The amount of time that oil paint takes to dry can vary widely. Depending on many factors, oil paint can be touch-dry over night or in as long as a couple of weeks. For oil paint to be considered truly dry enough to varnish, you should wait around 6 months.
Why Is the Drying Time of Oil Paint So Unclear?
Asking “how long does oil paint take to dry” seems like a simple enough question, but many variables are involved in oil paint drying times, such as how you paint and what environment you’re painting in.
And, oil paint dries differently than you might expect…
Rather than evaporation of moisture, the oil in oil-based paints must go through an oxidation process called “curing”, which causes the oil paint to harden.
Oil-based paints will first become “touch-dry”, usually within a couple of days to about a week.
THEN the oil paint will continue to go through the oxidation process and cure for months after, getting up to its secret paint business while we’re none the wiser, until it is fully cured. (This matters for varnishing and framing purposes, mostly.)
This can be a huge plus OR might seem like an inconvenience if you’re on a tight time frame. It could take some getting used to if you’re accustomed to the quick-drying nature of watercolor or acrylics.
After reading this article, you’ll be able to decide which materials, processes, oil paint mediums, and techniques best suit your art practice, workflow and desired drying time, since each of these can slow or speed how long it takes oil-based paint to dry.
Can You Change the Drying Time of Oil Paint?
You can change the drying time of oil paint, to an extent, by taking advantage of the properties of different painting surfaces, mediums, and application methods while you’re working.
Altering your process and practices while painting is the most effective way to change oil paint drying times.
If you want to make oil-based paint dry faster after the painting process, though, there are a couple of things that you can do to make the drying process go as quickly as possible.
Artist Mandie Keay goes over four ways to speed up the drying time of oil paint in this helpful video!
Below, find more in-depth information about the key factors that impact oil paint drying time and ways for you to either speed up OR extend drying time, depending on your needs.
Factors That Impact the Drying Time of Traditional Oil Paints
Thickness of Application
The thicker the layer of paint, the longer it’ll take to become touch-dry and fully cured.
Oil paintings will dry from the top-down.
This means that if you use a lot of thick paint in an impasto style, a paint film will harden on the surface first as it reacts to the air before the rest underneath dries.
You can notice this phenomenon on your palette if you leave it out for a few days.
So if you are in a hurry and want your painting to dry as quickly as possible, work with thinner layers of paint application and avoid impasto.
If you want your painting to remain wet and workable for longer, don’t be afraid to go wild and fill your brush up with a lot of paint!
Various oil mediums are used to mix with the paint straight from the tube. They alter it for one reason or another: viscosity, flow, or to make oil paint dry slower or faster.
They can make the oil paint thinner and more fluid so it’ll glide across the canvas or be thicker and pastier so it can be applied more heavily.
There is both natural oil and synthetic oil (alkyd) available. These make up both fast and slow drying oil-based mediums and impact your drying time based on the type and amount you use.
Linseed Oil is one of the most commonly used oils for painting because it is one of the faster drying natural oils. The drawback is that it tends to yellow over time. This is most noticeable in pale colors.
Stand Oil is a thicker version of refined linseed oil that further slows the drying time.
While the slow drying time requires more patience, they are said to prevent the cracking of a completed painting from too-quick drying.
Poppy oil dries much slower typically than linseed oil, but Winsor and Newton offer a modified drying poppy oil that dries close to the speed of linseed-based oils but with less risk of yellowing pale oil colors.
Gamsol and Other Solvents
Chemical solvents like turpentine or odorless mineral spirits are used to thin and break down oil paint.
They can be mixed with your oil paint and used to create an underpainting with thin, washy layers. You will notice the separation of pigment and that the layers will dry very quickly.
Gamsol is Gamblin’s version of odorless mineral spirits made especially for oil painters.
Gamsol puts off significantly less fumes than other brands and I highly recommend it. It’ll save you from headaches in the short run and greater health concerns in the long-run, but keep in mind that it is still toxic.
You can also mix your solvent with an oil medium to create a more stable medium that cuts back on drying time, but allows for thicker layers than solvent alone. I use a mixture of Gamsol and linseed or stand oil in all of my paintings.
Environmental factors can have a fair impact on your oil painting drying time.
Of course, there’s only so much you can do about the weather, but oil paintings will take longer to dry in cold, wet, hot or humid weather. Oil paint drying times will naturally be faster in warm, dry climates.
To improve drying times, you can leave your paintings in a dry, naturally-lit, well-ventilated area.
If you’re painting in a basement, bring it upstairs to dry. Keep it in natural light if possible, but NOT direct sunlight (which could yellow your carefully mixed colors).
If it is extremely humid where you live, you could try using a dehumidifier in the room that your painting is drying in to aid in making the oil paint dry faster.
The surface you choose to paint on also makes a difference in drying oil paint!
More absorbent surfaces will make oil paint dry faster.
Canvas is fairly absorbent, with its toothy texture and weave that allows oil to sink into it, especially if it’s bought primed with absorbent acrylic gesso or acrylic primer.
Wood panels are another absorbent option but should be sealed and then primed to prevent rotting of the wood.
Gesso primed surfaces are ideal for fast-drying, but some find that the oils sink in unevenly, and the paint becomes dull after drying. This can be resolved with varnish once the painting is completely dry.
You can also create alkyd primed surfaces with alkyd paints that are especially conducive to drying.
Alternatively, you can use a non-absorbent primer if you don’t mind longer drying times and want to preserve your colors.
Not all pigments (colors of paint) dry at the same rate, due to factors including oil content levels and varying rates in how they react to the air and go through the oxidation process.
Pay Attention to Your Palette
You will learn a lot of clues about how your future paintings will behave as they dry!
If you leave paint out on your palette, you might notice that certain colors will begin to dry faster than others each time.
Earth colors or mineral pigments like umbers, siennas, prussian, and cobalt blues tend to dry more quickly than slower drying pigments like yellows, oranges, and titanium white.
I always have to put fresh burnt umber and prussian blue out on my palette before any other colors, but my titanium-zinc white will sit happily on there for what feels like forever!
If you use mainly slow drying or faster-drying pigments in a particular painting, you can expect the drying time to reflect those decisions.
However, if you’re using a full range of colors and mixing them together, then the drying times tend to balance more.
Does Drying Time Vary Between Oil Paint Brands?
Drying time can vary between even the best oil paint brands depending on the quality of the paint, the ratio of pigment to oil, and the type of oil used in making the paints.
Some brands, like M. Graham, use walnut oil in the production of their paints, which is slower drying and less prone to yellowing.
Similarly, Sennelier uses safflower oil, another pale, slow-drying oil.
How Can Oil Paint Dry Faster?
Oil paint can dry faster by carefully choosing conditions conducive to drying, like a dry, well-ventilated environment, but ALSO by using drying agents like galkyd or liquin during the painting process.
Use Dryers Such as Galkyd or Liquin
Each fast-drying medium works to thin the paint and make oil paint dry faster. They are made from the same material used in the production of Alkyd paints, which are a fast-drying counterpart to slow-drying traditional oil paints.
Brushstrokes are also flattened and leveled using galkyd and liquin original, which claim to allow your painting to be “touch dry in 1-6 days depending on color & film thickness”.
They can also be used for glazing, which involves using thin washes of transparent color over previous layers in a painting.
Winsor & Newton have made a masterclass video on everything you need to know about the different types of liquin available.
They explain that using liquin in your paint mixtures can speed up your drying time by up to 50%!
Use Oil Paints That Contain Linseed Oil Only
Likewise, if you must use an oil in your medium, choose to use linseed only, not walnut, poppy, or safflower oils.
And consider mixing gamsol into your oil medium to cut down on time for drying oil paint even further.
Should You Use Heat to Speed Up Drying Time?
Some suggest that you can use a heat gun from a careful distance to speed up the drying process.
I do not recommend it.
If absolutely necessary, it can be done, but it can easily damage your painting.
It’s best to plan ahead and ensure faster drying through one of the other methods!
Faster-Drying Alternatives to Traditional Oil Paint
There are alternatives to traditional oil paints that will still give you the feeling of working with oils, but allow for faster drying time.
The drying time is still slower than water-based paints, so you retain some of the benefits of a longer working time that oil-based paint can offer.
Water-mixable oils are NOT water-based, but are made from oils that have been modified to be mixed with water. (Our basic science textbooks said it couldn’t be done, but paint makers said “hold my bag” and figured it out.)
Much Like Traditional Oil Paints, Variables Still Impact the Drying Time
The more paint you use, the longer it’ll take to dry. The thinner your layers, the faster your drying time. You get the idea.
Since water-mixable oils are diluted with water, there is a TWO part drying process involved. First, the water you use evaporates, leaving your painting touch-dry. This step happens rather quickly.
Next, the oils must cure over a period of time closer to the timeframe of traditional oils.
The Main Benefit of Water-Mixable Oils
They are designed, so you don’t need to use any dangerous chemical solvent like odorless mineral spirits to thin your paints, so there is less exposure to fumes, which is always a good thing.
Alkyd paints are a kind of synthetic, fast-drying oil paint. Winsor & Newton describe their line of Griffin Alkyd Fast Drying Oil Colors as touch-dry within 18-24 hours.
They also say it “is a genuine oil color made from pigment and oil-modified alkyd resin which can be thinned using conventional oil color solvents”.
Remember the alkyd resin medium from earlier? Here, it’s built-in.
Once again, though, your paint application, surface, and environment continue to play a role in whether or not that drying time on the label is achieved.
Impasto techniques will still take longer to dry with alkyd paints, but less time than they would if you were using traditional oils.
Use Alkyd Paint With Your Oil Paints
You can use both Alkyd paints and traditional oil paints in the same painting. They are perfectly fine to mix with each other.
It provides a similar effect to using an alkyd medium with your traditional oils, making your oil paints dry faster, but without having to use the medium separately.
Some painters choose to solely use titanium white alkyd paint as their main white on their palette. It’s the color most often mixed with other colors, and regular titanium white typically has a longer drying time, so there are double benefits to switching to an alkyd fast-drying titanium white.
The more alkyd paint mixed into your traditional oil paint, the faster overall drying you’ll achieve.
Since alkyd paints dry faster, you can also use alkyd paints for initial layers and then introduce layers of traditional oils later.
Use Acrylic Paint for Underpainting
Unlike alkyd oil paints, you cannot mix wet acrylic paints with oil based paint on your palette, but you CAN paint oils over a dried acrylic ground.
Try using acrylic in thin washes for underpainting or initial layers to cut back on pesky oil paint drying times before getting started with your next layers. Just make sure the acrylic layers are completely dry.
Many painters do this when working from a model or plein air painting, to make the most of their time!
How to Make Oil Paint Dry Slower
To make oil paint dry slower, use THICK applications of paint. Load your paint brush up with as much paint as it’ll hold to make rich, textured paintings.
You can also use some of the slow-drying oils in your mixtures. Choose safflower, stand, or walnut oils. And avoid fast-drying mediums like alkyds, liquins, and solvents.
Benefits of Longer Oil Paint Drying Times:
- The ability to pre-mix your paint on your palette. You’ll waste less paint and can go back to previous mixtures without having to match them all over again because they’ve dried up on you.
- You can slow down your process and consider your observations with more care.
- You can keep working wet-on-wet into a painting for longer and blend more easily on the canvas.
What Can You Do While Your Painting Dries?
My favorite way to pass time while waiting on slow-drying oil paint is to start a new painting!
I always have a couple of paintings going at once, so I don’t even worry about how long they take to dry completely. I simply switch back and forth between them and let the paint do its thing on its own time.
Explore an Online Oil Painting Course
While you’re literally waiting for paint to dry, you can also look at art that inspires you, watch tutorials and speed paintings online, or explore online painting courses like New Masters Academy or Evolve Artist to learn more personally from home.
You can try out Evolve Artist’s Pro Art Skills mini-course for free and learn about the three core pillars you’ll need to succeed professionally as an artist.
Work With Drying Times How You See Fit!
How long does oil paint take to dry? You decide.
Now that you know all the variables that come along with oil painting and drying time, you can control the situation.
You have the knowledge and tools to speed up the drying process or slow it down with your paint choices, painting techniques, oil mediums, and environment. (Just put the hair dryer away, please!)
You get to be in charge and make the decisions depending on whatever pace works best for you.
Slow and steady? Perfect. As fast as the medium will let you? Perfect too.
Want to play with your new painting super power? Try it out with these oil painting ideas.