I’ve used oils paints from almost every producer known to man, or at least those known in the US. This photo shows my two paint cabinets. The one on the left has tubes of blue, green, yellow, and earth red. The top-drawer, for example, contains only yellows. The barely-visible cabinet on the right contains reds, whites, blacks, and earths.
A lot of paint! OK, I never throw out supplies and some of the tubes might be many years old and unusable by now, but they’re there in case I need that one particular color at midnight.
I never throw out brushes either. Some of those in the photo—little more than stubs by now—I’ve had since high school.
Not all paints are the same–no! Oil paints consist of pigment, binder, and (usually) additives. Pigments can be identified by their Color Index Name, which is a standard code used internationally. Vermilion red, for example, is PR106 (permanent red 106—mercuric sulfide). Of course, manufacturers have their own agendas, but you can quickly tell if a paint is a single-pigment paint or a combination. By the way, if you are curious about the pigments used to make paints, this site provides a wealth of information. Although it’s a site dedicated to watercolor, the author provides wonderful discussions about pigments and color theory. It’s one of my favorite sites on the web.
Binder refers to the medium–oil–used to grind the pigment. Alkali-refined linseed oil is most commonly used but walnut oil is frequently seen, and others as well. Poppy is the most expensive binder and manufacturers try to input value to paints made with it. Safflower is the cheapest. Some manufacturers claim walnut is the best all around binder (I don’t, I prefer cold-pressed linseed). When manufacturers use more than one binder, they generally use one for some colors, and other binders for others, although that’s not always the case (Blue Ridge blends walnut and linseed oils, for example).
“Additive” is a touchy subject. Almost all commercial manufacturers add something to their paint in addition to pigment and binder. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Extenders extend the shelf-life of tube paint, without which even more of the tubes in my cabinets would be dry and useless. Note, too, that adding things to paint to affect their behavior is a cottage industry, and many artists—including me—muck around with different concoctions all the time. Having said that, one of the biggest distinctions between good paint and bad is a number of additives in it: the more additives, the worst the paint.
A minority of painters grind their own paint, including this one with whom I was an apprentice and diligent paint grinder once upon a time.
The following list is ordered by the cost of cerulean blue. Cerulean blue (PB35 cobalt tin oxide) can be very dear, and its price provides a good general guide. You won’t find many student-grade brands, like Van Gogh, listed. When I was young I couldn’t afford “artist grade” paints and told myself it didn’t matter. Sadly—bitterly—it does matter. I haven’t used Grumbacher in years because I associate them with my student days.
Although price does not always translate into value, it’s a good rule of thumb: buy the best paints you can afford.
Most, but not all, brands on this list I’ve tried at some time or another. I note those I haven’t tried. The prices are found online.
|Blockx||iron oxides, earth pigments, and blacks use linseed; everything else uses poppy seed||
|35ml. One of the best. My choice for high-end brand.
|Blue Ridge||alkali refined linseed oil & cold pressed walnut oil||
|40ml. Excellent value.Quality: B Price: B+
*My choice for mid-range*
|Charvin Extra Fine||poppyseed||
|60ml. ‘Extra fine’ line.Quality: C+ Price: B|
|150ml. Quality: D Price: A
cerulean blue is useless, closer to royal blue
|Chroma||linseed & safflower||
|40ml. Not used|
|Da Vinci||alkali refined linseed (safflower for whites)||
|40ml. Price of most expensive paint, does not make Cerulean (something called Cerulean Hue @ 14.70. Have not used.|
|Daler-Rowney||linseed & wax||
|38ml. Price of most expensive paint, does not make Cerulean. Student grade. Not used.|
|Daniel Smith||alkali refined linseed & safflower||
|37ml. “Cerulean Blue Chromium.” Quality has recently declined. Student grade; avoid except for sketches or grounds.Quality: D Price: B+|
|Doak||walnut & safflower||
|40ml. “Cerulean Lt. Stannate”Quality: C+ Price: B-|
|Gamblin||alkali refined linseed & safflower||
|37 ml. Can’t use, too short.Quality: C Price: B|
|Will not use.|
|Grumbacher||alkali refined linseed||
|37ml. ‘Pre-tested’ line. Review 1/31/16.
Quality: C- Price: B+
|40ml. Has a Vernét Superior line (haven’t tried) @ 36.39. Good paint and value.Quality: B Price: B|
|Kremer Pigments||linseed or walnut||
|Kremer is known for their pigments and other rare or hard to find materials. They do not provide a ready-made cerulean blue. Their only ready-made oil color is white; their flake white in linseed oil is extremely good (haven’t tried the white in walnut oil).Quality: A Price: C|
|LeFranc and Bourgeois||safflower||
|40ml. Some other colors more expensive. Quality has recently declined. Student grade; avoid except for sketches or grounds.Quality: D- Price: B+|
|Lukas 1862||cold-pressed linseed, safflower, wax||
|37ml. Good covering for a low-end brand. Reviewed 1/17/17.
|Master’s Touch||refined linseed||
|Tested without cerulean blue. Student grade.
|37 ml. Other more expensive paints. Excellent value.Quality: B+ Price: B+|
|Maimeri Puro||safflower & linseed||
|60ml. Their top line; they have several others, not all use this binder.|
|Did not use cerulean for my test. Student grade.
|Michael Harding||cold-pressed linseed||
|37ml. Very good to excellent. Flake white is very good.Quality: B+ Price: D+|
|Old Holland||cold-pressed linseed||
|40ml. Ludicrous and cynical prices. I won’t use it. 5/16/17
|40ml. Quality has recently declined. Student grade; avoid except for sketches or grounds.Quality: D+Price: A|
|RGH||cold-pressed linseed alkali refined linseedwalnutsafflower||
|Use safflower or alkali refined linseed for all colors. They also offer lead-based whites with walnut and cold-pressed linseed oil. Buyers can choose the binder for white. The cold-pressed white is very good.Cheap tubes that break or leak led me to downgrade their rating.Excellent value.Quality: B Price: A
*My choice for mid-range*
|Richeson||alkali refined linseed||
|Have not used|
|50ml. Does not make cerulean, the quoted price is for Naples Yellow (Lead Antimonate). Specializes in “traditional” colors.Generally a good value. “Historic paints” are very expensive, otherwise competitively priced.They also have a good site. Their French burnt sienna is my favorite brand for this very important color.Quality: B+ Price: C+|
|35ml. The price of most expensive paint, does not make Cerulean Blue. Won’t use due to the dammar.|
|40ml Not used enough to rate.|
|Utrecht||linseed & safflower||
|37ml. A decent mid-range brand. Flake white is good. Reviewed 2/15/17.
|Williamsburg||alkali refined linseed oil||
|37ml.Quality: B Price: C-|
|Winsor Newton||cold-pressed linseed (sometimes mixed with safflower; safflower for whites)||
|37ml. Do not like their whites, otherwise a terrific value. Their gouache is tops.Quality: B+* Price: B+|
My Choice for Mid-Range Brand 8/2/20
I’ve used a lot of paints and I’ve used a number of them for an extended period. Among the mid-range brands, while there are several excellent values, RGH, Blue Ridge, and Utrecht are my choices. I’ve been using a lot of Utrecht’s flake white.
My Choice for High-end Brand
I no longer use Old Holland due to their price gouging.
1/3/21 Master’s Touch review.
8/2/20 Added Geneva non-review.
5/16/17 Downgraded Old Holland.
2/15/17 Review Utrecht.
1/17/17 Added Lukas 1862.
11/30/16 RGH and Blue Ridge supplant Winsor Newton for my top spots for the mid-range brands.
1/31/16 Added rating for Grumbacher. See review.
12/9/14 added Kremer Pigments
10/27/14 added a note about Natural Pigments’ French burnt sienna