How long does it take oil paint to dry? Paint that has been applied to a surface straight from the tube (without additives or mediums) will feel dry to the touch after around two days.
However, the drying time depends on a few other factors. You can roughly predict how long a paint layer will take to dry based on these other variables.
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What factors affect drying time of oil paint?
The thickness of the paint
The first is how thickly paint is applied to the surface. A thicker layer of paint will dry much slower than a thinner layer of paint.
The type of oil used in paint
Another factor that influences how long oil paint takes to dry is the type of drying oil that has been used in the paint. Paints that have linseed as the main binding agent will take around two days to feel touch dry, whereas paints that use poppy oil, safflower oil or walnut oil may take longer—around three or four days to feel fully dry and not sticky. Linseed is the most commonly used binder in oil paint, however.
The temperature of your room
The temperature and humidity of the environment in the space you paint in will affect drying time. Colder temperatures prevent oil from drying quickly, as do more humid atmospheres. If you’re painting inside in a room that you feel comfortable in, the chances are your oil paint will dry at a normal rate. If you’re running a humidifier or similar device, the paint may dry slower.
When painting plein air (outside), your painting will likely dry much quicker on a dry, hot sunny day, than if you were painting on a clear crisp day in winter.
The surface you choose
The absorbency of the surface you are painting on can affect the drying time. If you paint on oil paper, that hasn’t had an extra coat of primer, it’s pretty absorbent. Paper will suck some of the oil from the paint layer, reducing the drying time. An oil painting on paper can dry within a few hours for this reason.
Painting on a non-absorbent surface like wood that has been primed with Michael Harding’s non-absorbent primer will dry more slowly.
How does oil paint dry?
The interesting thing about the drying oils, like linseed, walnut, safflower and poppy that are used as binders in oil paint, is the way that they dry. They dry by curing and setting. This of course differs from water based mediums which dry when the water evaporates from the paint mix. In contrast, oil paint dries by an oxidation process, where the oil reacts with oxygen in the air to cure and reach its final form.
There are essentially two stages to the drying process. It first becomes touch dry in around 2 days. Then it continues to cure and react with oxygen in the atmosphere to fully set. You won’t notice the oxidation process taking place. Whilst it’s setting, it’s actually contracting and moving ever so slightly. This whole curing process that drying oils undergo to reach their final form can take months, even up to a year if paint is applied thickly.
It’s important to know about this drying process because it informs how you should layer paint on a surface. Paint rich in oil that has a slow drying time should be layered on top of thinner paint (i.e. paint that has been mixed with solvent). This is because paint that takes longer to cure will be shifting slightly, and if a brittle layer of thinned paint is applied on top of it, it will dry first then potentially crack. This layering technique is called the fat over lean rule, and is one of the main foundations of oil painting.
Don’t let the idea of the curing process throw you off, it’s not something you have to worry about (other than making sure you layer slow drying oil rich paint over fast drying paint).
You can even varnish a painting while it’s curing, as long as it’s completely touch dry, if you use Gamvar. This synthetic formulation of varnish allows oxygen particles to pass through the film, so that the painting can cure beneath. Retouch varnish can also be applied when touch, as a temporary measure before applying damar resin varnish.
Does drying time vary between oil paint brands?
Drying time of oil paint varies from brand to brand. This is because each brand of paint uses their own unique recipe of pigment, binder, fillers, dryers and additives.
Most quality paint ranges will make their oil colours with a high pigment content and binder, without adding in dryers and additives which can reduce the quality of the oil paint. Often, the higher end paints will dry slower due to the lack of fillers. By milling paint with a large proportion of pigment and quality binder (without the additives) it improves the appearance and handling of paint too.
Another thing that varies from brand to brand, is the type of drying oil used as a binder. Most brands used refined linseed oil, but some brands use oil that dries slower.
Bear in mind that the drying time of colours will vary within brands of artists’ quality oil colours (that don’t use dryers and additives). This is because different pigments require differing amounts of oil to make a stable paint film. Earth colours like Burnt Umber are usually fast drying, whereas Titanium White will dry more slowly.
I’ve listed some of the most popular paint ranges, in order of slow drying to fast drying.
Slow drying: 3-4 days
This brand of artists’ quality oil paint uses walnut oil as a binder which dries slowly. The colours are highly pigmented and have a wonderfully rich finish. Expect paint to take an average of three to four days to dry.
Slow drying: 3-4 days
Handmade professional quality paint that uses poppy oil as a binder.
Poppy oil is slow drying, non-yellowing and is more expensive than linseed or safflower oil to buy. The colours are pigmented and vibrant and the consistency of the paint is smooth like soft butter. Similar to M. Graham, paint will take around three or more days to dry.
Medium drying time: 2 days
These luxurious oil paints are handmade using maximum pigment. Some colours dry fast (i.e. earth colours) and some dry slower. Overall, as Michael Harding uses mainly linseed as a binding agent, paints will take around two to three days to dry.
Winsor & Newton
Medium drying time
A similar drying time to Michael Harding (around two days), these paints are a mid-range option that use linseed oil as a binder.
Winsor & Newton Griffin Alkyd Oils
Fast drying time: 18 hours
When using these oil paints, use them in each layer of your painting to ensure better adhesion, as alkyd oils behave slightly differently to regular oils. The drying time will be around 18-24 hours. These paints come at a budget-friendly price point.
Can you change the drying time of oil paint?
The drying time of paint can be altered with a medium. Mediums are used to alter the working properties of paint. This includes consistency, finish, transparency and drying time.
How to make oil paint dry faster
Use a fast drying medium to decrease the open working time of paint.
By incorporating a solvent such as turpentine, oil of spike lavender or odourless mineral spirits into your paint mix, you can cut drying time to less than 12 hours, depending on how much solvent has been added. Take care when using solvent and ventilate your space properly. Read here for safe studio practices when using solvent.
My recommendation is to use oil of spike lavender, or odourless mineral spirit, instead of turpentine. This is because turpentine is strong and the fumes can be bad for your health if not handled properly. Another tip if you choose to use solvent in your painting, is to only use it in the first layer(s) of your painting. Decrease the solvent to oil ratio in consecutive layers to create a structurally sound painting. Learn more about this in our guide to the fat over lean rule.
Liquin is another fast drying medium. It is an alkyd, which has a slightly different chemical structure to oil. Paint will dry in 12-24 hours using this medium. Ensure you use Liquin in each layer of your painting to create optimum adhesion of the paint film.
How to make oil paint dry slower
Add an oil medium to your paint mixtures to slow drying.
On top of making your oil paint dry slower, oil mediums will make paint runnier, the finish glossier and strengthen the paint film.
Why do artists like the slow drying time of oil paint?
Many artists love the slow drying time of oil paint. This is because it gives them more time to work on each layer of their painting.
Paint can be stored for longer too, meaning that less is wasted. Oil painters will often use a tempered glass palette and squeeze colours around the edge, leaving the centre to mix. These squeezed colours can stay wet on a glass palette for days, even weeks at a time. To store the palette, place it in a sealed container like the Masterson’s Palette Seal. This prevents oil from oxidising. You can even put your sealed palette in the fridge to slow drying even further, as the cold prevents oil from hardening.
Oil paint drying time: Pin it!
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