I have used a pretty wide variety of oil paint. I thought it might be useful to share my opinions about the different brands I’ve used comparatively.
First a short introduction to oil paint manufacturing: Most raw pigments in artists’ paint these days come from commercial suppliers who sell to many different industries. The pigments in most artists’ paint are therefore not particularly special unto themselves, but are chosen for lightfastness, proven properties, and compatibility with drying oils. Some pigments that artists use still come from particular places, and there are a few which are very special indeed.
Perhaps most impactful to the consumer, in terms of the actual paint, is the artist oil paint manufacturer. These run the range from tiny companies of (sometime lone) colourmen to industrial scale automated complexes, and the quality and qualities of paint can vary widely. It can be confusing! The best artist paint manufacturers will source high quality pigments and mill them consistently, without a ton of additives, to the highest pigment load possible. Each brand and/or paint line has its own characteristics (such as oil used, drying time, or paint consistency) based on the manufacturer’s philosophy, preferences, and price point target. Though rare, a paint manufacturer will sometimes also make their own raw pigments – Michael Harding makes Cremnitz White pigment in-house, for example. That’s special.
What quality of paint an artist uses should depend on their preferences, goals and what the paint is being use it for. For example, for underpainting, or if you are toning a gessoed canvas with really thinned out mars red or earth green or something, it’s all the same to use basic paint. Personally, I don’t think it’s necessary to buy any of the more economically produced pigments (Burnt Umber for example) in premium brands. But, if you are doing any serious painting, it’s important to use good and even very expensive paint where 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. Consequent to this viewpoint, I use paints which sometime have a massive price point difference side by side.
(Note that the term “hue” refers to a mixture approximating the listed colour, using cheaper and/or less toxic pigments. This is primarily done to reach a lower price point, and the paint is just … never quite the real thing. Buyer beware.)
Every paint manufacturer says their paint is amazing. I might throw up if I read “buttery” one more time. What I have to say about each paint is from my own experience and is not derived from the history/reputation of the manufacturer or copied off some sales brochure. 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, and be consistently produced over time. Quality can have a tendency to slide, and if I notice, I’m out. At the end of each description, I give the paint line a totally subjective rank based on how I feel about it overall. What it comes down to, after everything is said, are ones own preferences and priorities – you simply have to try some different paints and find out what’s right for you.
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
Gamblin Fastmatte (this line no longer produced)
Winsor and Newton Artists’ oil colours
Winsor and Newton London (this line no longer produced)
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)
Lefranc and Bourgeois (older tubes)
Pebeo Studio oil
Ferrario Van Dyck
DeSerres (house brand)
Blick Artists’ (house brand)
Blick Studio (house brand)
Reeves oil colour
Daler Rowney Georgian
Bocour Bellini (no longer produced – company dissolved)
Stevenson (no longer produced – company dissolved)
Sennelier Rive Gauche
Royal Talens Rembrandt is one of my “go to” paints. I have quite a bit of it. As an undergrad, I often bought upwards to this line, as it is much better paint than most student lines, but still basically within budget. They are mixed with linseed oil, have a fairly thick consistency that appeals to me, and have a pretty high pigment load across the range. Some people say they are oily, but I don’t mind. Royal Talens isn’t a boutique brand, and I’ve found them almost everywhere I’ve ever shopped. You have to be careful with every brand of paint of course, but they have a pretty solid range without too many nonsense colours. Of their mixed pigment paints, I like their Sap Green (Pthalo Green and Isoindolinone Yellow). This line remains good quality and within my price range. 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 quite “student grade” across the series and the paint is rather too oily and loose out of the tube in my experience. There are many hues in the line which should probably be avoided unless you are banging out practice paintings like a first year. There is just too much filler/oil in the paint for me to buy it 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 were economical 200ml tubes that were sold until about the mid-2000’s. There is little or no difference between these and Van Gogh except how much paint you are buying. Royal Talens didn’t see any difference either, and they folded the (size) range into the Van Gogh line. You won’t find these tubes in stores anymore, unless they are old stock. 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 a little bit famous for being a wonderful soft consistency and clear over time (non-yellowing). They do this by mixing Titanium White with around 12% Zinc White and around 5% blanc-fixe into safflower oil – so no great alchemical secret here. Some shops only stock the white and black colours, while the rest of the line seems far less popular. I worked in a humongous art store in Philly for a few years, and even we didn’t stock it. The one colour I still have is in a plastic tube (please don’t) and is underwhelming in every respect. They make Bob Ross paint, so maybe that’s saying something. In the colours I’ve tried besides white – MEH. 1.5 out of 5.
Gamblin is a west coast American company that makes excellent mediums, which used to be packaged in nice glass jars. I buy their cold wax and linseed oil regularly. The company is focussed on studio safety, has a very good website, and does a lot of research and education, all which is great. Their Gamsol solvent is expensive, but has the lowest evaporation rate of any OMS – it’s worth considering if you are in a studio with other people or aren’t near a window etc. The texture of their Artist Grade Oil Paint is especially uniform across the colour range, and overall it’s just a little too smooth and soft out of tube for my taste. Overmodified in my opinion. They have a good pigment load, and are consistently well ground (in linseed), but I like a bit more muscle and individual personality from my colours. Decent paint and definitely worth a try, but 3.5 out of 5 for me.
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 much, but find it really 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. This paint is a bit thicker out of the tube than regular Gamblin and, important to note, the additives seem make it a bit more opaque than others. Fairly limited colour selection. All in all, quite good paint (for specific purpose). 4 out of 5.
I can see on their website that they no longer make this paint. I looked into it and found that the line (save Titanium White) was discontinued effective February 2021. Perhaps it was just too specific a product to sell well.
Gamblin 1980 is a fairly recent addition to Gamblin’s oil paint lineup. Somewhat of a replacement for Fastmatte perhaps, but more typical in usage. This paint achieves a lower price point than their Artist Grade by inclusion of marble dust as an extender. This is fine. I applaud them for stating this plainly, and not slapping “huile professionnel” smoke and mirrors on the label of a $5 tube I just found in a sale bin. In use they seem to me to have good body out of the tube, and be pigmented well enough. It is worth noting that many of the colours are mixes of the label colour and something else. For example, Cadmium Yellow medium is Py37 and Py74 – the Py37 being Cadmium and the Py74 being Azo Monoarylide. These paints are aimed squarely at students and more price-conscious painters. Nothing wrong with that. 3.5 out of 5.
Besides extending the pigment in order to reach a lower price point, as is the reason here, Calcium carbonate (marble dust) has long been added to oil paint to make impastos. It has been found in Velasquez and Rembrandt paintings, for example.
Winsor and Newton Artists’ Oil Colours are a mainstay for many painters. They are broadly available and good quality at a not extreme price point, so consequently I have quite a few tubes of it. The company is quite old (among the first to put paint into tubes) and rests on an excellent reputation – therefore expectations are, and should be, quite high for this paint. There are a few things to watch for however. Always check the pigments listed on the tube with this brand, as they are not particularly open as to what is a hue, have a number of total dud mixed colours, and use proprietary names that are not meaningful. Winsor blue? Just call it pthalo for fucks sake. Interestingly, they are one of the few manufacturers of genuine rose madder (besides Kremer). This is a really neat colour. I once took a tour of the original manufacturing facility in Harrow UK, which was a warehouse filled with vats in which absolutely everything was dyed rose pink. Very cool. Winsor and Newton are owned by a very large company called Colart, and these paints are now made in Le Mans France at an industrial scale alongside Lefranc and Bourgeois (information on that here). Apparently they make five million litres of paint each year. Important to note, they are now made with safflower oil, and there have been some changes to the colours in the line. They remain quite good, but the quality of these paints should be monitored closely, now and in the future. 4 out of 5.
If you want to know more about the invention of the paint tube (and Winsor and Newton’s scandalous misrepresentations of it), I wrote about it here: https://benswilliamson.wordpress.com/2021/12/20/invention-of-the-paint-tube/
Winsor and Newton London is a long discontinued line which encompassed regular oil paints, alkyds, and watercolours. The company restructured the line into Winton (student grade oil paints), Griffin (alkyds), and Cotman (watercolours). Much more organized? The paint I have is obviously quite old. Though it was the company’s more economical offering, the paint I have used in this line is quite a bit better than today’s Winton. Isn’t that the way of things. 4 out of 5.
Winton paints are Winsor and Newton’s current economical/student level offering. I have some, but the paint, across the range, has never inspired me. The tubes I have seem a little plastic like, the tops are kind of annoying, and there are better and more interesting paints at near the same price point. Even as a novice I gravitated elsewhere – slightly upward to Royal Talens Rembrandt if I could afford to. I had a Titanium White (ground in safflower) that I liked well enough, but the rest of the colours I own have languished since the early days, and really only get used when I run out of better paint. Colart seems to have improved their packaging quite a bit, but still 2 out of 5 from me.
Grumbacher Pre-tested almost deserve two different entries, because I literally have two different paints in my box. The contemporary paints are decent, well priced paints which are good but not overflowing with attributes. I rank them a bit below Rembrandt. I have however some very old colours in lead tubes which are perhaps the best paints I’ve ever used. I’m not exactly sure of the reason why. The lead tube? Quality differences in the pigments used? Changed processes or priorities at the company? For whatever reason, these old paints are fantastic. I’ve read other people say the same. If only it was possible to get more. Cherished. 5 out of 5 (for the old ones).
As an added note, these lead tubes came to me in a pretty thrashed state. The lead, being so soft, has torn on a number of tubes, and are creating a mess. Chalk one up to aluminum tubes! Also, there are a couple of colours that have gone “mealy”. The oil and the pigment and the fillers have separated from each other somewhat. I’ve experienced this with old tubes in other brands also.
Grumbacher Golden Palette. I also have some old tubes (1980’s) of this economical paint line from Grumbacher, which they no longer offer. These old paints I have are much better than their insanely low price suggests. Unfortunately however, among them is a “Cadmium Red”, which doesn’t have the pigments listed on the tube but is plainly the most pasty, notably disappointing hue I’ve come across. 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. It isn’t good paint, but that’s amazing. 4 out of 5 (for the price).
Grumbacher Academy. I have used a few older tubes in this line. Like Winsor and Newton London, they are better than their contemporary counterparts. Academy is Grumbacher’s student quality line, which has the same colour range as the Pre-tested paints, but uses more filler, more oil, and hues to reach a lower price point. The same as with all brands, you reward yourself when you step up in quality to professional grade paints. For the old tubes, 3 out of 5.
Grumbacher Gainsborough are an old line of particularly small tubes which seemed to be only sold in sets. Aimed at beginners, they used to come in rather charming wood boxes with paint medium included. The little lead tubes I have are terribly smashed, but the paint inside remains fresh and half-decent. One would be so lucky to find a student line with paint this good nowadays. Chartpak (Grumbacher’s parent company) does not seem to sell this line any more. Any tubes you come across are surely vintage. 3 out of 5.
Permanent Pigments was founded in 1933 by Henry Levinson in Cincinnati OH. He developed Liquitex acrylic paint in 1955/56, but it seems like the company continued to produced oil paint under the Permanent Pigments name until some point in the 1970’s. Liquitex was sold to Binney and Smith in 1964, so maybe it was them who discontinued the line – it isn’t mentioned in any of the history I’ve read, so it doesn’t look to have been a priority there. The tubes look so much like old Grumbacher I thought at first they might be the same company. The paint I have is quite 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 definitely take them. 4 out of 5.
Holbein is made in Japan and feels very technically produced. There are advantages and disadvantages to that I suppose. The paint attributes are 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 along the lines of Gamblin, and as such don’t use them a lot. The two paints have pretty similar personalities overall, but Holbein is just a bit stiffer out of the tube. It’s good paint, but 3.5 out of 5 for me.
One thing to note is that Holbein paint seems to stand the test of time. I have some tubes which have been around for quite a while (10 years?) and the paint is still coming out of the tubes smoothly. They also have good caps. I’m warming up to them…
Holbein Vernét is Holbein’s (very) high-end paint. It’s interesting stuff. They are milled ten times longer than regular paint, which results in intense colour, extremely smooth paint, and a sky-high price tag. They come in small 20ml tubes, each in it’s own fancy little box. Really, because it is so fine and highly pigmented, the colour goes quite a bit farther than than it does with other paints. The mechanical differences between this paint and others means that it’s something you have to consciously think about while mixing brands however. Holbein recognizes this, and explains how to use this paint with others in it’s literature. I’m using a vermillion right now and the colour is simply mind-bending. So was the price! 4.5 out of 5 – but be conscious of the paint’s unique mechanics.
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 have read they are now produced in the same (French) plant as Winsor & Newton, and that the quality seems to have dropped somewhat. I haven’t used these “new” lines, so I can’t comment on them specifically. I do however 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 my unused tubes in impeccable condition – classy. These are great feeling paints which I would class 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. 4.5 out of 5.
As an added note, I had a couple of colours which hardened in the tube on their own accord. Total bummer. Maybe they could have put a little more oil or stabilizer in those ones! Rating remains the same though.
Williamsburg makes fantastic paint. They were bought by Golden a few years ago and production moved away from New York City, but the quality has not changed as far as I can tell. Golden does a lot of research into paint attributes and they are constantly developing their colours – this research has lead to the recent near total removal of Zinc White from it’s line, due to the troubling and increasing brittleness of the pigment over time (information here). Williamsburg paints have a different consistency from tube to tube, depending on the base characteristics of each pigment. I like that a lot. Also, 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. That kinda sucks. Williamsburg paints are pretty expensive, so I use this brand for more important colours. They’re also 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 a 5 out of 5.
Michael Harding is a UK brand of paint. I cheerfully classify him a craftsman, and any of the paint I’ve used in this brand is truly the highest quality. I use his 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. There is a proper paint sample at the top of each tube. Stay classy Michael! Here in Canada, the price of a tube of paint is about the same as a Gucci handbag, but it’s like your tools are jewels. A joy. 5 out of 5.
Pebeo Fragonard paints are labeled extra fine, but they were usually cheaper than other brands and 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 clearance bin. 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, so any that you find are surely old stock. I have a really old tube of this paint (searching revealed early 1950’s) which is of superior quality and labelled made in Paris by Armand Drouant. Well, certainly 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 used them because cheap).
Pebeo Studio oil (now called Studio XL) are basic paints often sold in sets aimed at beginners and students. The cost is kept as low as possible through the use of hues across the range, and filler. That all said, these are half-decent, consistent paints. Nobody expects these to compete with Old Holland, but judged on their own merits, they are perfectly serviceable. 3.5 out of 5.
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 little information on this paint. Apparently the company had financial troubles years back, so maybe that has something to do with its rarity. It’s a pretty saturated market in North America anyway… This is decent enough paint I suppose, but the ones I have stink like solvent. Also, the caps on the tubes are painfully scalloped and were totally impossible to open without pliers right from the start. It’s pretty frustrating, so I’m taking marks off for paint I can’t even get out of the tube. 3.5 out of 5.
DeSerres (house brand) is run of the mill paint. I’m pretty sure it’s made by Pebeo but I can’t even be bothered to check. The tubes say “huile fine” on them but that’s taking some liberties I think. Even if I was a first year student I would look elsewhere. MEH. 2 out of 5 (1 point for actually being paint).
Blick artists’ 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. It’s made in France by Sennelier, so the characteristics of the two paints are much the same. It’s a bit liquid-y and dries a touch too slowly for me. Blick’s second tier Studio Oil Colour line is pretty underwhelming and should probably be bypassed by serious painters in my opinion. For the artists’ oil colour, it’s about a 3 out of 5.
Reeves oil colour paints are tiny tubes packaged in economical sets aimed at the absolute beginner. It looks like you can still buy this stuff at places like Michael’s craft store or Walmart. The ones I have are probably the most economically produced tubes of oil paint of all time. They are made in China and have almost no information on the tubes as to what is inside. Linseed oil? Paint? If you have zero expectations, these paints will happily surprise you by actually being paint. If you aspire to do anything beyond a dabble, look elsewhere. Hilariously bad. 1 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 little 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 painters anyway. I buy many of my raw pigments there and have a number of their tubed paints also. They perform admirably. Most of my colours are a bit older and are mixed with both walnut and linseed oil. It seems to be a good balance, as the colours remain clear, but drying time is not too frustratingly long. In the last few years, they have moved toward using just walnut oil (with dryers), so that is something to be aware of. The Cobalt Green Light is gorgeous. I can recommend this paint across the range. Winsor and Newton level for sure. 4.5 out of 5.
As an added note, my partner experienced a few adhesion issues from some Kama colours lately, where she really shouldn’t have. It made us curious as to what and how much dryer and/or fillers are in the paint she was using. We keep an eye out.
Daler Rowney Georgian. What is there to say about this paint? A 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 a total novice or your practice is simply about covering lots of real estate. I recommend sticking to the most straightforward colours if buying this paint (Mars Black for example). None of the more expensive pigments in the line whatsoever. But hey, they’re cheap! 1.5 out of 5.
Update: It’s always good to revisit things like this, if just to see if anything has changed, so recently I bought some Sap Green. It was on sale. This line of paint continues to only have one price point no matter what pigment is in the tube, and Daler Rowney endeavours to have these paints all dry at the same rate – two attributes which are great for the beginner or periodic painter. With those things in mind, I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the packaging, the pigment load, colour and consistency of the paint I just bought. A big bump up from the paint I used to have in this line.
M Graham is an interesting paint. They use walnut oil across the line, which dries clearer (less yellow) than linseed but also 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 – soft and smooth almost to a fault. A few years ago I acquired quite a bit of this paint, and while it’s decent and has a good pigment load, I don’t use it that much. It’s really 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! Their paint is ground in poppyseed oil on old-school style stone rollers. For a Canadian that equates to Gucci level prices, 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. This paint should appeal most to a painter with a patient style, as opposed to someone using vast amounts of paint and making a big mess. I Google-mapped their manufacturing facility and it’s adorably Belgian. Love it. 5 out of 5 (if you can afford it, and also don’t mind the rather slow drying time of poppyseed).
Old Holland Classic Oil Colours, like Blockx, exists outside my price range for general use. Back when I sold it, some customers would absolutely swear by it. Certainly they make some colours other brands don’t, which is interesting but maybe not always necessary (you have been forewarned). This is rich, thick, excellent quality paint without doubt, but unlike other comparable paints at equal or even lower price points, this stuff has never really inspired me to shell out. Maybe if I was rich? For a while it was the only stock our shop had of Lead White, and the price for a tiny tube was simply astronomical. It remains so. I recently price checked Cremnitz White, and it’s an eye watering $67.80cad for a 40ml tube – more than twice the price of the equivalent from Michael Harding. Old Holland likes to tell you they started making paint in 1664. That’s amazing and everything, but they use totally modern pigments and processes, so it’s actually not really relevant. They use cold-pressed linseed oil, and for sure the paint is highly pigmented (both great) but the stuff isn’t simply beyond other brands the way they might have you believe. Beware that they use fancy names that can be misleading if you don’t know your stuff. Scheveningen Violet may sound magical, but it’s straight up Pv19 (Quinacridone). Also be aware that they use the word “extra” rather than hue – their Naples Yellow Extra is simply Zinc White, Titanium White, and Py42 (Synthetic Yellow Iron Oxide). There is little reason to manufacture this colour, and even less reason to buy it. It’s a bit of a fancy scam to call it Naples Yellow in fact, and should stand as a reminder to ALWAYS check the pigments on the label, and purchase accordingly. If you are interested in Old Holland paint, I would first do some research online for favoured colours, because there are some in the range for sure – there are some lovely greens for example. Overall, they get 3.5 out of 5 for me. This is really excellent paint, but I don’t use them because there are other brands which are just as good, cheaper, and/or I like just as much. It all seems a bit Wizard of Oz to me.
Schminke Norma paints are German. The Mercedes of the oil paint world! They are great quality paints which can be hard to find in Canada, depending on where you live. I don’t use them much as a result, but surely would if a local shop carried them as one of their (premium) brands. If you see them, they are definitely worth trying. Recently I read that they put solvent into their paint, and also that quality has dropped somewhat in recent years, but I cannot verify either of these things personally. For the tubes I had, 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. They also dry glossy. 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. Also expensive. 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).
Here is a brief history of Leonard Bocour and Bellini paints.
Stevenson was a Canadian brand familiar to many art students here. They made excellent painting mediums. Their gesso in particular was an excellent balance of price, quality and availability, and I used it almost exclusively. I bought some cheap-assed gesso once and it separated and went rancid almost immediately. You learn the most from your mistakes! Stevenson oil paints were a different story than their mediums however. I had a 500ml can of titanium white that was very nice in terms of thickness, smoothness and strength, but smaller amounts in other colours were packaged in plastic tubes, and I was never thrilled with them. Whether the quality, consistency, or just trying to get it all out of the tube, they always felt just slightly off the mark. As a student I immediately gravitated toward more robust paints in aluminum tubes, like Rembrandt etc. The white notwithstanding, these get a 3 out of 5.
Sadly, Stevenson closed all production in August of 2018. They will be sorely missed by Canadian painters, especially students.
Sennelier makes good paint which is ground in safflower oil. It is pretty liquid-y out of the tube. I love the fact that this huge manufacturer still maintains their little original store across the river from the Louvre. Super cool. All weight of history aside though, I don’t rank these paints (called simply “Sennelier oil colours”) above other paints which are easier for me to find in here in Canada. There are 144 colours in the line and they seem just a little “mass produced” to me. They dry faster than expected, despite the safflower oil, which probably means they put dryers in the paint. I have some. I’m happy with it. I tend toward other brands. 3.5 out of 5.
Sennelier Rive Gauche. I recently purchased some Sennelier Rive Gauche paint. It was on liquidation. These are very interesting paints, but perhaps not for the right reasons. They are ground in safflower, but are advertised as drying twice as fast as regular (linseed) oil paints. Sennelier doesn’t list the additives they use to achieve this little miracle on their website or on the paint tubes, which is pretty sneaky. If you are bothered to read the MSDS however, calcium isononanoate and silicon dioxide, along with petroleum solvents, are listed as additives to the paint. What a mouthful. To start, the calcium keeps the film matrix open, allowing more oxygen into the film and more solvent to escape early in the drying process, speeding up drying time. Calcium also assists in pigment dispersion and reduces loss of dry when added in the pigment grinding stage, which speeds up manufacturing time. Isononanoate is a synthetic acid which is lower in odour than natural (naphthenic) acids. It has been added to speed up the drying time. Silicon dioxide has a bunch of appealing properties (increasing durability of the paint film, thickness, etc.) but the main reason it is used in artist’s oil paint is to lower manufacturing costs. It extends the paint, and is also the reason why this paint exhibits a satin sheen when dry. By using all these additives, Sennelier has sped up the manufacturing process, cranked up the acidic (drying) reaction of the paint, and stretched it out to what appears it’s limit. They’ve then also dumped solvent straight into the paint. Yeowch. As for using the actual stuff, I’m pretty happy with it. I have a titanium white which can’t be too critical of. Other colours suffer their transparency, purity, subtlety or everything, but if you want it to dry fast, here ya go. Watch out for the many, many hues in this line. Fast drying properties aside, this is student paint full stop. 2 out of 5.
Vasari are among the bling-est of the bling. They are a very small company that makes only oil paint in small batches. They only sell online and out of a small, wonderful demonstration showroom in Chelsea. If you are not living in the USA, you may end up paying duties on online purchases of paint, so be careful. It’s either that possibility or a trip to New York. The shop is right in the gallery district, so at least you can hit a few exhibitions while you’re there. This paint is made with linseed oil and no fillers, and has a solid reputation as being highly pigmented and excellent feeling out of the tube. It is. They are proprietary about their mixed colours, so don’t bother asking about what’s in their sap green – they flat out refused me on that. That might bother you (the not listing the pigments on all their tubes) but their attitude is that it’s the best and they don’t want their formulas copied. In practice, their paint is excellently ground, very highly pigmented, and has a smooth lovely feel. Gorgeous. They are also some of the oiliest paints I’ve ever used… 4.5 out of 5.
I make my own paint sometimes (link goes to short how-to). 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 and effort. I have also pre-mixed colours and tubed them for special projects that I know are going to take a while. I can guarantee colour consistency this way. No filler! No bullshit! Always 5 out of 5.
Here is good source of information about different paints: https://jeffchester.wordpress.com/2013/05/23/24/
Here is another quite comprehensive comparative review of oil paints: http://wonderstreet.com/blog/how-to-choose-a-brand-of-oil-paint
And one more for good measure: https://finearttutorials.com/guide/oil-paint-brands-in-review/
43 thoughts on “Oil Paint and Brand Reviews”
Thanks for posting this – very informative and complete. I cannot understand why you don’t have 1000 likes!
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Thank you so much for an excellent review based on direct experience!
Much appreciation; keep writing.
Cheers from Johannes Sijbrant, iconographer.
Kapiti Coast, New Zealand
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Thanks for this survey Ben. It’s helpful and resonates with my own preferences. I wonder if you have any input on this issue: I use Daler Rowney Georgian zinc white because I like the subtle tinting and greater transparency of zinc and this brand has a much stronger paint film than other brands I’ve tried (it’s not crumbly) and it doesn’t take forever to dry. It probably has a lot of fillers, but it behaves like true zinc white. Recently their quality seems to have gone down – I’ve received tubes with lumps and poor consistency. I wonder if you use zinc white and have any recommendations for alternative brands.
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Hi Josh. I now use more Cremnitz or Flake White than Ti or Zinc. I use Zinc the least, and not on it’s own at all, because of those complaints described above in the post. You could try a Zinc White with both Zinc and Ti pigments listed on the tube (yeah that happens), a Mixing White (with even more Ti in it), or Weber Permalba (also with Ti in it). These mixtures tend to reduce the deficits of each pigment – in Zinc’s case, that “crumbly” consistency you have experienced. Of course, these mixed whites are more opaque that a single pigment Zinc White paint, and can seem to be a bit of a compromise overall. If you are looking for a straight up Zinc that is smoother that Daler Rowney, I would try those paints which are known to be highly milled and very smooth out of the tube – pigment particle size can make a difference to every aspect of an oil paint. I might suggest Holbein or Gamblin. Always check the pigments listed on the tube to be sure of what you are getting, and if they aren’t listed, carry on. There is no excuse for that…
p.s. If you are interested, here is quite a bit of information (and debate) about Zinc White: http://www.wetcanvas.com/forums/showthread.php?t=577921
I appreciate your balanced and informative review! On paints that I own, I agree with you or understand your reason if I disagree. Blockx is my premium paint, and I agree with your comments. Sadly, the prices have really gone up in the U.S,. Maybe it would be cheaper to buy it from the EU when the exchange rate is good. I’ve also tried Vasari, a very good paint but ridiculously priced and prone to color naming nonsense and poor access to pigment information. Someone often compared to Michael Harding in the U.S. is Blue Ridge paints, a lone colourman who keeps his prices very reasonable. At the inexpensive end, a careful reviewer in the U.S. recommends Shiva; maybe it’s not available in Canada. Once again, blog posts like this take a lot of experience and work; my thanks.
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Thank you for the kind words. I would love, and intend, to try those paint lines you mentioned. I have also heard equally good things about Langridge paints from Australia – maybe one day! Having looked just a little, I realize just how many manufacturers of oil paint there still are, and how distribution (and price) affect the paint which ends up on your palette. I remember seeing Shiva regularly (In Vancouver?) but no longer. I’ll keep my eye open.
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As a beginner your comprehensive comments are really useful. I’d like to know your opinion on Rosa paints from Ukraine, which have appeared on Ebay . Ordered some to try – I’m in love with Turkish Blue, but that’s me. Many thanks
Hi. I have never tried Rosa paints, but they look interesting. Be aware that they have a lot of hues/mixes in their line, which may disappoint as you gain experience. Even their Burnt Sienna is a mixture! They use stable pigments anyway. Some of their mixed colours are interesting, and different from other manufacturers. For example their Sap green is made with PG8 (Nitroso green) which might be quite nice. Lightfastness of that pigment depends on manufacturer however, so may be worth testing, if you like going that far down the rabbit hole! Check the pigments on the labels of your paint and make comparisons between brands/colours as you go along. You don’t have to go crazy, but it’s good to know about. You will find out WHY you like a particular colour. The color of art pigment database can be a great (if technical) resource:
Yes! Definitely check out Blockx. And no, I don’t sell it, I just use it.
Shiva was bought and improved by Jack Richeson in the US. So now it is called Richeson oils, Shiva Collection.
Thank you so much. You certainly know your paint!
I was devastated when Stevenson’s closed. I was a customer for 50 years. They recommended that I try Kama. I can’t wait. They also have one litre size of paint in tins. Have you ever tried this?
Yeah it’s too bad about Stevenson. No I haven’t used such big cans of paint – I don’t paint so big or so thick I’ve ever needed that much. I prefer tubes in any case, which keep the paint fresher longer, and seem to leave less waste in the end. For sure Kama is good though!
Thanks for your great blog. I bought all kinds of Kama paint and love it. They also sell brushes which I really like. I have tried two of their mediums which are great. The Isozol is super. I live in Toronto and find it interesting that their prices are very similar or more expensive than Gamblin even with the dollar exchange and duty. What kind of brushes do you use?
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Hi Ed. Glad you like Kama. Right now the store on St Hubert is closed and the are only doing pick-up on online orders – so no more wandering around in there, at least for a while. Recently I bought a tube of Terre Verde (Italian) from there that is sadly a bit disappointing. There were painting problems. Sampled on a card next to some other brands like Holbein and Vasari and one I tubed myself (Cypress), it is by comparison a little weak, transparent, and plastic-y. I would love it if manufacturers listed any extenders that are in their paint on the tube. As for brushes, I use ones with good hog hair bristles. My favourites are a few very nice large brushes from an Italian company called Omega, and also some great ones called “Masterstroke” from Blick in the US. They’re made in Japan and have black handles with gold at the end. I was surprised how much I like them (the Filberts particularly). Once upon a time I used to work there and would buy them whenever they were on sale. Other than those, I have random brands and the odd Raphael, which are nice but seem expensive to me. I repair old brushes and use them until they should long be retired, so my paint bucket looks a bit rag-tag unfortunately.
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From a fellow Montrealer: thanks for this comprehensive and honest review – from a fellow Montrealer. I’ve just re-started painting in oils after a decade of using other media, and need to replace some of my paints. You’re the first person who’s talked about the old Grumbacher oils – I inherited my great-aunt’s paints, some of which must be at least 50 years old now. The tubes are in terrible shape but the paints are fantastic. I will continue to cherish what’s left of them! I haven’t used Kama yet, but will buy some. Thanks again.
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Thanks for the rundown, this is helpful. I too use Willilamsburg Oils and love them. I wanted to mention that they still make all their paint in New York State, in a small town called New Berlin.
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One more comment – I’ve read that Golden runs Williamsburg Oils as a separate manufacturing enterprise entirely. They didn’t just buy the name, which is great news for anyone who uses their paints. Ok, keep painting.
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As a person new to oil painting and having heard pros and cons about using a good quality paint, I can’t tell you how many times I have referred back to your review as I am contemplating which brands to try. Many thanks!
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Excellent reviews of just about every brand of oil paint currently on the market. It seems every paint manufacturer has a few colours that are stand-outs, even if the rest of the paints in their line are only OK. Personally, I like a lot of the colours from Old Holland. One of the challenges for me is finding earth pigments that are transparent and have a lustre, and don’t look muddy. Old Holland and Williamsburg excel in that area. Another example of an outstanding colour would be Michael Harding’s Permanent Orange, which is an amazingly intense transparent orange that is useful in mixes and for glazing. Anyway, a first-rate review of the most common oil paints available.
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So glad I found your post today. I’m so frustrated with some of my oil paints and would really love to try something that is supposedly excellent. Also you made me chuckle with your comment ” Here in Canada, the price of a tube is about the same as a Gucci handbag, but it’s like your tools are jewels.” You have certainly tried a lot of these. Where do you buy most of your paints? I’m in Canada too 🙂
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I am in Montréal. I split my buying mostly between Kama Pigments on St. Hubert, and Omer DeSerres on St. Catharine, which doesn’t have the highest level brands but is most convenient for me. I also sometimes purchase paint from La Cohop St. Laurent, Avenue Des Arts (which has an excellent selection but is in Westmount), and the Art Supply Store at Concordia University. I’m all over! Delta Art and Drafting Supply (in Edmonton) is a fantastic store that does online selling. They have Michael Harding and a number of other great paint brands. Good quality paint can really make the difference. Good luck!
I’m checking out your Kama link but they only oil paints they now sell seems to be Daler Rowney Georgian 😦
Never mind I found more….
Hi there! An interesting and informative article! You don’t mention Roberson. I’ve been using their oil colours for a long time mainly because they contain no fillers or extenders. Trouble is they have few outlets. The only place I can get them is Cornelissen’s in London, shipped out to me here in Ireland. Based on what you say I think I might give Blockx I trial… thanks!
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Yes! Definitely check out Blockx. And no, I don’t sell it, I just use it.
Ben, I started out in about 1970 as an eight year old studying oil painting in the back of a framing and art supply store until May 1973 when we moved to a suburb. They sold mainly Permanent Pigments oil paint in small tubes. It was pretty good but not great. The point is, though, that this paint was sold new and was replenished when colors ran out, so there’s no way that Permanent Pigments stopped operation in 1955. These paints were connected with the old Walter Foster books on all aspects of painting and drawing. Even the color names used in demos in the books used the same names as were on the Perm. Pigments tubes.
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Thanks for the info Jason. I’ve edited my entry on these paints. With a quick Wikipedia search, I can see that Permanent Pigments was founded in 1933 by Henry Levinson (in Cincinnati it seems). He developed Liquitex acrylic paint in 1955/56, which I misinterpreted to mean the oil paint stopped production. As you say, It looks like they (the Permanent Pigment oil paints) were produced well into the 1970’s. Any idea when they stopped? Liquitex was sold to Binney and Smith in 1964, so maybe it was them who discontinued the line. I’ll keep looking. Thanks again.
I’m surprised that Kremer Pigmente isn’t mentioned. I live in Germany and source all my paint from them. I’ve heard that Mr. Kremer goes out of his way to find interesting pigments. For example, digging in long abandoned quarries in order to find remnants of pigments used by the Old Masters. Kremer caters mostly to conservators and restorers I believe but carries a vast array of oil pastes. They have an English language website and had sales rooms in both London and New York. Worth checking out.
Hi David, thank you for the remarks. I do know Kremer Pigmente, and have been on their website many times! When I’m researching pigments/colours they often show up in my search. I haven’t yet used their pigments (or other products) however, and that is why they aren’t on my list. I would love to go to their fantastic looking little retail store in NY, but it will be long while before I go to the US again I think. In the meantime I order pigments from Kama Pigments here in Montréal. They do not have as extensive a selection as Kremer, but are quite good. Happy Painting!
Great reviews and very helpful tips – Thank you.
Hi, I’m live in México and I like your text.
Ben, I am a painter and owned and operated an artist material store for 42 years and must say yours is the most impressive site I have ever encountered in it’s depth and breadth of different oil paints. I sold Liquitex acrylic, oils, and watercolors including the modular colors in oil and acrylic at one time. Permanent Pigments had a great line if oil mediums as late as the mud to late 70’s and yes I think it was Binney & Smith who put an end to the oils to concentrate on acrylic paints and mediums. Golden has become the innovator and leader in acrylics nowadays.
Anyway, thanks for amassing and sharing so much useful information.
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Yes, Ben, Grumbacher made excellent paint back then, until they sold it to a commercial company. And did you know they also made even better paint called “Grumbacher Finest.” Lucky me, I still have two tubes!
Thanks for letting me know about a couple of brands I didn’t try yet. I will. But, I disagree with you about Blockx, which, in my opinion (after painting and showing for 50 years) is the absolute best paint in the universe (okay, maybe just the world). They offer the most brilliant pigment and pack it to the hilt. That’s why a tube of “Blockx” is so much heavier than other brands. If you paint a stroke of cad red next to any other brand you will see. It even beats “Old Holland” which I think is second best. So, I rate ‘Grumbacher Finest’ and ‘Blockx’ a “6” according to your scale.
II just want your readers to know that the next time they win the lottery they should go right out and buy all the “Blockx” they can eat 😉 And, to get the best price, they should order it online from Jerry’s Artarama. Gee, maybe not in Canada. But, you can check that out in their gigantic catalog.
Thanks again and good luck to you and all your readers.
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Thanks for your response! A quick wikipedia search finds that Max Grumbacher started the company in 1905. It was bought by Sanford (perhaps in the 1950’s?) and is now owned by Chartpak (since 2006). This kind of conglomeration is found in the history of many paint/art material suppliers. It doesn’t always mean a slide in quality, but does seem usually the case… Anyway, I would sure like to try an old tube of Grumbacher Finest! It would be worth trying the new line also, if only I could find them – most suppliers here in Canada only do the Academy or Pre-tested lines. As for Blockx, we agree that it’s the best paint. If they have been making it in the same place the same way for 50 years, we can also expect it to be consistent from one tube to the next over time. Absolute top-notch. As for the price/accessibility, you and I are sadly not in the same boat. For example, a 35ml tube of Ti White costs $15.86 USD at Jackson’s. That’s $20.32 CAD. Shipping is $8.25 USD, which is $10.57 CAD. For sure the shipping cost per tube would go down if a Canadian bought a number of them, but just to start we are at $30.89 CAD for a 35ml tube of paint in a super basic colour. Yeowch! It is also very possible (if not likely) that the package would incur other import fees/duties as well, which depends on the contents of the shipment, declared amount, etc. For us, it’s often better just to buy that new thing in person the next time we go down to the States, wear it around for a while, and try to look like we always owned it coming back over the border… I bought paint in New York when I used to go down, but sadly it’s been a couple of years since I last went.
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Well Blick sells BLockx but I can’t afford it now. Jesus H Heist! Our countries should have free trade with each other.
I wonder if I could buy in US (with free shipping) and have it sent to you as a “Christmas Present”
Of course the exchange rate would be the same but all that other crap.
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I have used Grumbacher Finest and it is, indeed, better than the Pre-Tested. Bellini was well-made paint but the pigments used were questionable. For example, the Cobalt Violet was made with fugitive rhodamine dye. The tube of Chrome Lemon also looked great out of the tube and blackened quickly. Permanent Pigments made the best gel medium ever. It was vastly better than W&N’s WinGel (and Liquin) and Grumbacher’s gel. No contest. Permanent Pigments also made good paints, from the sampling I had. As for Blockx, I had a tube of the real manganese blue from that company and there will never be another that good. Old Holland’s is so dull by comparison, mainly due to the linseed.
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I just found this review and it was very informative! If you’re still in Canada, Delta art in Alberta is selling the Schminke Norma paint now, and for pretty decent prices. They also sell the Mussini but it is, imo, very expensive. They seem to have a wide variety of paint brands and they ship across Canada (I order mine from them online to come to Ontario) so it could be worth checking out.
Thanks! I will check them out for sure.
Thanks, your post is very helpful and shed some pretty good light on the subject.
Perhaps you know something about water-mixable oil paints such as Artisan or Cobra Artist water-mixable paints? Could they be worse than traditional paints?
Hello, I am reading your review oil paint. well described but you don’t have the Blue Ridge brand yet
https://blueridgeoilpaint.com/ . I’m from Slovakia, they sell the Czech world-famous brand Koh i Noor. Koh i Noor produces oil paints. One of them are very expensive – Prague https://eshop.koh-i-noor.sk/eshop/farby-olejove-praha-supr-10x40ml-krajina/p-1195747.xhtml . I don’t know if you know this color. I would be very interested in a review !!!!. we thank you
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Kama pigments are still listed as being sold at Ottawa University, where I used to buy them. But probably just on-line as the store itself is listed as being closed.