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ArtisanHQ’s Top Ten Oil Paints

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Artisan HQ’s…Top Ten Oil Paints

So you are already a current oil painter or you are curious to grab your paint brushes and start painting with oil paints but don’t know where to turn. Look no further than ArtisanHQ’s thorough and concise guide to the ‘top ten oil paints’ on the market today as well as a few other brands which are also be forwarded for recommendation.

Each and every artist using any type of art medium knows that most of the time it is personal preference which overrides brand name and in some cases the quality. But there is no denying that the better quality the materials and tools you use as an artist then the better their longevity and quality of results. Oil paints for example go from a premium grade containing high quality pigment often of a single color right down to the entry level student grades and water soluble brands which can contain a number of different pigments with varying inconsistencies from tube to tube.

Other than high density pigment there are the other factors of cost and availability to consider when making your purchase. Oil painting can get very expensive so if you are a novice painter don’t go rushing out to buy some M.Graham oils for example as you will potentially waste lots of paint and not understand how to combine these paints with various oils mediums to control their life span. Texture and density of the oil paint is also high on the agenda for most oil painters as it allows a smooth transition and consistency throughout the various stages of an oil painting. It is also worth noting that the better quality oil paints store away much better and will happily live on a shelf unused for many months.

Depending on what kind of art you are producing where you require oil paints will determine your needs for high or low quality oil paints. Through product testing and reviews I have ArtisanHQ has compiled this list of what we deem to be the most competitive oil paint brands on the market today complete with links to help you locate and purchase them. So here it is, the complete ‘Top ten Oil Paints’ every artist should consider…

10: Student Grade Or Generic Oil Paints

If you go into any chain art store or even to your local college art supplies building you will always find your student grade oil paints often posing in larger tubes with fancy writing all over them. Others will be less obvious but still easily spotted by their low value price tag. With oil paints this low value price always equals low value product and it is at this point where you make the decision to purchase this type of paint. Personally I would advise against it as you will find that you have a mutiny of false economy on your hands where you are constantly applying more and more oil paint to achieve a color mix you will probably never get. The pigments within these paints are only just entry level and most of the time they are extremely poor quality causing you a constant hindrance from start to finish if you’re not careful. Technically these generic oil paints contain too much linseed oil resulting in a much less intense pigment(s) color leaving the user deflated when they can’t achieve the color they are striving for in their mind. This leads to buying more beautiful colors in more techni-colored tubes to over compensate for this with stress levels high and a less than satisfactory palette of colors being used to paint with. Sadly the result will be in most cases an empty wallet, 18 tubes of paint which you hate and a painting which is either completed and disliked or an unfinished painting which props open the shed door. These paints often have a tendency to yellow or form discoloration over time too so just another positive spin for you there. I know this is a harsh review but from experience I wouldn’t want people to follow the same path I did so save your pennies and go up the scale away from these student paints. Even if you have little money it is certainly worth saving just for that extra week to treat yourselves to a slightly more pigment dense and branded paint and believe me you’ll stand with me afterwards casting your complaints on the generic brands. You could however use these paints to take on some form of abstract art which requires less pigment control to use up the rest of the paint or if you have a project where by the values contained within your oil paints aren’t that essential you could certainly consider taking these cheaper value paints to work in your favour.

Entry Level/Value Oils

9: Bob Ross Oil Paints

So, some of you may have heard of Bob Ross whilst others of you may have not. He is considered by most to be a legend in his field for his fancy haircut (the boofon), his presentational skills in his TV series ‘The Joy of Painting’, his easy to follow step by step approach to oil painting using the ‘wet on wet’ oil painting technique and now low and behold he has his very own range of oil paints out on the market so you can paint just like him. Sounds good doesn’t it? I’m not going to say that the Bob Ross range of paints aren’t good, because they are. They have just fallen pitfall to the commercial world through fancy advertising and brand recognition. You are paying more money for the caricature of Bob Ross’ bearded afro on the side of his oil tubes than you are for the good quality pigment which is contained within. Many people have had problems shifting from other brands like Winton and Maimeri to Bob Ross because the consistencies aren’t the same. Bob Ross paints tend to be quite stiff but are apparently at the exact consistency the man himself used to use and it seems you have to go the whole nine yards and get his entire set to allow the paints to work together. Is this marketing hype? I think so. The zinc white from the Bob Ross oil paints seems to be under the spotlight somewhat due to its rigidity and stiffness and inability to work alongside other paints. It is basically white paint with maybe a few drops of linseed oil init which sets it aside from other branded white oils. So before you decide to shift to or even start with Bob Ross paints bare in mind that you may have to buy the entire set to fulfil what he has demonstrated for years and years. If you decide to watch some of his videos prior to making your purchase then make sure you check out Bill Alexander with his take on ‘wet on wet’ oil painting as well.

8: Gamblin Oil Paints

For price and reliability look no further than Gamblin for your oil painting needs. Ideally suited to the beginner to amateur oils artist these paints will have you using high quality pigments combined with the refreshing feeling that you are not breaking the bank to use them. Gamblin oil paints have been established for years and their range of paints is vast as well as their mediums which support them. You can be sure that you will never be struggling to access their range as they can be bought from many websites online with a huge amount of stock available. You can buy these oil paints in bulk and enjoy painting with their smooth texture which is slightly less than stiff and produce some fascinating results on your canvas. As a company, Gamblin are concerned with the health and safety of their clients and produce paints and mediums which are non-toxic allowing you to work in less ventilated areas should you be in that position. This commitment to health and safety does not hinder the quality of their oil paints and you can still maintain these paints textures and work them around the canvas just like some of the more expensive oil paints. They have very high pigment densities which allows you to use less paint and mix up and combine with each other to produce some startling colors on your palette. They also produce Gamsol which is a low evaporation turpenoid solvent to enforce their health and safety policies as well as a medium called Galkyd that compliments the range of Gamblin oil paints by allowing more pliable paint and much longer color preservation. I would highly recommend Gamblin oil paints as a starting paint and leave you to decide whether you need to go up to the next level of oil paints to further your conviction as an oils artist.

7: Sennelier Oil Paints:

Artist’s often use the quote ‘paint with cream not butter or milk’. This refers to the consistency of the oil paints as you apply them to the canvas. The reason I have mentioned this quote is because the Sennelier line of oil paints have the tendency to be of a more buttery (more stiff) consistency than most other brands of oil paints. They aren’t at the top end of ‘buttery’ and are more of a happy equilibrium between ‘creamy’ and ‘buttery’ which generally translated means they like to hold their shape on the canvas and reveal brush marks. So if you like to paint with a more textural form then these would be ideally suited. This isn’t to say that Sennelier paints can’t be thinned down slightly with either linseed or turpenoid mineral spirits because they can but they come out of the tube geared up for a stiffer paint enthusiast. Price wise and availability is middle of the road on both accounts as only certain places online will stock them, this teamed with some 140 colors available to you means certain colors of this brand of oil paint may be harder to attain. The company has been established since 1887 in Paris where color merchant Gustave Sennelier worked meticulously to create and evolve high density pigment oil paints for the professional oil painter. In fact the likes of the great masters used this brand including Gauguin, Picasso, Matisse and Monet. If these celebrated artists were happy to use these to produce eventual masterpieces then I’m sure there is room for you to work your painting magic.

6: Schmincke Mussini Oil Paints

It has been 131 years since Schmincke began producing oil paints for the enjoyment and creativity of oil painters. The ‘Mussini’ is resin oil introduced into the Schmincke line of paints to improve there quality across many factors and ultimately aid in producing a premier range of oil paints. The colors are extremely vibrant and the pigment density and purity is superb. If you were to check most reviews online regarding Schmincke oil paints you would be looking very hard to find a bad one.

Another interesting fact about Schmincke oils is that they are pre stored for around three months before filling the tubes and allows an optimised time frame for the pigment to absorb the oil absorption which increases the binding between the pigment and the oil leaving a much richer consistency within the oil paint.

The Mussini range produces an ‘Old Masters’ palette which includes extensive ranges of both transparent and semi-transparent glaze pigments. With this in mind there is no excuse not to produce works of art containing the same color range as the likes of Monet and Picasso. The Schmincke Mussini range of oil paints would be ideally suited to the more experienced oil painter who wishes to sample a thorough range of colors and types which other brands of oils may not contain. Be bold and buy yourself a set but be warned you are paying for premium oils here so the price tag does reflect this.

5: Winsor And Newton

Due to their moderate price tag and huge range of colors we have placed Winsor and Newton oil paints at number 5 on our ArtinsanHQ ‘Top Ten’ list. Winsor and Newton is easily the most recognised name in the painting world boasting some extensive varieties of acrylics, oil paints and painting mediums to best suit the amateur and possibly professional artist. With respects to affordability and availability Winsor and Newton are at the top of the pile. The Cadmiums and the Cobalts are especially good in the Winton range of oil paints and alongside the fact that there are some 49 different colors to choose and work with. The natural characteristics of the pigments used within the Winsor and Newton range are individually formulated to guarantee excellent stability of color.

As an accomplished painter it would be a safe bet to use the Winton oil paints for the aforementioned reasons as well as knowing that you will always be able to grab some more oil paints quite readily it you decide to take a break from your oil painting work.

4: Michael Harding Oil Paints

Chris Ofili, Howard Hodgkin and David Hockney  are three names you will recognise as an artist and maybe have even come across these names as an art enthusiast. Each one of these respected artists has directly quoted the use of Michael Harding oil paints, passing judgment on their ability to produce vibrant and wonderful oil paintings. With these late great artists respectfully passing critique on Michael Harding’s oil paints then you know you can trust them for your own artistic needs for quality, vibrancy and durability which are the three biggest issues facing oil paints today.

Michael Harding oil paints are made the traditional way using all the techniques which created oil paints available for use by the grandmasters of oil painting. As a professional oils artist himself Michael Harding wanted to establish a line of oil paints which produced colors using true and vivacious and combined durability with beauty as they are applied to the canvas.

With an extremely high pigment content Michael Harding Oil Paints have a much greater resistance to fading as the years pass by thus leaving your oil paintings looking as colorful in their later years as the day the brush originally hit the painting canvas. To resist compromising on quality of pigment and hue Michael Harding ensures that all of his oil paints have not been preserved using fillers and gels to extend their life in the tube which is the case for most other manufacturers of oil paints. This is how his range of paints maintain their unique and possibly most vibrant colors on the market today and why so many oil painters refuse to use any other brand of paint after they have sampled these oil paints.

If it is strong, bold and full colored oil paints which you are after to create your masterpieces then I would strongly recommend Michael Harding Oil Paints as a first choice. For vibrancy and rich color properties these oil paints are extremely hard to beat.

3: Old Holland Oil Paints

As you appreciate the oil paints in the top 5 of this list have unparalleled quality of pigments used within them and their manufacturing processes meet the highest standards with their color matches representing a wealth of contemporary vibrancy and richness as well as replicating and continuing the classic colors used by the old masters. Old Holland oil paints are certainly no exception and have been tried and trusted for over three centuries by fulfilling the oil painter’s needs and producing in some cases unrivalled oil paints.

Since 1664 Old Holland have been making and supplying oil colors to artists all around the world making the company on of the oldest and most trusted companies within the oil paints market. Devotion to the old methods and the traditional practices and techniques are the company’s best know traits and it is this fact alone that drives artists year after year to their range of oil paints.

In case you weren’t sure traditionally oil paints are produced by hand with artists controlling the processes and color making before packaging the tubes with the oil paint. Lead tubes are used because it eliminates the risk of the oil paints oxidizing decaying over time. With health and safety legislation becoming overly enforced many modern tubes are made from aluminium alloy which is not great for the life span of the oil paint packaged within but does the various oil companies profits a boost as more and more artists have to come back more regularly to stock up on their oil paint. The lead poses a threat with health and safety laws due to its poisonous properties but is all just a scare tactic really, you would literally have to eat the tube before you need to go somewhere where people where white coats for work. Old Holland understand this and maintain their traditional lead tubing procedures to fulfil the needs of the artists and stand by their traditional values.

Unlike some other oil paint manufacturers the binder used within the Old Holland oil paints is linseed oil which is cold pressed only once from the initial pressing. This traditional technique increases the oxidization to quicken the drying time of the oil paint once it leaves the tube and maximises the longevity or permanence of the oils and maintain a great consistency for the brush strokes to flow better too.

Old Holland paints are created following traditional recipes which were followed in the 17th century so they maintain their vibrancy possibly better than any other oil painting manufacturer. You only have to look at some of the most awarded and celebrated works of art from that century in a museum to see the vibrancy and durability of such paints. You may be quite surprised by some of the results. On the whole Old Holland are exceptional oil paints created from traditional recipes and crafted by hand from a wealth of artists. Durability, rich pigment and reputation are all key factors which have resulted in the success of Old Holland oil paints up to this very day.

2: Holbein Oil Paints

‘Holbein’…now here is a name you can easily associate with reliability, but not one that many amateur oil painters and hobbyists  would have heard of.  We were very close to putting the Holbein range of oil paints to the top spot in this ‘Top Ten’ list but as you can imagine it is very difficult as with most lists to decipher which is the ultimate when you get down to the last three or even five as this list is proving.

Holbein oil paints are ranked as one of the premier oil paints in the world and have been consistently achieving rave reviews year after year from both professional oil painters and the amateur hobbyist. There is nothing entry level with this line of ‘professional’ oil paints by their rigorous quality standards with respects to the test and inspection of their pigment qualities. They meticulously test for thermo stability, physical stability, adhesion, light stability, color tone and even anti-bacterial stability. There are not many oil paint manufacturers out there, if any, which take such pride in their quality control to maintain the very best standards for their customers.

With all of these tests being carried out every day it will come as no surprise that the consistency and color density of the oil paints pigments are phenomenal and the formulation of each individual color oil paint is corrected to recompense the intrinsic differences in the natural working qualities of the pigments used within them. The consistency of Holbein oil paints from tube to tube is 99.9 percent perfect.

There are four different color palettes available to purchase alongside a ‘foundation of oils colors set’ which are perfect for under painting due to their opacity and high linseed oil concentration. They are also great oil paints to use for textural work within an oil painting. The sizes of the tubes are 10ml and 20ml and comprise a color range of well over one hundred different colors and types, i.e. transparent, opaque and semi-transparent. High in price but flawless in quality, Holbein is a name you can trust when you are mastering your oil paintings.

1: M. Graham Oil Paints

So here we have it…the number one oil paint in the world according to ArtisanHQ. Through extensive research, experimentation and customer reviews we have decided to give the top spot to this small Oregon based art products manufacturer.

The most influential reason for us casting our decision and selecting M. Graham is their code of conduct and ethics geared towards creating an environmentally friendly oil paint both to the artist and the planet. The company bases their techniques on ancient on an ancient recipe which uses walnut oil as a solvent free substitute but retains the same standards as the other ‘solvent based’ oils on the market. M. Graham have moved with the times and established an oil paint which is not only user friendly but also carries the same properties such as a high quality pigment load and durability which is the essence of a premier oil paint.

Other oil paint manufacturers may argue that walnut oil is not the best ingredient to bind with the pigment as it increases drying time compared to various other solvents used which in essence inhibits the artist’s time to work on their paintings. I would strongly argue this for the reason that quality will always override quantity especially when it applies to something as beautiful as a ‘work of art’. It is only through the ‘modern age’ where people are in the belief that trawling out painting after painting will result in greater success, this is simply not true. I believe M. Graham understand this attention to detail and as a smaller company have their clients best interests and health at the forefront of their minds and so produce a non-hazardous product which delivers superbly.

It is not just their oil paints which substitute solvents with walnut oil but also their walnut oil formula that allows you to clean your brushes in a non-toxic environment. With these products working from your home is a reality so there is no need to sacrifice your health and lock yourself away in the studio or outbuilding anymore. The walnut oil can also be used as a medium to enhance your work by creating different consistencies within the oil paints depending on the amount you add. It also compliments the walnut oil all ready embodied within the paint to create unrivaled results so readily sought after by professional oil painters. Unsurprisingly M. Graham also offer a solvent free walnut oil alkyd medium to accelerate drying time which dispels the argument posed by other oil paint brands who dispute that solvent based mediums are essential to quicken the process at which the oil paint dries.

Another added benefit of walnut oil compared to say linseed oil which is a common binder in most other brands is its ability to retain its color for exceptional amounts of time with a lot less yellowing. The consistency of the M. Graham range of paints is at the perfect balance and as I mentioned earlier in the ‘top ten list’ it holds a ‘buttery’ uniformity. This is an extremely important factor for oils artists when they are selecting their brand of paint as it sets a balanced platform from where they can either stiffen or dilute at their own desire.

You can add ‘more strings to the walnut oil bow’ by saying that as an oil it reacts better with the color pigment than any other binder thus giving vivacious coloring, unparalleled richness, full strength hues, color brilliance and impressive tinting strength. Walnut oil is a natural vegetable oil which retains the essential oils and will not evaporate. It is basically an all-rounder and at the top of its game.

I hope you have enjoyed the run-down of our version of the ‘top ten best oil paints’ and can use this guidance when determining the right paint for your needs and your budget. Most importantly enjoy art to its fullest and achieve a style of painting which is truly unique to you.

ArtisanHQ's Top Ten Oil Paints, 5.0 out of 5 based on 3 ratings
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6 Comments

  1. Scott L. says:

    I have been painting with oils for 36 years, and I have tried almost every brand in the world. I have used all the brands on this list, and all are excellent paints except Boss Ross paint made by Weber. That paint should not be on any top ten or top 20 or top 30 best oil paint brands list. M. Graham is a great paint, at a reasonable price, I agree with it being at the top or near anyone’s top ten list. I only wish M. Graham would expand their range of colors slightly. One color I use regularly which M. Graham doesn’t have, is Chromium oxide green. It is very opaque and natural looking, which is very handy for painting landscapes. I rarely use it straight from the tube, but to mix with other colors to make them more opaque and more natural looking.

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  2. Keron says:

    Linseed oil is not a solvent. In fact none of the above listed brands use solvent in the making of oil colour. As to M Graham’s walnut oil formula…it is walnut oil. Last time I checked the creator made walnuts and the oil extracted from them. Someone has already noted the level of misinformation so I limit my own remarks as a note of harmonization.

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  3. Ann says:

    Thankyou Michael for your comments about the article.I have read the article again the article does state what you have written. This was a very well thought out breakdown of the top ten oils by my writing partner. Yes spme of the information came from the Internet but the guy who wrote it is aprofessional artist himself. I think that if like you say the information on the internet is I correct M Graham himself would have had this corrected as numerous references state the same thing. I appreciate your comments but perhaps better to word it so that its rather a question about the info than a oersonal attack. We are all dedicated on this site and spend hours researching. So please bear this in mind.

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  4. Michael Gregory says:

    Whoa.. lots of misinformation in this article. I think, rather than doing actual research and understanding what oil paint is, the author simply churned out the marketing hype of these companies.

    It’s important to understand that drying oils such as Walnut, Linseed, Safflower and Poppy are ALL without solvents (unless you consider Alkali a solvent) and none of them evaporate but rather oxidize. If one doesn’t understand this very basic fact then how can the rest of the article be taken seriously? By the way, M. Graham ( a fave of mine) uses Alkali refined walnut oil. Oooops well, there ya go….

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  5. Elizabeth Wood says:

    Great review of oils for use by artists of all levels.

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  6. Karen says:

    Well done! This is exactly what i was looking for.

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