I have (or have used) a wide spectrum of paint brands, so I thought I would share my thoughts on different oil paint brands comparatively, and what I have come to value having used so many different brands.
There are three main levels to the manufacture of paint for artistic use. At the base level is raw pigment suppliers. Most raw pigments nowadays come from commercial suppliers who sell to many different types of industries. Most pigments in artists’ paint are therefore not particularly special unto themselves, but there are few which are very special indeed. The second (and perhaps most important) level is the artist oil paint manufacturer. These run the range from tiny companies of craftsmen to industrial scale automated complexes, and the quality and qualities of paint can vary widely. It can be confusing. The best artist paint manufacturers source quality pigments and mill them to the highest pigment load possible. Certainly each paint line has it’s own characteristics (such as oil used or paint consistency), which is based on the manufacturer’s philosophy, taste, and price point target. Some paint manufacturers also make their own raw pigments – Michael Harding makes Cremnitz white pigment in-house, for example. The last level is the artist. Though no longer common, some artist still make their own paint because they want to control quality, create a particular colour mix, or are simply interested in the process.
I believe the quality/qualities of the paint an artist uses should depend on what it’s being use it for. For example, if you are toning a gessoed canvas with extremely thinned out mars red or earth green or something, it’s just a well to use cheap paint. Further, it really isn’t necessary to buy more economically produced pigments (Burnt Umber for example) in premium brands. With colours like these, the pigment load is less important than the preferred consistency of paint – a bit over-oiled might actually be preferable! Lastly, with some experience, I think it is very important to use good or even very expensive paint when required. The cost may be high, but the rewards are great. For a common example, cadmium red hue is worthless to most serious artists – you simply have to spend the money on the real thing. A good, proper Cremnitz white truly acts differently than Flake or Lead white, and a real Naples Yellow (also with lead in it) is a different colour than most manufacturers Naples Yellow, which are either single pigment approximation (like one that Williamsburg offers) or a hue (like everything else it seems). Consequent to this viewpoint, I use paints which have a massive price point difference side by side.
Every paint manufacturer says their paint is great. I’ll throw up if I hear “buttery” one more time. What I have to say about each paint is from my own experience and not derived from the history/reputation of the manufacturer or copy off sales brochures. I like highly pigmented, fairly thick paint milled (primarily) with linseed oil that shows personality from one colour to the next, and no bullshit. It has to have an acceptable balance between quality and price. I gave each paint line a very subjective rank based on how I feel about it overall.
This post will be updated periodically as I try new brands or find information.
In no particular order, I have or have used:
Royal Talens Rembrandt
Royal Talens Van Gogh
Royal Talens Amsterdam
Winsor and Newton Artists’ oil colours
Winsor and Newton Winton
Grumbacher Pre-tested (both new and very old tubes)
Grumbacher Golden Palette (very old tubes)
Permanent Pigments (no longer produced, company dissolved in 1955)
Lefranc and Bourgeois (older tubes)
Ferrario Van Dyck
DeSerres (house brand)
Blick Artists’ (house brand)
Blick Studio (house brand)
Daler Rowney Georgian
Bocour Bellini (no longer produced, company dissolved)
Royal Talens Rembrandt is one of my “go to” paints. I have quite a bit of it. The paint has a fairly thick consistency that appeals to me, and a pretty high pigment load across the range. They are mixed with linseed oil. Royal Talens isn’t a boutique brand, and they can be found nearly everywhere I’ve ever shopped. You have to be careful with every brand of paint, but they have a range of colours that is pretty solid without too many nonsense colours. Of their mixed pigment paints, I like their sap green. They are usually in my price range, and importantly, they have the easiest caps to open of any manufacturer. Everything considered, I rank them 4 out of 5.
Royal Talens Van Gogh is a pretty big step below the Rembrandt line in both cost and quality. It’s very “student grade” across the series and quite oily and loose out of the tube in my experience. There are many hues in the line which should be avoided unless you are banging out practice paintings like an undergrad. There is just too much filler/oil in the paint for me to use this paint any more. Still, there are some decent one or two pigment colours in the line, and there is good purpose to having some of this paint, especially if you are a novice painter. 3 out of 5.
Royal Talens Amsterdam are economical 200ml tubes. I don’t see any difference between these and Van Gogh. Obviously neither did Talens, as they don’t seem to make them any more. You can cover a lot of real estate with this paint. That’s all I have to say about them besides what I’ve said about Van Gogh above. 3 out of 5.
Weber Permalba is made in Philadelphia PA. The white is small-time famous for being a wonderful consistency and very clear over time (non-yellowing). Many shops only stock the white and black. The rest of the line is far less popular. I worked in a big art store in Philly for a few years, and even we didn’t stock it. The one colour I have is in a plastic tube (please just don’t) and is underwhelming in every respect. They make Bob Ross paint. 1.5 out of 5.
Gamblin is a west coast American company that makes really good mediums packaged in nice glass jars. I buy their linseed oil regularly. The company does a lot of research and education which is great. The texture of their paint is especially uniform across the colour range, and just a little too soft for my taste. Overmilled if you ask me. They have a good pigment load, and are consistently well ground, but I like more richness and individual personality from my colours. 3.5 out of 5.
Gamblin Fastmatte (as the name suggests) has additives which make it dry totally matte and pretty much over night. I don’t use it with other paints, but find it quite useful for underpainting. It’s kind of a limited palette “system” which you either use or don’t. I can see how a basic colour set for sketching might be worthwhile. A bit thicker out of the tube than regular Gamblin. 4 out of 5 (for specific purpose).
Winsor and Newton Artists’ Oil Colours are a mainstay for many painters. They are good quality at a not extreme price point, so consequently I have quite a few tubes of it. There are a few things to watch for however. Always check the pigments listed on the tube with this brand – They are not totally open as to what is a hue, and they use invented names that are not meaningful. Winsor blue? Just call it pthalo for fucks sake. Interestingly, they are the only manufacturer of genuine rose madder. I once took a tour of the plant in Harrow UK, which is a warehouse filled with vats where everything is dyed a rosey pink. Very cool. Many of the colours in this line are now made in France (information on that here). The quality of these paints should be monitored closely, now and in the future. 4 out of 5.
Winton paints are Winsor and Newton’s economical/student level offering. I have some, but the paint, across the range, has never been attractive to me. The tubes seem a little plastic like, and there are better and more interesting paints at basically the same price point. Even as a novice I gravitated elsewhere – slightly upward to Royal Talens Rembrandt usually. The colours I own have languished for years. 1 out of 5.
Grumbacher Pre-tested almost deserve two different entries, because I literally have two different paints. The contemporary paints are decent, well priced paints which are good but not overflowing with attributes. I rank them below Rembrandt. I have however some very old colours in lead tubes which are the best paints I’ve ever used. I’m not sure why. The lead tube? The age? Quality differences in the pigments used? Changed processes or priorities at the company? For whatever reason, these old paints are fantastic. If only it was possible to get more. Cherished. 5 out of 5 (for the old ones).
Grumbacher Golden Palette. I also have some old tubes (1980’s) of this economical paint line from Grumbacher. These old paints I have are much better than their insanely low price suggests, but I have a “cadmium red” which doesn’t have the pigments listed on the tube but is a pasty, notably disappointing hue. It’s so bad it’s funny. The price tags are still stuck to some of the tubes and none of them were over two dollars. Amazing. 4 out of 5 (for the price).
Permanent Pigments changed into Liquitex in 1955, so the paint I have is obviously quite old. They look so much like old Grumbacher I thought they might be the same company. The paint I have is very good and the tube lists both pigment and amount of filler. Very honest. These paints are the last individuals of a very good species of dinosaur. If you find some in your grandmother’s attic you should take them. 4 out of 5.
Holbein is made in Japan and feels very technically produced. There are advantages and disadvantages to that. The paint is extremely consistent across a wide spectrum of colours (167 colours apparently) but also they produce a lot of mixes that an artist should be wary of. Verditer blue? I rank these a half-step above Gamblin, and as such don’t use them a ton. The two paints have pretty similar personalities overall, but Holbein is just a bit stiffer out of the tube. 3.5 out of 5.
Lefranc and Bourgeois are a very old French paint manufacturer. The history is worth reading. Their oil paint is now reorganized, and separated between Lefranc and Lefranc & Bourgeois Fine – I haven’t used these “new” lines, so I can’t comment on them specifically. I have heard they are now produced in the same (French) plant as Winsor & Newton, and that the quality seems to have dropped somewhat. I have a ton of older tubes in this paint because a store I frequented was clearing them out. I bought as much as I could afford. The 250ml tubes came in fantastic stackable plastic boxes which have kept the tubes in untouched new condition – what a nice touch that is. These are great feeling paints which I would class near or even above Winsor and Newton Artists’ paints. They are richly pigmented and have nice body out of the tube. Single pigment paints from this brand (cadmium red for example) are knockouts. 4 out of 5.
Williamsburg makes fantastic paint. They were bought by Golden a few years ago and production moved away from New York, but the quality has not changed as far as I can tell. They are different consistency from tube to tube, depending on the base characteristics of each pigment. I like that a lot. Each tube has a painted strip of the colour at the top which I find helpful and classy. It should be done by more manufacturers – some other brands have printed labels that are nowhere close to the colour of paint inside, and I’ve sometimes had to smear paint on the outside of the tube so I can actually see what’s in there. Williamsburg paints are pretty expensive, so I use this brand for my more important colours. They’re pretty hard to find in Canada, depending on where you live. The hex-nut cap design they use can become impossible to unscrew without pliers. That can be frustrating, but they still manage to get 5 out of 5.
Michael Harding is a UK brand of paint. I happily classify him a craftsman, and any of the paint I’ve used in this brand is truly the highest quality. I have a Cremitz white which he painstakingly makes by traditional method. It’s a level above flake white or lead white, made by anyone, in my opinion. The prices are Gucci level, but it’s like your tools are jewels. 5 out of 5.
Pebeo Fragonard paints are labeled extra fine, but they are usually cheaper than other brands and are often on sale on top of that. The low price point is for a reason – these are basic quality paints no matter what the label says. That’s fine. I buy Burnt Umber when I see it in a sale bin. My girlfriend steals my Ultramarine Blue, so maybe there are other good colours in there too. These paints have changed a lot over the years in place of manufacture, packaging, and quality, and Pebeo don’t seem to even make the Fragonard line any more. I have a very old tube of this paint which is quite good and labelled made in Paris. Well, not any more! Pebeo is a big company and it seems you can buy their paint everywhere. No matter where you look, there it is. 3 out of 5 (but I use them, because cheap).
Ferrario Van Dyck is an Italian paint that isn’t distributed in Canada that I know of. I came across some tubes of this paint randomly and it’s the one and only time I’ve ever seen them. I’ve found very little information on this paint. I read somewhere that the company had financial troubles a few years back, so maybe that has something to do with it. It’s a pretty saturated market in North America anyway… This is good paint though. The caps on my tubes are painfully scalloped and were totally impossible to open without pliers right from the start. Marks off for paint you can’t even get out of the tube. 3.5 out of 5.
DeSerres (house brand) is run of the mill paint. I think it’s made by Pebeo but I can’t even be bothered to check. That’s how inspiring this paint is. Even if I was a first year student I would look elsewhere. MEH. 1 out of 5 (1 point for actually being paint).
Blick Oil Colour (house brand) is much better than DeSerre. Blick has huge sales for back to school and that type of thing, so we used to sell a ton of it. Great for students and Christmas gifts for amateur painters. Ground with safflower, this paint is otherwise pretty straightforward. Made in France by Sennelier, so the characteristics of the two paints are much the same. It dries a bit too slowly for me. Blick’s second tier Studio Oil Colour line is thoroughly underwhelming and should probably be avoided. For the Oil Colour, it’s a 2.5 or maybe 3 out of 5.
Kama Pigments is a Montréal based pigment supplier and paint maker. They have only one level of paint, which is excellent. Because it is made where I live, it is often a tiny bit cheaper than other paints at the same quality. Some people swear by it and use it almost exclusively – it is certainly very common among local artists anyway. I buy many of my raw pigments there and have a number of their tubed paints also. They perform admirably. They mix their paint with both walnut and linseed oil. It seems to be a good balance, as the colours remains clear, but drying time is not too frustratingly long. The cobalt green light is gorgeous. Recommended. Winsor and Newton level easily. 4.5 out of 5.
Daler Rowney Georgian. What is there to say about this paint? The mainstay of an undergrad’s paint box, they seem filled to maximum with oil and filler. Generally weak in tinting strength, they make up for that by being oily, loose out of the tube, and easily blown out when mixed. Even the most potent pigments (like pthalo blue) are let down by the unsatisfactory consistency of the paint. Don’t let the blah-blah on the website fool you. They fill a purpose, but these paints will disappoint unless you are just starting. No expensive pigments in the line whatsoever. 1 out of 5.
M Graham is an interesting paint. They use walnut oil across the line, which dries clearer (less yellow) than linseed but quite a bit slower. They promote a system in which you add alkyd medium to the paint mixture to speed the drying time. None of that bothers me, but I find their paints ground a little like Gamblin – smooth almost to a fault. A few years ago I acquired quite a bit of this paint, and while it’s decent, I rarely use it. It’s just a taste issue. 2.5 out of 5.
Blockx is a Belgian paint manufacturer that is going on five generations of paint-makers. They’ve gotta be doing something right. Ground in (mostly) poppyseed on old-school style stone rollers. Their paint is Gucci price, but the quality is within the very top tier. I suppose some artists can swallow the price on the regular, but it’s a special treat for me. I Google-mapped their manufacturing facility and it’s adorably Belgian. 5 out of 5 (if you can afford it).
Old Holland Classic Oil Colours, like Blockx, basically exists outside my price range. When I sold it, some customers would swear by some of their rather particular colours. And there are a lot of rather particular colours. Their colour range seems excessive to me (there’s 168), and their paint, in general, has just never “grabbed” me. This is excellent quality paint no doubt, but unlike Michael Harding paints, this stuff just doesn’t seem worth the price. For a while it was the only stock we had of lead white, and the price for a tiny tube was simply astronomical. I gravitate elsewhere. 3.5 out of 5 (excellent paint, but I don’t use them because there are other brands which are cheaper and/or I like more).
Schminke Norma paints are German. The Mercedes of the oil paint world. They are great quality paints which are very hard to find in Canada. I don’t remember seeing them anywhere here in fact. I don’t use them much as a result, but would if a local shop carried them as one of their (premium) brands. 4.5 out of 5.
Schminke Mussini paints have resin in them. It’s a really interesting (yet old) approach to formulating oil paint. Without doubt these are great paints with solid properties in terms of binding, cohesion, and evenness across the surface of the painting. I think fine portraitists appreciate these qualities. It is kind of a “system” though, and one that doesn’t suit my practice. Fantastic paint I don’t use. 4 out of 5.
Bocour Bellini doesn’t exist any more. They were packaged in lead tubes, made in New York, and, in the colours I have, excellent. I have a tube of lamp black (PBk 6) that smells like no other paint I’ve ever owned. It seems strange to be excited about such a basic pigment, but it’s wonderful paint and I’ll be sorry when it’s gone. 5 out of 5 (I’m in love).
Stevenson is a Canadian brand which will be familiar to many art students here. Their gesso is an excellent balance of price, quality and availability, and I use it almost exclusively. I bought some cheap gesso once and it separated and went rancid almost immediately. You learn the most from your mistakes… Stevenson paint is different story than their mediums however. I have a 500ml can of titanium white that is very nice in terms of thickness, smoothness and strength, but smaller paints in other colours are packaged in plastic tubes and I’ve never been happy with them. Whether in terms of quality, consistency, or just trying to get it all out of the tube, they’ve been a little bit disappointing. As a student I quickly gravitated toward Rembrandt etc. The white notwithstanding, these are 2 out of 5.
Sennelier makes very good paint which is ground in safflower. It dries slower than some other paints. I love the fact that this huge manufacturer still maintains their little original store across the river from the Louvre. All weight of history aside though, I don’t rank these paints too far above other paints which are easier to find in here in Canada. There are 144 colours in the line and they seem just a little “mass produced”. I have some. I’m really happy with it. I use other paint. 3.5 out of 5.
I make my own paint sometimes. Like everyone else, I rely on manufacturers to provide quality raw pigments, but I can modulate the consistency of each tube of paint and can assure purity of the mix/materials. That can be important. It’s worth doing if you are interested in the process and are willing to commit the time. I have also pre-mixed colours and tubed them for special projects I know are going to take a while. I can guarantee colour consistency this way. Always 5 out of 5.
Here is good source of information about different paints: https://jeffchester.wordpress.com/2013/05/23/24/
And here is another quite comprehensive comparative review of oil paints: http://wonderstreet.com/blog/how-to-choose-a-brand-of-oil-paint