One of the biggest hurdles for getting started with oil painting is the complexity of both paint and medium choices that are available. To simplify this, let's break down what makes a good choice of paint and help you decide what's right for you.
Things to consider when choosing oil paints
When it comes to choosing oil paints for the best results, there are a few factors to consider. One of the most important is the quality of the paint. High-quality paints tend to have a higher pigment load as well as a smoother consistency. They also tend to have better lightfastness, which means they will resist fading over time. Price is another factor to consider and is where the differences lie between artist grade paints and professional grade paints.
High-quality brands of oil paints can be quite expensive, especially for those just starting out. However, it can be worth it to invest in a few high-quality paints and stick to a more limited palette, rather than buying a large number of cheaper paints that may not perform as well. If you plan on selling your art, I would highly suggest that you consider purchasing professional grade paints whereas if you're a hobbyist and are just wanting to try the medium, student grade oils will work great.
Best oil paint brands for beginners to advanced oil painters
1. Gamblin is a brand of oil paint that has quickly gained a reputation for great quality and consistency. They offer a range of oil paints from their regular line of Gamblin oil paints and their more affordable line, Gamblin 1980. The main difference between the two is the quality of pigments used in the paint, consistency, and price. Gamblin oil paints come in a wide range of colors and are a great choice if you want something high-quality without breaking the bank. The 1980 paints are what I would consider to be their entry level paints. They are more suitable for beginners or artists who prefer a looser, more expressive style. I used their artist oils line for years and they are an excellent option for any artist looking to get serious about their work.
2. Winsor & Newton is one of the oldest and most well-respected oil paint brands in the art world with a history dating back to the 1800s and are a popular choice for beginners due to their quality and affordability. They are known for their high-quality pigments that result in vibrant, long-lasting colors, perfect for both beginner and professionals. One of the standout features of Winsor & Newton oils paints is their smooth consistency. Their paints have a smooth, buttery texture that is easy to work with, allowing artists to create fine details with precision. These oil paints also have excellent lightfastness. Winsor & Newton oil paints are a great all-around choice whether you are just starting out or have been painting for years.
3. Michael Harding is a small, artisanal brand of oil paint that is known for its very high-quality pigments and hand-made production process. It was founded in 1982 by Michael Harding himself. This paint brand is known for its commitment to using the finest materials and traditional methods of production. These paints have a smooth and soft feel to them, much like room temperature butter. These oil paints are more expensive than other brands of oil paints. The price is quite worth it in my opinion though, if you can afford them. I've found that colors are superior to the brands previously mentioned here and the consistency is wonderful overall.
4. Old Holland is another well-respected brand of oil paint that has been around since 1664. The company is known for its commitment to using only the best pigments and binders, resulting in a paint line that is highly pigmented, lightfast, and durable. A unique feature of Old Holland paints is their range of rare pigments. They offer a range of colors that aren't available from other companies, including a number of pigments that were used by the Old Masters. This makes Old Holland a great choice for artists interested in high quality materials, historical painting techniques or who want to create unique and nuanced colors in their work. While these paints are also expensive, like Michael Harding, they offer unparalleled quality and consistency. If you are looking for the absolute best oils to work with, I suggest trying out a few colors from either of these top tier brands.
Additional Oil Paint Brands and Choices
There are of course other brands to look into, but in my experience, these listed above are a perfect place to start. You can find cheaper oils to use, but just know that they will not give you the same results and might limit the range of techniques you can use with them. If you are still unsure, I recommend purchasing a color or two from several brands to see what you like the most.
So, in short, the best oil paints are well-known for their rich pigmentation, superior blending capabilities, and long-lasting finish. Brands like Winsor & Newton, Gamblin, Michael Harding, and Rembrandt consistently receive praise from artists for their quality paint. When choosing oil paints, prioritizing professional-grade pigments ensures the best results for your artwork. That all being said, it can be more complicated than that depending on your individual needs as an artist.
Does Oil Paint Quality Matter?
To answer this question in short, yes, the quality of your paint does have an impact on your final work. However, it's important to remember that all of this depends on your intentions with your art. A good rule to follow is if you plan to paint as a hobby then student grade paint is adequate, but if you plan to sell your paintings then artist grade paints should be used.
Why oil paint quality matters and what it means
Pigment quality: High-quality artist grade oil paint is made with pure, high-grade pigments that produce vibrant, long-lasting colors. Lower-quality paint may contain fillers or lower-quality student grade pigments that can affect the paint's color and longevity.
Consistency: Artist grade oil paint is formulated to have a consistent texture and viscosity, making it easy to work with and allowing for precise application. Student grade paint may be more difficult to work with, resulting in a less precise application.
Drying time: Artist grade oil paint dries more slowly, allowing more time for blending and layering, and also increasing the chances of the painting to be corrected. Student grade paint may dry too quickly because of the additives, making it more difficult to work with and potentially resulting in a less polished final product.
Lightfastness: Artist grade oil paint is formulated to be lightfast, meaning that it will not fade or change color over time when exposed to light. Student grade paint may not be as lightfast, resulting in colors that fade or yellow over time.
Health and safety: Student grade oil paint may contain more harmful or toxic ingredients that can be dangerous to work with. So if you're planning on painting many hours everyday, then artist grade oil paint is made with safe, non-toxic ingredients.
Using high-quality oil paint can make a big difference in the final outcome of your painting, providing you with better color, texture and consistency, as well as a healthier and safer working environment. But remember for those who enjoy painting as a hobby or who might be just starting out, the quality of your experience should take priority over what paint you use.
Knowing and understanding paint colors
Some brands may have a wider range of colors and options available in their artist grade line, while others may have a more limited range. It's always a good idea to check the options, read reviews and also test some of the colors before making a big purchase. My experience with the artist grade oils is that each brand has a different feel to the paint, and also that you tend to get what you pay for.
Remember that the brand you choose can depend on a variety of factors, such as your budget, the type of painting you're doing, and the results you're looking to achieve. Some artists may prefer to use a specific brand of oil paint because of its quality, consistency, and ease of use.
Read online reviews for each paint you're considering, ask other artists for their experience, and test different brands to find what works best for you. Experimenting with different types of paints and brands will ultimately be the most important thing you can do in growing your understanding of what you should be using in your artwork. So enjoy the journey and have fun with it.
I hope this has cleared up any confusion you might have had around the best oil paints, paint quality, and has helped you in figuring out the best paint for you.
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I'm Chuck Black, landscape and wildlife artist based in Southwest Montana.
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