For How Long Can Oil Paint Be Worked Into?

Some paints on the market can be very tricky and demanding due to their expeditious drying period. When the paint is drying too fast, the artist does not have enough time to handle the paint properly and transfer it to the canvas the way he imagined.

Artists using oil paint have the opposite problem – the oil paint drying time is too long and leaves big time gaps between two layers. However, modern techniques have found a way to fix this issue and speed up the drying time as much as possible. 

A layer of oil paint will usually be very dry and cured after 24 hours, on average. This means that the artist has more than enough time to work his magic on the canvas. By using different methods, this drying time can be shortened to around 18 hours. The painting needs to rest for at least 6 months before it can be varnished and framed. 

To some, this may be too long, but the effort will always pay off in the end. Stay tuned while we explain what influences the drying time of oil paint and what you can do to speed it up. 

Do you feel that no matter how long you wait, the painting doesn’t really dry? More information on this topic can be found in our article Does Oil Paint Ever Truly Dry? The Facts Explained.

What Is Oil Paint Drying Time?

To answer this question, several factors need to be taken into consideration. In general, oil paint is drying slower than other commonly used types of paint. The average is – 24 hours. However, let me list four things that will influence this number. 

The exact drying time of the oil paint you have been using will result from the combination of the following elements – oil paint and color pigment quality, the painting technique you are using, and the environment you are painting in. 

Oil Paint Quality

Oil paint quality will determine the drying time, and the quality depends on the brand itself. Some brands are known for their altered mixture of oil paint that has additives that make it dry faster than other oil paints. 

Many brands on the market will have different ranges of oil paints available. The more affordable ones would be those of less quality so that beginners can become familiar with the paint and get to know it. 

The advice is to check the ingredients before buying the oil paint. Although oil is the main ingredient in all oil paints, the type of oil is usually different. Some oils are known to dry faster than others, which will help you eliminate brands using slow-drying oils. 

Color Pigments

Another essential ingredient of any oil paint that influences over drying time is the color pigment. Some color pigments are thicker than others. Thus some colors tend to dry slower or faster than others. 

Oil paints containing cobalt and lead are known to dry very slowly, and any shades of black, white, and yellow share the same slow-drying properties. On the other hand, colors that dry very fast are those with iron oxides and all earth tone shades like brown, red, and orange.

Painting Technique

There are so many different painting techniques, and each one of them is a combination of different brush strokes and the variation of the colors used. 

Techniques like impasto or fresco, known for brush strokes, bold textures, and bright colors, will take a significant amount of time to cure and dry completely. This time can be up to several weeks, depending on the intensity of the technique applied. 

The general rule in oil painting is to wait until one layer is completely dry before painting another layer on top. This requires a lot of time, which many artists don’t have, so they have come up with a shortcut technique called “wet-on-wet.” This technique will reduce the time needed for a painting to be completed. 

Also, if you are painting thin layers, they will require less time to dry than layers where an extensive amount of paint was used. 

Consider the Environment

One of the most often forgotten and disregarded factors is the environment you are painting in and leaving your paintings to dry. Oil paints don’t like heat and moisture, so it would be perfect if there is any possible way to avoid both of them. 

Oil paints perform the best in cold areas, so many painters create a special, chilled environment when working with oil paints. Also, oil paints should be stored in dark and cold places as well. 

If the conditions are not ideal and don’t have a cold room to leave the paintings in to dry, they might take up from six months to a year to completely cure before they can be put in a frame. 

The painting may look dry and finished, but once you put the glass frame on top, everything will be smudged under pressure, and the painting will be ruined. To avoid this, make sure to hang the painting to dry somewhere where at least the temperature does not exceed 20 degrees Celsius. 

How to Speed up Oil Paint Drying Time?

The slow drying feature of oil paint does not necessarily have to be a bad thing – after all, you will have more than enough time to work the paint out the way you want and to correct any mistakes as well. 

However, artists are still looking for a way to speed up the drying time to transfer their focus to another painting. This is usually done by altering the oil paint mixture, adding specific ingredients, or preparing the canvas. 

Use a Solvent

Back when the artists were making their own oil paint mixtures, solvents or thinners were added to dilute the oil paint and make it easier to work with. Nowadays, solvents are already a part of the oil paint when you buy them. 

However, some brands prefer having thicker oil paints, so even if they contain a small number of solvents, you will need to add the additional one to increase the paint’s fluidity and shorten drying time. 

Ensure not to put too much solvent since this can dilute the paint to the point where it is not usable anymore. Always start by adding smaller amounts to the oil paint tube or container, and from there, you can work out the mixture you need. 

Use Fast-drying Oil Mediums

Adding an oil medium can be beneficial since it can provide that extra shiny and glossy look. This is similar to the aforementioned oil paint quality, where it’s stated that the drying time depends on the type of oil used. 

The same story applies here. If you add linseed, walnut, safflower, or poppyseed oil medium, you will speed up the drying time. However, if you choose some slow-drying oil medium, the drying time will be extended and prolonged. 

Try Alkyd Mediums

A good alternative to traditional solvents and oil mediums is alkyd mediums. They are modified resin treated with alcohol and acids, and it speeds up the drying time. Most paints with alkyd mediums can be completely dry within 18 hours and ready for the next layer. 

Using alkyd mediums, you can be sure that there will be no yellow stains on the painting (some oil mediums like linseed oil can produce this yellowish effect on lighter color shades). 

Technically speaking, they will behave in the same way as the oil mediums. The only difference is that alkyd mediums will speed up the drying time, while the oil mediums will slow it down in most cases. 

Prime the Canvas

Once you start painting, there are not so many things you can do to speed up the drying process, other than adding solvent to the paint and placing the painting into a cold room to dry.

However, many are not aware that they can significantly reduce the drying time if they prime the canvas properly before starting painting. Priming the canvas is an essential step when using oil paints because the chemicals from the paint can “eat” the canvas and ruin it over time. 

Priming is usually done using gesso modified for oil paint use (usually the acrylic one). Priming will create a sort of shield between the canvas fibers and the oil paint itself, thus protecting the canvas from deteriorating. 

Nowadays, you don’t have to bother yourself with doing this – you can buy a pre-primed canvas that is ready for oil paints straight from the shop. The only thing you can do at home is to clean the canvas and add a prep layer if you feel like you need it. 

How to Make Oil Paints Dry Faster at Home?

All the aforementioned tips were based on using chemicals to speed up the drying time. Besides this, you can use several other tips when you paint at home that can be very useful.

When you don’t have a studio, and you are painting at your home, the most important step is to choose the room where you will paint, and later on, leave the painting to dry. The room should not be very humid nor hot, and it should have just a breeze of sunlight. Being exposed to direct sunlight is a big no-no. 

If the room is very humid or hot and not ventilated enough, a good tip is to use a dehumidifier and/or a fan to bring the temperature down by a few degrees and speed up the drying time. 

Oil paints require specific conditions to be met if you want them to dry as soon as possible. Too hot or too humid, and the painting will take too long to dry. Too cold in the room, and the painting will again take too long to cure properly. Sometimes the painting may look dry on the surface, but the layers underneath still didn’t have time to set properly. 

If you need the painting to dry fast, you may use a heat gun, but with precautions. Using a heat gun regularly is not recommended since it can damage the painting and cause yellow tones to appear. 

Also, once you finish the painting, store it in a coldish and dry room, where it can sit and rest for at least six months. If you try to frame the picture before this period, you will end up with a ruined painting. 

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How to Check If the Painting Is Dry?

If you paint very thin layers, most of them will be completely dry in 18 to 24 hours. Thicker layers require more time, sometimes up to 36 hours and more. This is why you need to find a way to ensure the painting is dry before painting a new layer. 

Luckily there is a simple trick to check this – gently glide your finger over a painting section. If you see fine dust coming off, the painting is dry and ready for a new layer. If you notice that the colors are getting smudged and paint on your fingers, you should leave the painting resting for a couple of more hours since it is not ready yet. 

You need to be aware of these drying times beforehand, and in most cases, you can estimate the drying time based on the technique and oil paint you are using. It’s important to have these estimations to plan when the painting will be approximately dry properly. 


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Ines is a self-taught artist based in the UK. Originally from Caracas, she has dabbled in the world of arts and crafts in a diversity of ways participating in city intervention projects, sustainable practices’ open exhibitions, and her illustrations being featured in anniversary editions of literary magazines.

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