To talk about oil paint vs acrylic, we need to go back to the origins. As a consequence of the Industrial Revolution in the late 19th century, in Western Europe an important advance in the development of products and chemical materials took place. Industrial products derived from synthetic resins appeared and polymeric colours which we know today as acrylic colours or plastic paints were developed. These were quickly taken up by artists for their application in painting techniques.

The main reason for this assimilation was that these polymeric or acrylic colours presented many of the qualities similar to those in oil colours. Acrylic colour pigments are suspended in an aqueous fluid which, when dry, form a uniform, stable and flexible film. Depending on the resin used as a binder or on the medium that thins the film, they can present matte, semi-dull or bright finishes.

Difference between acrylic and oil

From a practical point of view, there are some significant differences between acrylic and oil technique. One of the main ones is the drying time of the paint layer. In the traditional oil paint technique, you might need hours or even days for the paint layer to dry at the surface, sometimes months or even years are needed to dry completely, while with oil technique with acrylics it dries in minutes or even seconds, generating a stable film that is difficult to alter once it is dry.

This circumstance can be valued positively or negatively depending on the aesthetic interest of the artist and their technique since they can see an advantage in the use of acrylic colours to increase their production or even certain aesthetic qualities of the work. However, in recent decades there has been a certain division among the painters who see, in the traditional oil technique, technical and aesthetic aspects which they believe have not yet been matched by acrylic colours. This question oil paint vs acrylic technique depends largely on artists whose style require the special properties of application that have historically characterized oil painting, such as the its ability to provide a high level of detail, delicacy of hue or transparency of the gradual tones or the cast, or the possibility to control drying time to achieve these effects.

These and other differences between acrylic and oil that have emerged become diluted as time passes, since there are currently many contributions and improvements to acrylic products that gradually blur the difference between painters “in favour of” or “against” its use. ¿Witch one do you prefer? ¿Can you differentiate them right away?

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Oil VS Acrylic painting

Tamara Kreisler