While oil paint and acrylic paint behave very differently when wet, sometimes it's difficult to tell the difference between an acrylic and an oil painting once the paint has dried. These step-by-step instructions will help you identify if your painting was made with oil or acrylic paint.
Disclaimer: I do not claim to be an appraiser, and you should definitely get your painting professionally appraised if it's important.
For more information on the differences between oil and acrylic paintings, check out my blog post on it at Bayou City Urban Haul. If you like these paintings, you can buy them at my Etsy shop. Thanks!
Step 1: Step 1: Examine the Canvas
The first thing to do to determine if your painting is an oil or an acrylic painting is to examine the canvas. Is it raw (meaning is the paint directly on the fabric of the canvas), or does it have a layer of white paint (known as gesso) as a base? Oil paintings must be primed, while acrylic paintings may be primed but also may be raw.
Step 2: Step 2: Examine the Color
When examining the color of the paint, look at two things: its clarity and the edges. Acrylic paint tends to be more vibrant in color due to its fast dry time, while oil may be more murky. If the edges of the shapes on your painting are crisp and sharp, it is likely an acrylic painting. Oil paint's long drying time and tendency to blend give it softer edges. (This painting has crisp, clear edges and is obviously acrylic.)
Step 3: Step : Examine the Paint's Texture
Hold the painting at an angle and look at the paint's texture on the canvas. If it's highly textured and looks very layered, the painting is likely an oil painting. Acrylic paint dries smooth and somewhat rubbery-looking (unless an additive has been used to give the paint a thicker texture). This painting is more textured and is therefore likely an oil painting (or an acrylic paintings with additives).
Step 4: Step 4: Examine the Film (Shininess) of the Paint
Look at the film of the paint. Is it highly glossy? If so, it is likely an oil painting, as acrylic paint tends to dry more matte.
Step 5: Step 5: Examine for Signs of Aging
Oil paint tends to yellow and forms small spiderweb-like cracks as it ages, while acrylic paint does not.