Latex paints or acrylic paints are fast-drying water-based paints. Oil based paint is a slow drying paint made with oil.
Latex paints are generally better for the interior of homes and on large surfaces. Oil-based paints are generally used on metals, wood and for paintings. The difference between oil-based and latex paint lies in their composition, properties, and ease of use. The fumes of the oil-based paint are also known to be toxic to health and harmful to the environment and is hence a less popular choice in home furnishing.
Difference in Composition of oil-based and latex paints
Both paints use the same type of pigments, but they use different binders, and that is what sets them apart.
Latex paints or acrylic paints use pigments suspended in a binder made from an acrylic polymer emulsion. The acrylic emulsion is water-soluble, non-toxic, and flexible, which is why they are likely to be used in areas exposed to heat and cold.
Oil-based paint use the same type of pigments but they are suspended in an oil based binder (usually made from linseed oil). The oil makes the paint thicker and more prone to mildew. Also the oil is not water-soluble so it must be thinned with Turpentine instead of water.
Ease of use
Oil-based paints are thicker and hence more difficult to spread. Various brushes and different rollers are required to use this paint whereas latex paints are thinner and much easier to use. Being thicker, oil-based paints take longer to dry (sometimes days or weeks) than latex paints which dry within minutes, and only one coat can be applied at a time, whereas multiple coats of latex paints can be applied to spread it more evenly.
Oil-based paints tend to have bubbles, and it is important to stir and not shake it before mixing. Latex paints do not develop bubbles while painting.
Latex paint are also easier to use as no priming is required before painting, while in case of oil-based paints, a priming coat is required to prevent it from peeling.
Acrylic paints are more easily obtained and dry faster. However, they swell the grain of wood, and so it must be sanded between coats. Acrylic paints cannot be painted over steel unless used with a primer. They do not adhere to dirty or chalky walls, and are less durable in places with high humidity, such as bathrooms.
Oil paints go on more smoothly and cover more thoroughly in one coat, but this requires care. However, their fumes can be overwhelming. They are more adhesive, and so can be used on chalky surfaces. They also provide better coverage for stains.
Acrylic paint can be applied to raw canvas, but is usually primed with Gesso before painting.
Oil paint must be applied to properly sized and primed canvas, or else the canvas will rot.
Acrylic paints can be used along with other materials, such as pastel, charcoal, pen. They can also be diluted with water to create a watercolor-like effect.
Oil paints are not as versatile.
Type of Finish
Oil-based paints have a glossy finish whereas latex paints are available both in a glossy and matt finish. One disadvantage of a glossy finish is that imperfections are easily visible.
Oil-based paint is more durable and stain resistant than latex paints. Once, cured latex paints last longer without cracking or peeling whereas oil-based paints may turn yellow or oxidize with age. This is the reason why oil-based paints are used for areas like kitchen, bathrooms, trims and other exteriors, whereas latex paints are used for interior painting, especially if used by amateur painters. On the other hand, if spilled, latex paints are easier to clean with soap and water than oil-based paint which requires a solvent or thinner for clean-up.
Availability of colors
Certain colors like Prussian Blue and Zinc white are available only in oil-based paints, and not in latex paints, whereas fluorescent colors are available only in latex paints.
Oil-based paint has a much stronger odor than latex paints. Thus, if you use oil-based paint make sure it is a well-ventilated area and allow the odour to diffuse before entering the room.
Oil based paints are toxic and hazardous to health, while latex paints, being water-based are not toxic.
Price varies by brand and the finish, but in general, latex paints are cheaper (upto 40%) than oil-based paints.
Current prices of some of the popular paint brands are available on Amazon.com: