Which One: Acrylic or Oil Paint?


One of the most important decisions that you’ll have to make as an artist is the type of paint that you want to use to create your next masterpiece. The two basic choices are acrylic and oil paint. While both of them have their advantages, acrylic is the clear winner, especially if you have an interest in creating abstract art with vibrant colors and unique textures.

The primary advantage of acrylic is drying time. Oil can take days or weeks to dry, whereas acrylic paint can dry within an hour, and sometimes as quickly as fifteen minutes. This not only encourages you to work faster, it also changes your approach to the art you are creating. You are much more selective in how you apply paint to the canvas, knowing that you have a limited amount of time before the paint starts drying.

Of course, if you're a slow painter, then oil might seem preferable because you can take more time and won’t have to worry about the paint drying on you before you’re ready. However, if you’re working with acrylic, there are ways to slow down the drying time. For example, you can purchase some retarder to slow down acrylic from drying - but only for a few hours.

Some think acrylic is more difficult to mix with other colors because of drying time. After all, with oil, you can mix at day's end, making subtle color variations. If you’re a fast painter, however, the faster mixing time required by acrylic shouldn’t be a problem.

In fact, if anything, acrylic paints are better at creating different types of color combinations. As a rule of thumb, acrylic paints darken slightly as they dry, making them better suited for creating certain moods or themes.

In short, acrylic is actually more versatile than oil, opening up new opportunities for you as an artist. You can see these factors at work in the artwork of abstract artist Floy Ealy Edjole, who has used acrylic paint in blending together colors in unique combinations and creating different textures for her celebrated series of paintings that depict pain, anguish, suffering and the re-birth of hope.

“I can add water to acrylic, making it easy to manipulate on canvas,” she says. “With acrylic paint, you get unique textures. My choice is acrylic.”

So what about the disadvantages of working with acrylic? One big point to keep in mind is that you do have to wash your brushes right away. The paint on the bristles of the brushes - or any other tool being used to apply the paint - dries quickly and it can be challenging cleaning. It's not that big of a deal if you clean them at the end of day and leave them in water until you're done. It’s possible to use Turpentine to clean your brushes.

There’s one other big advantage of working with acrylic rather than oil - acrylic paint is cheaper than oil. Thus, if you’re planning on painting a lot, it’s going to be more cost-effective over the long haul if you use acrylic paint. So, the next time you stop into your art supply store, ask for the acrylic paint – it’s what many of today’s up-and-coming artists are using to paint their abstract masterpieces!