How Long Does Oil Paint Take to Dry on Canvas

logo by Editorial Staff | Posted on December 19th, 2022

Are you an artist looking to create a masterpiece but don’t want to wait forever for it to dry? We understand that the drying time of oil paint can be a major factor in your painting process. That’s why we’ve put together this blog post about how long oil paint takes to dry on canvas – so you can return to creating confidently!

Oil painting is a popular form of art that can be used to create beautiful pieces. It’s important to know the drying times of oil paint when applied to the canvas to get the best results with your work. Understanding common drying times will help you plan your painting process and prevent unnecessary delays in completing your project.

Artist's palette with mixed oil paints, macro, colorful stroke texture on canvas, studio shot, abstract art background

How Long Does Oil Paint Take to Dry on Canvas

Oil paint takes a significant amount of time to dry on canvas. Depending on the paint’s thickness and the room’s temperature, it can take anywhere from 18-24 hours to become touch dry. It is important to note that this is the time required before the paint is dry to the touch, and full drying may take anywhere from one day to months or even years afterward.

To speed up the drying process, an artist can add a small number of dryers to their paint mixtures before applying them to the canvas. Oil paint only takes a long time to dry if applied in very thick layers; some colors may require more time than others. When done correctly, oil paint can be ready for varnishing between 3-6 days after painting and ready for sale after approximately two weeks.

How do I know when it is dry?

You will know your oil painting is dry when you touch the paint without leaving a mark on the canvas and have no sticky or oily feeling. You can also use a paper towel or cloth to test the dryness. Dip the corner in some turpentine and lightly rub it over the paint surface. If there is oil on the cloth, your painting is not dry yet. Don’t panic if it takes a long time for your painting to dry.

Understanding Oil Paint

Oil paint comprises pigments, oil, and sometimes other additives such as driers, preservatives, and varnishes. The oil used in oil paint provides the paint with a slow drying process and great flexibility. This allows the artist to work on their painting for extended periods before it begins to dry.

Factors That Affect Drying Time

When it comes to oil painting, the drying time of the paint depends on a few factors. These include the type of paint used, the environment, the thickness of the paint layer, the use of a retarder medium, the application of varnish, and even the preservatives used in oil paint.

Temperature and Humidity

Temperature and humidity can play a major role in determining how quickly your oil paint dries. Generally, oil paint takes longer to dry in humid environments than in dry ones. If the temperature is too cold, the drying process can be delayed.

On the other hand, the warmer the temperature, the faster the paint will dry. So if you are painting outdoors in the summertime, you can expect your oil painting to dry much more quickly than if you were painting indoors in a cold room in winter. It is also important to ensure good ventilation in your work area, as this will help to reduce humidity and promote drying.

Varnish Application

Applying varnish is often the last step in completing an oil painting. This is because varnish helps protect the paint surface from dust, dirt, and other elements. Depending on your preference, it also adds a glossy or matte finish to the painting.

When applying varnish, usually, two to three layers should be enough. Each layer should be allowed to dry before the next is applied – this usually takes 10 minutes or less. You can apply up to 20-50 layers of varnish, but it is unnecessary. Make sure to wait at least 24 hours for the first layer of varnish to dry before applying any additional coats.

Paint Used

The type of oil paint that you use will also affect how quickly it dries on canvas. Oil paints come in a variety of formulations and contain different binding agents. Paints that contain linseed oil as the main binding agent will take longer to dry than those that use poppy oil, safflower oil, or walnut oil.

They also come in a variety of consistencies, from extra-thick to thin. Thicker paints will take longer to dry than thinner paints, as they contain more oil. It’s important to choose the right paint for your needs, as this will affect the drying time of your painting.

Preservatives in Oil Paint

Preservatives, such as cobalt or manganese, are added to oil paints to extend their shelf life. These preservatives can reduce the rate of drying. Although they help prevent the paint from spoiling, they can also affect drying time. Adding preservatives can cause oil paint to take longer to dry on a canvas.

The thickness of the Paint Layer

The thickness of the paint layer is one of the most important factors that will affect the drying time of an oil painting. Thicker layers of paint will take longer to dry than thinner layers. The thickness of the paint layer can also affect the drying process in other ways, such as causing cracking or bubbling of the paint. It is important to ensure that each layer of paint is applied evenly and not too thick to ensure a successful drying process.

Priming the Canvas Before Painting

Priming the canvas before painting with oil is an important step that must not be overlooked. Priming the canvas can help ensure that the oil paint adheres well to the canvas and dries evenly. It also helps to protect the canvas from discoloration, as well as to provide a good foundation for the paint.

Before priming, ensure the canvas is clean and free of dirt or dust. You can do this by washing it with a gentle detergent and allowing it to dry completely. After this, you can use an acrylic gesso or a special oil primer to prime the canvas.

It is also important to note that priming the canvas can affect the drying time of the oil paint. Generally, oil paints take longer to dry on unprimed canvases, so priming your canvas before painting can help speed up the drying process.

The Use of a Retarder Medium

Using a retarder medium to delay the drying time of oil paint is an excellent way to ensure your work is evenly painted. A retarder is a medium that slows down the evaporation of the solvents used in oil paints, allowing for more time for the paint to be blended and applied. The retarder medium can be added directly to the paint or used as a brush-on additive.

Depending on the ratio of the retarder to paint, you can adjust the drying time. Retarders are particularly useful when painting with thicker layers, as they allow you to work more slowly and efficiently. It also helps keep the colors vibrant and prevents them from drying too quickly and becoming dull.

Adequate Ventilation

Adequate ventilation is essential when working with oil paints. The best way to ventilate a room is to open windows and use a fan to move air around. This can help to keep the air temperature and humidity at an optimal level for drying.

Additionally, it helps to keep the air free of any fumes or vapors emanating from the oil paints. Good ventilation is especially important when working with solvents or other materials that may produce toxic fumes.

Using Heat or a Hair Dryer

Heat or a hair dryer can speed up drying oil paint on canvas. While cold temperatures are not conducive to drying oil paint, using a heat gun or hair dryer can help to speed up the process. However, it is important to be careful when using a hair dryer, as the intense heat can cause the paint to crack or blister.

I usually only use a hair dryer to dry the extra coats of gesso I put on most canvases, but this method is not generally recommended for oil paint. Additionally, if you decide to use a hairdryer, keep it constantly moving at a distance of six inches or more from the canvas so that you do not overheat the paint.

Choosing a Fast-Drying Solvent

Choosing the right type of solvent can be the difference between a painting that dries quickly and one that takes days. When selecting a solvent, it is important to consider its volatility and solubility. Highly volatile solvents will evaporate faster, speeding up the drying process. Poorly soluble solvents, such as mineral spirits or turpentine, will take longer to evaporate.

Some solvents contain additives that can slow down or speed up the drying process. For instance, some brands of turpentine contain additives that can reduce the drying time of oil paints. It is essential to read labels on solvents before use to ensure that the product you select does not contain additives that may slow down the drying process.

Appropriate Storage Conditions

Storage conditions are a critical factor in drying oil paint on canvas. It is best to store the canvas in a dry, dark place, as light and moisture can accelerate the drying process. Keeping the canvas in a warm environment with good air circulation also helps to speed up the drying time.

To minimize any damage to the paint, avoid exposing it to direct sunlight or high temperatures. It is also important to avoid storing the canvas in excessively cold climates, as this can cause the paint to become brittle and crack.


Oil paint is a unique type that requires careful consideration regarding drying time. The amount of time it takes for oil paint to dry on canvas depends on various factors, including the temperature and humidity of the environment, the type of paint used, and the thickness of the paint layer.

Also, a varnish, a retarder medium, and appropriate storage conditions can influence how long it takes for oil paint to dry on canvas. By taking all of these factors into consideration, it is possible to create beautiful works of art in a safe and timely manner.


Editorial Staff

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