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 oil paint and the various lightfastness ratings. In this continuing article we’ll take closer look at the different grades of oil paint and what they mean.

Different Grades of Oil Paint

tube of oil paintOil paint comes in two grades: artist grade and student grade. The main difference between the two types is the potency or concentration of the pigment that is in the paint. What this means is, artist grade oil paint will stretch further than student grade will because it contains more pigment. Artist grade paints (sometimes called professional paints) are made from the purist ingredients and contain a higher ratio of pigment to oil base. That ratio 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 as they can be stretched further than student grade. Also, artist paints have better mixability and truer color because there are no fillers like there are in student grade paints.


national park wall painting“Monument Valley”
Landscape by Teresa Bernard
16″ x 12″
Oils on stretched canvas

>> More info


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 true 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 do true pigments and they tend to get muddy and dull when mixed together. 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 because the strength of the pigment is weaker (less potent) in student grade paint and will actually take more paint to mix the color you desire than if you used the stronger (more potent) artist grade. 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.

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