Can I Mix Water Soluble Oils With Traditional Oil Paints?

Set of Water Mixable Oil Colour paints made by Winsor & Newton
Water Mixable Oil Colour, made by Winsor & Newton. Courtesy of

The answer to the question, "Can I mix water soluble oils with traditional oil paints?" is "Yes, you can." Normal or traditional oil paints will mix with water soluble oil paints (also called water mixable or water miscible oil paints), but you will find that the more traditional oil paint you add, the less water-mixable the paint becomes. This is logical, as traditional oils don't mix with water, only specially formulated water soluble or water mixable oil paints do.

 The general guideline is to mix traditional oil paints and mediums with water soluble oil paints in small amounts (about 25% traditional oil) in order for the mixture to retain its solubility in water.

You can also mix mediums made for traditional oils with water soluble oil paints, although, these, too, will affect the water solubility of the paint. It is better to use water soluble mediums made specifically for this type of paint.

Characteristics of Water Soluble Oil Paints

  • Water soluble oil paints are real oil paints; they are not a water-based medium. They are just like regular oil paints except that they are made with linseed oil modified with an emulsifier that enables the oil paints to be thinned with water and to be cleaned up using only soap and water.  This means that no solvents are required to paint with them or to clean up after using them. 
  • Water soluble oil paints are good for people who are allergic to the solvents normally used with oil paints, work in close quarters or with other people in a studio and want to eliminate the odor and fumes of the solvents.
  • Thinning water soluble oil paints with water can cause a color shift. The paint becomes lighter in color but darkens to its original color as the water quickly evaporates. Water soluble mediums made for use with water soluble oil paints do not have this effect.  
  • If using water as a thinner with water soluble oil paints, once the initial water has evaporated it leaves a paint film which can be slightly tacky.  Water soluble oils mixed with linseed oil and water soluble mediums do not have this tackiness. 
  • Like traditional oil paints, water soluble oils dry by oxidation. They dry a little faster than traditional oils but much more slowly than acrylics, remaining workable for approximately forty-eight hours.
  • Water soluble oils offer versatility that traditional oils do not while still offering many of the traditional benefits of oil painting, including color brilliance, paint texture, and body.  
  • Water mixable mediums are available to mix with the water soluble oil paints that make them virtually the same as traditional oil paints while still being able to clean them with water. 
  • Synthetic brushes are recommended for use with water soluble oil paints since they are more durable in water than are bristle and other brushes made of natural hair.
  • The Winsor & Newton Artisan Water Mixable Oil Colors (Buy from Amazon) pictured here is a good economically priced set to try out these paints for the first time. The set includes ten 21 ml tubes of the following colors: Lemon Yellow Hue, Cadmium Yellow Pale Hue, Cadmium Red Hue, Permanent Alizarin Crimson, Cerulean Blue Hue, French Ultramarine, Phthalo Green (Blue Shade), Yellow Ochre, Burnt Umber, Titanium White.

Further Reading and Viewing

Winsor & Newton Artisan Water Mixable Oil Paints (video)

Prove It! Water Mixable Oils (video)

Artisan Water Mixable Oil Colour - Paul Robinson, Winsor & Newton (video)

Artisan Thinner vs Water - Paul Robinson, Winsor & Newton (video)

Cobra Artists Water Mixable Oils (video)

Water Mixable Oil Paints - Facts, Tips, and Why I Use Them, Lori McNee

Cobra Artists Water Mixable Oils Brochure

Updated by Lisa Marder 9/17/16