Is Acrylic Paint Oil-Based?

The nature of paints can be confusing, especially for beginners. Regarding acrylics, a common question arises: Is acrylic paint oil-based? Let’s clear the air and explore the key differences between acrylic and oil paints.

Acrylic vs. Oil-Based Paint

The answer is a resounding no: acrylic paint is not oil-based. The defining characteristic that sets these two paints apart lies in their binder, which holds the pigment particles together.

Acrylic Paint: Water-Based or Oil-Based?

Acrylic paint is water-based. Despite the term “oil-based acrylic paint” being occasionally used, it’s a misnomer. Acrylic paint dries when water in paint dries, not oil. Therefore, it’s crucial to understand that acrylic paint should not be confused with oil-based paints.

What’s the difference between acrylic paints and oil-based paints?

Acrylic paint is versatile. It uses an acrylic resin binder, making it water-based. It primarily comprises pigment suspended in an acrylic polymer emulsion, translating to faster drying times, easier cleanup with soap and water, and a less pungent odor than oil paints.

While oil paints, as the name suggests, utilize drying oils, such as linseed oil, as their binder. This makes it oil-based, resulting in a slower drying time, the need for solvents like mineral spirits for cleaning, and a stronger smell.

Understanding the Difference

The primary difference between acrylic and oil paint is their drying properties and composition. Oil paints contain pigments suspended in drying oils, such as linseed or safflower. They dry through a chemical process known as oxidation, which can take days, weeks, or even months to complete, depending on the thickness of the paint layers.

In contrast, acrylic paints dry when water in the paint dries, forming a plastic-like film as the water content evaporates. This results in a much quicker drying time than oil paints, typically within minutes to hours, depending on environmental factors and the thickness of the paint layers.

How to Identify Acrylic vs. Oil Paintings

If you need help determining whether a painting is done with acrylic or oil paints, there are a few telltale signs to look for. Acrylic paintings often have a matte finish and may exhibit a slight plastic-like smell when fresh. On the other hand, oil paintings tend to have a glossy finish and may feel tacky to the touch if not thoroughly dried.

Examining the brushstrokes can provide clues. Oil paintings typically have more visible brushstrokes due to the longer drying time, whereas acrylic paintings may have smoother, more uniform brushwork.

Acrylic vs. Oil Paintings

Can You Paint Over Oil with Acrylic?

One common question among artists is whether acrylic paint can be applied over oil paint layers. While technically possible, proper surface preparation is recommended. Oil-based paints have a slick surface, which may need to provide more adhesion for acrylic paint. However, it can effectively adhere to oil paint layers with proper priming or sanding to create a rough surface.

The Composition of Acrylic Paint

So, what exactly is in acrylic paint? Here’s a breakdown of its main components:

  1. Pigment

Pigments provide the paint with its color. Both acrylic and oil paints use various pigments for vibrant hues.

  1. Acrylic Resin Binder

This water-based polymer acts as a glue. It holds the pigment particles together and creates a film of paint once it dries.

  1. Water

Water is the solvent used in acrylic paint, allowing easy thinning and cleanup.

  1. Additives

Depending on the brand and desired properties, acrylic paint may also contain additives that affect drying time, texture, and other characteristics.

Durability and Drying Time

Once dried, acrylic paint is known for its durability. It forms a flexible and water-resistant layer less prone to cracking or yellowing over time than oil paints. Additionally, acrylic paint offers a shorter drying time, allowing artists to layer colors and make corrections more quickly, making it ideal for beginners or artists who prefer a faster workflow.

On the other hand, oil paints, while slower to dry, offer unique blending capabilities and a rich, luminous finish that some artists prefer.

Acrylic vs. Oil Paint: Choosing the Right One

Knowing that acrylic paint is water-based, you can decide which paint best suits your needs. Here’s a quick comparison to help you choose:

Acrylic Paint

  • Pros: Dries fast, easy cleanup, versatile (usable on various surfaces), less odor.
  • Cons: It can be challenging to blend once dry and less forgiving for mistakes.

Oil Paint

  • Pros: Smooth blending allows for longer working time and creates a richer texture.
  • Cons: Slow drying time, requires solvents for cleanup, stronger odor.

Acrylic vs. Oil Paint for Beginners

Faster drying times and easier cleanup make acrylics the go-to choice for beginners starting their artistic adventure. However, oil paints offer a unique experience for those who enjoy the blending process and the richness of colors.

Best Uses for Acrylic and Oil Paint

Now that we’ve clarified the distinctions between acrylic and oil paint let’s delve into their respective strengths and best applications.

Acrylic Paint: Versatile and Fast-Drying

Acrylic paint’s fast-drying nature makes it ideal for artists who prefer a rapid workflow. Its water-based composition allows for easy cleanup with water, making it convenient for artists working in shared spaces or without access to solvents. Acrylic paint is well-suited for various techniques, including layering, glazing, and impasto.

Oil Paint: Rich and Timeless

Oil paints deliver rich colours, a slow drying time, and excellent blending capabilities. Artists who enjoy layering colors and achieving subtle transitions often favor oil paint for its expressive qualities. While oil painting requires more patience due to its longer drying time and the use of solvents for cleanup, the results can be stunningly beautiful.

Choosing the Right Medium

Ultimately, the choice between acrylic and oil paint comes down to personal preference, artistic goals, and the specific requirements of each project. Some artists prefer the quick drying time and versatile use of acrylic paint for specific applications. In contrast, others may gravitate towards oil paint’s rich colors and blending capabilities for more traditional or detailed works.

acrylic paint medium


Acrylic paint is water-based, while oil paint is oil-based. Understanding the differences between these two types of paint is essential for artists to achieve their desired results. Whether you prefer the quick drying time and durability of acrylic paint or the blending capabilities and richness of oil paint, both mediums offer unique advantages for artists of all levels. So, unleash your creativity with confidence next time you’re on the canvas, armed with the knowledge of acrylic versus oil paint.

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