The difference between Oil, Acrylic and Watercolour Paint

Author: Art Shed Tom  Date Posted:18 April 2016 

Unpacking the key differences between Oil, Acrylic and Watercolour painting.

For our next few posts I thought it might be nice to get back to basics, and cover some questions we get asked frequently about painting by visitors to the store keen to try their hand at painting! Over the next few weeks I will cover the key painting materials – including paint, canvas, palettes and brushes, and the differences between them and I hope to share some other tidbits that I personally found really helpful when I was learning to paint.

For the first post in this series I am going to briefly cover what the key differences are between Oil Paint, Acrylic Paint, and Water colour Paint – three vastly different mediums that can be used in a plethora of ways and applications.



These three types of paint are these days the most commonly used, and are very different to one another – but at a base level they contain one key element which is Pigment!

All paint starts with pigment, so put simply the main difference between paints is the carrier also known as the binding medium, this is the element that holds the otherwise dry pigment together and gives your paints body or flow.

With Oil Paints the pigment is suspended in oil, most commonly Linseed oil. The oil is what extends the drying time of oil paints allowing the artist to have plenty of time to blend on the canvas. In fact Oil paints can take years to completely dry! Also, due to the presence of oil in Oil Paint they need to be thinned with oil or solvents, as we all know Oil and water don’t mix.



Acrylic Paint pigment is suspended and bound in a plastic based, carrier – a water based plastic polymer resin to be precise! This is why acrylic paints dry quite quickly and can be thinned and cleaned up with water. They are very popular among artists who like to work quickly! 

Water colour pigments are suspended in Gum Arabic, they are the only type of paint that can be lifted after they are dry – traditionally and most commonly, water colours are applied to paper! However some artists do use these paints on canvas to interesting effect! Water colours are generally applied in layers of transparency building tone and depth. Water colour paints also come in the form of a hard pan, or block which are soluble with water and are great for travelling.

I hope this post was informative! There is obviously a lot more to these paints and I hope to cover more soon. 

Comments (4)


Which is better sheding oil paint or water sheding paint

Types of brushes

Why do you have to use different brushes for different paints? Is there a generic type that a beginner could use rather than having to try different types?

We have a great comprehensive article about how to choose the right paint brush for your artwork on our blog - In short - different brushes are made with different bristles, and in different shapes. Your Selection of brush will come down to the type of paint, and the approach you will be taking to painting. I personally would suggest a stiff synthetic brush like the Mont Marte Oil taklon brushes They are the best of both worlds, being stiff bristled they carry most paint well, but the synthetic bristle also allow you to get smooth blending in your painting.

Type of paper for different paints.

Do we need to have different kind of paper for different paints?

Hi, Yes there are different types of paper for different paints and mediums. For watercolours you would generally use a cotton based watercolour paper > Acrylics and oil paints are usually applied to canvas rather than paper - however there are also specialty papers that are made for oil and acrylic too.

Price per different paint.

Why is watercolour paint so much more expensive compared to acrylic paints, or even certain oil paints? Many thanks.

Hey Frank - great question. The reason has to do with the pigment load in a tube of watercolour paint compared to oils and acrylics. All three paints are quite different in their binders and carriers, and therefore require more or less pigment to make them depending on the medium. As the pigment is the most expensive ingredient that goes into any tube of paint, watercolour is generally the most expensive as it has a very high pigment load per tube compared to other additives. You will also find that a very small tube of watercolour paint will go a long way, as once diluted with water the spread can be very wide. I hope this helped clarify for you!

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