The Comprehensive Guide to Using Linseed Oil For Painting

Linseed oil, also known as flaxseed oil, is a colorless to yellowish oil obtained from the dried, ripened seeds of the flax plant.

It has been used in painting for centuries for its ability to bind pigments, enhance color vibrancy, and increase the drying time of oil paints.

It’s like the secret sauce that gives oil paintings their unique, rich texture and lustrous finish.

Types of Linseed Oil for Painting

When it comes to painting, not all linseed oils are created equal. There are several types of linseed oil, each with its unique properties and uses. Let’s take a closer look at these variants.

Refined Linseed Oil

Refined linseed oil is the most commonly used type in painting. It’s processed to remove impurities, producing a clear, light oil that dries slowly and evenly. This linseed oil is perfect for creating smooth, glossy finishes and is often used in glazing techniques.

Cold-Pressed Linseed Oil

Cold-pressed linseed oil is extracted without the use of heat, preserving more of the oil’s natural properties. This type of linseed oil has a slightly faster drying time than refined linseed oil and is known for enhancing the vibrancy of pigments.

Stand Oil

Stand oil is a linseed oil that has been heated and polymerized to create a thicker, more viscous oil. It dries very slowly, making it ideal for creating smooth, enamel-like finishes. Stand oil is often used in glazing and for creating fine details.

Drying Linseed Oil

Drying linseed oil is a type of linseed oil that has been treated with metallic dryers to speed up the drying process. This oil is perfect for underpainting or when you want your artwork to dry quickly.

Thickened Linseed Oil

Thickened linseed oil, also known as sun-thickened linseed oil, is created by exposing it to sunlight, causing it to thicken and darken. This type of linseed oil is known for its glossy finish and is often used in the final layers of a painting.

The Role of Linseed Oil in Oil Painting

The use of linseed oil in oil painting has a significant impact on the appearance and behavior of the paint. Let’s explore how linseed oil influences various aspects of the painting process:

Binder and Adhesion

When mixed with oil paint, linseed oil acts as a binder, holding the pigment particles together and enabling them to adhere to the canvas or painting surface.

Drying Time

Linseed oil affects the drying time of the paint. Adding a generous amount of linseed oil to the paint mixture slows the drying process, giving artists more time to work on their piece. Conversely, using less linseed oil can speed up drying time, which can be beneficial when working on the underlayers of a painting.

Pigment Behavior

Linseed oil also influences the behavior of pigments. The ratio of linseed oil to paint can impact the intensity and transparency of the pigment.

A higher ratio of linseed oil can increase the transparency of the pigment, enabling artists to employ beautiful glazing techniques. Conversely, a lower ratio of linseed oil can make the pigment more opaque, allowing for bold and vibrant strokes.

“Fat over Lean” Principle

In oil painting, the principle of “fat over lean” is essential to prevent cracking of the paint over time. “Fat” paint refers to layers with a higher oil content, making them more flexible and slower to dry.

“Lean” paint, on the other hand, has less oil, making it more brittle and faster to dry. Applying “fat” layers over “lean” ones ensures that the underlying layers dry first, reducing the risk of cracking.

How to Use Linseed Oil in Painting

Now that we’ve unraveled the role of linseed oil in oil paint let’s dive into the practical side. How do you use linseed oil in painting? Let’s break it down.

  • First, squeeze out your chosen oil paint onto a palette.
  • Then, pour a small amount of linseed oil into a separate container.
  • Dip your brush into the linseed oil, then mix it into the paint on your palette.

The goal is to achieve a buttery consistency that holds the brush stroke but is not too oily.

  • The ratio of linseed oil to paint will depend on the effect you’re aiming for.
  • Add more linseed oil if you want a more transparent, glossy finish.
  • Use less linseed oil if you prefer a thicker, more opaque application.

Remember, experimentation is the key to mastering the use of linseed oil in painting. Don’t be afraid to play around with different ratios and observe how it affects the paint’s behavior.

With time and practice, you’ll intuitively understand how to use linseed oil to bring your artistic vision to life.

The Benefits of Using Linseed Oil in Painting

Linseed oil, the unsung hero of the oil painting world, brings many benefits to the canvas. It’s like the secret spice in a gourmet recipe, subtly enhancing the final result in ways that may not be immediately apparent but are crucial nonetheless.

One of the most notable benefits of linseed oil is its ability to enhance the gloss of oil paint.

When mixed with paint, linseed oil imparts a rich, lustrous sheen to make colors appear more vibrant and alive. It’s like adding a touch of magic that makes the painting come alive.

In addition to enhancing gloss, linseed oil also improves the flow of paint. It allows the paint to glide smoothly across the canvas, making it easier to create fluid, expressive brush strokes.

Whether you’re painting a delicate petal or a dramatic sunset, linseed oil can help you easily achieve the perfect stroke.

Another benefit of linseed oil is its ability to increase the transparency of oil paint. By adjusting the ratio of linseed oil to paint, you can create various effects, from opaque applications to translucent glazes.

This versatility makes linseed oil an invaluable tool in the artist’s arsenal.

Finally, linseed oil can affect the drying time of paint. While this may not seem beneficial at first glance, the slower drying time can be a boon for artists.

It allows more time for blending and manipulating the paint, enabling you to perfect your artwork before it dries.

Potential Drawbacks and Precautions When Using Linseed Oil

While linseed oil offers many benefits, it’s also important to be aware of potential drawbacks and take necessary precautions. After all, every rose has its thorns, and linseed oil is no exception.

One potential issue with linseed oil is yellowing. Over time, linseed oil can yellow, particularly in low-light conditions.

This can affect the colors in your painting, especially lighter hues. To mitigate this issue, consider using a high-quality, refined linseed oil and avoid using excessive amounts in your mixtures.

Another potential drawback is cracking. If linseed oil is used improperly, it can lead to cracking in the paint film.

This is often due to violating the “fat over lean” rule, where thicker, oil-rich layers are applied over thin, lean layers. To avoid this, always apply “fat” layers over “lean” ones, ensuring that each layer has more oil than the one beneath it.

Lastly, while the slow drying time of linseed oil can be a benefit, it can also be a drawback if you’re working on a tight deadline or an impatient artist.

Consider using a drying medium or a different type of oil that dries faster in such cases.

Linseed Oil and Different Types of Paint

In the world of painting, it’s important to understand the compatibility of different mediums. While linseed oil is an ideal companion for oil paint, its compatibility with other types of paint varies.

Let’s explore how linseed oil interacts with different paint mediums:

Oil Paint

Perfect Pairing: Linseed oil and oil paint are a perfect match. Linseed oil acts as a binder in oil paint, improving its flow, drying time, and vibrancy of pigments. They work together seamlessly, creating a harmonious performance on the canvas.

Acrylic Paint

Incompatible: Acrylic paint is water-based, while linseed oil is oil-based. As a result, they don’t mix well. Mixing oil and water doesn’t blend; the same principle applies here. It is best to use acrylic mediums specifically designed for acrylic paints to enhance the properties of acrylic paint.

Watercolor Paint

Limited Compatibility: Watercolor paint is delicate and transparent, whereas linseed oil is a heavy, oil-based medium. The two are not compatible. It is advisable to use watercolor mediums specifically formulated for watercolor paints to achieve the desired effects and consistency.

Alternatives to Linseed Oil in Painting

While linseed oil is popular with many artists, it’s not the only oil on the menu. Other oils, such as walnut, safflower, and poppy oil, offer unique benefits and can be used as alternatives to linseed oil in painting.

Walnut oil, for instance, is a clear, light-colored oil that dries slower than linseed oil.

It’s less likely to yellow over time, making it a great choice for lighter colors. However, it’s also more expensive and less readily available than linseed oil.

Safflower oil is another alternative. It’s a slow-drying oil with a light color, making it suitable for white and light-colored paints.

However, it’s not as flexible as linseed oil, leading to cracking if improperly used.

On the other hand, Poppy oil is a very slow-drying oil with a pale color.

It’s often used for whites and blues to prevent yellowing. However, due to its slow drying time, it’s not suitable for underpainting or initial layers.

Frequently Asked Questions About Linseed Oil in Painting

When using linseed oil in painting, a few questions often pop up. Let’s address some of these common queries to help you confidently navigate your artistic journey.

Is linseed oil safe to use in painting?

Absolutely! Linseed oil is safe to use in painting. However, like all oils, it should be handled with care. Avoid skin and eye contact, and ensure your workspace is well-ventilated.

How much linseed oil should I use?

The amount of linseed oil to use depends on the effect you’re aiming for. More linseed oil can increase transparency and gloss, while less can result in a more matte and opaque finish. Remember the “fat over lean” rule to prevent cracking.

How long does linseed oil take to dry?

Linseed oil can take anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks to dry, depending on the thickness of the paint and the environmental conditions. Patience is key when working with linseed oil!

Expert Tips on Using Linseed Oil in Painting

Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s delve into some expert tips and tricks to help you use linseed oil effectively in your painting.

Start small: When starting with linseed oil, it’s best to start with a small amount and gradually add more as needed. This lets you see how the oil affects the paint and helps you avoid using too much.

Experiment with ratios: Don’t be afraid to play around with different ratios of linseed oil to paint. Experimenting is the best way to understand how linseed oil works and to find the perfect balance for your artwork.

Use quality materials: The quality of your linseed oil can significantly impact your painting. Opt for high-quality, artist-grade linseed oil for the best results.

Clean your brushes promptly: Linseed oil can be tough to remove from brushes if left to dry. Clean your brushes promptly after use to keep them in good condition.

Learn from the masters: Many professional painters and experts in the field have shared their wisdom about using linseed oil. Don’t hesitate to learn from their experiences and incorporate their advice into your practice.

Review of Top Linseed Oil Brands for Painting

Regarding linseed oil for painting, not all brands are created equal. Some stand out for superior quality, reasonable price, and positive user reviews. Let’s take a closer look at a few of these top contenders.

Winsor & Newton Refined Linseed Oil: This brand is a favorite among many artists for its high quality and consistency. It’s refined linseed oil, meaning it’s been purified to remove impurities. Users praise its smooth texture and the beautiful gloss it imparts to paintings.

Gamblin Cold Pressed Linseed Oil: Gamblin’s linseed oil is cold-pressed, a process that retains more of the oil’s natural properties. It’s known for its clarity and resistance to yellowing. Plus, it’s reasonably priced, making it a great choice for artists on a budget.

Old Holland Refined Linseed Oil: Old Holland is a premium brand that’s been around for centuries. Their highly refined linseed oil offers a high gloss and fast drying time. While it’s a bit pricier, users rave about its superior quality and performance.

Remember, the best linseed oil for you depends on your specific needs and preferences. Don’t hesitate to try different brands and see which suits your painting style best.

Tutorial: Creating a Painting Using Linseed Oil

Creating a painting using linseed oil can initially seem daunting, but with a step-by-step guide, you’ll be a pro in no time. Here’s a simple tutorial to get you started.

Step 1: Start by squeezing out your oil paint onto a palette. Pour a small amount of linseed oil into a separate container.

Step 2: Dip your brush into the linseed oil, then mix it into the paint on your palette. Aim for a buttery consistency.

Step 3: Apply the paint to your canvas. Experiment with different brush strokes and see how the linseed oil affects the paint’s flow and texture.

Step 4: Build up layers, considering the “fat over lean” rule. Allow each layer to dry before applying the next.

Step 5: Once you’re satisfied with your painting, let it dry completely. This can take anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks, depending on the thickness of the paint and the amount of linseed oil used.


Linseed oil is a versatile medium that can transform your oil painting practice. From enhancing gloss and transparency to improving flow and drying time, the benefits of linseed oil are manifold.

While it does come with potential drawbacks, with the right knowledge and precautions, you can use linseed oil to create stunning artwork. So, why not grab a bottle of linseed oil and let your creativity flow?