Traditional oil paints continue to be the most popular of all painting media used by artists today. They are versatile and provide a richness and depth of color that is unsurpassed by any other painting media. Drying time takes longer, however, this allows the artist to blend and rework the paint to achieve the desire effect. Oil paints are more durable than other painting media and are more resistant to fading.
There are two types of oil paints available — artist grade and student grade. There are differences between the two, however, the most notable difference is the price. Knowing the qualities each grade has to offer will make it easier to decide which one is just right for you.
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Artist Grade Oil Paints
Artist or professional oil colors are made with the purest and finest-quality ingredients. That means a full load of pigment, suspended in a drying oil called a binder, either linseed oil, safflower oil, poppy seed oil, or walnut oil. Linseed oil is the most common binder, however. The colors in artist grade oils are much more vibrant and concentrated. They are also ideal for gaining color mixing experience. Artist grade paints come in a wide variety of colors and work best when used on gesso-primed surfaces.
Click for more information about using gesso as a primer on canvas.
Student Grade Oil Paints
Student or academy oil colors have a less concentration of pigment, however, less pigment means they are less expensive formulas. This is an added benefit for the art student or novice just starting out. The more expensive pigments are generally replicated by hues. Although working with student oils is similar to working with professional artist oils in terms of consistency and opacity no matter the color, the hues may not have the same mixing characteristics as regular full-strength colors. Student grade oils come in a limited range of colors.
How To Choose
The primary difference between artist grade and student grade oil colors is the amount of pigment in the paint. The extra pigment accounts for the higher cost of artist grade oil paints. It also means that the color covers more surface when used with mediums and is available in more colors than student grade.
Student grade oil colors have their advantages. Some artists prefer using them as the underpainting and then finishing up the detailed work with artist grade oils. Because they are more economical, they can be used for experimenting with and for covering larger areas of the canvas.
A summary of the benefits of each grade will help you to decide.
• Artist Grade
Gain better experience with mixing colors
Larger range of colors
• Student Grade
Great practice for beginners or novices
Same price for every color
Great for the large areas in a painting
Popular Artist Oil Paints
A list of some popular brands of oil paint. This is by no means a complete list, however, it will get you started. Eventually you will come across a brand you like better than any of them and will stick with it. Some brands manufacture both artist grade and student grade oil colors.
• Artist Grade Oil Colors
Gamblin* Artist’s Oil Colors
Grumbacher* Pre-Tested Artists’ Oil Colors
Old Holland Classic Oil Colors
Rembrandt Artists’ Oil Colors
Winsor & Newton* Artist Oil Colors
*Brands that manufacture both professional and student grade oil colors.
• Student Grade Oil Colors
Gamblin 1980 Oil Colors
Grumbacher Academy Oil Colors
Winsor & Newton Winton Oil Colors
For more information about the different grades of artist oils see article titled “What Every Oil Painter Needs to Know About Artist Oils, Part 2“.