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How to Decide What Paint to Use

Acrilic Paint


  • Dries very fast
  • Mixed with water or mediums/gels
  • Brushes cleaned with water
  • Once dried, can be overpainted without disturbing underlying layers
  • Can be used thickly impasto, like oils, or in thin washes, like watercolor
  • Water-resistant, so good for murals
  • Works as a glue, so good for collages


  • Dries very fast, though working time can be increased by adding retarding medium to paint, spraying water on a painting, or using one of the brands with a long drying time.
  • Completely waterproof once dried, so cannot be removed by rewetting the paint
  • Difficult to remove from a brush if it's dried in it
  • Except when used in thin washes, colors dry a bit darker than when applied


There is a large range of acrylics on the market, from top-quality paints with high pigment content to cheap paints with little pigment and lots of filler. You will need a selection of colors, at least one brush, and some paper or canvas to paint on. You don't need anything other than tap water to dilute the paint or to clean the brush.

Oil Paint


  • Dries slowly, allowing plenty of time to work and to blend colors
  • Once dried, can be over-painted without disturbing underlying layers
  • Rich, deep colors which maintain their intensity when dry
  • Can be used thickly or in thin, smooth glazes
  • A classic (used by the Old Masters) 


  • Thinned with solvent and/or oils, so need to work in a well-ventilated area
  • Slow-drying, so consider working on several paintings at once
  • Using an alkyd medium will speed up drying
  • Have to wait several months to ensure a painting is dry before it can be varnished
  • Brushes usually cleaned with solvent, though you can use oil or dishwashing liquid


There is a large range of oil paints on the market, from top-quality paints with high pigment content to cheap paints with little pigment and lots of filler. You will need a selection of colors, at least one brush, some canvas to paint on, medium to dilute the paint, a palette for putting out your colors and mixing them.

Water-Soluble Oils

A relatively new alternative to traditional oil paint is water soluble oils. These are formulated to thin with water, and can be mixed with traditional oils.

Watercolor Paint


  • Mixed with water and brushes cleaned with water
  • Paint can be lifted off by rewetting
  • If paint squeezed from a tube has dried, it becomes reusable if you add water


  • Being quite transparent, it's hard to rectify or hide mistakes in a watercolor painting
  • Need to allow for colors being lighter once they've dried than how they appeared when you painted
  • There is no white paint in watercolor; the white comes from the paper you're painting on


  • Watercolors are the cheapest to set yourself up with; all you need buy is a set of basic colors, a brush or two of different sizes, some paper, plus a board and brown gummed tape if you intend to stretch the paper.



  • No waiting for pastels to dry
  • Colors are mixed on the paper, not on a palette, by overlaying or blending them
  • A wide range of colors are available
  • No brushes to clean
  • Easy to use outside the studio
  • Oil-based pastels can be thinned and blended with turpentine, or scraped off to reveal colors underneath, known as sgraffito

Disadvantages of Pastels:

  • Requires a greater range of colors to create a picture than for other media
  • Different brands and pigments vary in softness
  • Soft pastel works tend to be liable to smudging and the pastel coming off the support. This can be prevented by using a spray-on fixative, taping a piece of tracing paper over it, or framing it with a mount that keeps it away from the glass.


You will need a range of colors, some paper, a board to hold the paper, and some fixative.


How you can be shore that you've chosen the right paint

Quite simply, you can't be completely sure until you've worked with it for a bit. You'll soon discover whether you enjoy working with it and the results, or not. Be sure that any frustrations are with the paint itself and not because your painting doesn't look as good as you visualized it. The gap between what you think your painting should look like and how it actually looks is one that will narrow with experience as you acquire more painting technique and skill.

If you like different things about different paints, you could mix them — then you'll be working in what's called mixed media. If there's an art college near you, see if they offer an introductory course on a particular medium. You get to try the paint among other novices and will learn basic skills. It may also provide you with a contact for cheaper art materials.

Pastels and watercolor pencils are popular cross-over drawing/painting mediums; painterly effects can be achieved with them while retaining the immediacy of drawing. Other painting media are gouache, tempera, and encaustic. Special paints are used for painting on silk or fabric, which are heat set (usually with an iron) to stop them washing out.

Challenge: Choose which style of paint you prefer to use and buy fresh paint in that style. Then paint a painting using that paint.

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