This post may contain affiliate links. We may earn a small commission from purchases made through them, at no additional cost to you.
When painting with oil-based paints, a large variety of oil mediums can be mixed in with the paint to alter the finish, drying time, transparency, and consistency. Oil mediums can also be used to extend the time that your paint lasts by stretching it out a bit. A variety of oil media types are available, each allowing for different effects. This can make it difficult to work out which medium is the best one to use for painting. But don’t fret! We have all of the information you need about working with an oil paint medium to make the best decision or your painting project.
Table of Contents
- 1 How Does One Use an Oil Painting Medium?
- 2 Recipes for Mixing Oil Painting Mediums
- 2.1 Solvents Used as an Oil Medium
- 2.2 Oils Used as an Oil Paint Medium
- 2.3 Cold Wax Used as an Oil Paint Medium
- 2.4 Alkyd Resin Used as an Oil Paint Medium
- 3 Discovering your Perfect Oil Painting Medium
- 4 Frequently Asked Questions
- 4.1 Is There a Most Commonly Used Medium?
- 4.2 Is Oil Paint Superior to Acrylic Paint?
- 4.3 What is Needed for Oil Painting?
- 4.4 Why is an Oil Medium Needed?
- 4.5 What is the Best Method of Incorporating a Medium?
- 4.6 What is the Benefit of Using an Alkyd?
- 4.7 How Do you Seal an Oil Paint?
- 4.8 What is the Best Medium Available?
How Does One Use an Oil Painting Medium?
You may be wondering what is the purpose of a paint medium? The simplest answer is that an oil paint medium can alter the properties of the paint by making it easier to manipulate and more malleable. Thick oil paint directly out of the tube is often difficult to work with, so you can thin it down to make it easier to use. Sometimes, different colors from the same brand can have different drying times and different viscosity, so oil painting mediums will help to make the different colors uniform in their properties. So, the question is, which is the best medium for oil painting?
Most commercially sold oil paints incorporate a medium of one kind or another already. In many cases, an oil binder is combined with the pigment. That is what makes an oil paint, a mixture of oil and pigment. By mixing in new oil mediums, you can significantly increase the versatility of your oil paint.
Recipes for oil painting mediums produce different outcomes, so you should always consider this when trying to find the best medium for oil painting. The effects that can be achieved include changing the texture, drying time, or managing to thin or thicken the paint. The finish can also be changed from gloss to matte, or even smoothing out brush strokes. When you know the effect that each oil medium will create, you can begin to figure out which is best suited for specific needs and then start to mix up your oil painting medium’s recipes.
Recipes for Mixing Oil Painting Mediums
To control oil-based paints more accurately, artists will use a painting medium to change the characteristics. Your painting technique can be enhanced by using different mediums to achieve various results, so understanding and knowing how they differ is key. Some experimentation and research can help to create specific results with oil paint mediums, and it becomes easier when you have experience creating the oil painting medium recipes. We have provided a list of different approaches to using oil painting medium below.
Solvents Used as an Oil Medium
When a solvent is used by you as an oil medium, you can create a matte finish with the oil-based paint, you can thin your paint to create transparent layers, and shorten the time it takes to dry. While solvents are usually used to clean paint brushes and other painting materials, many artists use the ability of the solvent to dilute oil paint to achieve the effect they want.
Be warned that when a solvent is combined with oil-based paint, it will eventually evaporate, leaving the binder and pigment to oxidize. The oil paint and pigment then often becomes dry, brittle, and dull.
If you are going to use a solvent in your painting, it should be in the beginning stages so that it doesn’t affect the end result. By knowing how much to use, you can extend your palette. Too much solvent can give a chalky effect that can crack and distort your art. When you first use a solvent, the generally recommended starting point is a ratio of 1:2 oil-to solvent and then you can slowly increase the amount of oil in each additional layer. We can make an oil medium for ourselves by adding linseed oil or cold-pressed linseed oil to a solvent of our choosing. The oil must always be added to the solvent for it to be effective and not the solvent to the oil. Once the two are combined, leave them to sit for 48 hours before use.
Turpentine, often called turps, is the usual choice for artists to use because it works well with oil paint. Paint pigments will disperse evenly when mixed with turps and create a beautiful and even finish. You will need a special artist-grade of turpentine, with fewer impurities in it.
Keep in mind that turpentine gives off toxic fumes. So make sure that your work area is well ventilated and if in doubt, rather wear a good quality mask.
We Recommend: DIAMOND G FOREST PRODUCT Pure Gum Spirits of Turpentine
This turpentine uses slash pine trees as an ingredient, from sustainable forests in South Georgia. A raw gum is distilled with fire, the same as has been used for hundreds of years in their traditions, then packaged and readied for shipping. This turpentine created by the historical method is perfect for thinning out oil-based paint.
Spike Lavender Oil
Lavender Spike Oil is a wonderful option as it breaks down resins and mixes very well with other oil mediums. This means it is one of the best products if you need to thin out thicker paints. It is also stronger a stronger product than turpentine which means that less of it is needed to dissolve paint molecules and make your paint thinner. It can help with diffusing particles, can give better clarity, and works very well as an adhesive for different layers of paint. Even though it is stronger than turps, it is less toxic, creating strong vapors with a better aroma.
We Recommend: CHELSEA CLASSICAL STUDIO Lavender Spike Oil Essence
A product made by Chelsea Classical Studio that is natural and has no bad health effects for artists that use this solvent. It smells quite pleasant, meaning it is better to use and will not create a stink in your workplace. It is an oil medium that can also be mixed with varnishes and resins, as well as oil-based paints.
- Less harmful than Turpentine and odorless petroleum mineral spirits
- Will dilute oil painting mediums, resins, and varnishes
- Can be used with oil paint, colored pencils, and on stretched canvas
Another great option for artists to thin paints is mineral spirits, and they are also odorless, so no toxic odor. These are still toxic substances, though, and must be treated with care. Mineral spirits are not as useful for oil paints as turpentine as they have an abrasive characteristic. They also take much longer to dry as they have more water in them, so evaporation is slower. It does weaken the paint, so is preferred as a cleaner for brushes. Mineral spirits give a worse finish than is desirable, so are not the best choice.
We Recommend: WEBER Odorless Turpenoid
A product made by Weber, it is almost as strong as turpentine, without the overpowering odor. The qualities are very similar to turps, without the stink, and will easily clean brushes and thin out oil paints.
Oils Used as an Oil Paint Medium
After we’ve dealt with the solvents as oil painting mediums, we can now start to look at the next bit, using the oils as mediums. When oil is added, the paint will likely get thicker, increase the transparency, slow down the drying time and increase the flow of the paint. Also, note that you cannot use all oils when using oil-based paints.
The reason for this is that these oils have gone through a polymerization process where the oil combines with air to create a solid layer or siccative process. People often refer to this oxidizing ability in these mediums as drying oils. Soybean, perilla, and tung are also commonly used mediums, though not as easy to use as poppy seed, walnut, linseed, or safflower oil.
This is made from the seeds of the ripe and dry flax plant. It can also be called flaxseed oil or flax oil. This type of oil is very durable, so it is often used to create oil mediums. The oil gives a glossy finish to the paints, makes them take longer to dry, and reduces the thickness of the paint. The other good qualities of this oil are the linoleic and linolenic acids, which create a durable as well as long-lasting film of paint. The only issue is that the paint can go yellow when it ages.
When selecting an oil, make sure to select one with linolenic acid, as it will create the strongest film.
We Recommend: WINSOR & NEWTON Refined Linseed Oil
When you need oil mediums, Winsor and Newton are a great choice as they have a product range across all needs. This linseed oil product has the best properties that artists look for and creates a long-lasting and very glossy finish when it is used.
Linseed Oil, Cold-Pressed
Linseed oil that has been cold-pressed could be used in conjunction with a spike of lavender to make a lean medium if that is what you need. It creates a harder and shinier finish and takes a shorter time to dry. It is a high-quality oil that gets used by many oil-paint manufacturers as a binding agent, especially in professional paints with very rich and pure pigments. The acid content means that it is a great choice for a binder and it coats pigments much more effectively than other oils.
We Recommend: DANIEL SMITH Original Cold-Pressed Linseed Oil
Daniel Smith is known as one of the most innovative paint manufacturers, so it is not surprising that they have a high-quality cold-pressed linseed oil product. It is perfect for extending the use of your paints, improving transparency, gloss, and flow.
Linseed Bodied Oil
Linseed bodied oil or linseed stand oil also comes from the flax plant. The difference is that it is made from refined linseed oil that was heated to a high temperature in a vacuum-sealed chamber. It is more highly concentrated as a result as well as having a thicker consistency, so your paint is better stretched and you can work more but with less paint. It is also perfect for glazing and leaves a lovely glossy finish. This oil does not yellow with age like the other linseed oils and does not absorb as easily, so the paint becomes duller.
We Recommend: WINSOR & NEWTON Stand Linseed Oil
Winsor and Newton is a great brand for painting and their linseed stand oil gives a smooth and durable finish as well as slowing down the drying time of your oil paints. You can also use it to ease brush marks and help the color and paint last longer.
Safflower oil is made up of linolenic acid and, because of this, has a weaker binding. Using it as an oil medium, the oil increases flow and reduces viscosity. The paint can be more easily spread. The film that it creates does not wrinkle as it gets older, with one issue in that it is weaker than the other oils. It also dries slowly, in fact, it does not ever dry completely or cure. It can even melt when exposed to high temperatures.
Even though Safflower oil is not usually recommended as an oil paint medium, it can be fabulous when used in small amounts. One great use for it is to add thin layers of paint to be mixed with lighter colors. The same as with most other mediums, there are ways to make the negative properties less pronounced. For instance, to make the weak film layer stronger, you can add a varnish to seal the paint layer.
We Recommend: MONT MARTE Premium Safflower Oil
Mont Marte’s safflower oil is great for all colors, including pale and white hues, as the oil does not yellow with age. You can add more gloss to your painting while lengthening the drying time and resulting in more time to work on your artwork.
Poppyseed oil is a see-through clear oil that won’t yellow or affect the color of a painting with age over a long time. Monet used this oil to bind his paints when he was painting the Water Lilies series, which is why his paintings have managed to keep their bold colors so vivid. This is one of the slowest drying oils, and it improves the flow and the high gloss finish of the paint. It is softer because it doesn’t have linolenic acid, so the film doesn’t dry as hard. This can be fixed by adding linseed oil to a mix.
We Recommend: WINSOR & NEWTON Drying Poppy Oil
As you may have seen, Winsor and Newton are on top with their great product range of mediums for oil painting. Their poppy oil dries quickly and will not go yellow over time, so it is perfect for using with light colors.
This is also a great oil to use as an alternative to linseed. It is more flexible and durable than poppyseed or safflower oil and will not go yellow like linseed. It can even be used to clean brushes if you don’t want to use solvents, as well as mixed the same way that the other oils are mixed. Walnut oil is highly glossy, adds depth to your color, and is hard to wear down. They can also lengthen the drying time as well as improve your paint flow.
This oil should be kept in the fridge as exposure to sunlight and warmer temperatures can make it go rancid. Most oils will go off when they are left to be exposed to air, and most nut-based oils will go rancid if the bottle is not stored properly. It can also be used when you want to oil out a painting, i.e. to add a bit of oil to a dry area of the painting to restore the vibrant colors.
We Recommend: M. GRAHAM Walnut Oil Medium
The walnut oil gives better artistic freedom and fewer streaks during the brush strokes. It won’t go yellow, keeping the colors vivid. It dries slowly, allowing more time to perfect the painting.
Cold Wax Used as an Oil Paint Medium
Thickening paint to add more volume, texture, body, or provide a matte finish with fast drying time, then you should use a cold wax. It has a unique thick texture and a whole style of painting is dedicated to this oil medium. Cold wax painting as a style has textures, beautiful matte finishes, and magnificent brush strokes. If you would like the textured benefits but without the matte finish, then you should add alkyd to your mix.
Cold wax adds a completely new dimension to paintings and allows you to create layers and add structure. You can also use it to add more transparency and luminosity to your artwork. There are tons of ways to add cold wax to your oil paints to create a wide variety of effects. Usually, the medium is a mix of solvents, beeswax, linseed oil, and resins. The solvent dries while the wax gets harder to create a lasting impression.
We Recommend: Jacquard Products Dorland’s 16-Ounce Wax
This cold wax goes on smoothly and dries incredibly well, leaving your painting protected from water spots. Thanks to this protection, no glass is needed to cover your finished artwork. It is also non-yellowing.
Alkyd Resin Used as an Oil Paint Medium
To add more body to your painting while shortening the time to dry and leaving a glossy finish, we would recommend using an alkyd resin. It is a synthetic resin that is made up of polymerized plant-based oil and a mix of an odorless and slow-evaporating solvent. It should dry within a day when mixed with oil. It is the ideal medium for the quick painter that can’t wait a long time between their layers. Alkyds are also able to help stretch out your paint without being too runny or transparent.
We Recommend: Alkyd Resin Oil
Unlike many of the above-mentioned mediums, alkyd resins are synthetic. The way they are made is with oil-modified resin treated with alcohol. The main benefit of using Alkyd is it is super-fast drying, allowing any paints covered with the medium to be touch dry within around 24 hours!
Discovering your Perfect Oil Painting Medium
The process of discovering your perfect oil painting medium recipes involves trail and error. You will need to experiment with many of the mediums available. This will not only make your creative process more exciting, you will also end up making far better paintings.
Oil paint mediums can elevate your creative expression by amplifying the texture and color of your paint, and allow you the freedom to work a lot and vary your design. Learning to understand the various oil mediums and techniques is an essential step on the road to self-expression and artistic freedom, while you discover which mixture of paint and medium you prefer. The final result is about discovering how best to show off your style and express your art. The final words of wisdom are to use your skills and passion to experiment with techniques and styles to create your artwork. Don’t let people put you off. The best part about oil painting is the freedom it gives you to create. Using an oil paint medium to help in your work will enable you to get the best out of your oil painting experience.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is There a Most Commonly Used Medium?
Certainly, linseed oil is the standard that most artists use. A very traditional oil paint medium lengthens the drying time while thinning the paint out. This is great for any artist that wants to spend more time on their work while being able to make any changes.
Is Oil Paint Superior to Acrylic Paint?
One of the best things about oil paints is the slow drying time. Different from acrylics, they take a lot longer to dry, allowing artists to continue working on their textures and colors. It also means that the paint you have mixed on your palette will last long enough to be used without drying up. Less paint is wasted, so less paint is used and you will spend less money on your paint materials. This also depends on the needs of your work. If you want a faster drying time for your paint, acrylics would be best. Acrylics can also be used to add a basis for your painting before painting oils over.
What is Needed for Oil Painting?
Painting with oils needs a few different things to be available in your paintbox. The most important is a surface or canvas to paint on, as well as paint and paintbrushes. It is also very important to get some oil paint mediums to help you on your way. A good jar for cleaning your brushes and some rags for cleaning up any messes, as well as a palette for your paint, pencils for sketching, and some coveralls for your clothes to protect them.
Why is an Oil Medium Needed?
Many would argue that the paint is best as it comes out of the tube, and while this may be true for the more expensive paints available as many paint manufacturers didn’t mean for them to be combined with other mediums. Lower-grade paints would need help in giving the effects needed. As long as we can create the art that we want with the materials available to use, finding the best ways to do so is fun and creative.
What is the Best Method of Incorporating a Medium?
A lot of art teachers will first help their students to paint and then add mediums into the mix, to smooth the appearance or thin out the paint. When using oil mediums, be sure of your intent and add little bits at a time. That way you can get to the required result as needed. The paints are supposed to be stable and yet allow you to alter them as needed before they dry. The rule of thumb is no to use more than 50% oil when it comes to mixing.
What is the Benefit of Using an Alkyd?
An alkyd can speed up the drying time of oil paint as it contains a solvent, usually turpentine. As the solvent evaporates, the paint dries. Depending on the thickness, it will generally dry overnight. That means you can work for days in a row instead of waiting for paint to dry over weeks.
How Do you Seal an Oil Paint?
As well as drying fast, alkyds can be used to seal paints by creating a layer that is isolated. Once your work is finished, you apply a layer of alkyd over it. The glaze can be added to your work without worrying about lifting your paint. The paint should have dried properly before the alkyd is applied. Once it is dry, you can paint over it with a glaze or opaque paint. It can be resealed at any time to lock in the layers.
What is the Best Medium Available?
This is more difficult. The various mediums offer many different results and can be used for different reasons. You can make up your recipes for oil mediums to create different effects. This requires patience, time, and a lot of creativity to work out. You must choose what you would like to achieve. This will guide you into deciding what medium to use and what you will need to do to create better paint for your needs.