Whether you’re an avid painter with a rich portfolio or a complete rookie who wants to try making a beautiful painting with oil vs acrylic vs watercolor of their own, experimenting with different kinds of colors and painting techniques is a crucial step of learning the ropes of painting, as well as expanding on the knowledge you already have.
For example, if you’re well-used with painting with oil vs acrylic vs watercolor, the results you’re getting aren’t quite the thing you are hoping to achieve; as a result, this may be a sign that you need to try something different.
There are many different options in the world of art when it comes to the types of colors you can use to achieve different results.
Although most of these types of paint will give you roughly the same results when you look at a painting from afar, there are still slight differences that you can notice when you look at a picture from up close.
In this article, we will talk about three of the most popular oil vs acrylic vs watercolor, acrylic, and watercolors. While either of these three will give you pretty good results in filling a drawing with color, so to speak, each of these options does come with a slight perk and advantage that can be useful for different painting techniques and circumstances.
To highlight these differences and features, in the passages below, we’ve prepared oil vs acrylic vs watercolor side-by-side comparison of how these three types of colors perform in different painting techniques and environments, so to speak.
Without further ado, here’s the deal.
Oil vs Acrylic vs Watercolor
What are oil colors?
Oil paint, as its name suggests, is a type of paint that contains oil.
The thing is, it’s not just the oil that you use to paint something on a canvas. The oil is just the agent that carries the pigment, so the working principle of oil paint is that it slowly dries after it’s been spread on a canvas.
After a while, only the pigment will remain on the canvas, as all of the oil dries up over a certain period.
The drying time of oil paint represents one of its most important characteristics.
The thing is, after you’ve applied some paint on the canvas, since it won’t dry straight away, you will have some time to work with it and correct some of your mistakes in case you’ve made any.
Typically, the oil used to make oil paint is linseed oil. To make the paint, various pigments are added to the oil so that together, the pigments can be applied to a canvas in their new, ‘oily’ form, which makes them more malleable and easier to work with.
If the oil paint you’re using is too dense, there are ways to ‘water it down, so you can spread it on a canvas more easily. This is typically achieved by either adding turpentine or some white spirit to the oil paint to make it more diluted and thinner than it originally was.
As a finishing touch, oil paints can be further altered by adding some varnish to increase glossiness that can be visible once the paint has dried up.
What are watercolors?
Watercolors are a special type of paint used by many painters around the world that consists out of pigment that’s been combined with a special water-based solution.
If we compare this input method with the oil paint, for example, where oil is mixed with pigments, we can see that this type of paint uses water instead of oil gives this type of paint some special features that cannot be used to achieve with oil paint.
For example, since water evaporates much faster than oil, the drying time of watercolors is much quicker than that of oil paints.
What this means effectively is that you have a smaller room for error because if you do make a mistake, you have only a small window of opportunity to fix it before the water dries off.
So, it could be said that working with watercolors is a tad more challenging in this respect.
Regarding the appearance of these colors, when it comes to how the result looks once you’ve finished your painting, watercolors tend to give slightly dimmed colors that aren’t too bright or vivid.
In comparison to watercolors, using oil paint makes a painting look much more vivid and vibrant, especially when special hues help you achieve this effect.
What are acrylic colors?
Representing the newest (in the sense of ‘most recently developed’) type of paint, acrylic paint is a type of paint that’s based on water with the addition of a combination of acrylic and polymers, as well as many other ingredients, depending on the type of the mixture.
One of the most notable properties of acrylic paint is its fast-drying process, which is quicker than both oil paint and watercolors. For this reason, working with acrylic can be challenging for beginners, as it doesn’t leave much room for corrections once you’ve applied it to canvas or some other surface.
Another important property of acrylic colors is that, once it dries up, it becomes water-resistant.
This curious property means that you won’t have to worry about spoiling your painting if you accidentally spill something on it.
On the other hand, as we said already, there’s not much room for corrections once the water in it has evaporated.
The third property of acrylic paints that we need to mention would certainly be that you can alter it in several ways by adding such ingredients as various acrylic gels, paste, and other additives that alter the way it looks ‘behaves’ on canvas.
For example, by manipulating the types of ingredients within an acrylic paint, you can make the result of using such paint on canvas look like a watercolor painting, an oil painting, or even give it a special glossy kind of finish that cannot be achieved by either oil paint or watercolors.
Oil vs Acrylic vs Watercolor Side-by-Side Comparison
Oil Paint – One of the most likable parts of using oil paint for making art would certainly be its long drying time.
The thing is, even the best of artists make mistakes. With oil paint, you can constantly tweak your piece of art until you’re satisfied with the result.
Typically, it takes an oil color anywhere from six months to a year to fully dry, and the process is gradual.
The first part of the painting that will dry off will be its surface, while the layers underneath will still retain their wetness even a couple of months after the surface has completely dried up.
The one potential problem with this is that you need to be extra careful with storing your artwork or painting with oil paint outdoors because dust particles and insects can get stuck to the paint. (If that happens, removing the offending bug or dust can be quite tricky + you may ruin your artwork in the process.)
Watercolors – Since adding paint to your brushes with watercolors is to mix the pigments with water, it’s not a surprise that the drying time of these watercolors is so short.
Water evaporates pretty quickly, so when using watercolors, the room for error is much smaller than with oil paints, which you can still ‘edit’ and tamper with, even months after you’ve applied the paint on the canvas.
On the other hand, this doesn’t mean that once you’ve opened a tube of watercolors, you need to use it up as quickly as possible. As long as the paint is not stuck to canvas and is sitting on your palette, for example, simply adding some more water will make it come to life again.
Acrylic paint – In terms of the drying up time, acrylics tend to dry quite fast. Depending on their ingredients and how they are made, acrylic paint can dry faster or slightly slower than watercolors. Still, since virtually all acrylic colors are based on water as its carrying medium, so to speak, the drying time will typically be similar to that of watercolors, which is relatively fast.
Costs & Expenses
Oil Paint – When it comes to how much money you would need to invest in getting yourself a high-quality set of oil paints, the thing you need to know is that out of the three we talked about already, oil paints are the most expensive sort.
This is because oil paint is by far the most ‘durable’ one out of the three.
As we explained above, oil paint paintings can be modified even months after you’ve applied a certain amount of it on your canvas, thanks to the natural slow evaporating process of oil itself.
On the other hand, much of the cost also depends on the quality of the pigment used in combination with oil. The higher quality of the pigment, the higher the overall cost of oil paint will be.
Watercolors – Out of the three types of paint we’re pitching against each other in this article, watercolors are by far the least expensive option you can go for.
The thing is, the fact that you can get pretty high-quality watercolors for a low price doesn’t mean that watercolors, in general, aren’t that good of an option.
The reason why watercolors are the least expensive option out of the three we’re discussing comes down to the ingredients used in making them. Water-based solutions used to make this paint are much less expensive than oils or various acrylic mixtures used for oil and acrylic paints, respectively.
Also, watercolors don’t require much additional equipment, so all you need to start making paintings with watercolors are some brushes, a canvas, or a specialized piece of paper, and that’s it.
Acrylic paint – Representing a curious modern-day option that is at the same time difficult and easy to work with on a canvas, acrylic paints occupy a middle ground between oil paints and watercolors when it comes to their price.
While oil paints are the most expensive ones and the least expensive watercolors, acrylics represent the mid-price solution between these two. However, this doesn’t also mean that acrylics have the properties that ‘stand’ in between oils and watercolors.
In terms of their properties, acrylics are the most difficult ones to use, especially if you’re a beginner – mostly because of their quick drying time and the fact that you cannot dilute them for later use in case you already placed them on your palette, for example.
Oil paints – When it comes to longevity, oil paints are perhaps one of the most durable and long-lasting kinds of paints.
Since the oil in them evaporates very slowly, as we said already, the painting (and editing) process can last for months and even up to a year.
Considering that fact, it’s not difficult to understand why oil paintings can last for centuries once they are finally complete.
Perhaps the only slight problem with oil paint is that it tends to become slightly yellow after a while, mostly because the oil used to dilute it is also yellow, so some of this yellowness can ‘seep’ through the pigment under certain conditions.
That said, it takes decades and even centuries for this process to occur, so you shouldn’t be that worried about this if you’re considering using oil paint in creating your art.
Watercolors – Although not as long-lasting as oil paint, works of art made with watercolors can easily last for a hundred years or more.
It all depends on how well you preserve them.
Contrary to what many people think of them, watercolors are fairly durable and are not more susceptible to damage than other types of color.
That said, watercolors are indeed more prone to fading than oil paint or acrylics. So, if you want to preserve them, what you should do is make sure to protect them against overexposure to bright light or sunshine.
Also, humidity levels and other factors such as the quality of the pigment play a major role in how well watercolors can survive the test of time, so to speak.
Acrylic paint – Since acrylics have only entered widescale usage recently (compared to the other two types of paint, at least), it’s not yet certain how a painting made with acrylic paint will ‘behave’ some fifty or sixty years down the road.
However, thanks to some scientific tests that have been done on these paintings, we have an idea that acrylics may end up being the most durable type of paint in the long run.
At least, it will be durable enough to compete with oil paint or at least watercolors.
The only thing that you need to pay attention to when it comes to acrylic paint is that it tends to dry up into a darker shade than how it originally looked, so to speak.
Of course, this is not a shift that you need to observe over several years, but something that happens in minutes after you’ve applied the paint.
In time, if you use acrylic paint a lot in your art, you will develop a skill to correctly anticipate the exact darker shade your colors are going to turn into, so you can perhaps use brighter colors while painting to compensate for this effect.
Oil paint – As anyone who’s ever made an amateur painting for their art class knows, art can be messy.
That said, some types of paint are easier to clean off your hands and clothes than others.
As far as oil paint is concerned, the cleanup process can be a tad tricky, especially if you manage to drop some of the paint on your clothes.
This is because oil paints are difficult to remove from fibers in your clothes. After all, the oil in them makes them stick quite well to these tiny threads. When this happens, getting rid of such a stain means using a special solvent to break up the oil molecules.
Typically, turpentine is often used for this purpose.
The same goes for cleaning your brushes after use – you’ll have to use a solvent to get rid of the oily residue.
Watercolors – If you’re a messy artist who doesn’t pay too much attention to keeping your surroundings as clean as a whistle while painting, using watercolors can be a great way not to ruin your clothes or the painting itself in case you spill some of it on either.
The thing is, watercolors are easily soluble with water (hence their name), so even if you do spill some of them on your shirt or pants, cleaning it off is as easy as putting the article of clothing in question in your washing machine and letting it do its magic.
Also, when it comes to cleaning your brushes after painting, all you need to do is rinse them under a stream of water (or in a cup of water), and you’ll be good to go.
Acrylic paint – When cleaning acrylic paint, the deal is pretty straightforward, but you do need to follow some procedures to make sure it works.
The thing is, washing off acrylic paint from either your palette or your clothes is not that difficult – but only if you do it quickly.
Since acrylic paint has the unique property of becoming waterproof once it dries, getting rid of stains made with this paint can be quite tough.
That said, if you manage to clean the stain with some warm water before it dries up completely, you will have a pretty easy time getting rid of it.
The same goes for brushes and other equipment you use to paint with. If you can get rid of the paint quick enough by submerging it in warm water, getting rid of the stain itself will be a piece of cake.
Ease of Painting
Oil paint – Out of the three, oil paint would probably take the cake as the easiest form of paint to paint with.
Of course, what you consider easy depends on what your painting goals are.
For example, we say that oil paint is the easiest to work with because it’s fairly ‘forgiving’ when it comes to mistakes.
Since oil paint dries slowly, you have plenty of time to work with to fix any smudges or other mistakes you made while painting.
At the same time, oil painting can also be challenging because it doesn’t dry fast means you have to preserve it carefully and make sure you don’t compromise your work of art accidentally.
Watercolors – Representing possibly the most difficult form of painting, watercolor painting is notorious for leaving little room for mistakes, as watercolors dry fast and are not that malleable once they do.
On the other hand, watercolors don’t require you to add many different layers of paint to get the effect you want, so in this respect – they could be considered an easier alternative to oil paint.
At the same time, though, making a mistake with watercolors means you’ll have a hard time fixing it. (Of course, it’s not impossible, but it does tend to be tricky.)
Acrylic paint – Thanks to its rapid drying process and the fact that you don’t have to do much after applying the paint on the canvas (as you do with oil paint), acrylic paint represents possibly one of the easiest paints to work with.
Since it dries pretty fast, as long as you don’t make many mistakes, you can get beautiful colors, and you’ll have much more room for corrections even if you do make mistakes because, similarly to oil paint – acrylic paint can be applied in layers, unlike watercolors.
All in all, whether you’re a beginner painter or an experienced one looking to expand your horizons in terms of using types of paint you never tried before, we can say with a degree of certainty that all three paint sorts we talked about oil vs acrylic vs watercolor above have excellent properties that you can use to make beautiful, high-quality images.
So, it’s up to you to choose what type of paint suits your interests the best and which one would work the best with your painting technique. We hope you found this article, oil vs acrylic vs watercolor helpful and wish you plenty of success with your painting ventures.