Oil Painting: What’s in a (Brand) Name

written by Sophie | Beginners, Oil Painting

Updated July 2019 to add poll

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!

Disclaimer: Some of the links in this article are affiliate links. This means that I earn a small commission if you click through and make a purchase through these carefully chosen links. It will cost you nothing  extra and you would support this blog for which I would be most grateful.

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 & NewtonBlockx and Old Holland

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.

Sophie Ploeg painting blog
Sophie Ploeg painting blog


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.

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 
Schmincke Mussini 
Michael Harding 

Mid Range
Winsor & Newton 
Talens Rembrandt 
Schmincke Akademie 

Student Range
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!

Sophie Ploeg oil painting

I use fluid paints by Vasari and Mussini for my portraits


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.

Sophie Ploeg Painting blog

Paints are usually priced by series

Sophie Ploeg painting blog

On Mussini tubes the lightfastness is provided with a star rating


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. ​

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.

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

Sophie Ploeg Lace paintings

For my detailed lace paintings I need a fluid paint

My Favourites

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 BiceBrilliant 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 BrownBrilliant ScarletTranslucent YellowIndian 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.

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

Vote for your Favourite Oil Paint

In this poll you can vote for your favourite oil paint. Which one will come out on top? Please vote and pass it on to your oil painting friends. 

Published: March 28, 2016

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  1. Faltan algunas pinturas de calidad. Solo quiero preguntarle si se puede mezclar pintura al óleo, ejemplo: un azul preparado con aceite de linaza y un blanco preparado con aceite de cartamo, para obtener un azul más claro, por decirlo así.
    Gracias por sus artículos.

    1. Hi David, I never tried Charvin! And yes, the best paint does come at a price. Most of the top rated paints are not cheap. If you are after more affordable, try W&N or perhaps even student quality paint.

  2. Mamieri Puro & Schmincke Mussini would be mine if budget allowed. They both seem underrepresented in most discussions of premium paints; especially Mamieri

    Currently I think I do OK w Gamblin, WN, & Rembrandt — but if I hit the lottery it will change

    1. I never tried Mamieri Puro – but I hear many people like it. I love Mussini, but yes some people seem to dislike it because of the resin the mix into their paint. I’ve never heard of it being a problem though so it remains one of my favourites!

  3. Dear Sophie,
    If you’re ever interested in a painstakingly exacting comparison of individual colors amongst oil paint brands read the posts by gunzorro on wetcanvas.com. Jim Harris is an artist who takes paints VERY seriously, and evaluates them on all the qualities artists look for in the best paints. He even posts photos of his comparison sheets. Highly informative! Enjoy!

    1. Hi Amy – so true! Wetcanvas is pretty much where I have learned to paint. I am not on there very often anymore, but I used to be a regular. And yes, I even saved Gunzorro’s colour sample pictures on my computer. I still have them somewhere. I wonder if Jim still paints and how he’s doing. Great tip, Amy, wetcanvas is great. Although The Art Cafe – my painting forum – is pretty cool too 😉 😉

  4. Hi Sophie –
    It’s always amusing when artists compare brands of oil paints as if finding the right brand will somehow make them a better artist. Many of the top artists use very cheap brands. I know Jeremy Lipking used to use M. Graham, then later on switched to Michael Harding (of course he got freebies). But I saw no difference in the – post M. Graham – paintings at all. I certainly would not pay the high price for Vasari. But I would be interested in knowing an equivalent color to Vasari’s “Bice.” Just curious how the hue works in flesh tones. Something Casey Childs uses. Maybe Michael Harding’s Kings Blue? Right now I use Michael Harding and Gamblin.
    Thanks for the blog.

    1. Hi David, I can’t say I’ve ever seen a colour like Bice anywhere else! Kings Blue is usually too bright and too blue. As you say no paint is going to make you paint differently or better or worse. Its just that some paints suit you better than others. I like fluid paint for example. And some paints have colours that I prefer. Some paints have a texture and ‘feel’ that I really like. Will it make my paintings better? No, of course not. But it can increase the joy of painting and the ease of mixing sometimes. Most of the paints you mention are all pretty good so differences will be minimal. Thank you for stopping by and leaving a comment! Much appreciated.

  5. Hi Sophie. About to take the plunge into oils. As my style in pastel is quite detailed I expect to do the same in oils. I expect glazing in layers will be what I want to do. Do you have any experience with alkyds. Coming from pastel, the drying time is freaking me out!

    1. Hi Jan. I came from pastel as well and I think it is the perfect prep for working with oils. After all, pastel is always ‘wet’: if you apply another colour over your pastel strokes, it will mix, the colour will be picked up from underlying layers. So you are already working with ‘wet paint’. Each pastel stroke will interact and mix with pastel strokes already there.
      I often use a hatching technique for pastel, I do the same with oils. I layer small marks in and over each other. I am sure you will love oils. Just keep playing and trying out, you will find your way.
      Yes, I have used alkyds and they are ok. But often it is actually quite nice that the paint doesn’t dry straight away; at least you can still move it, change it, mix it etc. Try it but also try some ‘normal’ oils and see how you get on!

  6. I use langridge oils made in melbourne australia…better than m. hardings_more pigment. Each pigment is as it is and dries that way accordingly. Everything in the paint is stated on the label on the back, no other paint company does this. They have an outlet in soho art NY.

    For brilliant colour, Blockx is hard to beat,just dont plan to glaze layers with it as it is so long in drying. Use it alla prima on boards. Whites are excellent.

    Williamsburg has 4 different grinds to best show off their colours . If you want real , gritty earth colours, great for texture and nuance, wburg is a winner.

    Rublev earths are the best earths, I’ve come across.

    Everything you said about Mussinis is true.

    Whites…mharding are crap…they turn yellow rather quickly. Gamblins are even worse…turned peachy on my colour board in under 2 yr. The best and cheapest whites that stay white…art spectrum no. 1, 2 and Lukas 1862 titanium white. Lukas is mentiond in a 15 yr trial on the net where it is still white. Had mine exposed for almost 9 yr. The Rublevs do yellow as well, unfortunately.

    If you want to glaze quickly without poisoning yourself with petrochemicals…go to calcitesunoil.com and learn how to wash flaxseed oil and bleach and thicken it and either add it to tube paint ( drying time ~14hr) or add it to pigment ( drying time~ 5 to 7 hr )…no solvents_no resins_no varnishes_no chemical driers; just oil and paint like Velazquez used to do it.

    I have tested about 800 tubes of oil paint + various mediums over 10 yr now. Vasari is the only one I haven’t looked at…cost + freight = too expensive.

    Dont use student brands just use lukas 1862 and lukas studio in combo…pretty cheap.

    Ciao now

    1. Hi Paul, thanks for your comment! wow, 800 tubes of oil paints in 10 years? Do share your website, we would love to see your work! It is great to hear other people’s experiences as it will help all readers come to a better choice. So thank you for this. I have not had any bad experiences with Michael Harding’s white, nor have I heard anyone else complain about it. Thanks again. 🙂

    1. ugh, every time would be a bit annoying, wouldn’t it. Perhaps try a different shop, maybe the paint is stored in a certain way. I am not sure. I don’t have this very often, not even with W&N paint!

  7. Hi Sophie

    I’m surprised you find Talens oily. I invariably find this of Winsor & Newton so much so that I have now stopped using their paint entirely. It got to the point where I’d open a tube and be ready for the big blob of oil that would run out!

    Rembrandt is thick, but I end up adding enough oil (contradiction? Who me?!) to get a very nice flow love their feel.

    Great blog and great artwork. Keep up the good work


    1. Hi Darren, thanks for stopping by! Oil coming out of a tube when it is opened often happens but it doesn’t mean the paint is oily. It is some sort of separation issue and even the best and least oily paints have this. I do think Rembrandt is excellent paint, don’t get me wrong and I have a few tubes.

      1. Thanks for the reply Sophie. I think N&W has that oil every time I open the tube though and it’s also a nightmare if you’re one of those who likes to peak at a colour in tube before you buy! 😉

  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 🙂


  9. 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

  10. 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… 🙂

  11. 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

  12. 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

  13. 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! 🙂

  14. 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

  15. 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!

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