Watercolor Paint Vs. Oil: The Differences

Painting can be an exciting new hobby as well as a great way to express yourself creatively. While painting is often used as an outlet for stress, picking the right paint medium can be the difference between a fun and creative endeavor and a stress-inducing pursuit.

With that said, knowing the differences between watercolor paint and oil paint can save you time, energy, and headache. 

Watercolor and oil paint differ drastically in terms of:

  • Drying time
  • Difficulty
  • Cost
  • Appearance

Watercolor is great for artists looking for: 

  • Affordability
  • Ability to work quickly
  • Ease of learning 

Oil paint: 

  • Is more expensive
  • Has a more realistic finish
  • Takes longer to master techniques

From how these paints are made to how they are used, watercolor and oil paints have many differences. To understand those differences and decide which medium is right for you, this article will look at how these paints are made and the advantages and disadvantages they present.

Read on to learn the differences between watercolor paint and oil paint and the kinds of challenges they present, and the skills they require. 

What is Watercolor Paint?

Watercolor is a painting medium where water is used to both spread and create the paint. Watercolor paint is made up of dry pigment powder, a water-soluble binder, and varying amounts of water. 

How is Watercolor Paint Made?

Making watercolor paint is a simple four-step process and can easily be done at home.

  1. The pigment for your watercolor is finely ground. 

  2. A water-soluble binder is mixed into the pigment. This binder allows the pigment to attach to the paper and is traditionally gum-arabic. 

  3. A moisturizer and plasticizer are mixed in to ensure the paint does not dry out too quickly. Glucose is most often chosen as a moisturizer, and glycerin is often a plasticizer.

  4. Depending on the type of watercolor paint you buy, whether it’s liquid, tubes, or cakes, a certain amount of water needs to be added.

According to V&A, watercolors can create many different effects depending on your balance of water and gum-arabic. Now that we’ve covered how watercolor paints are made, we can get into this medium’s pros and cons in the next section.

Pros And Cons Of Watercolor Paint

Watercolor paint has its pros and cons. While it is most often perceived as the best medium for beginners, aspects of it prove to be challenging.

Pros Of Watercolor Paint

Some advantages of watercolor paint are:

  • Watercolors are labeled as one of the easier types of paint to work with. The fluidity of the pigments makes it easy to mix colors and create desired shades.
  • Cleanup is easy with watercolors. As a water-based medium, the paints don’t have a strong smell and aren’t messy like oils or acrylics can oftentimes be. 
  • Because of how quick-drying watercolors are, you don’t have to wait too long to show off your finished project. It’s also especially helpful when watercolors are one of many layers of a big project, and you are ready to move on to the next step.
  • Although watercolor paint tends to dry out pretty fast, any unused paint can be used later by adding more water, so there is no paint waste.
  • The compact nature and easy cleanup of watercolors make them an easily portable paint medium.

The Pros of watercolor paint make it a great medium for beginners, but some cons do come with it.

Cons of Watercolor Paint

  • Because of the quick-drying nature of watercolors, it can be hard to cover up mistakes and make changes to your painting. Quick decisions are a must.
  • The options you have in regards to the material you will paint on are limited when using watercolors as it must be able to absorb water. You are bound by paper and cardboard when painting with watercolors.
  • “Hard to control” comes to many beginners’ minds when first tackling watercolors. Controlling the thickness of your liquid as well as the brush can be challenging.
  • The fragile material watercolor paintings are made of can threaten your final product. The use of too much water can lead to imperfections in your paper, and sunlight can discolor your painting, changing the overall look completely. Poorly prepping your surface as well as protecting your final project is a must if you want your painting to stay true to your artistic vision.

While watercolor paint is a great medium, it has its limitations. So, what about oil paints? Here are some of the disadvantages of watercolor paint:

What Is Oil paint?

Oil paint is a slow-drying paint medium made up of a mix of pigment particles, linseed oil, and various solvents for changing the paint’s thickness, texture, and adhesiveness. Varnishes are sometimes added to increase glossiness.

How is Oil Paint Made?

Making oil paint is a more complicated and drawn-out process than making watercolor paint, and it is often made in a factory. Its production steps are as follows:

  1. The pigment is mixed with the oil medium of your choice. Most factories use linseed oil because it slows drying time. 

  2. The solvents are added to create a certain texture. Some of the most popular solvents, according to Britannica, are turpentine and white spirits.

  3. Rollers are used to knead and mix the paint evenly. The paint is put through the rollers four times before it’s evenly mixed.

  4. The oil paint is put into a tube with a filling machine.

Oil paints take longer to make and include many different ingredients that change the quality of the paint. Now that we know the process of making oil paints, we can get into its pros and cons.

Pros and Cons of Oil Painting

Oil painting gives artists the benefits of a slow drying time, which can lead to many advantages. But, this slow drying time can also hinder you if you get in a creative groove and want to keep going.

Pros Of Oil Painting

Some of the pros of oil painting are:

  • Unlike watercolor paint, oil paint dries true to its color, meaning what you see when you first apply the paint is what you will see once it dries.
  • Because of the slow drying time of oil paints, color transitions can be perfected, as the artist has time to make shading changes.
  • Oil paints give you more time to make changes, think through your process, and take your time with the project. As a result of the slow drying paint, you have ample time to make modifications as your vision changes.

The pros of oil painting make it a great medium for artists looking to focus on the small details of their painting.

Cons Of Oil Painting

Some of the cons of oil painting are:

  • While the slow drying of oil paints is something to appreciate, it can serve as a challenge. Oil paint requires a strong time commitment to allow paint layers to dry and maintain form.
  • Long-term color changes can be a disappointment because oil yellows over time; it is inevitable that your painting will eventually develop a yellow hue. While it is possible to reverse some causes of yellowing, according to Bob Villa, yellowing caused by the oxidation of the oil is irreversible. 
  • Because of how easy it can be to blend colors with oil paint, it’s also easy to get carried away and create muddied shapes that are unclear. 

While oil painting is great for those who wish to take their time and get a super detailed finished look, oil painting can be an overwhelmingly difficult medium to master. 

Which Is Better Watercolor or Oil Painting?

Watercolor paint is best for beginner painters and those looking for an affordable and less time-consuming medium. Oil paints are best for more experienced painters who are ready to devote a large amount of time and energy to one project and have a clear vision for their piece.

When To Use Watercolor Paint

Watercolor paint is better for less experienced painters or painters looking for a less energy and time-consuming project. The fluidity of the colors, easy cleanup, and quick-drying nature make it one of the least overwhelming paint mediums. 

While watercolors can be a challenge to master, practicing this paint medium is inexpensive and easy to take with you anywhere.

When To Use Oil Paint

Oil paints are often best for experienced painters and those who are willing to commit large amounts of time to one project.

Because oil paints offer a more realistic effect, this medium allows more time to modify the details of your painting and perfect color transitions for a finished project that closely matches the artists’ vision. 

Oil painting tends to be a more expensive and time-consuming hobby. 


In conclusion, watercolor and oil paints are both mediums that present many challenges and benefits. Watercolors are fast-drying, easier to control, and affordable, while oil paints are more expensive, realistic, time-consuming.

It’s best to know what different painting mediums will require and what they offer so you can know what fits you best as an individual artist. 





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