Due to a huge number of people having taken up oil painting recently, we have noticed more and more people reaching out with a wide range of questions about the various oil painting mediums available. Due to so many people reaching out about a wide range of different mediums, we have decided to publish our ultimate guide to oil painting mediums in the hope that we are able to help our readers get the most out of their medium of choice and their oil paints.
As with many things in arts and crafts, the various oil painting mediums on the market tend to have their own advantages and disadvantages that are unique to them. This tends to slightly tweak how you use them with your oil paints as well as what you actually use them for. There is no one size fits all oil medium that will meet every artists requirements and something that works for one artist may be the total opposite of what another artist needs for their oil paints.
We hope to be able to go over the various oil paint mediums on the market and cover the various features for each one that makes them unique and the various use cases that people tend to have for each one. This should be able to help our readers better understand how and when they should be using each of the oil painting mediums for their artwork. We also have a table of contents below due to covering so many different mediums in the article so you are able to quickly navigate to specific ones if required.
- What Is A Painting Medium
- Linseed Oil Painting Medium
- Turpentine Painting Medium
- Liquin Oil Painting Medium
- Safflower Oil Painting Medium
- Walnut Oil Painting Medium
- Stand Oil Painting Medium
- Poppy Oil Painting Medium
- Linseed Oil And Turpentine Hybrid Medium
- Sunflower Oil Painting Medium
- Olive Oil Painting Medium
- Coconut Oil Painting Medium
- Alternative Oil Painting Mediums
What Is A Painting Medium
An oil painting medium is a substance, usually an oil but sometimes a solvent that is used to thin your oil paints be it directly out of a tube of oil paint or via adding a suitable pigment option directly to the medium. You are able to use different mediums as a way to manipulate the various properties of your oil paints to get them to fit better with the specific type of art that you are currently working on.
The two main properties that the majority of people use a medium to manipulate is the drying time of their oil paint as the spreadability of their oil paint. As we will cover below, some mediums dry much quicker than others allowing you to tweak your oil paint for any artwork with layering to allow you to get your base layers down quickly and have them dry as fast as possible.
As you build up your layers on your canvas or paper you will probably want to start adding high levels of detail to your artwork. This is where a medium with a better spreadability will come in allowing you to get a much higher level of detail from your oil paint then you would be able to get without it.
Linseed Oil Painting Medium
There is no doubt in our mind that refined linseed oil is the most commonly used oil paint medium all over the world due to its low price, ease of use, and excellent performance. Linseed oil is ideal for both beginner and professional oil painters alike with it usually being our go to recommendation as an oil medium due to it being a great middle of the road option for general oil painting.
Linseed oil tends to have a pretty average drying time for an oil medium of between twelve and twenty four hours making it an ideal option for all layers if you have the time available to wait for each layer to dry. Although personal preference and style does come into play, linseed oil also tends to offer some excellent spreadability when used with both tube based oil paints and pigment options allowing you to get high levels of detail even with entry level brushes.
The only real drawback of using linseed oil as your oil medium of choice is that it does tend to yellow slightly after a few years but if you are a beginner, this can often be overlooked due to the other benefits that it offers you. We also have our dedicated article on how to use linseed oil in oil painting that is well worth reading if you are new to oil painting and looking for ways to implement the world’s most popular oil medium into your artwork.
Turpentine Painting Medium
Although historically, distilled turpentine was probably the second most commonly used oil paint medium around the world, times are changing and more and more artists are switching over to a non-toxic medium for their oil painting such as refined linseed oil. Although we would guess that turpentine is still the second or may be third most popular medium used for oil painting, there is definitely a surge in the popularity of the other mediums that are non-toxic and we only expect this to continiue.
That said though, turpentine is still one of the best mediums that you are able to use for your oil paints if you need your artwork to dry as quickly as possible once applied to the canvas. Although some brands have tried to make non-toxic mediums that dry as quickly as turpentine, at the time of writing none even come close making turpentine the ideal medium option for base layers so thy will dry as quickly as possible to allow you to build your artwork up with additional layers.
Turpentine can be hit and miss when it comes to yellowing with age with some people not having any issues at all over many years where as others get a slight yellowing similar to the level of linseed oil after a couple of years. As the majority of people tend to use turpentine for a base layer and then build additional layers on top of it, this tends not to be a big issue though as you can usually use alternative mediums with your oil paints for your additional layers to hide it. We have our dedicated article on using turpentine for oil painting if you would like to know more about using this medium.
Liquin Oil Painting Medium
There was a massive spike in the popularity of liquin recently as artists looked for a medium that was non-toxic to replace their turpentine. Although there are a large number of sources claiming that liquin is non-toxic, this is not accurate and if you read the user instructions on a bottle of liquin it clearly states that it is toxic and should only be used in a ventilated room.
Liquin is an excellent medium for oil painting though and it still has its place with a large number of oil paint artists opting to use liquin as their medium of choice for their arts and crafts. Liquin is usually user for the outer layers of your oil painting as it has a drying time between one and five days depending on how much liquin you use to thin your paints but it offers excellent levels of detail with the majority of oil paints.
Although some brands do sell a standard liquin that can yellow, the majority of establishing brands in the arts and crafts space do sell a refined liquin that should not yellow when aged for around the same price as standard liquin. We go into this in more detail in our article on using liquin for oil painting though.
Safflower Oil Painting Medium
Our regular readers will probably be aware that we are huge fans of using safflower oil with oil paints and it is usually our recommended medium for outer layers of your oil painting. This is due to safflower oil not yellowing at all even after decades helping to retain the color of your artwork without any adverse effects over the years to come.
That said though, just like the other paint mediums that tend not to yellow, there is a trade off in the drying time of safflower oil with it usually taking three to seven days to dry. As safflower oil is a semi-drying oil, it tends not to be ideal for anything other than your final layers of your paint too as layers applied on top of safflower oil can have some minor issues.
Due to this many beginner oil painters will avoid safflower oil to keep their costs as low as possible and go with a general-purpose medium such as refined linseed oil. Once they start to upgrade their oil painting accessories and progress to an intermediate level, safflower oil does tend to be a common addition. We have our article on how to use safflower oil for oil painting that goes into much more detail though.
Walnut Oil Painting Medium
Although walnut oil is not a traditionally popular option as a medium for oil painting, it has seen a slight increase in its popularity in recent years due to it being a non-toxic oil paint medium. Although walnut oil does tend to yellow over time, it is nowhere near as pronounced as a medium like linseed oil and it can be difficult to see the yellowing caused by walnut oil unless you are specifically looking for it.
Walnut oil is an ideal medium for any layers of your oil paint that require large amounts of detail with a fine brush as it tends to be very responsive. Walnut oil does tend to take three to five days to dry fully though essentially forcing you to only use it on the outer layers of your artwork unless you have plenty of time to wait between painting sessions for it to dry.
The main downside of walnut oil is that it tends to be one of the more expensive oil paint mediums on the market and it can be difficult to source too. Although many people do use it as their medium of choice, we usually recommend that beginners go with any of the other suitable options from our list rather than walnut oil. We have our article on how to use walnut oil for oil painting online going into much more detail on how you are able to use it though.
Stand Oil Painting Medium
Although stand oil is one of the less popular oil paint mediums that is overlooked in our opinion, it is slowly seeing its popularity amongst the arts and crafts community increase with each year that passes. Stand oil is a highly refined version of refined linseed oil that we covered earlier in the article offering all of its benefits with none of its disadvantages.
Stand oil offers excellent levels of detail without any issues with yellowing over time while also drying within one to three days. One the flipside of this though, the refining process of the linseed oil to create stand oil is expensive and it can drastically pump the price of stand oil up when compared to all of the other mediums on our list making it unsuitable for beginners or anyone on a tight budget.
That said though, for professional-level artists, stand oil is an excellent option and its only real downside is its price but the quality of your artwork becomes a more important factor than the price at professional levels. If you do have the budget available for stand oil as a beginner or intermediate then it can be good to use but another option will work out cheaper but we go into this in our article on how to use stand oil for oil painting.
Poppy Oil Painting Medium
The arts and crafts community seem to be divided on using poppy oil as their medium of choice for arts and crafts with some people loving it and some people hating it. Poppy oil is another semi-drying medium option similar to safflower oil covered earlier in the article offering very similar benefits.
Poppy oil tends not to yellow at all once dry while usually having a drying time of around a week making it a suitable medium for the outer layers of your oil painting. Please note that there are seasonal changes in the oil compounds in poppy oil that can slightly change these but the majority of reputable vendors of poppy oil always try to ensure that there will be minimal to no yellowing when using their products.
The main argument from the community against poppy oil is that you are able to get the same benefits from safflower oil while safflower oil tends to have a faster drying time and a lower price tag too. We can definitely see this argument, especially if you are a beginner or if you are on a tight budget but some people do just prefer to use poppy oil over the alternatives for their outer layers on their canvas.
Linseed Oil And Turpentine Hybrid Medium
Although it is not a traditional oil paint medium, the hybrid of mixing linseed oil with distilled turpentine has become increasingly popular recently. The goal of mixing the two mediums together is to try and get the advantages of both without any of the downsides of either and it can work surprisingly well.
A mixture of one part linseed oil and two parts distilled turpentine tends to be the most common with it offering a fast drying time while also offering some excellent control for detailed work too. Some people do tweak this to two parts linseed oil one part distilled turpentine for a little more control while still having a faster drying time than using just linseed oil.
The downside of trying this approach is that mixing the two mediums tends to be a pain due to the different liquid densities so most people usually just use either of the mediums without mixing them. If you are a beginner or even an intermediate-level oil painter then we would recommend that you simply stick to one or the other without mixing them to save time but we go into more detail in our article on how to use linseed oil and turpentine in oil painting.
Sunflower Oil Painting Medium
Although we don’t recommend it, more and more people new to oil painting have taken to using sunflower oil as their medium of choice over any of the alternatives. This tends to be due to budgetary issues and many house holds already having sunflower oil in their homes but it tends to perform considerably worse than the alternatives covered above.
On top of this, different brands of sunflower oil can have other oils mixed in with it too drastically changing how the oil will react with your oil paints. Yellowing can also be a major issue with sunflower oil as well as its inconsistent drying time that we explain more in our article on using sunflower oil for oil painting.
Even if you are on a tight budget, a small bottle of refined linseed oil should only cost you a couple of dollars and should be able to last you for a very long time. We would highly recommend that you take that route if possible as linseed oil will drastically out perform sunflower oil when used with oil paints on both canvas and paper.
Olive Oil Painting Medium
Similar to using sunflower oil above, we have noticed more and more people saying that they have started to use olive oil as their painting medium. We know that the majority of households in North America and Europe where the majority of our readers are will probably have olive oil helping to keep your costs as low as possible but olive oil performs very badly with oil paints.
We go into much more detail in our article on the six reasons you should avoid using olive oil for oil painting but the primary reason is that olive oil is a non-drying oil and it will never fully dry or harden. This ends up causing a bunch of problems in the long run with your artwork that is easily avoidable by going with an alternative paint medium.
Although we have noticed some people saying they are able to add other substances to olive oil to get it to dry, we see no point in doing this. It just adds additional steps to using an unsuitable paint medium that can be totally avoided as well as the other downsides of using olive oil if you just choose to go with something like refined linseed oil instead.
Coconut Oil Painting Medium
Just like with olive oil above, a number of people have started to try and use coconut oil as their medium of choose for their oil painting and we would highly discourage this too. We know that people new to oil painting are often on a budget or want to keep their costs as low as possible so look to use oils around their house but not all oils are created equally.
Using an unsuitable oil such as coconut oil causes problems with your artwork that can easily be avoided and potentially cause you to not continue with your oil painting that may otherwise have become one of your main hobbies. We go into it in more detail in our article on the seven reasons you should avoid using coconut oil for oil painting but the main reason is that coconut oil is also a non-drying oil just like olive oil.
This means that coconut oil has the same problems as olive oil with it never really fully drying or hardening as well as a number of other problems that can hold your artwork back. Just go with a cheap, small bottle of refined linseed oil to keep your costs as low as possible while ensuring that your oil paints will be able to perform to their full potential for your artwork.
Alternative Oil Painting Mediums
We know that there are a number of lesser known and lesser used oil painting mediums that people do tend to use with their oil paints with mixed results. Although some of these alternatives do tend to work well, many of them are essentially a total waste of time and should be totally avoided in our opinion.
Due to so few people actually using these other alternatives, we have decided to publish a dedicated article going over 11 alternative oil paint mediums for oil painting rather than give them a dedicated section each in this article. For anyone who is curious though, the 11 featured oil paint mediums in that article are as follows with a full breakdown for each of them being in our linked article:-
- Lavender Oil For Oil Painting
- Rosemary Oil For Oil Painting
- Clove Oil For Oil Painting
- Grapeseed Oil For Oil Painting
- Hemp Oil For Oil Painting
- Vegetable Oil For Oil Painting
- Cooking Oil For Oil Painting
- Sesame Oil For Oil Painting
- Castor Oil For Oil Painting
- Tung Oil For Oil Painting
- Baby Oil For Oil Painting
That brings our ultimate guide to oil painting mediums to a close and we hope that you have found it helpful. We have tried to cover the advantages and disadvantages of each of the featured mediums as best we can in the hope that we will be able to help our readers choose the best possible oil for their needs. Where relevant, we have also linked out to a dedicated, in-depth article going over some of the oil painting mediums covering how you are able to get the most out of it for your artwork to try and help our readers further.