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Acrylics vs Oil

Acrylics vs Oil

Comparing Mediums I: Acrylics vs Oil

by Jon Cheeseman

I have, for a long time, considered myself a ‘diehard’ oil painter but I bought some of the Vallejo paints a year or two ago and had a go at using them. I must say that I struggled BIG TIME!! At first.

I’ve just finished a 54mm figure using mostly acrylic and (to me at least) there are clear advantages to this medium. It is quicker – much quicker – than oil painting, it is a more relaxed (less intense?) way to paint and I have managed to get far more subtlety in my shading and highlighting.

My first figure will win no prizes but I am nevertheless very pleased and encouraged by the result. I’m sure that practice will improve my painting and that I will need to use oils for some parts of a figure but I now look at the acrylic paints not just as a different medium but, in many ways, a better medium.

I can’t speak for other oil painters but what I’ve found so far is that it was easier for me to achieve that level of realism in acrylics. To get the same result from oils would have taken longer and (quite frankly) would have been less enjoyable – it was quite a thrill to start to paint a pair of breeches and to see a finished result just a couple of hours later instead of the couple of days it would have taken me with oils!

As a side issue, I guess that the “level of realism” is in the eye of the beholder; to my eye, some parts of the figure I’ve just painted ARE more realistic. Other parts are merely different.



Comparing Mediums II: Acrylics vs Oil

by Mario Fuentes

We can’t expect to compare painting media and get a definite winner. There are strengths and weaknesses for each kind of paint and these would still depend on individual painting style. However, acrylics do have some clear advantages that are better suited for some applications where the use of oils would either be impractical or technically difficult. Example: try painting a clearly discernible tartan or detailed crest exclusively with oils and vice versa.

Incorporating a new kind of paint is like adding a new tool to your toolbox – you can always try using a pair of pliers to loosen a bolt or you could get the correct size wrench and do it more efficiently. Unlike oils, acrylics like Vallejo’s have the property of being as transparent or opaque as needed for each color and maintain their intensity without change when dried. They can be used for either sharp contrasts or subtle changes.

On the other hand, oils excel where extreme subtlety, shallow contrast and low intensity are needed while still maintaining color richness like on skin or large flowing surfaces(like horses).In addition to all this, the application process presents some practical advantages for each kind of paint. The use of acrylics on figures larger than 90mm requires a lot of work simply because the high number of color increases or decreases needed for a good subtle finish makes this a very labor intensive process. Don’t get me wrong; it can and is done regularly, it just means a bigger brush and a lot more work.

A simple fold in 54mm that can be tackled with 8 or 10 layers of color becomes a football field at 120mm. Here the use of oils would be more advisable on the grounds of less tedious work. Note that I emphasize Vallejo over other acrylic colors. This is because Vallejo’s were specifically designed with the above properties. Their use of higher grade pigments and special binding resins make them different from other acrylics. This is why artist’s and other hobby acrylics don’t behave the same way.

Vallejo’s Model Color is an offspring from what was known as Vallejo Film Color used by the animation industry in Spain for coloring acetate sheets where high quality pigments with different degrees of transparency are needed. The techniques used today for painting figures with acrylics were developed back in the 80s and these prompted the development of what we know today as Vallejo acrylics.

Andrea acrylics were manufactured by Vallejo with the same paint standards but slightly different colors until Andrea broke up with Vallejo and decided to manufacture their own line of acrylics. These are a little different and have their own properties. Basically Andrea acrylics don’t cover as well as Vallejo and always dry to a very flat finish.

The former requires several applications in order to obtain a solid even coat. The latter is nice but because it is accomplished by increasing the amount of dulling agent (chalk or talcum) on the paint, it also builds up really quickly. When you put this two properties together you have to be more careful. They present a good advantage though on colors like blues and greens that are not very flat on Vallejo’s. About how many you should have, it really boils down to your color knowledge and how much time you want to spend mixing a specific shade of color.


Comparing Mediums III: Acrylic vs Oil

by Phil Kessling

 I painted several 54mms with Jo Sonya acrylics about 10 years ago. Although I was happy with the results, I found that color mixing and consistency were crucial and there was very little tolerance for errors in color mixing.

The shadows and highlights were layered with 8-10 color tones and no blending. For me, this was very labor intensive and time consuming. I didn’t have any problems painting dark colors like black and dark blue but I had real problems with white and lighter colors. The bottom line: it was a hit or miss procedure for me. With very limited painting time, I couldn’t afford to waste three hours of painting when things didn’t work out.

I still use acrylics for some things but I prefer oils for the majority of my painting. I am more familiar with the oils and they suit my painting style. The most important thing for me is that I get consistent and predictable results with the oils.

It really doesn’t matter what medium you use; just learn the basic techniques and practice. Bill Horan paints with Humbrols; Doug Cohen; Greg Difranco paints with oils; Mike Good with Humbrols, Testors and other hobby paints. Yet they are all some of the finest painters in our hobby. Medium is not as important as technique and practice. I think it is important to start in one medium and learn to paint well with that medium before moving on to another.


Phil Kessling is a critically acclaimed miniature painter, author of Osprey Publications Battle Honours, and a contributing editor to Historical Miniatures magazine.