A long time ago, I did a Facebook Live video on the topic of Galkyd vs Gamsol. I had so many questions from artists on the difference between the two and which one is better, and since I no longer use Facebook I decided to do a more in-depth blog post on it. Both products are wonderful for artists, but they have different qualities that can be beneficial in different ways.
Right off the bat, I will state that Gamsol is a paint thinner like turpentine without the smells and Galkyd is a resin paint medium. But as we know, artists can adapt both to their needs. So, let’s take a closer look at Galkyd vs Gamsol and see which one is right for you!
What are Gamsol and Galkyd?
In my comparison of Galkyd vs Gamsol, let’s take a look at Gamsol first.
Gamsol is a mineral spirits solvent made by Gamblin. It’s odorless, non-toxic, and cleans up easily with soap and water. Gamsol is also miscible (can be mixed) with other oil painting media, so it can be used to thin your paint or clean your brushes without affecting the paint itself.
While Gamsol is claimed to be non-toxic by its manufacturer Gamblin, and I am not going to taste the stuff to test it, I did some further research and I came across the Gamsol information sheet produced by the University of Pennsylvania (EHRS – Office of Environmental Health and Radiation Safety) which states that “Gamsol is a health hazard. Repeated dermal exposure may cause skin dryness or cracking. May be irritating to the eyes, nose, throat and lungs.”.
Therefore I would err on the side of caution and ensure you use a well-ventilated area and wash your hands after use as you would with any other paint solvent.
Galkyd is a brand of varnish also made by Gamblin. Galkyd is a transparent, colorless, and odorless liquid with a high viscosity. Galkyd is a non-oil-based painting medium that’s similar to Liquin but includes additional mineral spirits.
Both are used by painters who work with oil paints to thin the paint, speed up drying time, and produce different finishes and glazes when combined with small amounts of oil paint.
Galkyd vs Gamsol
What is Galkyd used for?
Galkyd was created as an alternative to Gamblin’s Gamsol. The main difference between the two products is that galkyd has a higher viscosity, making it thicker and more difficult to work with. It also has a stronger odor.
What is Gamsol used for?
Gamsol is a clear, colorless, and odorless liquid with a low viscosity that I would say is actually a paint solvent that you can mix with oil paints or use to thin out mediums. Gamsol and Galkyd are actually not comparing apples with apples. To me, they are two different products that have been used similarly by artists.
Gamsol works best as a paint thinner that does not leave the oil painted surface appearing all shiny as it is not a resin based product and will not dry to a plastic film on canvas.
I tested both galkyd and gamsol on a white gessoed panel. I applied a thin layer of each medium with a brush and let it dry for 24 hours.
The galkyd dried to a glossy finish, while the gamsol dried to a matte finish which is what I expected.
Galkyd offers a more traditional oil paint appearance with a smooth and glossy finish. Galkyd is also less likely to cause paint surface wrinkling as it dries.
Galkyd is an alkyd resin while Gamsol is a solvent.
Both Galkyd and Gamsol shouldn’t be used as a varnish layer on an already finished oil painting.
It is best to use a specialized varnish for this purpose.
Can I use Galkyd over Gamsol?
From my experience, I found that Gamsol was more effective than Galkyd at thinning oil paint and making it easier to apply to a gessoed panel or primed canvas.
Oil paint with Galkyd mixed with it can be applied to a surface that has been painted with oil paints mixed with Gamsol as this generally applies to the rule of “fat over lean”.
How to dispose of Galkyd and Gamsol
Gamsol and Galkyd are both flammable liquids so it is important to dispose of them properly.
The best way to dispose of either solvent when in large quantities is to take them to a local hazardous waste facility.
You can also find instructions on the MSDS sheets for each product:
According to the University of Pennsylvania GAMBLIN GAMSOL Odorless mineral spirit Information sheet, “Gamsol waste is disposed of in 5 gallon carboys in the satellite waste accumulation area near the flammable liquid cabinet. Carboy lids must be securely closed when not in use.”
Realistic disposal methods
Realistically none of us as artists are going to be using these liquids in such large sizes and what I found is that when cleaning your brushes and rags you will wipe them down and wash them with soapy water.
Any un-used or mixed Gamsol or Galkyd left in the jar can be left out in the open air outside and they will dry out and harden within the jar, ready for re-use. Once dry they will not re-activate with the new paints so they won’t mix with the fresh colors or chemicals.
How Gamsol is more effective than Galkyd?
- Gamsol is more effective at breaking down oil paint and cleaning brushes compared to Galkyd.
- Gamsol will also remove the build-up of paint on your palette knife, making it easier to clean.
- Gamsol is less likely to damage brushes and other painting tools compared to Galkyd.
- Gamsol evaporates more quickly.
How Galkyd is more effective than Gamsol
- Galkyd is a better thinner for artists who want to thin their oil paint without changing the color.
- Galkyd is less likely to damage canvas compared to Gamsol if used in larger quantities. This is because Galkyd acts more like a painting medium rather than a solvent.
- Galkyd dries slower than Gamsol, giving you more time to work with the paint.
I personally prefer Galkyd over Gamsol when I need something to use as a medium for glazing because I like the fact that it doesn’t change the color of the paint and it dries slower.
I prefer Gamsol as a paint thinner and for cleaning my brushes because it evaporates quickly. I have actually started using Gamsol as a replacement for turpentine as a brush cleaner for my oil paint brushes simply because turpentine gives me a headache and the smell lingers long after I have used it.
However, I think both products have their own advantages and it really depends on what the artist is looking for in either a thinner or medium. Just buy both and use them differently.
I would encourage you to test both products for yourself to see which one works best for your needs and style of painting.
GAMBLIN health sheet UPenn