Acrylic vs. Oil Painting? How to Tell the Difference?

Painting might appear quite alike to a beginner’s eye at first sight, but you should be aware of the key differences between acrylic and oil painting. It is not just essential in terms of knowledge, but also in terms of how we approach cleaning and preserving it.

Both paint media appear identical at first glance, and unless you are actively attempting to discern the paint medium or have a skilled eye for painting, it may be quite perplexing.

Here are eight significant distinctions that you may use to study a painting and determine whether it is oil or acrylic!

8 Main Differences Between Acrylic and Oil Painting

There are significant distinctions between acrylic and oil paintings. Here we shall identify eight of the most evident, and hopefully, you will be able to tell which is yours.


The sharpness of the picture is a tell-tale indicator when it comes to distinguishing between oil and acrylic paintings. If the image has more clear edges and general sharpness, it is most likely an acrylic painting!

Because oil artists do not want to wait for the medium to dry fully before adding further details, oil paintings tend to be a little muddier in overall sharpness. Oils have a much longer drying period, which results in oils mingling on the edges, creating a muddy and less clear picture.

The Vibrancy of The Colors

The brightness of the paintings might also indicate if the painter employed oil or acrylic media!

Because of the nature of oil paint, the pigments are more vibrant than in other paint mediums, such as acrylic.

Acrylic colors darken as they dry, so while an artist may begin with a vibrant hue, the result will be more subdued in brightness than an oil completed work. (Although acrylic will produce a crisper picture!)

If you don’t have a trained eye for vibrancy in art, this may be a little more difficult to deduce from a painting – but try to figure it out as you figure out whatever paint media you’re looking at!

The Canvas

Another important factor in detecting whether an artwork is an oil or acrylic is to glance at the canvas and notice a few tiny characteristics that others may overlook if they are unsure what to look for.

While acrylic may be painted directly on the canvas, oil paintings require a thin coating of a compound such as Liquitex or even linseed oil between the canvas and the oil paints!

Turning the piece to the back, where the canvas will be attached, will generally reveal a visible line, making it much easier to discern between these two-paint media.

Investigate the Texture

Next, consider the texture of the piece: is it smooth and buttery, or is it texturized, with edges that emerge from the canvas in an apparent way?

While oil paintings may have texture, it is usually less visible than artwork made with acrylic paints.

Acrylic paint will appear rougher on the surface as you examine it, due to how this paint medium dries and also because it is typically applied considerably thicker than oil paints. The image above is an example.

Blending vs. Hard Lines

When examining the item to identify whether paint media was used, consider the overall image – is it in focus yet gently blended, or is it made up of distinct firm lines to produce the image in question?

Because oil paint takes longer to dry than acrylic paint, oil paintings will be less crisp. An anxious oil painter will try to accelerate this process as they continue to complete and polish the piece.

Even if an oil painting is gorgeous and detailed, it will look less crisp and structured than an image created with acrylic paint!

This is due in part to the drying process, as well as the fact that the compounds in acrylic paint are more resistant to each other, resulting in greater structure inside the painting!

Estimate the Era

The next question might be difficult to answer since it relates to the timeframe of the art creation.

When it comes to oil and acrylic artwork, there is a handy little technique to establish the item’s age! It helps if you know the painter who created the piece and the approximate year it was created!

If the artwork was created before 1950, it is most likely an oil painting, as acrylic was not widely used in the art world until around 1950.

Although acrylic paintings existed and the paint was used in the 1940s, it was not commercially available until the 1950s, when two men, Leonard Bocour and Sam Golden, established the brand Magna paint, making acrylic paint available to artists worldwide for the first time in history.

Try Rubbing Alcohol

This method of determining the media of an art piece, whether oil or acrylic, is probably best done with one you already own!

Take a cotton swab or a paper towel that has been dipped in rubbing alcohol and softly swipe it across the face or side of the artwork.

If rubbing alcohol begins to transfer paint onto a cotton swab or paper towel, the painting is acrylic.

This is because rubbing alcohol has a solvent impact on the acrylic paint binder, removing it from a variety of surfaces and even clothes!

Consider Any Aging Signs Like Yellowing and Cracking

You may also try to figure out what kind of art it is by searching for age indications. Here are some things to watch for:

As an oil painting ages, it might become yellow and break.

It can take anywhere from six months to a year for a painting to entirely cure, and most oil paintings will not have dark yellowing if this schedule is followed.

If a younger oil work is left in the dark for a lengthy period, it might become yellow, altering the overall determination as you look for clues on the age of the art piece.

If there is no obvious yellowing and you cannot identify age, search for cracks on the surface of the painting – if it has cracked surface regions, you are most certainly looking at an oil painting!


Consider the factors discussed above and it will make it easier for you to determine if the painting is acrylic or oil. Good Luck!