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Uncovering the Mystery of Oil Paint Drying: The Factors That Affect Drying Time

Have you ever wondered why some oil paintings seem to dry faster than others? The process of oil paint drying can be elusive and mysterious, but understanding the factors that affect drying time can unlock the secrets to achieving the desired outcome in your oil paintings.

classical oil painting

In this article, we will delve deep into the world of oil paint drying and explore the various factors that influence how long it takes for oil paint to dry. From the type of oil used to the temperature, humidity, and techniques, there are several variables at play that can either speed up or slow down the drying process.

By understanding these factors, you can have greater control over the drying time of your oil paintings and avoid potential pitfalls. We will also provide practical tips and techniques for manipulating drying time to suit your needs.

Whether you're a seasoned oil painter or a beginner looking to experiment with oil painting for the first time, this article will be your comprehensive guide to unraveling the mysteries of oil paint drying. Let's dive in and demystify the process together.

wet oil painting

Importance of understanding drying time

Understanding the drying time of oil paint is crucial if you want to create stunning and long-lasting paintings. The drying time affects various aspects of the painting process, including layering, blending, and varnishing. By having control over the drying time, you can manipulate the characteristics of the paint to achieve your desired effects.

Factors that affect oil paint drying time

Several factors influence how long it takes for oil paint to dry. These factors interact with each other, creating a complex system that determines the drying time of your oil painting. Let's explore these factors in detail.

Pigments and their impact on drying time

The choice of pigments has a significant impact on the drying time of oil paint. Some pigments, such as earth tones and white, dry faster than others. This is because these pigments have a higher oil absorption rate, which speeds up the drying process. On the other hand, pigments like ultramarine blue and alizarin crimson tend to dry slower due to their lower oil absorption rate.

oil paint pigment powder

The role of mediums in oil paint drying

Mediums play a crucial role in the drying time of oil paint. They include oil and sometimes other additives that painters mix in with their oil colors to alter the consistency and drying time. Different mediums have different effects on the drying process. For example, adding a drying medium accelerates the drying time, while adding a slow-drying medium extends the drying time. By choosing the right medium for your needs, you can have better control over the drying time of your oil paintings.

linseed oil bottles

Environmental factors that influence drying time

The environment in which your oil paint is drying plays a significant role in the overall drying time. Factors such as temperature and humidity can either speed up or slow down the drying process. Warmer temperatures and lower humidity levels generally result in faster drying times, while colder temperatures and higher humidity levels can slow down the drying process. It's essential to consider and adjust these environmental factors to achieve the desired drying time.


Pigments and their impact on drying time

The choice of pigments used in oil painting can significantly impact the drying time of your work. Some pigments contain properties that accelerate drying, while others may slow it down. Understanding the characteristics of different pigments can help you make informed decisions when selecting colors for your paintings. It's also good to know so you understand why various colors in your painting may be drying at different speeds.

oil paint squeezed onto a palette

Certain pigments, such as lead white and cobalt colors, have a quick drying effect due to their composition. These pigments contain metal ions that act as catalysts, speeding up the oxidation process and promoting faster drying. On the other hand, organic pigments, like alizarin crimson and some greens, tend to have a slower drying time.

It's important to note that the pigment's drying time can also be influenced by the type of oil used as a binder. Linseed oil, for example, dries faster than walnut oil or safflower oil. Keep in mind, not all oil colors are created equal. So when planning your painting, consider both the pigments and the oil binder to achieve the desired drying time.

The role of mediums in oil paint drying

Mediums play a crucial role in the drying process of oil paint. They are substances added to the paint to modify its consistency, drying time, and other properties. The choice of medium can significantly impact the drying time of your oil paintings.

oil paint lean and fat medium

Certain mediums, such as alkyd-based mediums, are specifically designed to accelerate drying. These mediums contain synthetic resins that promote faster oxidation and evaporation, resulting in quicker drying times. Adding such mediums to your oil paint can be particularly useful when working on time-sensitive projects or when layering paint. However, it's important to know what type of medium you are using for the long term life of your painting. Many mediums are promoted as "safe", "long lasting", or "archival", despite using modern substances that have no long term studies on their effects.

On the other hand, there are also mediums available that can slow down the drying process such as walnut oil. These mediums are often used when you want to extend the working time of your paint or achieve specific textural effects. Be cautious when using these mediums, as they may significantly prolong the drying time of your painting.

The best oil paint & mediums for various oil paint dry times

In my view there are only a few medium options that reign supreme for dry time and longevity. Consider these options based on what your goal is with your oil paint dry time.

If you want your painting to dry quickly as possible:

Don't use any extra oil or medium in your paint mixtures. In addition, look for high quality oil colors made with linseed oil. Many "student grade", cheaper, or lower quality paint brands intentionally make their paints dry slowly.

Use high quality paints

Here are the high quality and quick drying paints that I recommend for the Apelles Palette AKA limited oil paint palette: CLICK HERE - I earn commissions if you buy through this amazon link, but I'm not sponsored by or affiliated with any of these brands.

oil paint tubes stacked

These are the oil colors I exclusively use as a full time classical oil painter and have found to work the best. With these paints I can work on a painting and it will get touch dry effectively over night. So I can paint on it again within about 12-16 hours. Keep in mind this also varies with the environment, thickness of your paint, surface, and other factors.

If you want to use mediums and still have your painting dry quickly:

I recommend linseed oil as a primary medium because it is time honored and can achieve great effects while maintaining a quick dry time. With a minimal amount of oil, I find my paintings typically still dry overnight.

For linseed oil and premixed mediums to achieve a range of effects I recommend Chelsea Classical Studios. To buy the mediums I recommend click HERE. Again, if you buy through the amazon link I'll earn commissions, but I'm not paid to promote this brand.

linseed oil bottle

I use CCS because they make the best oil painting mediums I know of. They have a serious respect for the craft, and actually care about the long term life of your painting. To see even more of the mediums that they offer, plus brush cleaner, and varnish click HERE.

If you want to use slow drying medium:

I recommend walnut oil because it is a time honored slow drying medium. However, I personally would not use it because it takes so long to dry! I've heard from colleagues and students that walnut oil can prolong the dry time for weeks.

walnut oil bottle

I don't use any techniques where that would be beneficial - I want my oil paintings to dry as quickly as possible!!! But if you want your painting to dry slowly it is indeed a great option.

CCS also makes walnut oil, which you can find HERE.

Environmental factors that influence drying time

The environment in which your oil paintings dry can greatly affect the overall drying time. Temperature and humidity levels play a significant role in the oxidation and evaporation processes that occur during drying.

Higher temperatures generally speed up the drying time, as heat accelerates the oxidation process. However, extreme heat can also cause the paint to dry too quickly, leading to cracking or other undesirable effects. It's important to find a balance and ensure that the temperature remains within a suitable range for optimal drying.


Humidity levels can also impact drying time. High humidity slows down the evaporation of solvents in the paint, resulting in a longer drying time. Conversely, low humidity can cause the paint to dry too quickly, leading to issues such as wrinkling. Maintaining a moderate level of humidity can help ensure a consistent and controlled drying process.

Techniques to control oil paint drying time

As an oil painter, you may find yourself needing to manipulate the drying time of your oil paint to suit your needs. Fortunately, there are several techniques you can employ to have greater control over the drying process.

One technique is to use thinner layers of paint. Thicker layers take longer to dry due to the increased volume of oil and pigments. By applying thin layers, you can speed up the drying time significantly and also reduce the risk of cracking or uneven drying.

Additionally, you can experiment with different oils and mediums to achieve the desired drying time. As mentioned earlier, some oils dry faster than others, so choosing a fast-drying oil can significantly reduce the overall drying time. Similarly, selecting a medium that promotes faster drying can also be beneficial.

My secrets to make oil paint dry quicker

Use your palette knife to scrape between layers. You will thin your paint, create transparency, improve adherence, and also speed up the drying time. Plus doing this is beneficial for layering because it ensures that your paint adheres to the surface properly. Keep in mind, this is best for a thin approach and it won't get around the dry time necessary for thick impasto. In addition, if you combine this with not using any medium, and the paints I recommended, you can get your painting to dry the same day.

Bonus tip to make your oil paint dry quicker

The surface you choose will also play a role in the drying time of your oil paint. What I have found to work the best for quick drying and overall quality is oil ground prepared linen. The oil ground on the linen will allow you to maintain a thin approach and helps to speed up the dry time of your oil painting. Compare this to gesso pepared canvas or panel and you might find it makes a significant difference. To get the oil ground prepared linen I use click HERE.

Common misconceptions about oil paint drying

There are several misconceptions surrounding the drying time of oil paint that can lead to confusion among painters. Let's address some of these misconceptions to ensure a clear understanding.

One common misconception is that oil paint never fully dries. While oil paint does dry to the touch relatively quickly, it can take weeks or even months for the paint to fully cure. During this curing process, the paint undergoes chemical changes that result in a stable and durable surface.

You don't need to wait months before working on your oil painting though. Touch dry is generally good enough for painting your next layer! Keep in mind, with thick impasto it will take longer.

A common misconception is that it's good for your paint to stay wet on the surface for a long time. Nope! Sure there are different techniques out there.. but if your goal is to create a vibrant lively effect through lots of layering, then quicker dry time is ideal. The quicker the paint dries, the quicker you can start working on the next layer!!!

"It's normal for oil paint to take weeks to dry". It might be "normal" due to the amount of amateur painters, poor quality materials, and misinformation.. but if that's not what you want, then don't accept normal to be your standard! If you want your paint to dry quickly: follow everything I've outlined and your painting should dry within 24-48 hours.

Another misconception is that all oil paintings dry at the same rate. As we discussed earlier, various factors influence the drying time, including pigments, mediums, and environmental conditions. Each painting is unique and may require different drying times based on these factors.

How to test oil paint drying time

Testing the drying time of your oil paint is essential to ensure that your painting is progressing as desired. There are a few simple tests you can perform to gauge the drying progress.

One test is the "tack test." Gently touch the surface of the paint with the back of your finger. If the paint feels tacky or sticky, it is still in the drying process. If it feels dry and smooth, it has likely reached the touch-dry stage.

Another test is the "rub test." Rub a small, inconspicuous area of the painting with a clean cloth. If the paint transfers to the cloth, it is not fully dry and needs more time to cure. If no paint comes off, it is likely fully dry.

Remember that these tests should be performed on a small area of the painting to avoid any potential damage.

Once you become well acquainted with the materials you use, and how they work in your environment, the dry time will become second nature!

Conclusion and final thoughts

Unraveling the mysteries of oil paint drying can be a fascinating journey. By understanding the factors that affect drying time, such as pigments, mediums, and environmental conditions, you can have greater control over the drying process and achieve the desired results in your oil paintings


Experimenting with different techniques, such as using thinner layers of paint, employing scraping techniques, and manipulating the choice of oils and mediums, can further enhance your control over drying time. Additionally, testing the drying progress of your paintings through the tack and rub tests can provide valuable insights.

Remember, each painting is unique, and the drying time may vary based on various factors. Embrace the process, experiment, and adapt your techniques to suit your goals as a painter. With a deeper understanding of oil paint drying, you can confidently create stunning oil paintings that stand the test of time. Happy painting!

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