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5 Different Types of Paint for Art

Photo collage of Different Types of Paint for Art.

When I was 12, my art class was learning how to paint settings. I wouldn’t call myself a gifted artist, so I was naturally intimidated. Previously, I had completed a ribbon drawing that didn’t look too shabby, so, I decided to give my best effort.

I was painting sunflowers in a vase on a table. This was all very close-up and very rudimentary. I didn’t love it but I tried.

To my shock, my mother actually made a big deal about it. She was so enthusiastic that she bought a frame for the painting. I didn’t paint an 8×10 piece.

This was a whole poster-sized ordeal. Over two decades later, it’s still in her kitchen. Now, I’m not full of self-denial enough to believe anyone who has or will look at that painting believes it to be art.

However, knowing I’m not an artist, I decided to try again because I’d very much like to have that talent. Since it’s not natural, I would have to work at it.  My first foray into the art world was to paint onto clear vases.

I 100% got the wrong paint because I didn’t know enough. While I eventually made some decipherable paintings on paper, I don’t want you to fall down the same spiral of doom that I did.  So, trade your paintbrush for a pen, we’re going to learn paint!

Related: What Type of Exterior Paint is Best?

Types of Paint for Your Future Masterpiece

Before we go through each one, it’s important to know that paint is made of different materials because of the endless things we paint on. If you do what I did, you’ll get paint that shrivels when it gets wet and rolls off the surface. That’s not cool.

Or you get something that doesn’t work on canvas and it affects the color distribution. Let’s start with the paint types more people are familiar with and work our way down.

1. Watercolor

Natural luxury abstract fluid art painting in alcohol ink technique.

Hopefully, you have fond memories of watercolor painting as a child. These days they have markers that won’t work on surfaces other than the ones they’re meant for. That didn’t exist when I was a kid.

Let’s just say watercolor isn’t as innocent as it sounds. I digress. The first watercolor sets I had were Disney drawing books that came with assorted watercolors that were placed in a plastic case attached to the book. It should have been detachable.

Anyway, you dip the provided paintbrush in water and then glide it across the chosen slab of paint. Those brushes were meant to cause messes. I feel pretty confident because they were tiny and insufficient to trap any color.

Let’s just say, when you get real watercolor paint, it works better. Oh, and a real brush. This is translucent paint with pigment included.

The first layer you paint will come out very light. To enhance a color, add more layers. Unlike other paints, this one dries really quickly.

That can be good or bad, depending on what you’re trying to accomplish. It can be quite a blessing when it comes to shading, but irritating if you make a mistake. The most common surfaces to paint on with watercolor are cotton or wood pulp.

There are specific watercolor paper products and canvases. I would avoid using an easel until you’re comfortable with the medium, as watercolor has a tendency to run. You can control it better in time, but it’s not trustworthy, generally speaking. 

2. Acrylic

Oil painted background.

Fun fact, acrylic paint is what I used to paint on glass. Do not try this at home. Although it was great fun and dried beautifully thick enough to look like I almost had talent, I soon saw the error of my ways.

The thing is, acrylic doesn’t stick to glass. Even if you dip the whole thing in gloss, that won’t keep it from peeling. Take my word for it.

However, I never felt like more of an artist than when I had my hands painted with a plethora of colors from acrylic paint. It goes on smoothly and the color quality is great. It is the color it is, no additives necessary.

It dries quickly but not as fast as watercolors. So, if you need to change something or wipe it off, you have leeway. Acrylic is great for canvas.

It’s thick enough that it stays put. You can use it for techniques such as putting a small glob on the surface and using a finer-tipped brush to spread it out. It’s a fun effect.

Feel free to take paper or canvas to an easel. You will most often find acrylic paint in more colors than imaginable and will want to buy them all. Preemptive? Perhaps, but how else can greatness be achieved if you do not try all the colors?

3. Oil

Oil Painting Rainy Day concept - Rainy Day

Oil-based paint is almost like a mix of watercolor and acrylic. It’s able to fade like watercolor but is thick like acrylic. It’s also easier to add texture to.

Oil also adds a kind of shiny finish to your work. The paint also blends a lot better on the surface being used, which can be to the advantage of the artist. I hope you’re not in a hurry, though.

Oil-based paint takes ions to dry. If you end up with a clump of paint in an area, add another year to the drying before you get anywhere near it. Okay, so I am exaggerating a bit, but in all seriousness, it is a very slow-drying paint. 

To avoid doing a disservice to oil-based paint, I would be remiss if I didn’t let you know that most paint makers add driers to the paint to decrease drying time. Not sure I won’t induce nightmares if I tried to go down the rabbit hole of wondering how long an oil painting would take to dry if that wasn’t the case. As mentioned previously with watercolor, that can be helpful and it can be not.

Oil paint is the paint of patience. You want something to look amazing, so you will need to take your time to get it right. You don’t want to paint next to something and have them collide in an unflattering way. 

To your benefit, there are mixable oil paints. These colors have an emulsifier added to make the oil paint more liquidy and how it works with the colors. Note, this doesn’t make it like watercolor.

It still gets on your brush and on paper like the oil it is. Emulsifiers just make them more fluid to use. Use oil-based paints on canvas, all cotton paper, or linen paper. 

4. Gouache

Abstract acrylic oil gouache paint background.

Want to give extra depth to the image you’re creating? Gouache is a great way to do that. It kind of reminds me of liquid chalk.

As it begins to dry, it’s almost powdery. You can run your finger across it and feel the divots. That’s fun and can be used for a number of reasons to bring emphasis.

Before you get started, I would implore you to get a sample surface to test the colors on. The sample needs to be the same material you plan to put the final painting on. That’s because these paints tend to dry darker than they look on your brush or when first placed on the surface.

In fact, it might behoove you to get several tests out of the way so you can refer back to them in the future. This paint is designed to completely cover whatever it’s painted on. There will be no white dots.

If your brush runs across it, gouache will make sure it never sees the light of day again. That means there’s no need to layer. Be sure of the colors and plan for the piece.

Unlike needing to beg watercolor pallets to please stick to your brush as a kid, gouache will go the extra mile for you. Just a tiny bit can be stretched quite far and the quality stays the same. It’s really a wonderful thing when you consider the price of paint in comparison with how much you want to paint.

Gouache, we see you and we appreciate you. This paint does use water but the pigment and texture stay strong. To use gouache paints, pick watercolor paper as your surface.

Thick drawing paper is also good with this paint, the kind that almost feels like cardstock because it’s so strong. Just think ahead and don’t have anything on the following page that could get ruined if anything leaks through.

5. Encaustic

An icon Christ Pantocrator (the ruler of the world) from a church somewhere in eastern Slovakia.

Encaustic paint is what I should have used on my vases. This is wax-based paint that is unaffected by moisture or heat. No ruined vases from water, no peeling either.

To put it into context, this is sort of your off-roading option in the paint world. If your sights and creativity lie on diverse surfaces, this is your paint. People use it on:

  • Glass
  • Plexiglass
  • Ceramic
  • Stone
  • Fabric
  • Metal  

It’s not great on canvas because that type of material will cause it to crack over time due to the elements. Ask ancient Egyptians and Greeks, paintings they did on hard surfaces with encaustic paint are still around. That’s because they didn’t put them on canvas.

What makes it so durable? The wax. They come out as colored wax bars that you melt down to use as paint.

This also requires metal tools as opposed to a brush, due to the way wax likes to cling to everything. You don’t even want to try and clean wax off a paintbrush. Using encaustic paint is a type of art all on its own, due to the way it has to be used in order to create something beautiful.

It’s a medium that takes a long time to perfect, so get started now and test it out. If you like the way it feels, welcome to the rest of your life having the most amazing hobby. 


1. What’s the most common type of paint used in art?

Oil-based paint is the most widely used type by artists. Picasso and Van Gogh would agree. Clearly, children with watercolor pallets don’t count.

Anyway, oil is flexible and complex. It’s easy to use and anyone passionate enough can pick it up quickly. The way it goes onto canvas is helpful for both students and experts.

Many professionals have invested in heat guns to push the drying along.

2. What type of painting is made the most?

Painted portraits have been more popular than anything else. The reason is that most of the glorious paintings had a purpose. Since the camera has only been around for a very short time in the history of humanity, talented artists were treasured all around the world.

They were the only way that people of their day could leave a note for future generations. Whether it be royalty or an artist’s lover, what our ancestors wanted us to remember was them. How they looked, what they dressed like, what was important to them, and what their families were like.

To be fair, they hung those paintings in their homes the same way we display photos today. However, I still view it as the past’s love note to the future.  

3. What’s the best kind of paintbrush for art?

Art brushes different types for drawing on table.

Stiff bristle brushes. They are great for absorbing paint and even do well at layering, not damaging the paint that has dried below. The bristles are stiff enough to hold and apply but soft enough to keep it smooth.

However, there are so many sizes that work better for different reasons. The only true way to gain a preference is to test them out. Not on artwork or any project of substance but to get a feel for how they work in your hand and your paint of choice.