Watercolor, Oils, Pastels, and More: A Guide to Different Painting Types

Updated June 10, 2019
watercolors and paints

When it comes to art, there is no such thing as one "one size fits all". That is true, too, of the paints used by artists.

There are several different types of paint that have been used throughout history, many of which continue to be used today. From oil to acrylic and watercolor to pastel, different mediums produce different aesthetics and require different techniques. It is important to note, too, that painting is not limited to professional artists. The spectrum of people who use different paints for different purposes include contractors offering interior paint services and students in classrooms across the country. It is important to understand the different types of paint and to use the one best suited to your purpose. With that in mind, here are a few different types of paint that stood the test of time.


Even prior to the Renaissance (14th-17th century), oil paints were a popular medium for painters in Northern Europe and the Netherlands. As centuries passed, artists like Jan van Eyck further popularized oil paint through as a medium through notable works. Oil paints have been loved for their flexible qualities and can be easily mixed into a variety of colors and shades. These paints dry slower than others, making it easier for the painter to correct themselves as they progress in their work. The slower drying time also aids in the blending and layering of paint over time. Today, searching for "painters near me" can be helpful in finding the closest art gallery with the most beautiful oil painting on display.

Oil Paint History in Europe

What Makes Oil Painting Unique?

History of Oil Paint

7 Most Popular Oil Paintings and Their Painters

10 Oil Painting Tips for Beginners


As a basic mixture of pigment and water-soluble binder, watercolor paints have been used by many cultures and artists throughout history, from ancient Egypt to 20th- and 21st century artists like Vincent Van Gogh, Georgia O'Keeffe, and Edward Hopper. The unique properties of watercolor paint are what makes it so universally appealing as a medium. Its semi-transparent and semi-opaque characteristics allow the paint to be manipulated by the artist. Watercolor paint is used primarily on paper surfaces, specifically watercolor paper made specifically to allow the paint to sit on top of the paper, rather than seep into it.

What Are Watercolors

History of Watercolor

Painting With Watercolors for Beginners

Vincent Van Gogh Watercolor Paintings

Properties of Watercolor Painting


Acrylic paint was first produced commercially in the 1950s and combines properties of oil paint and watercolors. These paints are popular because they are reasonably priced and accessible. They dry quickly and are also able to be used on a variety of different surfaces, including canvas, paper, board, fabric, leather, glass, wood, and primed indoor walls. Acrylics are special to different types of artists from wall mural painters to commissioned painters because of its range of use and versatility.

Acrylic Art Painting History, Techniques, and More

History of Acrylics

11 Famous Artists Who Paint With Acrylics

13 Acrylic Painting Techniques for Beginners

5 Key Differences Between Acrylics and Oils


Pastel paints are different than all other mediums, as they are a unique cross between drawing and painting, also called "crayon painting". Dating back to the 15th century Renaissance, pastels have been used to create iconic paintings such as Self-Portrait by Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin and La Toilette by Edgar Degas. Pastels come in many different types: Soft, pan, hard, pencils, oils, and water-soluble pastels. Each has a different consistency and lends itself well to different styles.  Pastels may be the best for painters who love a mix of different looks rather than something specific like oil or acrylics.

What Are Pastels?

The History of Pastels

Pastel Basics From the Renaissance Through to Today

An Introduction to Soft Pastels

About the Renaissance Pastel Society