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Watercolor vs. Oil Paint (Comparative Guide)

watercolor vs oil paint


If you’re an artist experimenting with different styles, you might want to know the differences among the various paints used in art. Two of the most common are watercolor paint and oil paint. These two cannot be more different than water and oil themselves. To compare watercolor vs. oil paint, let’s dissect their characteristics.

Difference Between Watercolor and Oil Paint

As the names suggest, the main difference between watercolor and oil paint is their elemental composition. Oil Paint is oil-based that does not easily come off with water. On the other hand, watercolor is water-based, requires water to be utilized, and is water soluble.

Let us compare watercolor vs. oil paint in more detail.

Bleeding and Reversing

Between watercolor and oil paint, watercolor is the better choice for beginners, arguably. The use of watercolor needs the handling of a disciplined hand, after all. Since you will be working with water in addition to the paint, be careful not to layer up too much color or brush too hard, The paper can only take so much before tearing apart.

Watercolor also tends to spread where there is water. A kiss of the paint on the canvas will spread rapidly or slowly; either way, there’s little you can do to stop it. The watercolor allows little room for mistakes.

Its translucent property does not aid in covering the paint below it. However, many layers are applied.

Basically, the pigment in watercolor dissolves in water, and a brush is used to spread it the way the artist desires.

The oil paint bleeds very little. It is mostly thick in consistency. What’s great about it is that the oil paint makes it easy to correct any mistake. You can just paint over it and totally conceal what’s under. Or you may also scrape off the dry paint for a less bulky texture.

Oil paint mistakes are easily reversed, making it a reasonable option for beginner artists.

Drying Time

oil paint

Watercolor paint dries quickly. Depending on the wetness and humidity, it could take only seconds up to a few minutes. This can both be an advantage and a disadvantage.

This property works well for you if you plan to make layers of colors. However, it could be a problem if you tend to need more time to stroke out the paint.

The oil paint needs time to dry up. It can take hours up to weeks. Again, depending on the humidity and the number of layers of paint. As with the watercolor’s fast drying time, the oil paint’s relatively long drying time has its pros and cons.

While the paint sits, you will have time to alter or remove the paint if you wish. But if you’re rushing to complete the painting, you might not be all too happy about it.


Although watercolors are barely reversible on canvas, they are easier to remove from surfaces. On hard surfaces, just remove it with water. Wash it if you want it removed from fabrics.

Oil paints do not share the same simplicity. As an oil-based paint, you will not be surprised to know that a simple run under water or washing will suffice. You will need a thinner for this one to be removed.


watercolor paint

Oil Paint has more choices and more vibrant colors. They have more pigments than watercolor and are only slightly translucent. Oil paint makes it easier to add darker colors for shadows and lighter colors for highlights.

Artists who want to create an artwork with depth prefer to use oil paint. This paint medium proved to be a compelling choice for creating realistic paintings. It is known to be the painting of choice when it comes to the well-known picture from the Renaissance era.

On the other hand, the watercolor has a more dreamy look. The translucent appearance gives off a soft and almost mystic vibe.

Today, we see many watercolors used to create dreamy art pieces. It is often used for aesthetics that lean on pastel colors. The colors are less vibrant than oil paint, but if you are going for the beautiful, chaotic look, it is your choice.

Additionally, oil paints have a glossy finish, while watercolor has a matte finish.


On the subject of cost: watercolor vs. oil paint. Oil paint is more expensive. It is considered to be a more luxurious type of paint in this hobby. Canvases are also more costly than watercolor paper.

The cost can also be a contributing factor as to why beginners use watercolor often or why it is the painting medium advertised in school in general.

Last Words

Now that you’ve had your fair share of information to compare watercolor vs. oil paint, I hope it helps you decide which paint medium to use for your next art painting. Of course, you can always try using both and see for yourself which one you fancy.

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