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Acrylic Vs. Oil Paint: The Key Differences

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Oil and acrylic are very different paints and should be used for different purposes. Sure, there are times when one or the other might suffice, but you should know how best to use each type, so you can be best equipped for your next painting job.

Oil and acrylic both have advantages and disadvantages, and knowing what they can be used for will help you decide what is right.

Drying Time

The solvent in paint is what gives the paint its body, and it is also the substance that evaporates to leave the pigment on the wall.

As the name suggests, oil paint is oil-based; acrylic paint is water-based. The oil and water evaporate when the paint is applied to a surface. The oil evaporates more than water, so oil-based paint takes longer to dry than acrylic.

So, when deciding between the two types of paint, think about how much drying time you have and how much you need. If you need the paint to dry quickly or need to apply a second coat right after the first, then acrylic is the way to go.

However, you will be unable to make immediate changes. If you are unsure about a project, the slow drying time of oil-based paint means that you can change the paint once it is on the surface.

This does mean that you might have to wait longer to paint an edge that touches an already painted edge.

A quick drying time is also less forgiving. When you are using water-based paint, you have to make sure you apply the coat evenly in a short amount of time. A long drying time gives you the option to go back to the paint and change it as it is drying.

The Richness Of The Pigment

When the paint is mixed, oil-based paint can take on a richer pigment than acrylic paint can. So, when you are looking for a specific color or a shade of color, you are more likely to find what you need with oil-based paint.

Acrylic paint does come in numerous colors, so you will likely find something you like with the type of paint, but you will have more success with oil paint.

This applies to mixing your own paint too. With oil-based paint, you have more time to mix the paint (because of the drying time), giving you more freedom to attain the color you are after. You don’t have this luxury with water-based paint.

Durability Vs. Cost

As with anything in life, you are better off paying for quality when you can, and you will usually save yourself some money in the long run. The same goes for paint. If you invest in high-quality paint, it will last longer and won’t need to be repainted soon.

Regarding acrylic and oil paint, oil is the most expensive. There are many reasons for this, but the main one is using oil as a solvent instead of water.

So, you will pay more for oil paint than acrylic, but you do get something in return. Oil paint is more durable than acrylic.

This does not mean that you should choose oil for every project, but you should choose oil paint for surfaces exposed to the elements or those in high-traffic areas. It is much better to use oil paint for your exterior walls, but using acrylic for bedroom walls is fine and will save you money on your project.

Clean-Up & Hazards

Both paints can be cleaned up if you have the right tools at your disposal. 

Acrylic is the easier of the two to clean, so this is a definite consideration if there is going to be any sort of mess on other surfaces or clothing.

Oil naturally repels water, so you need rubbing alcohol or mineral spirits to cut through the oil. Acrylic is water-based and can be cleaned with regular household cleaners.

This brings us to the hazards of both paints. You need to use the proper protective equipment when painting (and for the clean-up) with oil-based paints. Oil paints contain more chemicals, so you need to ensure good ventilation or a respirator.

Even after the paint is on the surface, it can still release those chemicals and aromas. So, oil paint is not recommended for enclosed areas and is better suited for exterior and well-ventilated spots.

The Finish

Within both types of paint, there are several finishes, but each type also naturally finishes differently.

Acrylic paint has a matte finish, while oil paint has a glossier finish. You can add additives to both types of paint to change the finish, but the natural finish you want will dictate the type of paint you might want to choose.

And while oil painting will look glossy and delicate when finished, it is more durable and harder-wearing than acrylic.

Final Thoughts

Oil and acrylic paint share many similarities, but they are vastly different at their core due to the solvent used in each. Water and oil do not mix, and you might want to do the same when choosing some paint, opting for one over the other.

Thankfully, the choice can be easily dictated by the type of job. If you paint outdoors and need something long-lasting, you should use oil-based paint.

If you want to paint a bedroom quickly, applying multiple coats in one day, then acrylic paint is what you need.

And, don’t feel that you should be forced into one paint over the other. If you know the paint that will fit the job, it is probably the right one.

If you have any questions about paint, call us, and we will be happy to answer them.