What Is Acrylic Painting And What Is Oil Painting? How Can You Tell The Difference?

  • 22 Nov 2021 06:05
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What Is Acrylic Painting And What Is Oil Painting? How Can You Tell The Difference?

Although it might seem very similar to painting at first glance, you need to be aware of the main differences between oil and acrylic painting. This knowledge is important not only for the sake of knowing, but also for how to clean and preserve it.

The paint media may look identical at first glance. If you don't have an eye for art or are actively trying to identify the paint medium, it can be confusing.

These are eight important distinctions you can use to examine a painting and decide if it is acrylic or oil.

8 Key Differences between Acrylic and Oil Painting

There are many differences between acrylic and oils paintings. We will identify eight of the most obvious, and hopefully you'll be able to determine which one is yours.


When it comes to identifying between acrylic and oil paintings, the sharpness of the image is a good indicator. Acrylic paintings are more likely to have sharp edges and a general clarity.

Oil artists don't want to wait for medium to dry completely before adding details to their oil paintings. This causes oil paintings to have a slightly muddy appearance. Oils dry for a longer time, so oils can mingle around the edges. This results in a less clear painting.

The Vibrancy Of The Colors

It is possible that the brightness of the paintings could indicate whether the artist used oil or acrylic media.

Oil paint's unique nature makes the pigments more vivid than other paint mediums like acrylic.

Acrylic colors will darken when they dry so an artist who started with bright colors may end up with less than an oil finished work. Acrylic will produce crisper pictures, but it is less expensive than oil.

It may be more difficult for someone who doesn't have an artistic eye to see vibrancy in art. But, try to do it as you look at the paint media!

The Canvas

A glance at the canvas is a good way to determine if it is oil- or acrylic-based.

Acrylic can be painted directly on the canvas. However, oil paintings require a thin coating with a compound like Liquitex or linseed oils between the canvas and oil paints.

The canvas will be attached to the back of the piece. This will reveal a visible line that makes it easier to distinguish between the two-paint media.

Examine the Texture

Next, think about the texture of your piece. Is it buttery and smooth, or are the edges texturized with obvious lines that protrude from the canvas?

Oil paintings can have texture but it is often less obvious than acrylic paintings.

Acrylic paint can appear more rough on surfaces than oil paints. This is due to the way it dries and because it is usually applied thicker than oil paints. This is an example.

Blending vs. Hard Lines

To determine if paint media was used, examine the entire image. Is it sharp and clear?

Oil paints will take longer to dry than acrylic paint so they will be less crisp. As they finish and polish their piece, an oil painter anxiously will attempt to speed up this process.

An oil painting can look more sloppy and cluttered than one made with acrylic paint, even though it may be beautiful and intricate.

This is partly due to the drying process and the fact that acrylic paint compounds are more resistant than each other. It also results in greater structure within the painting.

Estimate the Era

This question is related to the time frame of art creation and may be more difficult to answer.

There is an easy way to determine the age of acrylic and oil artwork. Knowing the name of the artist who created the piece, and the year that it was created is helpful.

It is possible that the artwork was created prior to 1950. Acrylic was not commonly used in art until 1950.

Acrylic paintings were already in existence and it was even used in 1940s. However, acrylic paint wasn't commercially available until 1950s when Sam Golden and Leonard Bocour created Magna paint. This made acrylic paint accessible to all artists for the first time ever in history.

Use Alcohol

This is a great way to determine the media used in an artwork, regardless of whether it is oil or acrylic.

Use a cotton swab, or a paper towel dipped in alcohol to gently swipe the artwork's face or side.

Acrylic is when rubbing alcohol transfers paint onto a cotton cloth or paper towel.

Because rubbing alcohol has a solvent effect on acrylic paint binder, it can be removed from many surfaces including clothes.

Be aware of any signs that indicate aging such as yellowing or cracking

It is possible to search for age indications in order to determine what type of art it might be. These are some of the things you should be looking out for:

Oil paintings can become yellowed and eventually break as they age.

A painting can take up to six months to fully cure. Most oil paintings won't develop dark yellowing if the schedule is strictly followed.

A younger oil work might turn yellow if it is left unattended for too long. This can affect the overall determination of the piece.

If you can't identify the age and there is no obvious yellowing, look for cracks in the painting's surface. You are most likely looking at an oil painting.


These factors will help you determine whether the painting is oil or acrylic. Good luck!

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Scott Fisher By, Scott Fisher
Scott Fisher is a professional in-home renovation and elegant designer. He is highly interactive on Sanford Artedventures's website as editor. In his role, He provides valuable insight and feedback and approaches each article with the passion to followers who need it most. Scott also has worked on countless projects throughout the United States, and he prides himself on his ability to work with practically any client.
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