large collection of oil paintings by Emiliana Cordaro, Jochem de Graaf and John Konijn, among others. Acrylic paintings include those by William Malucu, Yulia Muravyeva and Angeles Nieto.

Dibond: examples from our collection