Oil Paintings vs. Acrylic Paintings: an Introduction

What is Oil Paint?

Oil paint is a type of slow-drying paint consisting of small pigment particles suspended in mixture of linseed oil, thinner, a waxy stabilizer and a drying agent. Oil paints were used in England as early as the thirteenth century for simple decoration, but were not widely adopted for artistic purposes until the fifteenth century. It has been the traditional medium of choice for painters for centuries.

Depending on the amount of oil and medium an artist adds, oils can take weeks or even months to dry. The slow-drying properties allow the artist to work on a painting for several sessions, applying layer after layer of paint with sensuous, textured results.

Examples of Oil paintings

What is Acrylic Paint?

Acrylic paints were first available commercially in the 1950s. Acrylic paint is a fast-drying paint consisting of pigment suspended in a mixture of acrylic resin and mineral spirits. Acrylic paints can be diluted with water, but become water-resistant when dry. Depending on how much the paint is diluted (with water), the finished acrylic painting can resemble a watercolor or an oil painting.

Acrylics are often used as an alternative to oil paints because acrylics dry much faster (usually within an hour or even as little as less than a minute, depending on brand and thickness of application). On the other hand, oil paints, which consist of pigment suspended in an oil (usually linseed, or other natural oil) base, can take a very long time to dry: a few weeks or as long as several months. By use of certain products, an artist can combine the best qualities of acrylic; low toxicity, longevity and cost, with the drying time associated with oils or enamels, which makes it easier to blend two or more colors into each other.

Examples of Acrylic paintings

What’s the Difference?

- Acrylic paintings are a distinct art medium with its own advantages as well as limitations, rather than as a stand-in for other mediums. There are techniques which are available only to acrylic painters, as well as restrictions unique to acrylic painting. Therefore, judging an acrylic painting as though it were an oil painting (or a watercolor) is not always appropriate.

-Acrylic paint is a newer medium, made available in the 1950s, while Oil paint has been a favourite medium of painters for centuries.

-Acrylic paint dries more quickly than Oil, and is usually opaque rather than transparent. Some artists add a gel medium to acrylic paint, to make it more transparent.

-Oil lends itself to greater textural possiblilties, though artitsts can add a gel medium to acrylic paint to enhance its texture.

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