Linseed Oil

In Western and European countries, linseed oil has been used in all kinds of oil painting techniques - for both artist's and house paint (oil based paint), and for both transparant and hiding kinds of paint. It's available in different qualities: big canisters for oiling in exterior wood, but there are also different kinds of it available in the art supplies store.

In the east, tung-oil is used for the same purposes. Tung oil and linseed oil have an opposite kind of drying process (tung oil dries from within, linseed oil first forms an outer skin or film). They're both good materials, but they can't be mixed.

There are roughly three kinds on the market:

  • Bleached linseed oil
  • Boiled linseed oil
  • Stand oil


Bleached linseed-oil is just like the plain kind, only it was exposed to daylight. It has a light color, but that doesn't really add to the quality. Linseed-oil goes lighter in the sunlight, but when put in the dark, it goes dark again. That even goes for oilpaint that has already dried. For the pigments, it's better to put an old painting in the shadow, but for the overall color, it's better to keep the painting in the light.


This is the best ingredient for making your own oil paint. the linseed oil was boiled, which gives it more consistancy. Boiled linseed oil is also good for oiling in wood. Thin the wood with real turpentine, if you want it to go deep into the wood. Click here for more on staining wood For making oil paint, it's best to use alkali-refined linseed oil, because the term "boiled" can also mean: polymerized linseed oil - which is actually stand oil. Check the online art supplies store for all these kinds of linseed oil.

Stand oil

This is polymerized linseed-oil. This is the best quality, but not for making the paint itself - for that purpose, it's too fat. It's good for making a painting medium, mixed 1 on 1 with dammar varnish. In oil painting techniques, it's important that you paint fat over lean, this makes your oil painting durable. You can use the medium, for making your paint fatter. The paint will also be more shiny then.

The oils in oil paint

Linseed-oil can be used for cleaning your oil painting brushes without having to use water and soap - it's the best maintenance method for your brushes.

Not all oilpaints are made of linseed oil: blues and whites often are made with poppy or safflower-oil, because they don't go yellow in time. But their drying capacities are less good. When you buy a white paint, think of what to use it for. If you want to mix it with browns, reds and yellows, it's better to take a linseed-oiled white paint (like the economy Blick Oil Colors. Also for underpainting purposes. All student-grade Blick oil colors are made with linseed oil. For pure whites and blues, it's best to take safflower-oil paint (all Blick Artists' Oil Color are made with safflower oil). Check here for more on oil paint.

Safflower and linseed-oil paint can be mixed. Then you get an oilpaint that makes a relatively good film, and has relatively little yellowing.

'Oiling in' a painting

I've heard of the advice, to 'oil in' a painting (apply pure oil on it) when the layer is too dull. This is not a practice I'd recommend - lean oilpaint isn't shiny, but that doesn't mean it's not fat enough. The fatness of your paintlayers has to be carefully regulated (fat over lean), if you want your painting to last. If you want to add shine for artistic reasons, use dammar varnish instead of linseed oil, in a thinned form (wipe it with a clean cloth, to avoid making a thick layer). But dullness is OK - you can just paint over matte oilpaint layers, without endangering the durability of your painting. If you want to "wet" the dry layer, it's best to take something that doesn't leave too much chemical traces, like rectified turpentine.

For more information on durable oil painting: check this oil painting guide. It has info on all relevant modern and classical oil painting materials, including linseed oil.

Oiling in wood

for oiling in wood, the cheapest variety of linseed oil is good. If the wood is outside, it will be bleached by the sunlight. Inside, it might darken the wood. The wood itself also darkens (going more warm and orange), with the years. If you want to keep your wood light, it's best to use an acrylic or polyurethane laquer for staining, eventually with some white paint added to it.

Drying times

The drying times of linseed oil and oil paint depend on the thickness of the layer, and the pigments added. Clean linseed-oil, applied thin on wood, can be thoroughly dry within a few days. Some pigments (like lead white) dry very fast. Manganese pigments are fastdrying too. Others can be very slow (like green earth). And of course, a thick layer takes much more drying time, than a thin one. To speed up the drying process, Liquin is a good thing. It's a painting medium by Winsor and Newton. Don't use too much of it (no more than 10 %), because it makes all paint layers look the same (a greasy halfshine). But it dries very quickly. First make your paint fatter with a regular painting medium (half dammar, half stand-oil).

Drying times can also be reduced, by making an underpainting in egg-tempera paint. Don't use acrylics for underpainting purposes, oilpaint doesn't hold on to them. Click here for more on underpainting techniques.

Painting grounds

The look and durability of oilpaints are very much influenced by their painting ground, and by the way it is layered. Click here for more on the painting basics of "fat over lean".

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