The Difference Between Oil and Acrylic Paint

As you browse through my catalog of art, you’ll notice the descriptions always include the medium. As a painter my primary mediums include oil and acrylic paint, but what is the difference between the two? Let’s find out.

Before I go into the differences between the two paints, let me first go over what they are.

Acrylic Paint

A leading manufacturer of acrylic paint, Liquitex, defines acrylic paint as “Water-based acrylic paint is composed of pigment particles dispersed in an acrylic polymer emulsion.” The company later notes that the paint is comprised of three main components, pigment, binder, and vehicle. The pigment is a solid that is milled to a tiny size; however, it does not dissolve, but rather remains suspended in the binder. The binder is what holds the paint together until it dries. The vehicle is what carries the pigment and the binder. In the case of water-based acrylics, water is the vehicle creating a polymer emulsion resulting in a polymer film trapping the pigment particles when the water evaporates.

Oil Paint

Oil paint consists of pigment and oil. Usually made from a vegetable oil made from nuts or plants such as linseed, poppy, sunflower, or safflower, the oil in oil paints results in a longer drying time that allows artists to develop their paintings at a more gradual pace.

So, what’s the difference?

So now that we know that the only difference between acrylic and oil paint is the use of water or oil to bind the pigments, but what difference does that make to the painting? The difference lies in the over texture, final color, and the artist’s ability to work with the medium before it dries out.

Being a faster-drying paint, acrylic paints require an artist to work faster. Because of the time, it takes for oil paint to dry, artists are afforded longer periods to work on and develop their paintings. Acrylic paints will also darken in color as they dry while oil paints may develop a slight tinge of yellow over the years. Oil paint will also finish with a slight gloss while acrylic will dry with a matte finish.

 

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