Water Mixable Oils: Facts and TIPS (2023)

Water Mixable Oils: Facts and TIPS



I'm often asked, 'what are water-mixable oils?, and 'why do I use them?'. I've been using these oils for 10 years. The solvents were causing headaches and the clean-up was labour intensive. My brand of preference is Lukas Berlin Water Soluble Oils. They are very buttery, and 'behave' like regular oils. The 'medium' has been added to the tube of paint. However, I cannot get the 200ml tubes in Canada. The 200ml tubes are only available through Jerry's Artarama in the U.S. (Apparently, they have a North American Monopoly!) When the dollar is favourable and the sales are on, I end up paying about $15.00/200ml tube. (This includes shipping and customs).

Recently, because of cost, I've ventured into the realm of Windsor Newton -Artisan Water Mixable Oil Colour. There has been a learning curve, but out of necessity I've come to accept this option. (Although, Lukas Berlin has a Cinnabar Green that I cannot be without!) Below is an explanation by Lori McNee as to the benefits of these paints that reflect my sentiments.


  • Water mixable oilsalso called, solvent free oils,offer greater convenience and increased accessibility. Especially to people with allergies, home studios, students, schools and those who have avoided oils because of the toxic solvents.
  • Water mixable oils smell great, just like traditional oils!
  • Linseed oil is contained in both new and traditional oils.
  • Water mixable oils are real oils. They are water mixable, not water-based.
  • The new oils were developed to be used with water in the place of turpentine, mineral spirits or other solvents!
  • The vegetable drying oils have been restructured in water soluble oils which eliminate yellowing.
  • Like traditional oils, water soluble oils must dry through oxidation – absorbing oxygen through the air. Once dry, they are just like any other oil painting and should be treated as such.
  • Like traditional oils, water soluble oil paintings cannot be reactivated with water when dry.
  • New water-mixable mediums have been developed for water mixable oils: quick dry mediums (my favorite), stand oils, painting mediums and impasto mediums, linseed oils and alkyd mediums.
  • Traditional oil paints and mediums can be added to the new oils in small amounts of up to 20%-30% and still retain water solubility. Small amounts of traditional oil color can be added to these new paints affect the color or consistency.
  • The new pigments blend and mix extremely well.
  • When the new oils are mixed with water, it may at times appear somewhat cloudy until the water evaporates. Although I have read this complaint, it has not been my experience with these oils.
  • The fast drying mediums allow for plenty of time for blending but still make over-painting easier and faster.
  • Luminous, transparent glazes can be made by using the water-mixable mediums. Rich, opaque darks are easy to achieve.
  • Water-mixable linseed oil medium makes the new oil more transparent.
  • A loaded brush of traditional oils spreads much farther than a brush loaded with water soluble oils. This does not affect the look of the finished piece, only the actual painting process.
  • Water-mixable paints produce fresh, bright, strong color. It is easier to avoid making ‘muddy’ color.
  • The new oils are easier to clean up.
  • Those with limited or no experience with traditional oils adjust to water soluble oils more quickly.
  • Depending on how thick you paint, the water-mixable oils retain their elasticity and workability for up to 48 hours.
  • The new oils lack of the glossy appearance of traditional oils, but a final varnish is a quick way to replicate the luster of traditional oils.


  • Take care when drying your freshly painted new oil or traditional oil paintings. Avoid dark or moist areas to prevent darkening or yellowing that is caused by the linseed oil.
  • Water soluble oil paints are perfect for travel, especially on airplanes. Many airlines restrict traditional and flammable solvents on commercial flights. Eliminating the need for harsh solvents makes water soluble oils easy to pack for painting on location whether by car, plane or horseback.
  • The plein air painter can keep paint on the palette for long periods of time without the paint drying out. However, finished paintings dry more quickly than traditional oil paintings which make these new paints even more desirable for the plein air painter.
  • Last summer,I used water soluble oils during my plein air painting workshop in France. I painted on canvas sheets which made mystudies of Provence light and easy to pack for travel. In the past, I have also used 300lb watercolor paper with two coats of gesso.
  • Acrylic gesso should be used as the starting ground for water soluble paints to ensure proper adhesion. For studio works, I prefer to paint on hardboard or Masonite panels for a smooth and rigid support, but I do use canvas and linen at times.
  • Hog bristles are good for under-paintings, but do not let them sit in water or they become mushy. I often use synthetic bristle brushes for large areas. For fine work synthetic watercolor brushes work well.
  • The new oils will remain water mixable after these specific mediums are used. Having said that, I have found that it is better not to mix water with the medium because using water makes the mediums sticky and the paint does not flow as easily. By the time I begin to add the oil medium, I usually abandon the water except for brush cleaning between color or temperature changes.
  • A few drops of linseed oil on the palette restore the paints to their original workable form.
  • All oil paint should be applied fat over lean to prevent cracking.
  • Use water to thin the new oils for laying in washes. Build up the oily layers after the under painting is dry.
  • Just like with standard oils, the new paints can be laid down in many smooth thin layers, called indirect painting or can be applied in a thick wet single layer called direct or alla prima painting or everything else in between.
  • Drying time is longer when a lot of white pigment or Naples Yellow is used.
  • The dark passagesin water soluble oils sometimes ‘sink’ and lack the glossy appearance of a traditional oil painting. This is easily remedied by a final varnish.
  • I preferCobra water soluble oil paints by Royal Talens. The characteristics of this brand is consistent with their traditional oil color counterparts. They use all of the traditional pigments in their lines including cadmiums and cobalts. These paints deliver brilliant, luminous transparent glazes and rich, mysterious opaque passages to my work.
  • I use non-toxic Turpenoid Natural on hard to clean brushes otherwise; “Dawn” dish soap does the job.Baby oil is also a good cleaner, followed by soap and water. After, a little petroleum jelly conditions the brushes back to their original shape.
  • Rubbing Alcohol and a razor blade keep my glass palette fresh for the next painting session.

Why I use water-mixable oils.


7/23/2018 10:25:53 am

Personally, I prefer to use traditional oil paints instead of water mixable oils. I am not an expert yet in painting, so I am still in the process of experimenting with different mediums. I find that using traditional oil paints is convenient for me because most of my knowledge in painting is based on basic information about paints. Nevertheless, I think what matters more in painting is the thought that one is enjoying and not on what one uses to paint. Hopefully in the future, I get to try out water mixable oils because it does sound like it is exciting to try.


4/26/2019 08:03:15 am

Hello Sarah,
I bought Lukas Berlin from Jerry's a few years ago and some started to become stiff (specially tit. white and carbon black) plus their tubes leak oil though the bottom.
I much prefer the quality of Cobra, by Royal Talens and you can get 200 ml sizes too from Curry's.
And when I teach workshops they send a primary set for the students at N/C doesn't matter how many they have to send!

All the best,


Joseph Petrosky

7/21/2019 09:40:32 am

To Sarah Jane Conklin I was needing advice as to which water mixable oil paints to get I was useing the bob Ross but got down due to my lupus nephrits I can keep smelling the solvent ones and paints are so life like in your nature scenes thank u and god bless


Cliff Darrett

10/11/2020 08:10:36 pm

Hello Sarah
One of my favorite paintings is still sticky after is was finished a year and a half ago. I used Windsor Newton artisan water mixable oil paints with Lukas Berlin water mixable fast drying medium in the painting. After the painting had dried, I put a finishing coat over the painting with Lukas Berlin fast drying medium and water to add a shiny coat to the painting. The painting is still sticky and tacky in some parts of the painting and I can't transport it with a cardboard box and packing because it sticks to the painting. This has also taken some of the paint off of the painting. What can I use to take the coating off without taking the paint off.



    Sarah Jane Conklin. Visual artist living in Nova Scotia.

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