Do You Need A Medium For Oil Painting?

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Due to so many people having recently taken up oil painting as a way to pass their time and relax, we have noticed a large number of questions about the various mediums being asked and have focused on answering those with our recent articles. For today’s article, we are going to be taking a look at the opposite end of the oil painting spectrum and going over if you need a medium for oil painting.

We know that some of the more toxic mediums have been getting some bad press recently as everyone tries to move over to a non-toxic footprint so we have noticed more and more people asking about painting without ever using a medium. If you are just wanting to avoid toxic substances then checking out our ultimate guide to oil painting mediums or our article on 11 alternative mediums for oil painting might be worth it.

That said though, we know a number of people simply want to avoid using a medium for the slightly different brush strokes, to keep the process as simple as possible or to keep their initial costs as low as they can if they are a beginner. All three of these are great reasons to explore oil painting without using any form of medium and using your paints directly from their tubes.

Do You Need A Medium For Oil Painting?

Although using a medium with your oil paints prior to applying it to your canvas or paint can allow you to manipulate the various properties of your oil paint, it is not essential that you actually use a medium with your paint. In fact, many of the more popular brands who sell oil paint products for arts and crafts will often have a small amount of medium in the tube with their paint.

This does tend to be refined linseed oil the majority of the time but some brands have started to use alternatives such as safflower oil or in even rarer cases walnut oil. Although this is only in very small amounts, it does tend to be enough for you to use your paint directly out of the tube and get good results for general oil painting.

The lack of any additional medium does tend to allow you to apply thicker coats of the paint too allowing you to build up larger base layers if required ready to apply your additional layers once dry. Depending on exactly what you are trying to do, this could actually end up being an advantage for you making it a better option to use your oil paints without a medium for some very specific purposes.

Can You Use Oil Paint Out Of The Tube?

You can use the vast majority of the more popular oil paints directly out of the tube if needed without having to apply any additional mediums to them. There is no special processes required as there are with some other paint types, you simply squeeze a small amount of your paint out of the tube onto your palette, soften it slightly with your brush and then start to paint.

The ease of getting started with oil painting tends to be one of the main reasons that it has proven to be so popular with beginners and people on a budget. Due to this, even a budget friendly, beginner oil painting set can quickly result in some beautiful artwork with a little practise without the need for many other accessories.

That said though, outside of some very niche painting styles, most beginners do quickly outgrow painting directly from their tube as different mediums offer you different advantages and ways to manipulate the performance of your oil paints. You can use mediums such as distilled turpentine to make your oil paints dry much quicker or poppy oil to extend the drying time much more than regular paint out of the tube.

Can You Use Oil Paint With Water?

We have noticed more and more people asking if they are able to use water with their oil paints as an alternative to a potentially toxic medium. Unfortunately, oil and water tend not to mix well so the vast majority of commonly used mediums for oil painting are either oil or solvent based. We know that water can work very well with other paint types but when it comes to oil paints, it should be avoided.

As we touched on above, if needed, you are able to use the majority of paint brands oil paints directly from their tubes anyway and still get some solid performance if needed. Although many beginners do choose to implement a medium straight away, there really is no need to, especially if you are on a tight budget.

We have actually seen the argument made that people who are brand new to oil painting should always try to focus on painting directly from their tube when starting. This then offers you a solid base with the standard consistency of your oil paints directly from the tube before you start to tweak how the paint performs with a medium and we can definitely see the benefit in doing this.

What Medium Should I Use For Oil Painting?

There are a huge range of mediums commonly used for oil paints but the majority of the people should be able to get everything they need out of good old refined linseed oil. It is the most commonly used medium in the world for a reason as it offers excellent performance while being very easy to use as well as having a very low price tag. Although some of the other mediums are gaining in popularity, at the time of writing none of them even come close to the levels of linseed oil amongst the arts and crafts community and it is our default recommendation to our readers.

Linseed oil is an excellent general-purpose medium for your oil paints that is kind of a jack of all trades yet a master of none. Some of the other popular mediums do have very specialist uses that we go into in more detail in our ultimate guide to oil painting mediums. As you progress with your oil painting activities and require slightly different things from your medium, you can play with other options but the majority of people will be fine starting off with linseed oil.

We have a dedicated article going over how to use linseed oil for oil painting that will definitely be worth reading if you are new to using a medium with your oil paints. In that article we go over how to use the medium for both tube-based oil paints as well as mixing pigment directly to the oil for optimal performance and the best possible end result from your artwork.


That brings our article going over if you need a medium for oil painting to an end. Although most people do tend to use a medium for their oil paints, especially intermediate and professional level oil painters, if you are a beginner or simply prefer to paint directly from the tube then the majority of oil paints will perform perfectly fine for many types of artwork without you needing a medium for them.