What is Good Oil Paint?

There are so many brands and types of oil paint out there that it would not be weird to get completely overwhelmed and confused. Which one to choose, which one is right for me?

Of course you can buy a tube of each brand and see which one you like best. That would be an expensive exercise, wouldn’t it? And still, within one brand, paint can vary still. Some pigments dry faster than others, some colours are stiffer than others. It is a tricky business! 😉

But trying out brands and colours is part of the fun of painting. All those yummy colours to try!  Sometimes you hit upon that one colour that you just love, one that becomes a staple colour on your palette, and will be part of your personal visual language. And that one doesn’t always have to be the most expensive quality paint.

Good paint is paint that suits you and your style perfectly.

So what is Good Paint?

How do you recognise good paint? As far as I know good oil paint should provide the colour and texture you are after. That doesn’t always have to be the one with the highest chroma, but it does need to be the one with the most beautiful colours (and with ‘most beautiful’ I purposefully mean that which is beautiful to you, it is totally subjective). It has to have an even colour spread. Whether the colour is opaque or transparent, it should spread with even qualities. The colour should not fade away when transparent. You should not feel like you are painting with coloured oil, when a brush mark will only show some pigment in the edges of your brush mark.  A good paint should also contain lightfast colours so that your painting will not fade anytime soon.

Then there are many more personal traits that an oil paint should have for it to be ‘good’. You might prefer a grittier texture to your paint. I like a smooth texture personally. Some want a thick, creamy consistency, others prefer a softer and more easily spreadable paint. Some like a quick drying paint, others a slow drying one. Some like strong bold, high-chroma colours and others prefer softer tones. So what is ‘good’ for you, might not be so ‘good’ for others.

What about ‘Bad’ Paint?

It might be easier to identify ‘bad’ paint. Or is it? What is ‘bad’ paint for me, might be ‘good’ paint for you?

I think there is lots of paint that is more suitable to one than another, but that doesn’t make it ‘bad’ paint. Bad paint would have little colour, spreads badly, has transparent oil in it with no pigment in it at all, dries badly and uneven, won’t ‘sit’ on the brush or doesn’t work well on the canvas (this is of course also depending on your canvas/support choice).

‘Bad’ oil paint is generally too cheap to be true (although some cheaper paints can be quite ok) and often marked as kids or school oil paint.

I personally would not let kids get introduced to oil paint with inferior paint. It will not give them a taste of what oil painting is like. I have not introduced my children to oil paint (as they have shown no interest, alas) but I remember my annoyance when I realised how little colour comes off kids’ coloured pencils.  Inferior materials really is no good to anyone.

Good Oil Paint Characteristics

So how DO you know which paint is good? I am afraid there is no way around trying and testing. In order to find ‘good’ paint you must try and test out a few. The generic pointers of good colour:

  1. even and good colour depth and spread
  2. not too much filler such as oil
  3. lightfastness

There is also the more personal points such as the paint’s

  1. thickness
  2. texture
  3. spreadability
  4. drying time
  5. chroma

By trying out various brands and colours (earth pigments will ‘work’ quite differently from cadmiums for example) you will find what is ‘good’ paint for you.


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