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Should I Use Acrylics or Oil Paint?

Arguments for and against using acrylics or oil paints from various artists.


The debate of whether to use acrylic paints or oil paints, whether one is better than the other, is an ongoing one. As these highlights from a discussion on the Painting Forum shows, both acrylics and oils have their pros and cons, supporters and detractors. (Undecided yourself? Take the oils vs acrylics quiz.)

I tried oil painting, and did not like it. For the life of me I cannot paint with oils. To me they are too smelly and messy. I use acrylics because I like for my paintings to dry fast. Sometimes I really have to work fast to blend colors on my canvas, but if I am working with a certain color for a while, I just add a floating medium to the color to make it last. Or I use baby jars to mix up colors that I like and keep them in the jars. That way when the colour I need comes up again, I have it already mixed. Acrylics are easy to clean up with soap and water. You can also just add water to acrylics to thin it out. -- MissySue

I prefer acrylics, because you can make them look like anything, watercolor, gouache, oils etc, they're less smelly (although I love the smell of oils and linseed), take less cleaning up, and are more versatile. On the other hand, I don't think acrylics have the depth of colour that oils do. -- Taffetta

I'm used to using oils. That’s what I started with. And now I'm trying acrylics for the first time. I find that I have to paint really fast to beat the drying paint. That's kind of annoying, unless you mix a different medium that won't let it dry as fast. I love the way I pile on color with oils, I feel like oils have more depth. They both have their place though. -- Stacyharrison

Because of circumstances, I have to paint with acrylics. I find them extremely annoying... I can't move the paint around like I can with oils. I also like the smell of oils, weird though it may be to some. I've tried using retarder but it doesn't seem to work well at retarding the drying time. I'm just used to painting wet on wet and I can't seem to do this with acrylics. I'd like to blend colours more but the acrylics dry too fast to get subtle value changes. Perhaps I'm doing it wrong... The advantages of acrylics -- fast drying, no spirits, no smells -- are disadvantages to me. I want slower drying paint so as to paint wet on wet. The spirits don't bother me (I like the smell of good turpentine) and I clean my brushes with soap and water anyway. With acrylics, I tend also to lay paint too thin because I'm reluctant to have paint dry up on the palette before I get a chance to use it. (Yes, I spray.) With oils you can come back to the paint several days later and it's still good to use (remove the film).Anyway, I'm having hell with acrylics right now. Hopefully, I'll adapt to them. -- Rghirardi

I find acrylics dry a bit too fast for blending, which I like to do, but since I like the paint thick (unlike watercolor, which acrylics can be like) I didn't want to add much water. But who knows- acrylics might win over oil, once I've experimented with them. -- KFChic

I paint with water mixable oils, there is low odor compared with the regular oils. With oils you can go back to them any time, whether it's a month or three years. With acrylics, as a very good friend of mine who paints with acrylics and is an abstract artist for many years says "You have to get it right the first time" since they dry so quickly. -- Tootsiecat

If you use Liquin with your oil paints, they are usually dry the next day. Japan drier works pretty much the same, but I don't know what if any effects it has on the colors, longevity, etc. It's sold in art supply stores. As for the smell, I use odorless mineral spirits which isn't bad for me. -- Rghirardi

As a professional painter, I always recommend oil on canvas. No doubt. -- David Graham

I haven't tried oils yet, but have tried acrylics, and I agree with you that they do dry way too fast. And the fact that the people who have tried oils say the color is richer and deeper kinda attracts me to it... but I will have to try both before I judge. -- KFChic

I paint in acrylics and am use to them and know how to work around the problems using dry brushing and glazing and such. I would like to paint with oils also, but am having trouble with them and am very frustrated. It seems to take a whole lot more paint to do one painting. Also, it's hard for me to get variation of color because it all wants to blend together. -- Bmmt

Parts of this Feature:

  • Part 1: Are Acrylics or Oils Better?
  • Part 2: Acrylics vs Oils -- The Discussion Continues

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