Busting the Myths of Oil Painting: What’s in a (Brand) Name

Working with good quality paint does not make you paint better and become rich and famous, does it? But choosing the right paint does make a difference and can make your painting life much easier.
Visit any online art materials shop and the choice of oil painting brands is enormous. What are the differences between all these different paint brands? In the past I have tried quite a few but nowhere near all of them of course. I love trying out new stuff!

I must admit that I have been happy with a couple of brands for a few years and tend to stick with them for now. Maybe my experimenting days are over and I am growing old, or maybe I know I need to produce proper stuff for galleries and clients and will not take any risks anymore. Anyway, my favourite brands at the moment are Vasari , Michael Harding and Schmincke Mussini.  Vasari and Mussini are ‘long paints’, they are smooth and spread easily. They have beautiful subtle colours, grey and earth tones which I prefer.  I also use Winsor & Newton, Blockx and Old Holland

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These colours are usually on my palette

Student versus Professional

Most brands divide their oil paint into professional and student quality paints. The student quality paint is cheaper but will also be of lesser quality. The pigment load is less or different, more ‘fillers’ (like oil) have been used, the lightfastness might not be as good and the manufacturing process different.Although a lot of student quality paints are perfectly fine to use I find the difference with professional paints quite big and would always recommend trying professional paints so you can make an informed decision which one would work better for you. Many professional artists who use a lot of paint use Winsor & Newton’s student range Winton to cut costs. Keeping in mind that most students paints are by far better than any paint used by 17th century old masters all this is very relative.

To illustrate the difference a 37ml tube of Winsor & Newton Artists’ Oil Colour Cadmium Red cost around £14, while their student range Winton would set you back only £3 for a Cadmium Red Hue (a hue is a synthetically made colour, instead of the original pigment. It is often cheaper and less intense but sometimes can come quite close to the original pigment). Another example is from Talens: while their Rembrandt Ultramarine cost around £6, their student range Van Gogh would only cost you £3 for the same colour.

​interesting thread on artists- versus student quality oil paint on wetcanvas.com 

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I use fluid paints by Vasari and Mussini for my portraits

Classification

Choosing paint is very personal and budget dependent. Buy the best you can afford seems to be the general advice.For me personally I find Winsor & Newton Artists Oil probably the best overall paint as the price is very reasonable and the paint of good quality. But I have opted for more expensive paint to use simply because I want to and really enjoy the superb quality of it. It actually adds a bit more joy to the process of painting for me.

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A common way (I think) to organise paint brands is as below, based on price and quality (which admittedly is a debatable topic). I have based this on my own experience as well as what I’ve read online.

Top quality
Old Holland
Blockx
Schmincke Mussini
Vasari
Michael Harding
Williamsburg

Mid Range
Winsor & Newton
Sennelier
Talens Rembrandt
Gamblin
Schmincke Akademie

Student Range
Winton
Van Gogh
Daler Rowney

Feel free to disagree and let me know your thoughts. Of course there are more brands than listed here below. I would love to hear additions and in which category you think they would fit!

Please read on to find a poll to find the most popular oil painting brand 

See for a discussion of favourite paints this thread on Wetcanvas

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Prices

Most oil paint brands organise their colours by price. They give their colours series numbers. Most cadmiums are usually in the more expensive series, basic colours such as white and black are in the cheapest series 1. Series numbers refer to price range, not pigment load or quality and is brand specific so you cannot compare with other brands. Most brands provide paints in 37ml or 40ml tubes and some popular colours in large 200ml tubes as well.

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Colours

Some brands have lots of colours, others a lot less. All brands will offer the main colour groups of whites, reds, yellows, blues, greens, greys, blacks and earth tones. Some brands excel in certain colour types and an artist might choose a brand because of it. For example Mussini is known for its great transparent earth tones and Old Holland for its extremely extensive range of colours.Most brands would list which pigments have been used in their paints, either on the tube or on their website. Generally a cadmium red from one brand will look the same as one from another brand. This applies to most well known, single pigment colours.With most other colours (the vast majority of most ranges) colours vary enormously between brands. Colours are often brand specific and unique, and colour names can refer to completely different things! A Raw Sienna from one brand might look and feel completely different from another brand. As a general rule each specific colour, from a specific brand will mix and work in its own specific way and experimenting is key to learning its characteristics. ​

Dick Blick lists the pigments used in every oil colour they sell and shows large and clear images of the paint. See here for an example.

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Consistency and Lightfastness

All brands have a different consistency and artists choose whichever suits them best. Stiff paint (short paint) such as Old Holland might suit someone who would like to use impasto and leave visible brush marks. Long paint (fluid and smooth) such as Vasari would be more suitable for painters who work into small details and prefer a soft and smooth effect.

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On Mussini tubes the lightfastness is provided with a star rating

All normal oil paints can be mixed together, regardless of brand so there is no reason to stick to one brand. Each colour will have its own lightfastness rating, which is often provided on the tubes themselves or else online or can be requested.

An interesting page on ‘long’ and ‘short’ paint

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For my detailed lace paintings I need a fluid paint

My Experiences

Here are some of my thoughts on the brands I have tried:

Vasari: American brand. Handmade oil paints of beautiful quality. Superb subtle colours of great depth, spreads easily without losing colour. Not suitable for impasto or thick brush work. My favourite brand. Some favourites are Bice, Brilliant Yellow Extra Pale and Bluff is a great skin colour.

Old Holland: Dutch brand.  Ancient brand (started in the 17th century) of fantastic quality paint. Thick and buttery, a huge range of beautiful colours (often with for me nostalgic place names like Scheveningen and Delft). Fabulous quality but very thick.

Michael Harding:  British brand. Handmade paints. Great quality and a great story. Michael Harding is incredibly involved and full of knowledge he shares happily. Beautiful paint and very rich deep colours. Sometimes a tad grainy. I am currently loving the Alizarin Claret.

Winsor & Newton Artists Oils: British brand. All round wonderful quality and affordable pricing. Very consistent and reliable paint. Good quality and price balance. I use W&N for large tubes of white, burnt umber and black.

Schmincke Mussini: German brand. Wonderful quality paint, especially the earth and grey tones. Lovely transparent colours. Oils are manufactured with resin, linseed oil, safflower oil and poppy-seed oil through a sophisticated process which results in very beautiful and deep colours with excellent and consistent drying properties. One of my favourite paints.  I love their greys, Mineral Brown, Brilliant Scarlet, Translucent Yellow, Indian Yellow and Indigo Tone.

Talens Rembrandt: Dutch brand. Great mid-range oil paint. A little bit oily but it has some wonderful colours in its range (try Permanent Madder Medium) and a good price.

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Schmincke Mussini has some wonderful greys

​What are your favourite brands and why? Which brands did I totally miss? I hope this post was informative for you. Thanks for reading!

What is your Favourite Oil Painting Brand?

What is your favourite oil painting brand?

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21 thoughts on “Busting the Myths of Oil Painting: What’s in a (Brand) Name

  1. I love Vasari paints for the reasons you mentioned. I also use Natural Pigments Rublev colors. They, especially the ochre colors tend to be a bit grittier, in my experience, and I like the texture. I also use their Oleogel as a medium.

    1. Hi Maria, thank you for stopping by! I would love to try those paints out some time but I have never seen NP or Rublev in the UK. Interesting you like the gritier paints – I found Harding a tad gritty at times and did not like that.
      I’ve heard of Oleogel (By W&N I think) but since I had an allergic reaction to Oleopasto I won’t dare it.
      Again, thanks so much for reading my blog!

  2. I must say I really enjoyed this blog. The illustrations of your paintings give context to what you are saying and some thorough research has gone into this post.
    Being a landscape painter I am after paints that give me the closest ‘qualities’ of the landscape as well as colour. Therefore the texture is important in this context. I buy a lot of Williamsburg from the US and supplement with Michael Harding. Will definitely look at Vasari after your Blog. Best Wishes Nicki

    1. Hi Nicki, thank you so much! I have never tried Williamsburg, interesting you love it! Sounds like it has ‘texture’ – so maybe not for me… 😉
      Thanks again! S

  3. I completely agree with the thrust of this post. I too use Michael Harding and Old Holland paints. However, I’ve recently been using hand made paints from Pip Seymour as well. They are good straight from the tube and, while perhaps not quite as intense as MH, they are very good value for money. I’m very lucky to have a very good art shop right in the small rural town where I live (Bungay, Suffolk) where all these brands are available off the shelf! http://www.pipseymour.co.uk/

    1. Thanks Malcolm, I have never tried Pip Seymour but it sounds like they are worth a go. Great to know. Thanks for stopping by! 🙂

  4. Great post, very interesting and illustrative. I use mainly WN, and for some colours also Vasari. The problem is that in Spain you can’t find Vasari, so I have to buy them from the UK and that’s very expensive (and it takes time, as well).
    I really like your blog, thanks for your work and for sharing.
    Best wishes

    1. Thanks Inigo! I know all about what you are saying. I often want things from the US but it is just too expensive to get it into Europe! Vasari is beautiful paint though, I love it. Worth it if you can afford it. Thanks for popping by! Sophie

  5. Dear Sophie what a brilliant painter you are.i agree with almost everything you wrote,but how can you not include senellier in the top quality,never have I seen anybody rating sennelier in mid range I know you don’t have to but please explain

    1. Hi Hassan, thanks for your comment! I must admit I don’t think I have ever tried Sennelier so I am basing my rating of what I have read online and how I’ve heard others rate it. I understand it is very good paint, and a top choice for many, but perhaps more artists favour the qualities of brands like Old Holland or Michael Harding. Each to to their own perhaps!

      1. Thanks for the reply sophie ,today I looked into your paintings more closely,you are simply superb,a modern master just two questions,which WHITE do you use as your main white, second do you make an underpainting if yes,how?

      2. No problem, Hassan. Thank you for your nice words. Interesting questions! To be honest I have never found a white I get on with and so I tend to not use any white at all. My lightest colours are brilliant yellow light or other extremely pale colours.
        And yes I can’t imagine painting everything in one go and in one layer so the first steps of any painting are always a basic sepia block-in and you can call that an underpainting I suppose. I use burnt umber (brown) and white (for this I do use titanium) and figure out placement, composition, values, drawing etc etc. Once I am happy with all of that I work with colour and refine shapes and values. Hope that helps. Sophie

  6. Hi Sophie –
    It’s me again! 🙂
    I just wanted to make a quick comment as an FYI that Williamsburg paint had the owner pass away sometime in the recent past, possibly within this past year or two.
    The operation was taken over by Golden, as in Golden acrylics. I don’t have any further information or have any knowledge as to whether this will change the oil paint at all, but I just wanted to give people the heads up.
    Best regards,
    ~Antonio Dominion

    1. Hi Antonio, that is interesting information! We’ll have to wait and see whether the paint will change at all. I must admit I have never used Williamsburg…must try it sometime… 🙂

  7. I’m just coming back to oils after becoming a reluctant sculptor(33 years) and I’m relearning a lot. I used to be a Windsor Newton guy but I’ve drifted now to Williamsburg and love the buttery feel of their paint. And a white I had never seen before Silver white what a wonderful reflective quality it has. Thank you for your Blog.

    1. Hi Robert, thank you for stopping by. Great to hear you are loving oils so much and I will remember the tip on Silver White. Thanks again, Sophie

  8. Hello, I love to use Umton colors for long years. Sometimes I used pebeo, but I don’t like creamy consistency. Umton is czech company, I think it is not well known abroad, even in our country (czech republic) is a small company. They have palette of 110 colors, they don’t have a student/artist quality, just professional artist color. They are not the best, but they are good enough, and for a great price! These colors are cheaper than pebeo student and the price is 1/3 of Windsor Newton. It comes in 3 sizes packaging and you can order a can of color (1/2 kg). And of course, it is our country’s company 🙂

    They are making the mediums also, and my favourite varnish damara varnish, it is great 🙂

    Martin

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