Beginner Art · Oils · Resources and Materials

What are Water-based Oils?

The area of oil paint is one that is often confusing for beginner painters.  Oils now are available in two types:

  • Water-based oil paints
  • Oils (that are not water-based)

Yes it is true, water and oil now do mix! I will explain the differences and the similarities between the two types of oil paint:

Water-based oil paints 

Look out for 'Water Mixable' on the label of water-based oil paints
Look out for ‘Water Mixable’ on the label of water-based oil paints

These paints have ‘water-based’ written on the tubes so look out for that.  You will be able to use them with water without the use of solvents such as turpentine or white spirit.  They behave exactly the same way as traditional oil paints and the results are just as professional in my opinion.

Look at the label carefully to see if the oil paint is ‘water mixable’

Water-based oils are a relatively new product on the scene and are becoming increasingly popular with artists of all types. Some claim that water-based paints are not as good quality as the traditional oil paints.  It used to be the case that you couldn’t buy all the mediums, glazes etc. to use with water-based oils which was one of their downsides.  This has all changed now and you can get all the mediums for water-based oils.

Oil paints

These oils won’t have ‘water-based’ anywhere on the tube, they will simply say ‘oil paints’.  These are the traditional oil paints that have been around for centuries and often used by the masters, although more advanced in their development.

Many purists in the art world think they are superior to water-based oils.  Like all new products it can take several decades for them to be accepted so this could be why many artists stick to the traditional oils.  You will need solvents to mix and wash your brushes with traditional oils.  You can buy odourless turpentine if you don’t like the fumes, which is much less strong smelling that the standard type.

Water-mixable oils not the ‘traditional’ oils which are oil based

Which ones are best?

I like water-based oils and will no longer use the traditional oil paints, mainly because I have allergies and hate the smell of turpentine!  I would urge you to try both and see if you can tell the difference, I couldn’t.  Some claim that the traditional oils are thicker and richer but I haven’t noticed, in fact I haven’t noticed any aspect of lesser quality in the water-based oils the ones I use are thick and buttery and great to use.  I am sold on the water-based ones but you might like to see for yourself!

Also see Do I have to use Turpentine?

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