Restore Dull Oil Paint Colors With 1 Simple Step

What Is Oiling Out?

Oiling out is an oil painting technique. The oiling out painting technique is used to restore a sheen to a dried oil painting between paint layers. Oiling out restores dull colors and prevents sinking when oil painting. Oiling out is done between paint layers, when necessary, to restore colors to their true value.

Why oil out a painting?

When oil paint dries, it can become dull. The dull, matte, muted color is called sinking. Sinking-in is caused when the oil from the upper layers gets absorbed into the layers beneath as the paint dries. This can also happen when the painting ground or surface is too absorbent.

Some oil paint colors are more likely to lose luster than others. The dullness varies depending upon the oil paint colors that are used. Paint colors that have dried to a dull surface often appear lighter than they truly are.

By restoring glossiness to the surface, oiling out darkens the oil paint colors, bringing them back to their true value. Oiling out enables the artist to accurately judge and match colors when beginning a new paint layer. The oiling out painting technique also wets the painting surface allowing the artist to paint wet into wet.

photo of dried oil painting that looks dull

What does it mean to oil out a painting?

To oil out a painting means to coat the surface of the dried oil painting with a very thin, fresh layer of oil before painting the next layer.

photo of oiling out a dried dull oil painting.

What do you use to oil out a painting?

To oil out a painting, simply use the same type of oil that you are painting with. Or use the same type of oil that the paint manufacturer has used to manufacture the oil paint colors. There are several types of oil that may be used when oiling out an oil painting.

Which oil is used in oil painting?

Linseed oil is the most common oil used in oil painting. Walnut oil, safflower, sunflower, and poppy seed oil are also used.

Can you oil out a painting with linseed oil?

Linseed oil is likely the best choice for oiling out a painting. Linseed oil has been used for centuries in oil painting. It is often considered the best oil to use for oil painting.

Oiling out a painting with walnut oil.

Painting with walnut oil is very similar to painting with linseed oil. Oil out a painting with the same type of oil that has been used to paint the artwork that is being oiled out.

If painting an oil painting with walnut oil, oil out the painting with walnut oil. Oiling out a painting with walnut oil follows the same process as oiling out with linseed oil.

Oils dry at different rates. Stick with one type of oil or painting medium throughout a painting. This keeps the paint layers consistent in drying time, surface flexibility, surface brittleness, etc.

Can you oil out a painting with Stand Oil?

Stand oil is a very thick oil. Stand oil is made by boiling linseed oil in a controlled setting for a long period of time. The heating process thickens the oil. Stand oil is often thinned with turpentine prior to painting. I would not recommend oiling out with stand oil. The purpose of oiling out is to coat the surface with a very thin layer of oil, just enough to wet the surface. Linseed oil is likely a better choice. Stand oil is known for being a self-leveling oil. It is a nice choice for glazing an oil painting.

When to oil out a painting?

Oil out a painting when the dried surface of an oil painting looks dull. Oiling out a painting restores a shine to the surface and darkens the oil colors to reveal their true value and color. Oil out a painting prior to painting a fresh, new oil paint layer.

How to oil out a painting?

Oiling out a painting is quite easy. Be sure that the surface of the painting is fully dry. Paint a thin layer of linseed oil over the surface of the painting. Coat the entire painting or simply the section that is being painted. Wipe away any excess oil with a dry, clean rag. Proceed painting as usual.

How many times can you oil out a painting?

Oil out as often as necessary but beware that the surface may become repellent over time. The surface of a dried oil painting can become shiny and glossy.

A glossy paint surface can become repellent to the point that it will not accept fresh, new paint. New oil paint will no longer adhere to the surface.

A repellent surface happens most often in the upper layers of an oil painting that contain the most oil.

If an artist chooses to oil out a painting often, it may cause paint defects like paint cissing or creeping.

Paint cissing happens most often when painting on a slick surface like metal.

Oil paint can dry to a similarly slick glossy surface. When wet paint hits the glossy surface, instead of sticking, the wet paint gathers into drops or streaks. It leaves parts of the surface bare or covered quite imperfectly.

photo of paint cissing on a dried oil painting portrait

When new paint can't adhere, the paint beads up on the glossy surface. The paint may separate revealing the surface below.

To fix a repellent surface and the resulting paint defects, either roughen up the glossy surface with fine sandpaper or wipe the surface with turpentine before painting. Wipe the section to be painted with a thin coat of turpentine and let the turpentine evaporate. Once the surface has dried, proceed with painting as usual. Repeat this step if necessary until the surface will accept new paint.

Turpentine acts to de-gloss the surface, improving the bonding and adhesion of the new paint layer.

Should I oil out a painting before varnishing?

No, you should not oil out an oil painting before varnishing. The purpose of oiling out a painting is to restore shine to the surface. Restoring the shine darkens the color so you can continue painting.

Oiling out creates a wet surface making it easier to paint the next layer. Varnish should only be applied to a fully dried painting.

There is no need to oil out a painting before varnishing. Varnish will achieve the same result as oiling out. Varnish will restore the darkness and depth of the oil colors.


Oiling out an oil painting is an easy process. Simply paint a thin layer of oil across the surface of a dried oil painting and wipe off the excess. This step is done between paint layers to restore a shine to the surface. The shine darkens the oil paint colors, revealing their true color. This thin layer of oil also wets the surface making it easier to paint. Oiling out should only be done if and as necessary as excess oil can create a repellent surface. A repellent paint surface can be resolved by gently roughing up the surface or by applying a thin layer of turpentine to the surface, allowing it to evaporate before applying fresh paint.

Author: Sonia Reeder-Jones