Artist Grade or Student Grade Oil Paint, Making a Choice

tube of oil paintArtist grade or student grade oil paint, making a choice on which is best to use is the topic of this article. But first an introduction on what oil paints are.

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.

Red Rose painting“Tyler Rose”
Flower Art by Teresa Bernard
16″ x 12″
Oils on stretched canvas

>> More info

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
High quality
Vibrant colors
Gain better experience with mixing colors
Larger range of colors

Student Grade
Less expensive
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“.

Complete List of Art Supplies for The Beginning Oil Painter

Below is a list of necessary art supplies for the beginning oil painter. All items can easily be found at local arts and crafts supply stores such as Hobby Lobby or Michaels, or online via or, for example.

art bin paint box
Art Bin and Paint box
  • Art supply bin or wooden paint box
    A plastic art supply bin (resembles a fishing tackle box) or wooden paint box are ideal for carrying supplies in.
  • Art brushes (the type made for oil painting)
    10 to 12 brushes is a good start. Both Flat (square with long bristles), and Filbert (rounded on top with long bristles) are recommended.

    • 2 Large brushes (one flat, one filbert) about one inch wide
    • 5 Medium brushes (three flat, two filbert) about ½ inch wide
    • 3 Small brushes (one filbert, two flat) about ¼ inch wide
    • 1 Very small brush for autographing the painting when completed

Bunratty Ireland canvas panel“Bunratty Ireland”
Landscape by Teresa Bernard
12″ x 9″
Oils on canvas panel board

>> More info

Click for more info on flat and filbert types of brushes.

Click for more information about oil painting brushes.

  • Canvas
    A variety of pre-primed canvas board or stretched canvas, in sizes from 9 X 12 to 16 X 20 will do to get started with.

Click for more info on the types of canvas used for oil paintings.

  • Charcoal
    A package of each small and large sticks of charcoal. Used for sketching the composition onto the canvas. Can also be used to do preliminary sketches of the subject matter.
  • Cleaning rags and/or paper towels
    These are used for cleaning excess paint, medium, etc. off a brush. They are also used for getting most of the paint and turpentine out of brushes before final cleaning.
  • Cups for turpentine and medium
    A small or medium sized cup for each.
  • Dishwashing liquid
    A small bottle of liquid dishwashing soap to clean your brushes. It will need to be the kind that works on grease such as Dawn. The small size fits nicely in an art bin or paint box.
  • Easel
    For portability, a table easel that can fold up. For studio work, a standing easel that can be adjusted to a comfortable height for standing up. For “plein air” work, an adjustable standing easel that can be folded up and easily transported.
  • Eraser
    A  kneaded eraser for charcoal work. A pink pearl to erase pencil lines.
  • Gesso
    1 small container. Used to prepare just about any surface to receive oil paint, from thick paper to wood, even pre-primed canvas.

Click for information about gesso.

  • Linseed oil
    1 bottle or can. Used to mix painting medium. Medium is made by combining 1 part linseed oil to 1 part turpentine. Medium is used to thin oil paint and makes it flow more easily on canvas and aids in blending paints.
  • Oil paint
    Windsor & Newton or Grumbacher are two good brands of oil paint for the beginner. They are less expensive than other brands, but the quality is fine. Be sure to purchase oil paint rather than water-soluble oil paint. Buy one each (200 ml tubes) of these colors are:tube of oil paint

    • Thalo Blue
    • Cobalt Blue
    • Cerulean Blue
    • Ultramarine Blue
    • Cadmium Red light
    • Alizarin Crimson
    • Yellow Ochre
    • Cadmium Yellow Light or Lemon Yellow
    • Cadmium Yellow Medium
    • Viridian Green
    • Sap Green
    • Ivory black
    • Burnt Umber
    • Raw Umber
    • Burnt Sienna
    • Raw Sienna
    • Burnt Umber acrylic paint – This will be used to trace over and cover up sketch marks on the canvas.

For more information about oil paints, see article titled Artist Grade or Student Grade Oil Paint, Making A Choice.

  • Odorless turpentine or odorless mineral spirits (a.k.a. paint thinner) 
    Used to clean paint from art brushes.
  • Palette
    Used to hold dabs of paint squeezed from the tube and also for mixing colors together. Can be made from wood, glass or some other material. Disposable palettes have sheets of wax paper which can be torn off and thrown away for easy cleanup.

Learn much more about the artist palette. See article titled What to Know About an Artists Palette, Part 1 and Part 2.

  • Palette knife
    palette knife image
    Palette Knife

    A handy tool used to mix paint on the palette. Some artists also like to using one to apply paint to canvas instead using an art brush.

See article titled There Are Palette Knives and Then There are Painting Knives.

  • Pencils
    A variety of sizes for drawing and for sketching a composition onto the canvas.
  • Pliers
    This tool will come in handy to loosen tight paint tube caps.
  • Rulers
    Used for measuring and drawing straight lines.
  • Sketch pad
    Any size to sketch on.
  • Varnish
    Applied to a painting after it is thoroughly dry to bring out the color and protect the painting from dust, direct sunlight and other elements that could harm it.
  • Varnish brush
    A soft brush with long hairs, dedicated to varnishing, helps to apply varnish thinly and evenly.