Why Are Oil Paintings More Expensive Than Watercolors?

  • By: Artistic Bees
  • Time to read: 5 min.
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Being an artist is both the most rewarding and unprofitable at the same time. For centuries, people have argued about the value of art. Some believe art is overly expensive, while others believe artists are underpaid. I can’t tell you for sure which side is correct. However, what I can tell you is why oil paintings are more expensive than watercolors. So, keep on reading!

Oil paintings are more expensive than watercolors because of their quality, durability, and historical significance. Oil paint is known for lasting a long time and providing the best results in terms of pigment, texture, and workability.

The most famous paintings of the Renaissance were all made using oil paints.

This is not to say that watercolors do not have their stylistic charms and benefits. However, they simply cannot compete in terms of quality with an elite paint, such as oil paints. Watercolors are typically thought of as commercial paints, not intended for large-scale drawings. Because of this, paintings that use watercolors tend to be a lot cheaper than oil paintings.

Oil paints

Reasons Why Oil Paintings Are More Expensive

There are three main reasons why oil paintings are more expensive than watercolors. These three things are the quality of the paint, the durability of oil paintings, and the significance of oil paintings in art history.

  • Quality Of Paint

Oil paints are made from a mixture of pigment and dried oil. This paint is famous for its smooth texture and elegant pigments. Unlike most other paints that change significantly after drying, the pigment in oil paints remains as strong as ever. The lack of water in oil paints also keeps the pigment from diluting and appearing as prominent as ever.

In comparison, watercolors, despite their stylistic features, lag behind oil paints in terms of pigments and versatility. There are only a limited number of styles that watercolors can masterfully present. The paint itself also lacks the rich buttery texture and depth of oil paints. These aspects make watercolor paintings far cheaper than oil paintings.

  • Durability

Another reason why oil paintings are so expensive is how long they last. Oil paintings such as the Mona Lisa and Starry Nights were all painted hundreds of years ago. Yet all of them remain intact and are of significantly good quality. The durability of oil paintings makes them an item that will last more than a lifetime. This makes them a lot pricier than other paintings.

Watercolors, on the other hand, do not last nearly as long as oil paints. Since watercolors are water-soluble paints, they get reactivated each time they touch the water. This makes watercolor paintings more prone to damage. Watercolors also have a more faded or transparent finish.

As time passes, the colors only continue to fade. There are ways of preserving watercolor paintings. However, even then, they do not last as long as oil paintings.

Oil painting
  • Historical Significance

Oil paintings and watercolors both have rich historical significance. Oil paintings are known for revolutionizing European art through the Renaissance. On the other hand, watercolors are an important part of many special East Asian art practices.

However, when it comes to marketability, the historical significance of the Renaissance overpowers all of its competitors.

The significance of oil paints and traditional Renaissance art practices are a significant reason why oil paintings are expensive. It is also why the use of oil paints has been so thoroughly researched and experimented with over the years to provide art pieces that are versatile and drastically different from one another.

Differences Between Oil Paintings And Watercolor


Oil paintings and watercolors differ from one another in many different ways. Talking about them all in detail can get confusing. Thus, to keep things short and simple, I will explain the main difference between oil paints and watercolors through two categories: base and usability.

  • Base

Oil paints have an oil base and are made by blending dried oil with pigment. Watercolors, on the other hand, are compressed pigments that are activated by water and then used as paint.

The oil base of the oil paints makes them much richer and smoother in texture. Since the pigment is blended in rather than compressed, it lacks the chalky texture of watercolors.

The oil base of oil paints is also what gives them a more elegant and well-pigmented finish compared to watercolors. Since the pigment in the paints is not diluted in any way, it allows the color to shine through in paintings even after they have dried.

Watercolors have a water base, which is why they tend to be more transparent and fade over time.

  • Usability

Watercolors are good paints for beginners looking to get into painting. However, they can be extremely frustrating to professionals who paint for a living. Watercolors dry very quickly.

They also get reactivated while painting if you add too much water. This can make it very difficult to make corrections or paint over certain areas while painting.

Oil painting lies at a completely separate end of the spectrum. Oil paints take a long time to dry. This can make the paint difficult to use for beginners. However, professionals find this quality very useful. Since the paint takes so long to dry, it is very easy to remove areas you are not happy with and paint over them.

Oil Paintings Vs Watercolor- Which Is Better?

Since oil paints and watercolors are so different, it is hard to appoint one as better than the other. They each have qualities that make them a better option for different scenarios. For instance, if you were a beginner who would like to get into painting, watercolors would be a good option for you.

On the other hand, if you are an experienced artist who is capable of managing paint well, you would probably prefer oil paints. Which paint is better also depends on the style of painting you’re interested in.

Oil paints are good for paintings that require rich and solid colors. Oil paints are also good for paintings that involve minuscule details.

However, if you are looking to do paintings that include translucent and faded stylistic elements, you may prefer watercolors to anything else. Watercolors have a masterful grip on making colors bleed into one another.

Watercolors are also excellent at achieving a look that looks transcendental. This is why they are particularly good for nature drawings or paintings with dream-like expressionism.

If you are buying paintings, you may also consider which type is best for the purpose behind your purchase. For instance, if you’d like to get a good quality art piece that you can keep for a long time, oil paintings are better.

However, if you are merely looking for reasonably priced paintings to temporarily decorate your room, watercolor paintings would be better.


To summarize, the quality of paint, the durability of paintings, and the rich cultural history are what makes oil paintings more expensive than watercolors. I hope this article has helped you learn more about oil paintings and watercolors and how they are both unique in their own ways.

Now you know the main differences between oil paintings and watercolors. So I’m sure you will have no problem navigating your way through the art world.

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