Thursday, Jul 20, 2017
by Olivier Jennes
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How to Choose a Brand of Oil Paint

Oil Paints

In this article we present feedback on 29 well-known brands, which we have gathered from a variety of consumer review sites and thousands of artists who display their oil paintings on WonderStreet’s platform. To our knowledge, this is the most comprehensive comparison of oil colours that you will find online.

Oil colours are made by suspending a pigment in a drying oil, most often derived from linseed. It has been used in Europe since the 12th century and is valued for its durability and luminosity. Oil paints typically dry slower than acrylic or tempera paints, which allows the artist who uses them to more easily change parts of a composition by re-working and even removing entire layers of paint.

As with our acrylic paints article, we ask that you keep in mind that a “pro” for one artist might be a “con” for another (or vice versa), depending on the artist’s skill level and personal style of painting. We also remind you that the order in which we present each brand is not indicative of any kind of rating system. We have divided the paints into two groups: professional and student grade. A shortlist of our favourite products can be found at the end of this post under the heading “Final Thoughts”.

Professional Grade

Old Holland Classic Oil Colours

PROS: heavy colour saturation, creamy texture, mixes well

CONS: expensive

Old Holland has been in operation since 1664. All of the pigments are ground with stone, rather than a metal roller and the entire manufacturing process is overseen by artists. This commitment to tradition ensures that the paints are very high quality, but it also means that they come with a higher price tag. Most reviewers enjoyed its thick consistency, but some found it a bit too stiff for their liking. The degree of transparency and light-fastness are not explicitly written on the tube, but a colour chip is painted on the outside, so the buyer knows exactly what will be inside.

Blockx

PROS: great coverage, colours stay true over time, high pigment load

CONS: expensive, oily consistency, strong odor

Blockx Artist Oil Colours are produced at a family estate in Belgium, using the finest linseed and poppy-seed oils. The latter prevents some of the cooler colours from yellowing over time, which many of our artists observed with other brands. The consistency of the Blockx product is thinner than other professional grade paints and some feel that it is a bit too oily.

Michael Harding Artists’ Oil Colours

PROS: reasonably priced, no driers added, buttery texture

CONS: limited selection of colours, some separation in the tube

Michael Harding was inspired to begin creating oil colours while visiting Rembrandt’s paintings in the National Gallery (UK). Artists who use his paints like the vibrancy of his colours, but some wish for a wider selection. Harding does not add any fillers, driers or artificial ingredients, which ensures that the colours do not dry, crack or flake over time. However, more than one of our reviewers did say that the paint can separate in the tube and complained about the quality of the tube itself.

Williamsburg Handmade Oil Paints

PROS: offers some hard to find colours, not too oily, excellent luminosity

CONS: expensive, some stiffness

As with many other premium brands of oil paint, Williamsburg comes with a hefty price tag. Some of our artists noted that the other brands will occasionally offer special pricing or discounts, but this is rarely the case for Williamsburg. However, even at a higher price point, loyal fans of this product admire its pigment load and consistency. A few reviewers noted that it also has a unique “grainy” texture, which added an interesting element to their compositions.

Winsor & Newton Artists’ Oil Colours

PROS: affordable, reliable colour, mixes well

CONS: some leakage from the larger tubes

One word that was used time and time again to describe Winsor & Newton’s professional line of oil paint is: reliable. Though the quality is not as fine as some of the other products in this category, artists are generally pleased with it and say that it’s good value. Some said that they had been using it for decades without noticing any change in the colour.

Sennelier Artists’ Extra Fine Oil Paint

PROS: very smooth texture, unique colours, safflower oil prevents yellowing

CONS: dries quickly, some colour variation

While most oil paints in this category are pigment mixed with linseed oil, Sennelier uses safflower oil in its colours. This has a couple of benefits: it prevents yellowing and it provides a satiny finish. However, several artists complained about the paint separating in the tube (particularly in the larger sizes) so that it was very oily when squeezed out and said that it dried faster than other products. Sennelier prides itself on being the choice of many famous artists, including Paul Cezanne and Camille Pissarro, and it does have a number of contemporary fans.

Gamblin Artists’ Oil Colours

PROS: fewer toxic ingredients, no odor, reasonably priced

CONS: caps are sometimes defective

One thing that really sets Gamblin apart from its competitors is the commitment that the company shows to the health and safety of its customers. Gamblin, which is based in Portland, Oregon, does not use lead in their white and Naples Yellow paints, which makes them a good choice for artists with health conditions. They also offer a line of solvent-free mediums that utilize safflower oil and soy-based alkyd resin instead of mineral spirits. The pigment load and consistency are well rated and they are less expensive than some of the other brands in this category.

Schmincke Mussini Oil Colours

PROS: vibrant colours, mixes well, very translucent

CONS: expensive, defective caps

This is an excellent paint for artists who like to work in glazes. Many of our reviewers mentioned how wonderfully translucent their layers are when they use Schmincke’s Mussini line. However, the packaging does leave much to be desired. The company offers a wide range of convenience colours that are exclusive to Schmincke and we received a lot of positive feedback about the quality of the colours themselves. Additionally, Schmincke is also the only manufacturer to utilize the more traditional resin and oil mixture instead of pure drying oil, allowing the paint to dry faster and more evenly on the support.

Schmincke Norma Professional Oil Colours

PROS: heavy pigment load, mixes well, environmentally friendly

CONS: not enough information written on the tube

If you like the quality of Schmincke’s Mussini line, but prefer a more opaque product, Schmincke’s Norma paints might be the best choice for you. This brand is quite popular in Germany, where it is manufactured. For both the Mussini and Norma colours, Schmincke allows the paint to age for three months before it is packaged, to ensure that there is no separation in the tube.

Rembrandt Artists’ Oil Colours

PROS: unique colours, mixes well, can be used straight out of the tube

CONS: too oily for some artists, expensive

The texture of this paint was described by one reviewer as being like that of “whipped cream.” Several artists appreciated that it could be used directly from the tube, without needing to add solvents or mediums, but others found it to be too oily for their taste.

Daler-Rowney Georgian Oil Colours

PROS: affordable, information written on the tube is very accurate, mixes well

CONS: limited colour selection

This brand is a bestseller in the UK, where it is manufactured, and is used by professionals and students alike. Though it is not handmade and of the same high quality as some of the premium brands listed in this category, many artists said that it has great coverage and colour. Because its price is comparable to most student grade paints, it’s great for students and professionals who don’t want to break the bank.

M. Graham Artists’ Oil Colours

PROS: walnut oil binder, no odor, less toxic

CONS: packaging defects, dries very slowly

M. Graham Artists’ Oil Colours are unique because they are made with walnut oil instead of the traditional linseed oil binder. Walnut oil was preferred by many artists, including Leonardo da Vinci, during the Renaissance, because it prevents yellowing as a painting ages. M. Graham’s products are highly recommended for artists with serious health concerns because, like Gamblin, they do not use solvents in their mediums, opting instead for walnut oil and alkyd. The walnut oil does make the paint dry much slower than other brands and some reviewers complained about the quality of M. Graham’s packaging.

Grumbacher Pre-Tested Artists’ Oil Colours

PROS: reasonably priced, mixes well, vibrant colours

CONS: caps break easily and leak oil, consistency not as fine as some other professional brands

These oils are tested and approved by professional artists, ensuring that they are high quality and consistent. Many from our community like this brand because they found it to be dependable and very well priced, considering its high pigment load.

Daniel Smith Original Oil Colours

PROS: consistent, durable, wide range of colours

CONS: some separation of oil and pigment in the tube

Daniel Smith Original Oil Colours have been made by hand in Seattle, Washington since the company was founded 30 years ago. Daniel Smith prides itself on the strength and lightfastness of its paints, which it tests by placing samples in a machine that exposes them to 100 years of sunlight in 10 days. This is to ensure that a painting won’t lose its lustre for decades. One reviewer said that he’d been using the paint for 25 years with no complaints

Chroma Archival Oils

PROS: fluid consistency, dries quickly

CONS: strong odor

While many of our artists were pleased with the coverage and consistency of this product, as well as its faster than average drying time, we received several complaints about the abnormally strong odor from the mineral spirit solvents, so this particular brand is not recommended for artists who suffer from allergies or other health conditions.

Maimeri Artisti Oil Colours

PROS: luminous colours, creamy consistency, good tube sizes

CONS: Mediterranean colour line has insufficient pigment load

Since 1922, Maimeri has insisted on offering a paint made up exclusively of oil and pigment – no fillers, additives or waxes. The company also offers a Renaissance, Mediterranean and Puro line of colours. The Renaissance and Puro lines were well received by reviewers, however, many said that the Mediterranean line was lacking the same heavy pigment load that they had come to expect from Maimeri’s paints.

Holbein Artists’ Oil Colours

PROS: mixes well, vibrant colours, can be used straight out of the tube

CONS: expensive, not many colours offered in larger tube sizes, dries slowly

Holbein produces two varieties of professional oil paints: Artists’ Oil Colours and Vernét Superior Artists’ Colours. For the latter, the grains of pigment are ground to half the size of the pigment found in standard products, which results in the light being reflected more evenly across the surface of a painting. The price of this product is quite high, but many artists observed that a little bit of paint can go a very long way.

Utrecht Artists’ Oil Colours

PROS: reasonably priced, good coverage, wide range of colours

CONS: dries quickly on the palette

As with their acrylics line, Utrecht’s oils line can boast of a loyal following among artists. Most of our reviewers found it to have the best price to quality ratio. Though some complained about the oiliness of the paint, particularly when it is first squeezed out of the tube, many others said that it was a dependable brand with a solid product.

LeFranc & Bourgeois Artists’ Oils

PROS: large tubes and caps, reasonably priced, heavy pigment load

CONS: air bubbles in the tubes, confusing labels

One aspect of LeFranc & Bourgeois products that set them apart from competing brands is the larger cap and opening on each tube of paint, which most artists appreciated because the caps are easier to remove and replace. However, some complained that the larger opening made the paint run out of the tube much faster than desired.

Richeson Shiva Oils

PROS: reasonably priced, mixes well, strong colour

There is some debate over the consistency of this brand of oil paint, which means that opinions are most likely based on personal painting style. Some of our reviewers said that they were oily and some said that they were creamy. No one mentioned that they were thick or stiff, so this is best suited to artists who like a good flow across the support.

Weber Permalba Artists’ Oil Colours

PROS: affordable, consistent, creamy texture

CONS: air bubbles, dries out over time

The white and black colours from Weber Permalba are especially popular with our artists. They are valued because the price is quite reasonable and they have a lovely translucency that’s unmatched by most other brands. Several reviewers noted that the substandard plastic tubes do not adequately maintain the quality of the paint over a long period of time, so this brand is not recommended for the occasional artist.

Blick Artists’ Oil Colours

PROS: affordable, good pigment load, great customer service

CONS: thick and difficult to squeeze from tube

One of the things that our artists love about Dick Blick is their customer service. Defective products are replaced quickly – no questions asked. Their Artists’ Oil Colours line is considered by many to be a great value. It has a fairly high pigment load for the price and it’s a great product to transition between student and professional grade oil paint.

Student Grade

Winsor & Newton Winton Oil Colours

PROS: affordable, great for transitioning from acrylic to oil, mixes well

CONS: caps are difficult to remove and replace, dries slowly

Winsor & Newton’s Winton line is rated well by painting instructors, students and professionals who require a high volume of paint. The price is right for the pigment load and most artists said that it has a very workable consistency. Most of the reviewers for this article are oil painters, but a few artists more experienced with acrylics found that this product was able to ease their transition to oil colours nicely.

Gamblin 1980 Oil Colours

PROS: mixes well, nice packaging

CONS: limited selection of colours, information on the tube confusing and incomplete

Gamblin’s line of 40 student grade oil colours offers a great starting point for artists new to oil painting. Though the range of colours is not extensive, they do mix well and allow the budding oil artist the ability to experiment. However, we did learn that the colour inside the tube is not necessarily true to the name on the label, which is common with many student grade products.

Van Gogh Oil Colours

PROS: flows well, consistent colour, mixes well

CONS: some separation in the tube, bright colors not recommended for realistic style of painting

Some reviewers noted that Van Gogh Oil Colours are very thin, bordering on runny, especially when they are first squeezed out of the tube. This allows them to be spread across the canvas quite easily, but can frustrate artists who prefer a stiffer consistency. The vibrant palette is also not suitable to artists who paint in a realistic style.

Daler-Rowney Graduate Oil Colours

PROS: large tubes, reasonably priced, can be used straight from the tube

CONS: very low pigment load, defective caps, thin

Though Daler-Rowney’s professional line is well loved by our artists, it appears that its student grade product leaves much to be desired. We received a lot of complaints, in particular about the poor quality caps, which break quite easily. Even for a student grade paint, the pigment load of Daler-Rowney’s Graduate Oil Colours is disappointingly low.

Bob Ross Oil Colours

PROS: smooth consistency, mixes well, compatible with Ross method of oil painting

CONS: limited selection of colours, low pigment load, strong odor

Famous for his television program, The Joy of Painting on the American Public Broadcasting System (PBS), which aired during the 1980s and 90s, Bob Ross is still a recognizable name to the self-taught artist. Students of his method – from both the televised and YouTube re-runs – or of his certified instructors will find that this line of paint is designed specifically for their style of painting. The quality to price ratio makes the Bob Ross Oil Colours a good choice for any beginning artist.

Grumbacher Academy Oil Colours

PROS: colours are true, reasonably priced, mixes well with other brands

CONS: some colours can be quite oily

Unlike many other brands of student grade oil paint, Grumbacher’s Academy line does stay relatively true to the color charts provided by the company. This means less confusion and frustration for the budding oil artist. The pigment load is relatively high and the colours mix well with Grumbacher’s professional line, in addition to many other brands of oil paint.

Blick Studio Oil Colours

PROS: excellent customer service, affordable, high pigment load

CONS: dry in the tube, dries quickly on the support

Blick Studio Oil Colours might offer the best deal to artists who are looking for a bargain. Though the pigment load is obviously lower than their professional line, it is sufficient and some artists noted that the quality of their work did not suffer when they used this particular brand of student grade paint. Though some complained about stiffness when first squeezing the colours out of the tubes, many others noted that it does flow well across the canvas without the need for added oil or mediums.

Final Thoughts

If price is no object and you’re looking for a top-of-the-line oil colour, Old Holland, Blockx or Williamsburg might be the best brands for you. All three are handmade with the finest quality pigments available on the market. Winsor & Newton, Daler-Rowney and Utrecht provide a more affordable alternative without sacrificing too much in terms of quality. These three brands are great for supplementing a collection of high-end colours. Many of our artists loved Gamblin and M. Graham’s commitment to ingredients that are better for the environment and for artists’ health. For beginning artists who want a reliable brand that doesn’t break the bank we recommend Blick Studio. It has one of the highest pigment loads for a student grade paint and the consistency is neither too oily nor too stiff.

What’s your favourite oil brand? We’d love to hear from you... Please leave your comments below.

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