Good quality oil paints do not have to cost as much as an Old Master painting, but finding the best paints for the dollar means understanding your needs and what the paints can offer. You can spend anywhere from $7 to more than ten times that for a tube of paint, so it pays to do some homework.
Inexpensive but Good
Oil paints can cost a few dollars a tube or more than $100, so "inexpensive" is a relative term based on what an artist wants to spend. However, for those who want quality without breaking the bank, here are a few sources for paints that are generally in the $7 to $15 range.
Schminke is world-renowned for quality paints that were developed in the 19th century and based on colors from the 17th and 18th centuries.
- They offer more than 100 colors, and 42 suitable for transparent glazes (resin oils), beginning at $10.50 per tube.
- The paints are lightfast and suitable for advanced artists, as well as students.
- The Mussini line replaces some of the traditional oils with a resin, which can help to moderate prices.
- There have been some complaints about the packaging with caps that leak and allow the paint to dry out.
Winsor & Newton
Among the more famous sources for oil paints, W&N has been supplying colors to artists since 1832. W&N's affordable oil paint line is "Winton." About 78 percent of Amazon reviewers give the paints five stars.
- 47 colors to select from, including cadmium red and yellows, cerulean blue, viridian, and alizarin crimson.
- The hues are lightfast (they don't fade in direct sunlight).
- Winton colors begin around $4 per tube and go up from there. They are recommended by artist supply companies, like Dick Blick.
- The Winton line can provide less of a pigment load and a varying gloss level.
This company has been producing paint since 1887 and although it offers higher-end products, the 40ml tubes begin under $10 in the Etude line. Purple Palette Magazine recommends them as a good student-grade oil paint.
- The paints have a high concentration of pigments for coverage and depth, and up to 144 colors are available. Etude was designed for students but Sennelier paints are popular with professionals, as well (including Monet).
- The binder is an archival quality safflower oil.
- The paints have the highest possible tinting strength and are lightfast with a satin finish.
- The paint dries very quickly and may separate in the tube.
Da Vinci Artists' Colors
With more than 65 colors, and prices beginning at $8 per tube, these oil paints will appeal to the bargain hunter artist.
- This line offers excellent lightfastness and a smooth consistency.
- The pigments are permanent and offer a wide selection of colors.
- Da Vinci paints are generally considered good, mid-range paints by artists, with some considering the paints outstanding.
Richeson Shiva Oils
- The company uses artist-grade dried pigments to provide pure, stable colors.
- The paints are permanent and guaranteed free from darkening, yellowing, fading, and cracking.
- Richeson Shiva's milling process can take up to three days, and the paints are allowed to rest for months resulting in a buttery consistency.
- After the company was sold, the new directors worked to improve paint coverage and consistency, resulting in stronger reviews from artists.
What to Look For
According to Schmincke, a company that has manufactured oil paints since the 1880s, "The pigments used determine the color shade, the opacity and the lightfastness of an oil color. The quality of the raw materials used [and] the manufacturing process ... determine ... the quality of the resulting artists' color." These are a few characteristics that set good paint apart from poorly made versions, but with careful evaluation and shopping, you will discover you don't have to sacrifice quality for price.
- Pigments - the material that adds color - are organic (natural) or inorganic (lab created.) A pigment could be made from ground up stones or gems (like lapis lazuli) or mixed up in a test tube.
- Oil paints consist of pigments and binding agents, like plant oils.
- Pigments have hue (color), opacity, character (warm or cold), tone (which gives the color life), and value (darkness). Cheaply made paints can look flat, dull, and unappealing to the eye.
- Binders hold the pigment in place on the surface: they put the "oil" in "oil paint." Linseed, walnut, poppy, sunflower, and other oils have been used, as well as man made chemicals.
- Drying times vary with the paint's makeup, from two days and up.
- Viscosity is the way in which paint flows on the surface.
- Paint tubes come in different sizes (and thus, prices), so before you start you will want to be certain of how much you need, and whether a larger tube is more cost effective.
Quality and Low Cost
There are dozens of oil paint suppliers, and modern manufacturing techniques allow for consistent materials at inexpensive prices. The best way to decide about a paint's quality is to try it and fortunately, smaller tubes allow you to sample products without spending your last dollar. Quality paint allows paintings to maintain color and beauty over the years (and over the centuries), so shopping around will help you get the best price, as well as a product worthy of your paintings.