5 Tips For Using Oil Based Paint Over Water Based Primer!

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The popularity of oil painting has been seeing some strong and constant growth over the last six to twelve months and shows no signs of slowing down due to more and more people getting involved in the oil painting space. With so many people new to oil painting being in the space right now, we have noticed a spike in the number of people who are reaching out about the various oil painting techniques that they are able to use to get the most out of their paintings.

We have seen a bunch of confusion on using oil based paint over water based primer recently with a number of people reaching out for advice on how to go about the process and avoid the common mistakes that we see time and time again. With so many people asking about using a water based primer with their oil based paints, we wanted to publish our own dedicated article going over the various ins and outs of the process as although it is relatively simply and easy, people seem to make easily avoidable mistakes when doing so.

We have added a table of contents below to make it as easy as possible for you to navigate the article quickly but if you are to oil painting and will be using primers on a regular basis or using your oil paints with canvas, we would highly recommend that you read the article in full. There are some slight tweaks that you have to make with the process in various situations that can result in a drastic change to how your painting turns out and skimming over the article may cause you to miss some information that you will need.

Can You Use An Oil Based Paint Over Water Based Primer Or Undercoat?

You can use an oil based paint over a water based primer and get great results provided you leave the water based primer to fully dry before you apply your oil based paint to it. There are a number of water based primers that can work well with oil based paints when used in this way and left to dry correctly and then will work well with your oil paints and help them bond to a surface that the may otherwise have struggled with.

In our opinion, a decent gesso is the best option in most cases when looking to use a water based primer with your oil based paint. Not only is gesso cheap but it is very easy to use and also dries quickly allowing you to get your oil paint base layer down ontop of the gesso as quickly as possible. Gesso is widely available too making it very easy to find at your local arts and crafts store or online scoring it more points over some of the competing water based primers on the market too.

For optimal performance, you really should be trying to use a high quality oil paint set if possible and there are plenty of beginner, budget friendly options on the market that you are able to go for that offer excellent performance without having to break the bank. The better the ingredients in your oil paint, the better it will perform with a water based primer but provided you are using a decent gesso product, even the cheaper oil paint products should work well without any issues provided you let the primer dry.

Do You Have To Use A Primer When Oil Painting?

Although it is not essential to use a primer when oil painting on some surfaces such as paper or card, it is highly recommended that you use a primer for your oil paints on a canvas. This is due to oil paints performing considerably better when used on a primer for canvas based artwork with some oil paints also being able to cause problems with the linen or cotton in the canvas causing it to deteriate if there is not a primer protecting it.

This is where your personal situation and circumstances come into play as only you know what you will be using your oil paints for. If you know you will only ever be using them to paint on paper or card then you can use a primer if you wish and in some situations it can help but it is not usually considered to be essential. This allows you to keep your costs low if you are a beginner by focusing on building up your initial oil painting skills on paper rather than canvas and not having to use a primer.

If you are looking to use a canvas for your oil paint artwork then you really do need to be using some form or primer be it water based or not. Even the highest possible quality canvas on the market can still have problems for oil painting without a primer and although it is technically possible to use them without it, something like gesso or liquid white should be used.

Can You Use A Oil Based Primer?

Although there are some oil based primers on the market, most people do tend to use a water based primer or an oil based, fluid paint similar to liquid white to apply their primer coat for their oil paints. Oil based primers tend to be expensive for what you actually get when a water based primer or liquid white can work well in most situations and offer great results.

Some of the oil based primers on the market are actually for home decor rather than arts and crafts so always check the label prior to purchasing one if you are set on using an oil based formula rather than a water based formula. Due to gesso being so cheap and easy to use, you will usually be able to get better gang for your buck by just going with gesso over an oil based primer anyway.

In addition to that, may of the oil based painters out there will also paint with acrylics from time to time too so sticking with gesso as your primer allows you to use your oil paints and acrylic paints with the same primer rather than having to carry two. If you don’t paint on a regular basis then you may end up not being able to use all of your primer for one type of paint resulting in wasted money where as if you just stick to gesso then you can use it for both types of painting and get through it quicker.

Using Gesso As An Undercoat For Oil Based Paint!

You can use gesso as an primer or undercoat for oil based paintings but you should always leave your gesso to fully dry before you start to build up your layers of oil based paint for the best possible results. Some people do apply their oil paint directly to their gesso without it being fully dry and can get mixed results but you will get a better, more consistent result if you leave the gesso to dry.

Thre are a huge number of gesso products on the market these days with some being better than others but a decent gesso is usually only a few dollars more than the low quality ones that can cause problems. If possible, always go for a better gesso product as it will only cost you a few dollars more but can work well with cheap oil paints where as expensive oil paints on a cheap gesso will still have issues.

Due to gesso being used with a number of different paint formulas for a wide range of arts and crafts, spending that extra few dollars for a decent gesso can actually help you with all of your arts and craft activities too. In our opinion, it is one of the few products in the arts and crafts space that we always recommend beginners go with a higher price point product rather than the cheaper entry level product due to the price increase being so small but the improvement in performance being so large.

The Most Common Mistake When Using Oil Based Paint Over Water Based Primer!

The most common mistake that we see time and time again is people will try to apply their oil based paint to their water based primer before the primer has dried. Oil and water tend not to mix well and the same applies with your paint and primer so you have to wait for the water in your primer to evaporate before you start adding your oil layer or you will have problems.

We know that there are a number of videos on social media of people using oil paint on gesso that has not fully dried but these tend to be professional artists with the best possible products and a highly developed skillset. If you check the accounts that upload these videos, they don’t consistently get these great results when doing this either so just wait until your gesso is dry prior to starting to paint.

We know that beginners are often excited and want to dive in and get started with their painting so one trick we have seen people recommend is to have two pieces of artwork on the go at the same time. One that is on some old canvas that has already been primed or on paper that does not need to be primers so you can work on that while your new canvas has its primer dry.

Do You Need To Seal Oil Based Paint Onto Water Based Primer?

Technically, there is no relationship between if you have to seal your oil painting or not due to its primer, it is usually the goals for your artwork that will dictate if you will seal it or not. It is common for a sealer such as varnish to be used on a dry oil paint to ensure that the art will last for as long as possible but this is common even if a primer was not used for the art.

We do recommend that you try to seal your artwork, even if you are a beginner as it can be a great way to preserve history and the development of your skillset even if you do have to pay for the sealer. It can be a great way to see how much you have improved over the years too while also being great for nostalgia due to the sealer helping to prevent color fade and a number of other issues too.

That said though, in the age of smartphones, more and more people are just switching over to capturing a photograph of their artwork rather than trying to preserve the physical copy for as long as possible. As each persons situation and goals are totally different, you are able to go with either option depending on your own needs for your artwork though as plenty of people take each route.


That brings our article going over our how to use an oil based paint over a water based primer to an end. We hope that you have found it helpful and that we have been able to point out the various mistakes people make time and time again when using a water based primer and an oil based paint in the same piece of artwork. Although some people do claim that you should totally avoid using an oil based paint over a water based primer, provided the primer has been left to dry fully, it can work well and deliver great end results.