Oil Paint Brands

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.

Cabinet with yellows, blues, greens, and earth colors

Cabinet with yellows, blues, greens, and earth colors

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.

 

Manufacturer

Binder

Price

(USD)

Notes

Blockx iron oxides, earth pigments, and blacks use linseed; everything else uses poppy seed

72.15

35ml.  One of the best. My choice for high-end brand.

Quality: A 

Price: F

Blue Ridge alkali refined linseed oil & cold pressed walnut oil

21.00

40ml.  Excellent value.Quality: B Price: B+

*My choice for mid-range*

Charvin Extra Fine poppyseed

30.10

60ml. ‘Extra fine’ line.Quality: C+ Price: B
Charvin Fine poppyseed

9.99

150ml. Quality: D Price: A

cerulean blue is useless, closer to royal blue

Chroma linseed & safflower

14.07

40ml. Not used
Da Vinci alkali refined linseed (safflower for whites)

30.95

40ml. Price of most expensive paint, does not make Cerulean (something called Cerulean Hue @ 14.70. Have not used.
Daler-Rowney linseed & wax

9.98

38ml. Price of most expensive paint, does not make Cerulean. Student grade. Not used.
Daniel Smith alkali refined linseed & safflower

10.25

37ml. “Cerulean Blue Chromium.” Quality has recently declined. Student grade; avoid except for sketches or grounds.Quality: D Price: B+
Doak walnut & safflower

25.00

40ml. “Cerulean Lt. Stannate”Quality: C+ Price: B-
Gamblin alkali refined linseed & safflower

26.21

37 ml.  Can’t use, too short.Quality: C Price: B
Grumbacher alkali refined linseed

17.99

37ml. ‘Pre-tested’ line. Review 1/31/16.

Quality: C-  Price: B+

Holbein cold-pressed linseed

25.35

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

19.77

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

15.59

37ml. Good covering for a low-end brand. Reviewed 1/17/17.

Quality: c-

Price: A

M.Graham walnut

17.99

37 ml. Other more expensive paints. Excellent value.Quality: B+ Price: B+
Maimeri Puro safflower & linseed

48.99

60ml. Their top line; they have several others, not all use this binder.
Michael  Harding cold-pressed linseed

56.03

37ml.  Very good to excellent. Flake white is very good.Quality: B+ Price: D+
Old Holland cold-pressed linseed

84

40ml. Ludicrous and cynical prices. I won’t use it. 5/16/17    

Quality: A

Price: F–

Rembrandt linseed

20.09

40ml. Quality has recently declined. Student grade; avoid except for sketches or grounds.Quality: D+Price: A
RGH cold-pressed linseed alkali refined linseedwalnutsafflower

17.50

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

23.50

Have not used
Rublev  linseed

87.00

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+
Schmincke Mussini damar

64.73

35ml.  The price of most expensive paint, does not make Cerulean Blue.  Won’t use due to the dammar.
Sennelier safflower

84.98

40ml Not used enough to rate.
Utrecht linseed & safflower

16.17

37ml. A decent mid-range brand. Flake white is good. Reviewed 2/15/17.

Quality: B-

Price: B+

Williamsburg alkali refined linseed oil

46.40

37ml.Quality: B Price: C-
Winsor Newton cold-pressed linseed (sometimes mixed with safflower; safflower for whites)

21.29

37ml. Do not like their whites, otherwise a terrific value. Their gouache is tops.Quality: B+* Price: B+


My Choice for Mid-Range Brand 9/5/14

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 and Blue Ridge are my choices. I also like Utrecht’s flake white.


My Choice for High-end Brand

Blockx

 

 Notes

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

  5 comments for “Oil Paint Brands

  1. October 21, 2017 at 7:24 pm

    Hi Tom. Thanks for a very useful website. Just wondering about your review above for RGH paints. When you say “cheap tubes that break or leak” did you by any chance mean their jars? I noticed on your paint raring table you complained about them not selling their paint in tubes which has made me wonder about the above comment ie thinking you might have meant to make reference to their jars rather than their tubes. I’d really like to know as I was just about to buy some of their lead in walnut oil. Cheers, Jenny

    • Tom Hudson
      October 22, 2017 at 4:43 pm

      Hi,
      My RGH paints have come in jars and tubes. Originally, the tubes they used were cheap. My comment refers to those early tubes. Since I wrote that, RGH has moved to better quality tubes, which I find perfectly acceptable. I buy whites in jars because of price (jar prices are better). I find that I can prevent the jarred-paint from drying by storing the jars in baggies. Their flake white is my favorite white these days.

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