What's the difference between oil and water based paint?

If you're a DIY painter in Australia, you know that choosing the right type of paint is essential for the success of your painting project. In this post, we'll compare oil-based and water-based paint, highlighting their advantages and disadvantages to help you make an informed decision. Whether you're painting a whole room, a single wall, or a piece of furniture, understanding the differences between these two popular paint types is crucial.

The uninitiated will tell you that the big difference between water-based paint and oil-based paint is the smell. While that might be true in some instances, water-based acrylic paint can have a strong odour, while some natural-oil paints aren't particularly on the nose.

So what are the technical differences? In this post we'll describe some of the differences in detail and give you some tips about the type of paint you should choose for your paint job.


Oil-based paint: durability meets high-gloss finish

Oil-based paint, also known as solvent-based or alkyd paint, has long been the go-to option for painters looking for a durable, high-gloss finish. Here are some of the key advantages and disadvantages of oil-based paint:


  • Durability: Oil-based paint is known for its durability and long-lasting finish, making it ideal for high-traffic areas, doors, door and window frames, and other trim.
  • Smooth finish: Due to its slower drying time, oil-based paint levels out better, resulting in a smooth finish with fewer brush marks.
  • Adhesion: Oil-based paint adheres well to a variety of surfaces, including metal surfaces, wood, and previously painted surfaces, making it a versatile option.


  • Environmental impact: Oil-based paint contains more volatile organic compounds (VOCs) than water-based paint, which can contribute to air pollution and respiratory issues.
  • Clean-up: Cleaning brushes and equipment after using oil paints requires the use of solvents or paint thinner, such as mineral turpentine or methylated spirits. Cleaning brushes with solvents is relatively quick, but - depending on the type of solvent used - you need to be careful when using them.
  • Drying time: Oil-based paint takes longer to dry, often requiring 8-24 hours between coats.


Water-based paint: environmentally friendly and easy to use

oil based paint


Water-based paint, commonly known as acrylic paint or latex paint, has become increasingly popular among Aussie painters due to its eco-friendliness and ease of use. Here's a breakdown of the advantages and disadvantages of water-based paint:


  • Environmental impact: Water-based paint has lower VOC levels, making it a more environmentally friendly option.
  • Quick drying: Unlike oil-based paint, water-based paint dries quickly, often within a few hours, allowing for faster project completion. Even slow-drying water-based paints are usually dry within 6-8 hours.
  • Easy clean-up: Clean-up after using water-based paint is a breeze – simply use a bit of soap and some water to wash brushes, rollers, and other equipment.
  • Colour retention and finish: Water-based paint is less likely to yellow over time, maintaining its colour and vibrancy for longer periods. You can also choose between a matte finish and gloss finish in most instances.


  • Durability: While water-based paint has improved in recent years, it's still considered less durable than oil-based paint, particularly in high-traffic areas or on surfaces frequently exposed to moisture.
  • Surface preparation: Water-based paint may not adhere as well to certain surfaces, like metal or glossy finishes, requiring additional preparation, such as priming or sanding.


So, which paint should you choose?

which paint should you choose


The choice between oil-based and water-based paint ultimately depends on your project's specific requirements and your personal preferences. Here are some general guidelines for Australian painters:

  • Choose oil-based paint if you need a durable, high-gloss finish for high-traffic areas, doors, trim, or exterior surfaces exposed to harsh weather conditions.
  • Choose water-based paint if you're looking for a more environmentally friendly option with easy clean-up, faster drying times, and excellent colour retention, perfect for interior walls, ceilings, and low-traffic areas.

Remember to consider local Australian regulations regarding paint disposal and VOC emissions before making your decision. Many states and territories have implemented guidelines or restrictions on the use of high-VOC paint products.

Both water-based and oil-based paints can include chemicals and additives that cause skin irritation and breathing difficulty for some people. Be conscious of any allergies you might have and get a sample of the paint you plan to use before committing to enough paint for your whole paint project.

Both types of paint come in a range of colours and there are different paints for interior and exterior applications in both categories.


Tips for success with oil-based and water-based paints

tips for success


Regardless of which paint type you choose, following some best practices will ensure a successful painting project:

  • Proper surface preparation: Thoroughly clean and prepare surfaces by removing dirt, grease, and loose paint. Sand glossy surfaces and apply an appropriate primer if necessary. Surface condition can affect the amount of paint you use, the number of coats of paint you need, and the final finish, so be sure to spend time preparing your surface properly.
  • Choose quality paints, brushes and rollers: Investing in high-quality paint and high-quality paint brushes and rollers to apply it ensures a smoother, more even finish. Good tools can make the painting process easier and save you time.
  • Follow manufacturer's instructions: Always read and follow the paint manufacturer's instructions regarding application techniques, recommended temperatures, and drying times.

PaintAccess can help you find the right paint, and can supply all the tools and painting accessories you need to ensure you get the sort of long-term performance from your painted surfaces that you want. Whether you're painting a ceiling inside or rendered exterior walls, PaintAccess has the best range and prices for professional and amateur painters.



In conclusion, understanding the key differences between oil-based and water-based paint is essential for Australian painters to make the right choice for their painting projects. By considering factors such as durability, environmental impact, drying time, and ease of use, you can select the ideal paint type for your specific needs and preferences. And by following the tips mentioned above, you'll be well on your way to a successful painting project with a beautiful, long-lasting finish.

Come and see Dan and the team - or shop online - to get the paint and painting accessories you need to start your painting project today.