What Paint Should I Use?

With so many different types of paint how is a beginner artist supposed to get started in painting?  In today’s post for those looking to learn how to paint I’ll be laying out some of the differences and safety concerns regarding the most popular types of paint.


What Type of Paint Should I Use?

I’ve created so many forms of art using such a variety of techniques and mediums it’s a wonder I didn’t write this post sooner!  If you are looking to get started learning to paint, the following will help you decide which paints to buy. 

Note: The advice in this post is aimed at new artists looking to paint in most normal, conventional ways with paper, canvas, and brushes.

One can use more exotic ways of creating artwork, such as spraying paints, and mixing paints into hot-wax but, I feel that would only confuse readers who have come here and want to figure out: What is The Best Paint To Learn With?


What Paint Should I Use?

It really does depend on what you are looking to pursue in your artwork.  Super tight details?  Quick outdoor impressions?  Abstract compositions with spontaneous surprises?


I’ll be rating each type of paint based on 7 attributes:

  • Safety – A higher score indicates that this paint is typically safer to work with.
  • Expense – How much money required to continually make paintings. A higher score indicates a more expensive medium to work in.
  • Portability – How easy it is to take your painting act out of the studio and paint and clean up in remote locations.
  • Durability – How tough is the painting? Does spilling soda on it mean the painting is completely ruined?
  • Controllability – A high score indicates that the paint inherently allows you to make perfect paint blends and ultra fine lines and edges when necessary.
  • Forgiveness – Does this paint type allow you to fix mistakes many times over? How easy is it to repaint and rework this type of paint?
  • Spontaneity – A high score means this type of paint and all its available additives allow for easy exploration of techniques and paint effects.


Oil Paint

Oil Paint Attributes [chart]

Oil paint is by far the easiest paint to create smooth gradients. It is such a slow-drying, sticky paint that blending from color to color is a pure joy. If you want to perfect your colors and values over the course of many sessions and have adequate ventilation in your studio space, oil paints are a good choice for you. Traditional oil painting can be somewhat hazardous to your health and somewhat of a fire hazard due to the solvents/mediums needed for thinning and cleaning up; one must exhibit caution and common sense when working with oil paints. If you need more specific advice on getting started with oil paints, please ask questions at the bottom of this page and I’ll be happy to help.


Acrylic Paint

Acrylic Paint Attributes [chart]

Acrylics started achieving commercial success in the 1950s and have grown in popularity ever since. Acrylic offers the widest selection of paints and mediums (paint additives) compared to any other type of paint. Because they thin and cleanup with water they are very easy to try at home. Acrylics dry extremely fast and as a result painting outdoors with acrylics can be really difficult. Creating large complex blends are also difficult to master due to acrylic’s rapid drying time. Acrylic paints really excel when you want to paint solid areas of color, rapidly layer paint over previously dry layers, or experiment with the many unique paint additives available in acrylic form.



Watercolor Paint Attributes [chart]

Often not taken quite as seriously as oils or acrylics, watercolor paint predates all previously mentioned types of paint. Watercolor makes correcting mistakes in your painting difficult and sometimes impossible. Watercolor is one of the least expensive, most portable forms of painting, requiring the least amount of supplies and equipment. A painter using watercolor has to be open to its surprises and spontaneous effects some of which can be stunningly beautiful with minimal effort. If you’re looking to change and rework paintings until they exhibit ultra-tight details and precision look elsewhere, watercolor is probably not for you.


Water Mixable Oil Paint

Water Mixable Oil Paint Attributes [chart]

As one of the new comers to the painting scene water soluble oil paints have tried to retain the oily feel and slow drying time of traditional oil paints with the safety and simplicity of using water as a thinner/cleaner. If you are concerned with the hazardous nature of traditional oils but still want to blend your paint for hours at a time, water mixable oils may be the paint for you. I have noticed many plein air painters whom paint outdoors have made the switch from pure oil paints to water mixable oil paints.




The Type of Paint I Use

Oil paints have long been my favorite medium of choice for my typical work, but I typically paint in the realism tradition, working with many layers of color, perfecting blends and edges over the course of many hours. A little bit of oil paint covers such a large area and lasts such a long time in the tube they are deceivingly inexpensive. I have tubes of oils that are over 15 years old and they are still good. Over the years I found ways to make oil painting safer. This includes decreasing the amount of painting solvents I use while painting. Always clean your hands thoroughly after working with oil paints. Some artists even use nitrile gloves while painting in oils.


What paint you use and start learning with really depends on the type of artwork you envision yourself creating, your budget, and any health concerns you might have.



What is your favorite type of paint and why?

Tell us below!




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