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The Best Oil Paints For Professional and Beginner Artists

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What is the Best Oil Paint Brand? And What Oil Paint Colors Do I need?

Different artists will prefer different brands and types of paint depending on their own individual techniques and styles. However, some commonly used and well-rated oil paints include Old Holland, Williamsburg, M. Graham and my personal favorite is Gamblin. These paints typically provide good coverage, smooth application, and rich color. Ultimately, it is up to the artist to decide which oil paint works best for them.

That said, in this article, I'm going to cover:

  • Exactly what I look for when I test a paint brand and why I ultimately recommend Gamblin.
  • My Top 5 Best Oil Paint Brands that Are Readily Available and Excellent Quality
  • What is Oil Paint
  • Difference between Student Grade Oil Paint and Professional Grade Oil Paint
  • The 11 Basic Colors Needed In Your Palette

What is the Best Oil Paint Brand For Professionals and Beginners

When I first started painting I was provided with bad advice, the advice was "buy the cheapest oil paint possible because you are going to overpaint". 

So why was this bad advice?  

What I found was that I was trying to achieve the same level of intensity as the oil paint my instructor used and it took a ton of paint AND I got a bit frustrated with the paint itself. This is why I'd NEVER recommend a new student get cheap paint, it is hard enough to learn how to paint, why add an additional frustration because of poor pigment.

Another consideration I wish someone would've told me is when you find a brand you like stick with it for your basic color palette for the best resultsAnd here is why: each of the brands will likely use a different medium to mix the pigment like linseed oil or safflower oil or walnut oil or combinations of the mediums. 

oil paints start with powder pigment

You see, all of the paints start out as a powder pigment and through the manufacturing process, they are mixed with a binding agent like linseed oil, safflower oil, walnut oil, a combination of these, and in some cases additional fillers/additives. The result is those with linseed oil (which seems to be what is used with Gamblin and Williamsburg) will have one drying time, and if you use M. Graham & Co's Anthraquinone Red the red will take longer to dry because its base mixing agent is Walnut oil. Richeson Oil paint has a mixture of linseed oil and safflower oil as its base. While this may seem like a trivial thing to pay attention to, as someone who experiments with the drying time with mediums to achieve certain results, this additional variable to account for is just not one I want.  

So here is the problem :) walking into the art store and looking at all the pretty paint colors it's like angels are singing - they are all sooo pretty!!! But with prices ranging from $7 a tube to $40+ a tube, you can quickly spend a lot of money on the paint you don’t really need and may not even be worth the value. This is why I’m sharing my ebook "Oil Painting Supply Guide" because I want to save you money on supplies and invest wisely in only what you need.

How Did I Define Best Oil Paint

I have tested many paint brands over the years, however, I and many professional artists recommend one brand that is used by myself and many other professional painters, and no they don’t pay me for this; Gamblin Oil Paints. The reasons I recommend Gamblin for the best paint are:

  • The quality is consistent
  • The pigment lasts a very long time.
  • Ethically sourced materials and
  • US-Based Company (I prefer to shop local whenever possible)

 

Within the Intro to Oil Painting Program, you'll have access to a course called “Ultimate Oil Painting Supply Guide”. Within this course, there is a video “Which Oil Paints Should I Buy?” that provides tips, and considerations and demonstrate a side-by-side comparison of 4 french ultramarine blue oil paints (the same paint color!). What is also interesting is all of the following paints have a similar price point:

  • Master’s Touch
  • Winsor Newton Professional
  • Grumbacher Academy
  • Gamblin

The quality is evident in the video demonstration provided in the course to the Members, as it is even in this picture!

When I choose the best oil paint, I’m evaluating it on 2 aspects :

  1. how long the pigment lasts with the same level of consistency
  2. how long the pigment lasts mixed with titanium white and the level of color mixture consistency.

The overall winner - based on my observation of the most readily available brands of oil paint, the best oil paint brand is Gamblin.

Gamblin Oil Paints are the overall best choice for beginner and professional artists. They are a brand that balances exceptional quality at an affordable price. Gamblin’s colors are highly pigmented and permanent. The paint has a wonderful consistency, it’s smooth but it’s not too runny. Due to the archival properties and the strength of the paint film that the linseed binder provides, this is the go-to brand of oil paint for artists!

 

Top 5 Best Oil Paint Brands That Are Readily Available and Excellent Quality

As an artist I know it is such an amazing feeling to try new paint and there are a variety of color offerings from various brands, and as demonstrated above, paint varies from brand to brand.  The brands can differ on:

  • the type of oil that’s used as the binding agent,
  • the pigments used,
  • the amount of pigment added,
  • and the combination of additives, stabilizers, fillers, and dryers.  

So I wanted to provide you with more information about the top-quality brands that are readily available in art stores.  

In this section, I'm going to cover my top 5 best oil paint brands that are readily available and have excellent quality that I personally use.  As I try additional brands I will update this list, for now, this list represents all the oil paints that I would actually recommend and have used:

Michael Harding Oil Paints

Pros: High pigment content, buttery consistency, no fillers or driers, resistant to fading
Cons: Some pigments can be expensive
Pigment Binding Agent: Linseed

All paints are handmade and he strives to make the paint with the same intensity that artists experienced before the 1840s. According to the Michael Harding website, it was around 1840 that the collapsible tube was invented and that led to mass production of oil paint and the gradual decline in quality.

One of the other components that I love about Michael Harding as a brand is that he refuses to add fillers or dryers to the mix. This means that the pigment content is incredibly high. By using any Michael Harding paint, you’ll notice just how far it spreads on the canvas and how little the color fades over time. For this reason, they are worth the investment, as you can be much more frugal with the amount of paint you use.

Due to the quality of the paint, and the fact that no fillers whatsoever are added to the paint, some pigments come at a high price, especially when you get to the more expensive pigments like Cadmium, Cereluem, Cobalt and Lapiz Lazuli. But my advice would be to buy your paint tubes individually rather than buying a selection pack, so you can pick out only the ones that are suited to your painting style, or budget and build from there.

My personal opinion, the drool-worthy paint colors Michael Harding has produced are:

  • Lapiz Lazulia/Afghan
  • Kings Blue Deep
  • Cobalt Teal

Old Holland Oil Paint

Pros: High pigment content
Cons: Some pigments can be expensive
Pigment Binding Agent: Linseed

Old Holland, at the time of this article, has 168 high quality paints ready for the professional artist! Old Holland company was started in 1664 by Old Dutch master painters and their original recipes are still in use with better technology. Paint pigments used by the Old Masters that are not considered to be lightfast have since been replaced, so their colors are almost completely lightfast  (lightfast means: not prone to discolor when exposed to light). They do not add any cheap fillers or artificial dryers to the paint, and the pigment content is consistently high.

The paint comes out of the tube quite stiff due to the high concentration of pigment, so it’s necessary to add an additional medium to make the paint the buttery consistency that you prefer.

Old Holland prices are high for some pigments, such as cerulean blue, as this is a more expensive pigment to the source. Their earth colors—the umbers, ochres, and siennas are much more affordable. Despite the high price point, the colors are so loaded with pigment that they could be considered good value for money when you take into account how far they will spread on the canvas.

My personal opinion, the drool-worthy paint colors Old Holland has produced are:

  • Scheveningen Rose Deep
  • Davy's Grey (Love this greenish-grey for black dog fur's reflection in the grass)

 

M. Graham Oils

Pros: High pigment content,
Cons: Some pigments can be expensive, slower drying times
Pigment Binding Agent: Walnut Oil or sunflower oil

M. Graham grind their pigments in walnut oil rather than the usual linseed or safflower that other paint manufacturers use, with the exception of their whites where they use sunflower oil instead.

Walnut oil is a slow drying medium, slower than linseed oil.  This allows the paint to remain wet for longer, which is an advantage for some artists who use the wet-on-wet technique, or like working on a single layer for days at a time or large pieces. You can always mix them with a fast-drying medium to speed up the drying process if you are trying to complete a painting quicker.

My personal opinion, the drool-worthy paint colors M. Graham has produced are:

  • Anthraquinone Red 014

 

Williamsburg Handmade Oil Paints

Pros: Large selection of colors post-acquisition by Golden Artist Colors
Cons: Some pigments can be expensive
Pigment Binding Agent: Walnut Oil or sunflower oil

This is one to watch. While I personally have loved their paints, they were acquired by Golden Artist Colors in 2010. I have been painting for 20 years and have also 15 years of corporate experience, when a company acquires another there are generally changes that are made to lesson/cheapen production costs. That said, the oil paints that I bought of the Williamsburg brand were prior to 2010 - their paints are/were high-quality. I still have the Cobalt Teal from prior to 2010, I will look to do a comparison in an upcoming post or update to this post so I can keep this real for you.  

https://www.goldenpaints.com/press_releases/golden-completes-purchase-of-williamsburg-handmade-oil-colors

 

Gamblin

Pros: High pigment content, Low Toxicity, Ethically Sourced Minerals, Reasonable Price
Cons: Some pigments can be expensive
Pigment Binding Agent: Linseed Oil

Gamblin is a brand that has made studio safety a priority. They have formulated paints, mediums, and solvents that have low toxicity. Being so mindful of the artist’s working environment and creating products that aren’t as detrimental to the health as some others on the market, is what sets Gamblin apart. This is the brand I use in my home studio all the time because of this very reason. When you walk into my studio I know it is safe to breathe. I also love that they ethically source their minerals (like Cobalt) so they are NOT using slave labor in the Congo.

No solvents are needed to paint with Gamblin’s oil colors, they can be thinned with linseed oil, and also cleaned with linseed oil, wiped then washed with soap and water or a brush cleaner. They have also produced another solvent to thin the paint and clean the brushes called Gamsol, which is odorless and non-toxic brush cleaner.

Gamblin does the best of both worlds for their pigments, they have traditional colors of the old masters and have created a modern palette of vibrant pigments for today's artists who want different colors to showcase their personalities.

My personal opinion and what I recommend for my students and in the Ultimate Guide to Oil Painting Supplies is to purchase the basic color palette from Gamblin and then experiment with other colors that speak to you from the companies mentioned above.

The drool-worthy paint colors Gamblin has produced are:

  • Naphthol Red (my favorite red!)

The 11 Basic Oil Painting Colors For Your Palette

One of the biggest temptations when purchasing oil paints is to buy all the colors - cause they are so pretty … I encourage you to refrain from buying them all but instead invest wisely in a basic color palette in the same quality brand and experiment with how to mix them to achieve the results you want.

My basic oil painting palette consists of:

  • Cadmium Yellow Medium
  • Yellow Ochre
  • Cadmium Orange Medium
  • Alizarin Crimson
  • Sap Green
  • French Ultramarine Blue
  • Cobalt Blue
  • Raw or Burnt Umber
  • Burnt Sienna
  • Ivory Black
  • Titanium White

With this basic oil painting palette, you have the essential colors in both warm and cool tones. From this, you can create a huge range of colors!

For getting started with quality paint, Gamblin has this fantastic set that has a majority of the paints I use.  In addition to the ones in the kit, you'll also need to grab the following to round out the palette.

  • Cadmium Yellow Medium
  • Burnt Sienna
  • Sap Green
  • Cadmium Orange Medium
  • Cobalt Blue
  • Black

Grab this FREE ebook: The Ultimate Guide To Oil Painting Supplies here. 

What is Oil Paint?

One of the reasons for NOT using oil paint that I've heard from artists who want to paint with oils is that they don't dry as quickly as acrylics or watercolors.  There is a reason for that.  

Oil paint is a type of paint that uses oil-based binding agents for the pigments rather than water. The pure pigment used to make oil paint is usually derived from plants or minerals, and they are mixed with a binding agent such as a linseed oil to create a smooth, paste.

It is the binding agent, the oil, that makes oil paint a unique type of paint and allows it to dry so much slower than a water-based medium. This oil can be either natural or synthetic, but it must be “dry” in order to create an oil painting. In other words, oil paint is not like watercolor or acrylic paint, which can be diluted with water.

Instead, oil paint is a “pure pigment", meaning that it is not diluted with any other substance. This makes oil paint very rich and vibrant in color, but it also means that oil paintings can take months or even years to fully dry if used without drying mediums. Despite these challenges, oil paint has been used for centuries by artists all over the world.  (An interesting fact found in Wikipedia is that oil paints were first used in Asia as early as the 7th century AD but it didn't become adopted as an artistic medium in Europe until the 12th century.)

While the drying time may be a prohibitor for some, for many this is a HUGE benefit.  The slow drying time allows artists to work on their paintings over an extended period of time. As a result, oil paint is often used for complex paintings that require multiple layers of color. 

What is the difference between Student Grade Paints and Professional Grade Paints?

There are 3 major differences between Student Grade Oil Paint and Professional Grade Oil Paints:

  1. Type of Pigments Used.  One major difference between student-grade oil paint and professional oil paint is the type of pigments used. Student-grade oil paint typically contains lower-quality pigments that are less lightfast and may fade over time. Professional oil paint, on the other hand, contains higher-quality pigments that are more resistant to fading.
  2. Ratio of pigment to binder. Student-grade oil paint often has a lower pigment to binder ratio, which means that the paint is less concentrated and may require more coats to achieve full coverage. Professional oil paint has a higher pigment to binder ratio, resulting in a high pigment load that often requires fewer coats to achieve full coverage.
  3. Cost. Finally, student-grade oil paint is usually less expensive than professional-grade oil paint. This is because student-grade paints typically contain lower-quality ingredients. Professional grade oil paint, on the other hand, will have a high price tag because it has higher-quality ingredients to achieve a brilliant color.

When we look at the differences between student grade vs. professional grade, Master's Touch would be considered a student grade as would any oil paint with the word "hue" on the paint tube.

Hue refers to the color, whether something has a blue hue, red hue, or yellow hue, however, when the word "hue" is on a tube of paint it means that it is not using less pigment to achieve a similar color in the professional-grade oil paints.

For example Cobalt Blue Hue vs Cobalt Blue - the Cobalt Blue Hue will have lower cobalt blue pigment content and instead have another additive to make the paint appear similar to the higher quality of Cobalt Blue.

You may be asking yourself, is there a difference in the quality - the answer is absolutely! The high-quality oil paint will have vivid colors that will go a long way!

Conclusion

The price of paint isn’t necessarily an indicator of the quality, but the best brands tend to be more expensive. If you are looking for quality, you can’t go wrong with Michael Harding, Gamblin, Old Holland, M. Graham.

To get the best results from the paint you use, learn about its unique properties. This includes:

  • the pigments used,
  • the lightfast rating,
  • and the oil used.
  • Also whether the manufacturer has added any additives to the paint.

All of this will tell you how the paint will handle and whether it will suit your personal painting style.

There’s no right or wrong when it comes to choosing oil paint brands. It’s mostly just down to your own personal preference as an artist.

If you’re just beginning on your oil painting journey and you’re not quite sure what supplies to get, start with the FREE ebook Ultimate Guide To Oil Painting Supplies.  It'll teach you about all the tools and materials you need to start painting and give you valuable advice on how to use the materials to get the best results.

If you want to go a step further, get the Intro To Oil Painting Program. where you'll get video instruction about the oil painting supplies plus practical applications in step-by-step video tutorials.

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I am an affiliate with Amazon and Blick Art materials which means I may receive commissions when you click my links and make purchases. However, this does not impact my reviews and comparisons. I only advocate products I believe in.

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