When to Use Oil-Based Versus Latex Paint

When to Use Oil-Based Versus Latex Paint

One of the great decisions that every artist must face is the medium in which they wish to work. We call Leonardo da Vinci, Vincent van Gogh, and Andy Warhol all “painters,” but the actual paints they used were quite different. Likewise, there are a variety of different paints from which you might choose when painting your house.

Two common options are oil-based and latex paints.

So what’s the case for each, and which is right for you?

The Case for Oil

One of the best things about oil paint is that it is incredibly durable. When you paint with oil-based paint, you’re painting with something that, once hardened, will be pretty hard to crack. This is one reason why some of the world’s great masterpieces have lasted for centuries – and why your child’s watercolors probably won’t.

In addition, oil paint can be applied to surfaces quite smoothly. You simply brush away and it usually sticks. This can be especially helpful when you are painting on a difficult (that is, a rough or not fully clean) surface. With other paints, this can lead to problems with the paint sticking at all. By contrast, while you should still wash most surfaces before painting, with oil paints you are at least relatively assured that the paint will stick as your brush moves over the surface.

As the saying goes, oil and water don’t mix, and so oil-based paints are also a lot more water resistant.

On the other hand, some oil paint can start to yellow with age. In addition, oil paint has a strong odor when you are applying it, so even more so than usual, you’ll need to make sure you’re painting in a well-ventilated space. 

One potential pro and con is the fact that oil-based paints take a long time to settle and dry. On the one hand, this can prove inconvenient if you want your paint to dry fast, but having it remain wetter longer also means there’s more time to mix colors or remove paint in the case of mistakes.

The Case for Latex

By contrast, latex’s fast-drying nature is its biggest selling point. If you want a job to go quickly and want the paint to dry fast, this is your option. It doesn’t have the same issue with odor or yellowing as oil-based paint. 

Latex also doesn’t have the same propensity to crack as it gets older.

However, it is far more sensitive to temperature changes, so you’d better make sure you’re painting in a stable environment. Latex paint also has a tendency to shrink over time. It does not stick easily to many surfaces, so you may have to work harder to apply the paint. What’s more, while oil can crack easier, latex paint can be damaged more easily by external factors such as heat and debris.

The Verdict

Which is best for you? It depends on what you want to do.

Want a paint that dries fast, is less odiferous, and doesn’t crack with age? 

Latex is probably your best bet.

Want a paint that goes on smooth no matter the surface, can stand heat and rain equally well, and gives you more time to work with it?

Oil paint is the choice for you.

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