Difference Between Oil-Based and Latex Paint

Edited by Diffzy | Updated on: May 11, 2023


Difference Between Oil-Based and Latex Paint

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Paints get created using three ingredients, a binder, a pigment and a vehicle. The pigment component of paints refers to the ground substance that comes up with colour. The binder is responsible for the paint's performance (fade resistance, washability, adhesion, and sheen). Oil-based paint and Latex-Based paints use pigments, but they vary in the binder component. The choice between oil-based and Latex-Based paints usually emerges when planning to paint a residence. These two paints are vastly different. Depending on where you want to paint oil or latex can be chosen. For painting doors, trims, bathrooms, kitchens, or outer surfaces, Oil-based paints are more suitable. Latex paint is the superior choice for painting interior surfaces or canvases.

Oil-based vs. Latex-Based Paints

In essence, oil-based paint and latex paints are simply varieties of paints. The paints differ in physical characteristics, durability, cost, and other features. Oil-based and Latex-Based paints use pigments that are suspended in a binder. Oil-based paints use a binder made from linseed oil. This makes the paint thicker. The thickness of oil paints affects many of its other characterises. It makes it harder to spread when painting, allows only one coat to be painted at a time and increases the drying time. After application using oil-based paints, the surfaces appear glossy and smooth. One advantage of oil-based paints is that they are resistant to stains. Further, the paint provides colours such as zinc white and Prussian blue. A few disadvantages are that, oil-based paints are that, they have a powerful odour, are prone to chipping, and are highly toxic.

In comparison, Latex-Based paints use a binder made from acrylic polymer emulsion. Latex-based paints are water-soluble. They are also thin, which makes them easier to spread when painting. The thinness also decreases the drying time of the paint to a few hours. With latex paints, multiple coats can be applied at a time. After application, the surfaces display a glossy and matte finish. The advantages of latex paints are that, Latex-Based is non-toxic, has only a subtle odour and is the only pant which offers fluorescent colours. The disadvantage of latex paints is that they are easily stained.

Difference Between Oil-based and Latex-Based in Tabular Form

Parameters of ComparisonOil-basedLatex-Based
UsageMetals, Paintings, Wood, exterior primer, water stains on drywallInterior homes, Large surfaces, walls, ceilings, fences
FinishGlossy, SmoothGlossy, Matte
Time required for dryingDrying time ranges from several days to weeksDrying time takes only one to two hours.
Primer requirementsRequires the use of primerDoes not require a primer
Ease of useThe paints are thicker, hence harder to useThe paint is thinner, hence easier to use
DurabilityThe paint does not get stained but can change colour and crack over timeThe paint gets stained easily, however, it does not peel or crack over time
ToxicityThe fumes can be toxicNot toxic to health
Colours AvailableZinc White and Persian Blue are exclusively available only with oil-based paintsFluorescent colours are exclusively available only with latex paints
CostVaries. Costlier than latex paintsCheaper than Oil- Based paints
BrittlenessPossibility of chippingFlexible

What is Oil-based?

Oil-Based paints are also known as alkyd. Oil-based paints were the only option till about 50 years ago when latex paints were invented. They are formed using oil. The carrier used is a mix of petrochemical solvents and spirits. They are slow-drying paints. One advantage of oil-based paints is their availability. They can be purchased at any local paint store. Another benefit is that they can be tinted to create any colour desired.

Composition of Oil-Based Paints

Oil-based paints contain pigments suspended in a binder. The binder used is made from linseed oil. This oil component makes the paints created thicker. It also increases the paint’s vulnerability to mildew. Further, oil-based paint cannot be diluted in water as it is not water-soluble. Therefore, the paint is thinned using Turpentine.

Ease of Using Oil-based Paints

Oil-based paints are comparatively difficult to spread because of their thickness. To spread the paint different rollers and brushes need to be used. The thick consistency of oil-based paints also means that they will take a longer time to dry. The drying time can range anywhere from a few days to weeks. Further, only one coat of paint can be applied at a time. Oil-based paints have bubbles in them. Therefore, they should be stirred before application to ensure no bubbles appear on the painted surface.

Different Features of Oil-Based Paints

  1. Versatility: Oil paints are not exactly versatile. They cannot be used with other materials. They are also not water soluble, they have to be thinned in turpentine.
  2. Finish: Oil-based paints display a glossy and smooth finish when done. One disadvantage of this type of finish is that any imperfections on the surface are made easily visible.
  3. Durability: When compared to latex paints, oil-based paints have more durability. They are also more stain resistant. However, they may succumb to time and oxidize or turn yellow over the years. These features make oil-based paints ideal for bathrooms, trims, kitchens, etc. Oil-based paints should be used to paint surfaces that will be touched a lot, for example, doors.
  4. Cleaning: One disadvantage is that, if oil-based paints are spilt, they are harder to clean as they are not water-soluble. Oil-based paints require thinner or other solvents for cleaning.
  5. Colours: If you want to paint your rooms with colours like Zinc white and Prussian blue oil-based paints are the only option.
  6. Scent: Oil-based paints give off a powerful odour. Therefore, make sure the area being painted is well-ventilated. In addition, it is better to let the odour diffuse before starting to paint.
  7. Toxicity: Oil-based paints are highly toxic and harmful to health. One should take necessary precautions when using oil-based paints.

Oil Paint on Different Surfaces

  1. Metals, Paintings, and Wood: Oil-based paints can be used on metals, paintings, and wood surfaces. They are smoother and can finish the job with one coat if applied with extreme care.
  2. Chalky surfaces: Oil-based paints are comparatively more adhesive, which makes them suitable for chalky surfaces.
  3. Stained surfaces: These paints can be used to hide stains.
  4. Canvases: If using oil-based paint to paint on canvases, make sure the canvas is primed and adequately sized.

Pros of Oil-based paints

  • They are durable and hard. Can be painted on an outer surface that gets touched a lot.
  • Oil-based paints are moisture-resistant.
  • Greater levelling and flow.
  • Longer open time. That is, they can be brushed for longer periods as it takes longer to set.

Cons of Oil-based Paints

  • Quality reduces as time increases. The paint turns yellow, cracks, and chips.
  • Powerful odour and contains high VOCs (Volatile organic compounds)
  • In case of spillage, they require special solvents for clean up.

What is Latex-Based?

Latex-Based paints are also called acrylic paints. The term “latex” in Latex-Based paints refers to the use of resin as a binder. Latex paints were invented in 1941 due to advancements in paint technology. They are water-based paints. That is, they use water mixed with glycols or use glycol ethers in place of solvents. Just like oil-based paints, these are also available in local paint stores. Further, latex paints can also be tinted to create a variety of colours.

Composition of Latex-Based Paints

The pigments used by latex paints are similar to the ones used in oil-based paints. However, the binder used in latex paints is made from acrylic polymer emulsion. This component makes the latex paints water-soluble, flexible, and non-toxic. Latex paints are better suited for areas exposed to both cold and heat.

Ease of Using Latex-Based Paints

Compared to oil-based paints, latex paints are thinner, and hence easier to spread. The thinness of latex paints ensures that they dry faster, that is, within hours. In addition, with latex paints, multiple coats can be applied over and over. This helps to spread the paint evenly.  Latex paints do not have any bubbles in them; they can be used in as-is conditions.

Different Features of Latex-Based Paints

  1. Versatility: Latex paints are highly versatile. They can be used with other materials like charcoal, pen and pastel. In addition, latex paints are water-soluble therefore they can be mixed with water to provide a watercolour-like effect.
  2. Finish: Latex-Based paints provide glossy and matte finishes. One can choose between the two options.
  3. Durability: Latex paints are less durable than oil-based paints. However, once latex paints are cured they become more resistant. They do not crack or peel with time. For this reason, latex paints are better suited for interior painting.
  4. Cleaning: Latex paints are water-soluble. This means, if they are spilt they can be cleaned up without any hassle.
  5. Colours: Latex paints are the only type of paints that offer fluorescent colour as a choice.
  6. Scent: Compared to oil-based paints, latex paints have a weaker odour.
  7. Toxicity: Since latex paints are water soluble, they are not toxic.

Latex Paint on Different Surfaces

  1. Wood: Latex paints can damage the grain of wood. Therefore, if you are using latex paints on a wooden surface, make sure to sand between the coats.
  2. Steel: Latex paints require the use of primers when painting over steel surfaces.
  3. Chalky wall: Latex paints cannot be used on chalky or dirty walls.
  4. Humid surfaces: Their durability reduces when used in places with humidity, for example, bathrooms.
  5. Canvases: These paints can be applied on raw canvases. However, they are often primed with Gesso for added benefits.

Pros of Latex-Based Paints

  • Only gives off a low odour
  • Driers with a few hours
  • Can be cleaned using water, in case of spillage.
  • Latex-Based paints are flexible
  • Does not turn yellow with age.
  • Does not crack or chip off over time.

Cons of Latex-Based Paint

  • Short open-time
  • Can get stained easily.

Can One Type Of Paint Be Painted Over The Other?

It is not recommended to paint over latex-painted surfaces with oil-based paint. However, it can be done if a sealing coating is used between the layers to separate them.

Painting over oil-based surfaced with latex is effortless. The only precaution to be taken is to prepare the surface first. This can be done by sanding the surface and cleaning it using a TSP solution. After the wall is dried, apply a primer on the surface. After the primer coat has dried, the Latex-Based paints can be applied.

Main Differences Between Oil-based and Latex-Based (in Points)

  • Oil-based paints are used for painting surfaces like metals, paintings, and wood. In contrast, latex paints are used for painting interior homes and large surfaces.
  • The surfaces painted using oil-based paints give a glossy and smooth finish, while the surfaces painted using Latex-Based paints give a glossy and matte finish.
  • To use oil-based paint, the surfaces need to be primed first. Latex paints have no such priming requirements.
  • Oil-based paints require a long time for drying, up to several weeks. In contrast, latex paints are fast drying and require only a few hours.
  • Oil-based paints have a thicker consistency; hence they are harder to spread. Latex paints are thinner and hence easier to spread.
  • Oil-based paints can be used to cover stains. The surfaces painted with oil paints are resistant to stains. Surfaces painted with latex paint are vulnerable to stains.
  • Oil-based paints cannot withstand the test of time, they crack and peel. Latex paints in comparison do not peel or crack over time.
  • Oil-based paints give off a powerful odour; latex paints have a more subtle odour.
  • Oil-based paints are highly toxic and should be handled with care. Latex paints present no such concerns.


In short, choosing between oil and Latex-Based paints depend on personal needs. Oil-based paints have higher durability and self-levelling features. However, they are harder to spread, are highly toxic, and have a powerful odour. In contrast, Latex-Based paints are the healthier choice, as it is non-toxic and has fewer fumes. But they are vulnerable to stains. One can weigh the pros and cons before choosing one type of paint.


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"Difference Between Oil-Based and Latex Paint." Diffzy.com, 2023. Sat. 03 Jun. 2023. <https://www.diffzy.com/article/difference-between-oil-based-and-latex-paint>.

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