Oil Ground vs Acrylic Gesso: Choosing the Right Primer for Your Oil Paintings

Oil ground and acrylic gesso are both used as a primer or base coat for oil painting, but you might be wondering what to use and why. In this article we'll discuss the differences between the two primers are and hopefully by the end of it you'll have a better understanding of what's best for you.
Oil ground vs acrylic gesso

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What are the differences between oil ground and acrylic gesso?

Oil ground is a type of primer that is used primarily for oil painting. It is made from a mixture of oil and pigments and is what some painters consider to be the most superior when working with oil. It also protects the surface from the acidity of the oil paint, and can create a unique texture on the painting surface.

Acrylic gesso, on the other hand, is a primer that can be used for both acrylic and oil paintings. It is made from a mixture of acrylic polymer emulsion, chalk, and titanium dioxide. It also creates a smooth surface for the paint to adhere to and protects the surface from the acidity of the paint.

Here are a few key differences between oil ground and acrylic gesso:

Drying time: Oil ground takes longer to dry than acrylic gesso

Surface texture: Oil ground can create a uniquely fine texture on the painting surface, while acrylic gesso creates more of a smoother surface.

Flexibility: Oil ground is more flexible than acrylic gesso, which means it can better withstand the movement and expansion of the painting surface over time.

Cost: Oil ground is generally more expensive than acrylic gesso.

The choice of which one to use will depend on the type of paint you are using, the surface you are painting on, the type of painting you are doing, and your budget.

oil ground vs acrylic gesso

What are the advantages and disadvantages for each?

Oil ground and acrylic gesso have their own set of advantages and disadvantages that can affect the final outcome of a painting. Here is a summary of some of the main advantages and disadvantages of each:

Oil Ground


  • Protects the surface from the acidity of the oil paint.
  • The texture created on the painting surface that can enhance the final outcome of the painting depending on what you're painting.
  • More flexible than acrylic gesso, which makes it a better choice for stretched canvas.


  • Takes longer to dry than acrylic gesso.
  • More expensive than acrylic gesso.
tutorials and reference photos for painters

    Acrylic Gesso


    • Creates a smooth surface which could be helpful for certain subject matter.
    • Dries quickly
    • More affordable than oil ground.


    • Not as flexible as oil ground, which can be a disadvantage when painting on surfaces that may expand or contract over time.
    • Can't create the same texture as oil ground.

    Both can provide a suitable base for a painting, but oil ground might be more suitable for a traditional approach, while acrylic gesso might be more suitable for contemporary or experimental paintings. This is all subjective however; many oil painters today creating all types of traditional work use acrylic gesso as a primer. Remember though that not all acrylic gesso is suitable for oil use, so check the bottle for recommendations. 

    acrylic primer vs oil ground

    So, what should I buy?

    When it comes to selecting the best brands for oil ground and acrylic gesso, there are several reputable options to choose from. Beginning with oil ground, you'll see that some brands offer lead oil ground and you might be wondering why and whether or not you should consider it.

    Lead oil ground might have some advantages when it comes to longevity of oil paintings. Some artists and experts will say that lead ground helps slow down yellowing and preserves the painting for a longer time. However, it's important to consider its toxic nature and to take proper precautions when using it. 

    Is lead oil ground necessary for my painting to be archival? The short answer is no, using either lead alternative oil ground or acrylic gesso will suffice as long as you're painting on a well built and durable surface. For very large stretched canvas paintings however, because they tend to move, sag, and stretch over time, you may want to consider something like a lead oil ground to defend against the wear and tear.

    For oil ground, here are some of your options:

    With acrylic gesso, you'll find that most all are relatively the same. Here are some of the best brands:

    As I mentioned near the beginning of this post, choosing the right brand of oil ground or acrylic gesso can depend on a variety of factors, like the type of painting you're doing, your budget, and the results you're looking to achieve. Some artists may prefer to use a specific brand of oil ground or acrylic gesso because of its quality, consistency, and ease of use. 

    So my advice is don't be afraid to ask other artists for their experience, to read reviews, and experiment with different brands to find what works best for you. Some brands might be more expensive but they will typically be a better quality.

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    Remember that choosing the right brand of oil ground or acrylic gesso is a personal choice and you should use the one that best suits your needs and preferences.

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