What’s the Best Brand of Artists’ Oil Paint

So what is the best brand of artists’ oil paint?

I’ve heard the question asked more than once. And the short answer is: That depends.

The long answer is a bit more complex, because it depends entirely on you, the artist.

A life-long affliction that plagues many of us is what I call art supply itch. It’s a condition wherein we’re perpetually convinced that whatever brand of tool or medium we’ve been using,  it’s probably inferior to something else that’s out there. We’re certain that our work would make a major leap forward if we could just get our hands on the “best” brush or the “best” paint and so on.

This leads, therefore, to an endless search for the “holy grail” of brushes, oil paints, or you-name-it in an effort to satisfy the itch.

This is akin to the gardener who buys so many fancy trellises, growing systems, fertilizer potions, and such that by the time his tomato harvest comes in, each perfect red orb has cost him about $40!

The question of the “best” brand of oil paint can be broken down like this:

First, you have to decide which you’re going to use:

Student quality paint is much cheaper, but as with so many things in life, you get what you pay for. These tend to have a lot more “filler” and the colors have less brilliance. They also have annoying handling characteristics due to their “cheap” ingredients. But, as I said, they are inexpensive, so if you’re at the very beginning of your artistic journey and just want to “try it out”, these might suffice for awhile. The danger with these is that their handling characteristics are so annoying that you might decide you hate oils simply because you’ve never worked with the good stuff. And that would be a shame.
Professional quality paints definitely cost more but are everything the student paints are not. Brilliant color. No filler. All around high quality ingredients that, combined, make mixing and pushing the paint around a lot easier and more predictable.

Most of the major brands manufacture both quality levels, so it’s important to know which one you’re looking at when you’re choosing your paint.

So now we come to the “that depends” part.

As long as you’re using the professional line of any of the major brands, you can be confident that you’ve chosen good paint. The differences between brands have more to do with the individual characteristics of the particular pigment rather than any problems with quality. In other words, it comes down to personal preference.

All you can do is try different brands and see what you like best. You may very well find that you end up with colors from several different labels.

Take titanium white, for example. I’ve tried and come to certain conclusions on the following:
Weber: has a “sticky” quality to it when mixing. Not terrible, but a little annoying.
Gamblin: Nice and creamy, mixes easily.
Winsor Newton: Very much like Gamblin.

Obviously, my choice (yours might differ) – based on my experience with this limited list of brands – would be either Gamblin or Winsor Newton. In this case, the determining factor will be price. Since I have no objections to the way in which both the Gamblin and Winsor Newton titanium white behaves, I see no reason to look further.

An interesting exercise is to do some comparing between artists’ color palettes – they often list these on workshop handouts on their websites – and I’ll bet you find similarities emerging that you can use as a rough guide.

Have I tried all the brands out there? (There are so many more, including a number of small, hand ground, “artisanal” brands.) Heck, no! If I did, I’d be bankrupt. The only way you can really “test” a paint brand is to buy a complete set of the colors you use – by every manufacturer – and, well, do some paintings with them. Most artists can’t really afford that.

So how do you know you have the “best” paint? All other things being equal, similarly priced brands have similar quality, so buy the highest priced paint you can afford. Shoot for the professional (not student) quality stuff if at all possible. Since the major manufacturers are all competing with each other for a share of the market and they all have to make a reasonable profit and pay their manufacturing and labor costs, their paints will generally fall into a similar price range. So once you’ve found a color within a brand that you enjoy working with (that is, you don’t have a sense that you’re “fighting” your materials), then you’re good.

Stop obsessing and go paint!

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