What Every Oil Painter Needs to Know About Artist Oils, Part 2

In part 1 of “What Every Oil Painter Needs to Know About Artist Oils,” we looked at the ingredients that go into artist oils and the various lightfastness ratings. In this continuing article, we’ll take a closer look at the different grades of oil paint and what they mean.

Artist Oils: Artist-Grade vs. Student-Grade

artist oilsArtist oils come in two grades: artist-grade and student-grade. The main difference between the two types of oil paint is the potency or concentration of the pigment. This means that artist-grade oil paint will stretch further than a student-grade will because it contains more pigment.

Artist-Grade Oils

Artist-grade paints (sometimes called professional paints) are made from the purest ingredients and contain a higher ratio of pigment to oil base. That percentage can be as high as 75% pigment to 25% oil base for some colors. This usually makes them more expensive to purchase than student paints. However, it also means artist-grade paints will be more economical in the long run because they will stretch further. Also, artist paints have better mixability and truer color because there are no fillers like in student-grade.

Student-Grade Oils

Student-grade colors are often called “hues” on the label. The word “hue” means imitation or fake. This means that the pigment is artificial and not a true pigment. For example, Cadmium Red Hue is an imitation version of the actual pigment known as Cadmium Red. Student-grade paints were created to reduce the cost or toxicity of true pigments.

They have different mixability and opacity characteristics than true pigments, and they tend to get muddy and dull when mixed. Student-grade of paint is cheaper because of the ingredients – they contain less pigment and more filler. Filler costs much less than the purer, concentrated ingredients in artist-grade paints. However, just because the paint is priced cheaper does not mean it is more economical. When mixing color with student-grade paint, you will need much more paint to get the final color you are trying to mix. This is because the strength of the pigment is weaker (less potent) in student-grade and will take more to mix the color you desire. In addition, student-grade oil paints come in fewer colors than artist-grade oil paints.

Whenever possible, it’s best to purchase artist-quality paint rather than student because you get more pigment in a tube, and the results from color mixing are more intense and brighter. In addition, if you mix student-grade with artist-grade, you risk reducing the quality of the better grade paint rather than improving the quality of the lesser grade. If you need to save money, consider painting on smaller canvases or using the lesser grade paints as the under-painting saving the finer quality paints for the upper layers.

Knowing which oil paint is best suited for your particular needs will save you time and money in the long run. Do a little research on your own, compare labels and prices. Look at some consumer reports and reviews written by other artists. You should be able to find the type that suits you best.

I hope this article takes some of the mystery out of which oil paints to use for your paintings. Being more familiar with the materials you work with will make you a better artist.

Additional Reading

For more information on the subject of artist-grade vs. student-grade oil paint, see the article titled “Artist Grade or Student Grade Oil Paint, Making a Choice.”

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UPDATED: 15 March 2021

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