Comparison Of Different Paint Mediums: Which Is Right For You?

watercolor and tempera paints on the wood surface

When it comes to painting, there are a variety of different mediums to choose from. Each one has its unique benefits and drawbacks. In addition, there are a lot of factors to consider when choosing a painting medium.

So, if you are a professional artist looking to expand your collection or just starting and trying to figure out which one is best for you, this comprehensive guide is for you. In this blog post, we will compare different paint mediums. We will also discuss the pros and cons of each medium so that you can decide which one is right for you!

Comparison Table of Different Paint Mediums

Paint Type



Surface Coverage



Opaque,Translucent, Layers

Less likely to fade

Canvas,Wood,Paper, Poster,Board,Glass



Fast drying, Transparent, Opaque

Fading resistant

Canvas ,Paper Cardboard, Wood, Stone, Plaster



Slow drying, Opaque

Fading resistant

Canvas, wood, metal



Dries quickly, Thick, Rough

Less likely to fade

Paper, Cardboard, and Wood



Vibrant, Opaque, Soft/hard

Very lightfast

Boards, Canvas, and Sandpaper



Fast drying, Dries darker, Matte

Fades overtime

Wood, Metal, Stone



Fast drying, Opaque, Matte

Not guaranteed

Paper, Wood,  Fabric.



Tempera paintings

Pros Cons
  • Relatively inexpensive
  • Easy to find
  • Good for beginners
  • Will not change color over time
  • Safe for both adults and kids
  • Long-lasting
  • Peels off on paper
  • It cannot be applied too thickly
  • Inability to attain deep color saturation



    Durability: Tempera's durability and long-lasting nature make it ideal for use in various settings, from art galleries to amusement parks.

    "Tempera" comes from the Latin word for "time," which is fitting given the paint's ability to withstand time. Unlike oil paints which tend to darken or lose color with age. It dries rapidly, producing a smooth matte finish when dry.

    Drying Time: Tempera takes the cake when it comes to drying time. Temperas can be touched dry in as little as 30 minutes, making it an ideal medium for painting frescoes (paintings done on wet plaster). So if you are looking for paint that dries quickly, tempera is the way to go.

    Versatility: Tempera can be used on various surfaces, including canvas, wood, fabric, paper, paper mache, poster board, and temporarily on glass. You can also apply it thinly with water to create a transparent effect or layered it to create a more three-dimensional effect. As a result, it is one of the most versatile mediums an artist can use.

    Texture: Unlike other types of paint, which can be either smooth or rough, tempera has a unique texture that is both delicate and complex. The tiny pigment particles are suspended in a binder, usually, egg yolk, which gives the paint its characteristic sheen.

    When dry, tempera paint feels velvety to the touch, and the color seems to glow from within. While it is not as widely used as oil or acrylic paints, tempera has a distinctive beauty worth exploring for any artist.

    Lightfastness: The lightfastness of tempera paint is determined by the type of pigments used in the paint. Some Pigments are more lightfast than others, meaning they are less likely to fade when exposed to light. Some premium tempera paint brands advertise their lightfastness, which means the paints are fade-resistant.


    Acrylic painting

    Pros Cons
    • Fast drying, so you don't have to wait longer to put new layers
    • No harsh chemicals, making it safe for both adults and kids
    • Comes in a variety of finishes
    • It can be used on different surfaces
    • Dries to a non-yellowing, UV-resistant finish
    • Crackles under certain painting conditions
    • It may crack or chip when exposed to extreme cold or heat



      Durability: Acrylic paint mediums are resistant to fading, humidity, and light. However, it is not as resistant to damage from heat and cold as tempera.

      Drying Time: Like tempera, acrylic also dries relatively quickly. However, acrylics take a bit longer to dry than temperas. Acrylics can be touched dry in about an hour.

      Versatility: Acrylic can be used for various surfaces, including canvas, paper, cardboard, wood, polymer clay, air-dry clay, stone, and plaster. It is also ideal for both beginners and experienced artists alike.

      Additionally, it can be thinned with water or thickened with gels or pastes to create a variety of textures. It can also be used in mixed-media painting with oils or watercolors to create unique effects.

      Texture:  Acrylic paint is made of pigment suspended in synthetic acrylic resin. This acrylic resin gives the paint a thicker consistency than watercolor but not as thick as oil paint. This is why painters are more interested in acrylic painting.

      Lightfastness: Acrylics resist fading and discoloration when exposed to light better than most other types of paint. That's because acrylics are made with lightfast pigments, so they won't break down as quickly when exposed to light.


      Oil painting

      Pros Cons
      • Slower drying time compared to acrylics
      • Layers can take weeks or even months to dry, so you can work on it over an extended period
      • Rich and highly pigmented colors
      • Working transparently (such as glazing) requires oil mediums containing toxic solvents
      • Prone to yellowing and darkening over time
      • Not suitable for artists that don't like waiting for paint to dry

        Drying Time: Oil paint is notorious for its slow drying time. Because they are oil-based with linseed oil, they can take days, weeks, or even months to dry thoroughly. However, the slow drying time of oil paint is one of its most attractive features. The slow drying time allows the painter to work on the paint more often and create more complex paintings.

        Durability: Oil-based paints are more durable as they dry harder than water-based paints, contributing to their greater durability. However, as the paint dries harder, there is less flexibility within the paint, making oil-based paints more prone to crack and become dry, brittle, and chalky over time. Oil-based paints are also known to be yellow over time.

        Versatility: One of the main attractions of oil paint is its versatility. It can be used to create realistic and abstract images and offers a wide range of possibilities for texture and color. While it takes longer to dry than other types of paint, oil paint allows more time to blend colors and create subtle effects. In addition, it can be applied to various surfaces, including canvas, wood, and metal.

        Texture: Oil paint has a thicker, creamier texture. This can be an advantage or disadvantage, depending on your project goals. For example, acrylic may be better if you want to create a smooth, even surface. However, oil paint is the way to go if you want to add dimension and texture to your painting.

        Lightfastness: Oil paint is generally very lightfast due largely to the fact that it contains no water. This means there is no danger of the color pigments being dissolved by light exposure. Additionally, oil paint dries slowly, allowing for a more even distribution of light exposure.


        Watercolor painting

        Pros Cons
        • Suitable for travel as it's lightweight and doesn't require much equipment
        • Produces soft, delicate gradations of color
        • Achieves luminous effects
        • Transparency allows the layering of colors
        • Dries quickly
        • Relatively inexpensive
        • It requires a lot of practice to master
        • Appears blotchy if not applied evenly
        • Requires paper to avoid mess



          Drying Time: Watercolor paint is made with pigment that is ground up and suspended in water. It dries very quickly because the pigment is not bound with a binder, like oil or acrylic paint. However, it cannot be easy to work with because the color will become light and diluted if you add too much water. The paint will dry and crumble if you don't add enough water.

          Durability: Watercolors can be tricky to work with, as they are susceptible to smudging and fading. But with proper care, your watercolor paintings can last for generations. Watercolors are best stored in closed portfolios or acid-free sleeves. Also, keep them away from direct sunlight, which can cause the colors to fade.

          Versatility: Watercolor is one of the most versatile mediums an artist can use. It can create subtle gradations of color or bold statements and is perfect for small-scale projects and large murals. Watercolor is also a trendy choice for illustrations, as it has a unique ability to convey both emotion and imagination.

          Texture: Watercolor is often overlooked because it is thin and flat for consistency. However, there are ways to create interesting textures with watercolor. Adding gesso or acrylic paint to your paper can create a textured surface that will add dimension to your painting.

          Lightfastness: Watercolors are notoriously fugitive when it comes to lightfastness. Meaning they will fade over time if exposed to direct sunlight. However, there are ways to increase the lightfastness of your paintings by using high-quality pigments and paper.


          Gouache painting

          Pros Cons
          • Dries quickly, allowing you to layer
          • Vibrant and opaque colors
          • It can be used on many surfaces
          • Achieves the results like oil paints and watercolor
          • Expensive
          • It tends to crack when used in heavy layers
          • Gets darker when it dries
          • Not water-resistant

            Durability: Unlike other types of paint, gouache can be used on porous and non-porous surfaces alike, making it a versatile medium for artists of all types. In addition to its versatility, gouache is also known for its durability. Once it has dried, the gouache is resistant to UV light and moisture, meaning that it will not fade or run over time. This makes it an ideal choice for both indoor and outdoor projects.

            Drying Time: Gouache is a type of paint similar to watercolor, but it has a thicker consistency and dries more quickly. Unlike other types of paint, it dries quickly on the surface but remains workable for a longer period. This makes it perfect for painting on the go or for making corrections after the initial layer has dried.

            Versatility: Gouache can be used to create a variety of different effects, from subtle shading to bold strokes. It is also ideal for various surfaces, including paper, wood, and fabric.

            Texture: The gouache texture is often velvety due to its creamy consistency. When applied to paper, it can create a textured effect that is unique and eye-catching. Gouache texture is not made using different brushstrokes or techniques, unlike other painting mediums.

            Instead, it is achieved by adding an opaque white pigment to the paint. This gives the gouache a thicker consistency, which can then be used to create different effects.

            Lightfastness: Gouache lightfastness is not guaranteed. Since gouache is almost always done on paper, the amount of sun exposure should be limited. Too much sun exposure may cause the colors to fade and become less saturated than when initially put down.


            Pastel painting

            Pros Cons
            • Provides varied textures
            • Easy to use and produces vibrant colors
            • Requires fewer materials than most painting mediums
            • It comes in a wide range of colors
            • Mixable with other painting media
            • Smudges easily
            • Prone to damages, dirt, and dust
            • Not forgiving when painted on a surface


              Durability: Pastels can last just as long as any other medium when handled correctly. They never crack, yellow, or darken over time. In addition, pastels are less likely to fade in sunlight than other types of paints. As a result, they are ideal for artists who want their work to stand the test of time.

              Drying Time: Like oils, pastels have a slow drying time but are not as durable. The drying time for pastel paints can range from a few minutes to several hours, depending on the artist's desired effect and the thickness of the paint.

              Versatility: Pastel is a unique medium that offers artists great versatility. Unlike other painting media, they can be used to create both soft, delicate effects and bold, vibrant strokes. It can also be used for various subjects, from portraiture to landscapes.

              Texture: Pastels can be used to create both smooth and rough textures, depending on the artist's desired effect. Artists often use soft, dry pastels to create a smooth texture and consistency.

              Artists may opt for oil-based pastels or chalk pastels for a rougher texture. No matter what texture you're looking for, pastels offer a versatile option for expressing your creative vision.

              Lightfastness: Pastel is the most lightfast of all mediums, meaning it won't fade over time. That's because lightfast pigments are tightly bound to the surface, so they're not exposed to light and air like in other mediums. As a result, pastels are ideal for paintings on display for long periods.


              Poster painting

              Poster painting - Image by Rahul Tanwar Art

              Pros Cons
              • Speedier drying time
              • Dilutable to create an opaque watercolor-style texture
              • Non-toxic and safe to use
              • Suitable for people of all ages
              • Affordable
              • It does not wash off easily
              • Not as durable as other paints
              • Made of cheap ingredients


                Durability: The pigments in poster paint are not as stable as those in other types of paint, such as acrylic or oil paint. If you want your poster paint artwork to last, keeping it out of direct sunlight and protecting it from UV damage is important.

                Drying Time: Poster paint is a type of acrylic paint, so it dries relatively quickly. The drying time for poster paint can be affected by the temperature and humidity of the environment.

                The drying time will be slower if it is too cold or hot. If the humidity is too high, the drying time will be faster. Given those facts, poster paint is still considered quick-dry than other paints like oil.

                Versatility: Poster paints are a versatile type of paint used for various projects. They are also available in a wide range of colors and can be applied to multiple surfaces, including paper, cardboard, and wood.

                Texture: Poster paint is usually made from pigment and glue, giving it a distinct thickness and texture. When applied to a surface, poster paint can create various effects, depending on its use.

                For example, an artist can create a smooth, shiny texture or a rough, sandy texture by using different painting techniques. By Experimenting with different application methods, an artist can create endless texture effects with poster paint.

                Lightfastness: Unlike other types of paint, poster paint is designed to be highly visible and resistant to fading over time. As a result, it is ideal for projects on display for extended periods.

                However, poster paint is not completely immune to fading. Under certain conditions, such as exposure to direct sunlight, the colors may begin to fade or lose their vibrancy.

                Which is the Best Paint Medium?

                Mother and son painting on paper

                Drying Time: Winner - Tempera

                The clear winner is tempera, with acrylic, poster, and gouache being a close second. But being slow to dry can be an advantage. For instance, if you want to be able to layer your paintings or make corrections, then oil paints are the way to go.

                Versatility: Winner - Acrylic

                All mediums have their benefits, but acrylic is the most versatile. It can be used on various surfaces, dries quickly, and can be easily layered to create depth and dimension.

                Durability: Winner - Tempera

                Tempera is the most durable and user-friendly medium as it can withstand time. Although each type of paint has its advantages, tempera stands out because it doesn't get darker and turns yellow over time, unlike oil and acrylic paint.

                Texture: Winner - Tempera, Acrylic, Oil, and Gouache

                All four mediums can be used to create a variety of textures, from smooth and glossy to rough and textured. It all depends on how you apply the paint and what type of finish you're going for.

                Tempera paint can be smooth or sticky, depending on how much water is added. It dries quickly, so it's great for creating textured surfaces.

                Acrylic paint is similar to tempera but dries slower and is less likely to crack or flake off. To change its consistency, you can also add different types of mediums to acrylic paint. For example, a thickener makes it denser, while thinners make it more fluid.

                Oil paint is another versatile medium that can create smooth and textured surfaces. If you want a glossy finish, add a varnish or an impasto medium if you want a rougher texture. Gouache is similar to watercolor, but it has a higher opacity and can be used to create thicker, more textured designs. 

                Lightfastness: Winner - Acrylic

                Acrylics are the best type of paint to use if you want your paintings to retain their color. This medium will not fade over time, even when exposed to direct sunlight. This is because acrylics are made with pigments that are resistant to fading.

                In contrast, other types of paint, such as watercolors, are made with pigments more susceptible to fading. These pigments will break down and lose their color over time.

                Ease of Use: Winner - Oil and Acrylic

                Oil paints have a smooth, creamy texture that is easy to apply to your canvas. In addition, oil paints dry slowly, so you have plenty of time to work with them. This makes it ideal for beginners who want to take their time and experiment with different techniques.

                Acrylics have a slightly different texture than oil paints, but they are still easy to apply to your canvas. They dry quickly, so you must work fast with this paint medium, which can be challenging for beginners.

                How to Choose the Right Paint Medium for Your Project

                Woman painting on canvas

                When choosing the right paint medium, you need to consider several things to ensure the quality of the project. These include:

                • The Surface You'll Be Painting On

                If you're painting on a canvas, you'll need to choose a medium compatible with the fabric. Similarly, if you're painting on wood, you'll need to choose a medium that won't damage the surface.

                • The Detail You Want to Achieve

                By ensuring the detail you want to achieve beforehand, you can avoid wasting time and effort on a painting that doesn't meet your expectations.

                For example, watercolors are best for making broad strokes, while acrylics are better suited for creating detailed images. Experimenting with different mediums is a great way to find the right fit for your painting style.

                • The Drying Time

                Some mediums dry very quickly, while others take longer to dry. This is important, especially if you're working on a large project.

                If the medium dries too quickly, you may not have enough time to work with it before it sets. On the other hand, if it takes too long to dry, your project may be at risk of smudging or smearing.

                Different Paint Mediums FAQ

                Painting supplies on a table

                What are the five mediums used in the painting?

                The five most common paint mediums are watercolors, oils, acrylics, gouache, and tempera. Each has unique properties, so always consider the factors mentioned above when choosing the right medium for your project.

                What is the hardest paint medium to work with?

                There is no clear-cut answer to this question. Some might find oil paint to be the hardest to work with due to its slow drying time and the need for careful planning when working with it.

                Others might feel that watercolor is the most difficult due to its unpredictable nature and the challenge of making corrections once the paint has been applied to the paper. Ultimately, it all depends on the artist's preference and style.

                Which paint medium is best for beginners?

                When it comes to painting mediums, there are many options available. Watercolors might be a good option if you're interested in trying various techniques. They're relatively inexpensive, easy to find, and you can experiment with different brush strokes and layering to create different effects.

                Acrylics are another popular choice, especially for beginners who want to paint on various surfaces. They dry quickly and can be diluted with water, making them versatile and easy to use. Whichever paint medium you choose, make sure to have fun and experiment!

                Are all paint mediums safe to use?

                Paint mediums can be a great way to express your creativity. However, it is essential to remember that not all paint mediums are safe. Oil-based paints can release harmful fumes, so always read the labels on all products before you use them.

                If you prefer oil-based paints, wear a protective face mask to avoid inhaling the fumes. Or you can try other paint mediums that are suitable for all ages.

                What paint mediums are usually used by a professional artist?

                Professional painters usually stick to one or two types of paint mediums they are comfortable with. For example, some prefer oil paints because they have a slow drying time, which allows for more blending and working periods.

                Others prefer acrylics because they dry quickly and can be thinned with water if needed. Some artists mix the two types to get the best of both worlds.


                No matter what art medium you choose, the important thing is to have fun and experiment. There is no perfect medium for a particular type of painting. It all comes down to your preference, budget, and what works best for your painting style.

                Choose Tempera if:

                • You want inexpensive paint.
                • You are painting with kids and want non-toxic paint.
                • You plan on painting on paper, cardboard, wood, or stone.

                Choose Acrylic if:

                • You want to be able to use water to thin your paint.
                • You want versatile paint that can be used on various surfaces. 
                • You want a paint that will dry quickly.

                Choose Oil Paint if: 

                • You want to create smooth blends and gradients. 
                • You don't mind working with smelly paint. 
                • You want your paintings to take a long time to dry. 

                Choose Watercolor if: 

                • You want your paint to be very thin and transparent.
                • You want to lift color easily from your painting surface.
                • You are painting on paper or another absorbent surface. 

                Choose Poster Paint if: 

                • You want an opaque, matte finish.
                • You are painting on non-absorbent surfaces like cardboard, wood, or glass.
                • You want your paint to dry quickly.

                Choose Gouache if:

                • You want an opaque, matte finish.
                • You are painting on absorbent surfaces like paper or fabric.
                • You want a paint that dries quickly but is still workable for a longer period.
                • You have the budget.

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