Art Supplies Different Types of Paint Used in Art

Art supply stores have a wide selection of art paints. Artist paints have different properties and are used in various ways according to the needs of each artist. How do you know which paint to choose? Oils, watercolors and other types of artist's paints are explained in this guide to paint. Characteristics of each painting media is described.

Oil paint is pigment mixed with a linseed oil binder. Oil paint is thinned with turpentine or a mixture of turpentine, linseed oil or sometimes mineral oil. Oil paintings are known for their deep rich tones and are a classic medium used for centuries. Oils take weeks to dry and should be sealed with a varnish after several months. Some artists do not varnish their paintings for a year. Clean up is with turpentine. Many art supply stores are now carrying water based oils as well as traditional oil paint. 

Watercolor is a popular paint for its easy clean up and beautiful translucent colors. Pigments are water based and mixed with gum Arabic as a binder. There are many techniques used to gain interesting effects. Watercolor paints can be blotted and easily lifted from the paper. Watercolor is most often done on archival paper with soft brushes. Paintings can be approached with a loose transparent method or a tight illustration or graphic style. It is common to layer several washes to gain a deeper, richer look. Watercolors come in blocks and tubes and are also great for children. Art supply stores have watercolor sets for the beginner that will include all the supplies that you need to create a painting. This makes for a good purchase for artists who want to try it before purchasing more expensive products. 


Acrylic paint is pigment mixed with a polymer binder and is water soluble. It is a versatile paint and can be thinned with water or acrylic media extenders and gels. It can be used in a similar method as water color using layers of washes and wet on wet techniques. It can also be used in a thick impasto. There are a number of gel media that can be mixed with acrylic to give it a specific sheen or flat finish. Also available are retarders that can be used to extend the drying time so that the artist has more time to blend and mix colors on her canvas or paper. Once acrylic is dry it is permanent and can not be lifted in the same way as water color. Unlike oil paint, acrylics dry quickly, however, there are new acrylic paints on the market now that are slow drying and can be worked more like oils. Clean up is with water but it is important to clean up while the paint is still wet on your brushes and surfaces.

Gouache is an opaque, somewhat chalky water based paint using gum Arabic as a binder. The pigment that is used is a much larger particle than water color and has a white pigment mixed in that gives it its opaque quality. It takes some practice painting with Gouache to get an even finished consistency. It does not have the translucency that is required to paint layers of washes as artists often do in water color painting. Illustrators and commercial artists often use a gouache. It is also used as a poster paint.

Casein is a paint that is based on the casein protein from cow’s milk. You will notice a unique smell to casein. It is opaque and dries more evenly than gouache. It is often used as an under painting and in murals. Casein emulsion is available to thin the paint or it can be thinned with water. Casein is not a good choice for canvas as it dries to an inflexible finish. Masonite is a common substrate for casein painting. Since casein dries to a matte finish, varnishes are available for a top coat if desired.

Tempera is pigment traditionally mixed with egg yolk but can also be mixed with white glue to make poster paint. Egg tempera is an ancient medium and was the primary paint used during the renaissance and medieval eras. Tempera dries to a matte finish and can be varnished to give it luster. Authentic egg tempera can be purchased or made and is often used for icon paintings and under paintings for oils. If you are a professional artist you may want to look for authentic, archival egg tempera in tubes. Modern tempera paint, sometimes called poster paint, comes in jars of powder pigment and in jugs with pump tops. It is commonly used in school art classes. The color range includes fluorescents that appeal to children.

Encaustic is a very specialized painting technique. The name refers to the pigment and the technique. Pigment is mixed with hot wax and applied to a substrate while the wax is still warm. There are a number of formulas used and artists often develop their own mixtures using beeswax, resins and linseed oil. Oil paints are sometimes used as the basic pigment mixed in with wax. Blocks of encaustic color can be purchased ready to be melted and used. Heat guns, metal tins, heat plates and metal tools are used. The painting can be reheated and manipulated as often as necessary.

Other articles on art techniques and materials by Judith Barton:

Art Supplies: Paper Used in Art for Drawing and Painting

How To Make a Block Print: Wood Cut and Linoleum Cut

Different Types Of Clay Used In Art

Picture Framing Tips: Basic Guidelines

Mold Making For Casting Handmade Paper Pulp

Creating Handmade Paper Pulp In Your Kitchen


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