Oil Paint Brand Ratings

I’ve used oils paints from almost every producer known to man, or at least those known in the US.  This photo shows my two paint cabinets.  The one on the left has tubes of blue, green, yellow, and earth red.  The top-drawer, for example, contains only yellows.  The barely-visible cabinet on the right contains reds, whites, blacks, and earths.

A lot of paint!  OK, I never throw out supplies and some of the tubes might be many years old and unusable by now, but they’re there in case I need that one particular color at midnight.

I never throw out brushes either.  Some of those in the photo—little more than stubs by now—I’ve had since high school.

Cabinet with yellows, blues, greens, and earth colors

Cabinet with yellows, blues, greens, and earth colors

Not all paints are the same–no!  Oil paints consist of pigment, binder, and (usually) additives.  Pigments can be identified by their Color Index Name, which is a standard code used internationally.  Vermilion red, for example, is PR106 (permanent red 106—mercuric sulfide).  Of course, manufacturers have their own agendas, but you can quickly tell if a paint is a single-pigment paint or a combination.  By the way, if you are curious about the pigments used to make paints, this site provides a wealth of information.  Although it’s a site dedicated to watercolor, the author provides wonderful discussions about pigments and color theory.  It’s one of my favorite sites on the web.

Binder refers to the medium–oil–used to grind the pigment. Alkali-refined linseed oil is most commonly used but walnut oil is frequently seen, and others as well. Poppy is the most expensive binder and manufacturers try to input value to paints made with it.  Safflower is the cheapest.  Some manufacturers claim walnut is the best all around binder (I don’t, I prefer cold-pressed linseed).  When manufacturers use more than one binder, they generally use one for some colors, and other binders for others, although that’s not always the case (Blue Ridge blends walnut and linseed oils, for example).

“Additive” is a touchy subject.  Almost all commercial manufacturers add something to their paint in addition to pigment and binder.  This is not necessarily a bad thing.  Extenders extend the shelf-life of tube paint, without which even more of the tubes in my cabinets would be dry and useless. Note, too, that adding things to paint to affect their behavior is a cottage industry, and many artists—including me—muck around with different concoctions all the time.  Having said that, one of the biggest distinctions between good paint and bad is a number of additives in it: the more additives, the worst the paint.

A minority of painters grind their own paint, including this one with whom I was an apprentice and diligent paint grinder once upon a time.

The following list is ordered by the cost of cerulean blue.  Cerulean blue (PB35 cobalt tin oxide) can be very dear, and its price provides a good general guide.  You won’t find many student-grade brands, like Van Gogh, listed.  When I was young I couldn’t afford “artist grade” paints and told myself it didn’t matter.  Sadly—bitterly—it does matter.  I haven’t used Grumbacher in years because I associate them with my student days.

Although price does not always translate into value, it’s a good rule of thumb: buy the best paints you can afford.

Most, but not all, brands on this list I’ve tried at some time or another.  I note those I haven’t tried.  The prices are found online.

 

Manufacturer

Binder

Price

(USD)

Notes

Blockx iron oxides, earth pigments, and blacks use linseed; everything else uses poppy seed

72.15

35ml.  One of the best. My choice for high-end brand.    

Quality: A 

Price: F

Blue Ridge alkali refined linseed oil & cold pressed walnut oil

21.00

40ml.  Excellent value.Quality: B Price: B+    

*My choice for mid-range*

 

Bob Ross ingredients not listed

5.69

37ml.  Does not make cerulean blue. All 37 ml tubes are 5.69 Quality: D Price: A    

 

 

Charvin Extra Fine poppyseed

30.10

60ml. ‘Extra fine’ line.Quality: C+ Price: B
Charvin Fine poppyseed

9.99

150ml. Quality: D Price: A    

cerulean blue is useless, closer to royal blue

Chroma linseed & safflower

14.07

40ml. Not used
Cranfield does not describe their medium

33.92

40ml. A small assortment of colors.

Quality: B

Price: B

Da Vinci alkali refined linseed (safflower for whites)

30.95

40ml. Price of most expensive paint, does not make Cerulean (something called Cerulean Hue @ 14.70. Have not used.
Daler-Rowney linseed & wax

9.98

38ml. Price of most expensive paint, does not make Cerulean. Student grade. Not used.
Daniel Smith alkali refined linseed & safflower

10.25

37ml. “Cerulean Blue Chromium.” Quality has recently declined. Student grade; avoid except for sketches or grounds.Quality: D Price: B+
Doak walnut & safflower

25.00

40ml. “Cerulean Lt. Stannate”Quality: C+ Price: B-
Gamblin alkali refined linseed & safflower

26.21

37 ml.  Can’t use, too short.Quality: C Price: B
Geneva  

 

Will not use.
Grumbacher alkali refined linseed

17.99

37ml. ‘Pre-tested’ line. Review 1/31/16.    

Quality: C-  Price: B+

Holbein cold-pressed linseed

25.35

40ml. Has a Vernét Superior line (haven’t tried) @ 36.39.  Good paint and value.Quality: B Price: B
Kremer Pigments linseed or walnut

Kremer is known for their pigments and other rare or hard to find materials. They do not provide a ready-made cerulean blue. Their only ready-made oil color is white; their flake white in linseed oil is extremely good (haven’t tried the white in walnut oil).Quality: A Price: C
LeFranc and Bourgeois safflower

19.77

40ml.  Some other colors more expensive. Quality has recently declined. Student grade; avoid except for sketches or grounds.Quality: D- Price: B+
Lukas 1862 cold-pressed linseed, safflower, wax

15.59

37ml. Good covering for a low-end brand. Reviewed 1/17/17.    

Quality: c-

Price: A

Master’s Touch refined linseed

Tested without cerulean blue. Student grade. 

Quality: F

Price: A+

M.Graham walnut

17.99

37 ml. Other more expensive paints. Excellent value.Quality: B+ Price: B+
Maimeri Puro safflower & poppy

61.99

60ml. Their top line; they have several others, not all use this binder.Quality:  B

Price: B

Master’s Touch  

Did not use cerulean for my test. Student grade. 

Quality:  F

Price: A+

Michael  Harding cold-pressed linseed

56.03

37ml.  Very good to excellent. Flake white is very good.Quality: B+ Price: D+
Old Holland cold-pressed linseed

84

40ml. Ludicrous and cynical prices. I won’t use it. 5/16/17        

Quality: A

Price: F–

Rembrandt linseed

20.09

40ml. Quality has recently declined. Student grade; avoid except for sketches or grounds. Quality: D+  Price: C
RGH cold-pressed linseed alkali refined linseed

walnut

safflower

17.50

Use safflower or alkali refined linseed for all colors. They also offer lead-based whites with walnut and cold-pressed linseed oil. Buyers can choose the binder for white. The cold-pressed white is very good.Cheap tubes that break or leak led me to downgrade their rating.Excellent value.Quality: B Price: A    

*My choice for mid-range*

Richeson alkali refined linseed

23.50

Have not used
Rublev  linseed

87.00

50ml.  Does not make cerulean, the quoted price is for Naples Yellow (Lead Antimonate).  Specializes in “traditional” colors.Generally a good value. “Historic paints” are very expensive, otherwise competitively priced.They also have a good site. Their French burnt sienna is my favorite brand for this very important color.Quality: B+ Price: C+
Schmincke Mussini damar

64.73

35ml.  The price of most expensive paint, does not make Cerulean Blue.  Won’t use due to the dammar.
Sennelier safflower

84.98

40ml Not used enough to rate.
Utrecht linseed & safflower

16.17

37ml. A decent mid-range brand. Flake white is good. Reviewed 2/15/17.    

Quality: B-

Price: B+

Williamsburg alkali refined linseed oil

46.40

37ml.Quality: B Price: C-
Winsor Newton cold-pressed linseed (sometimes mixed with safflower; safflower for whites)

21.29

37ml. Do not like their whites, otherwise a terrific value. Their gouache is tops.Quality: B+* Price: B+


My Choice for Mid-Range Brand 8/2/20

I’ve used a lot of paints and I’ve used a number of them for an extended period. Among the mid-range brands, while there are several excellent values, RGH, Blue Ridge, and Utrecht are my choices. I’ve been using a lot of Utrecht’s flake white.


My Choice for High-end Brand

Blockx

I no longer use Old Holland due to their price gouging.

 

 Notes

1/22/22 Added Cranfield review

10/31/21 Updated Maimeri Puro rating

10/19/21 Added Bob Ross.

5/16/21 Downgraded Rembrandt’s price rating.

1/3/21 Master’s Touch review.

8/2/20  Added Geneva non-review.

5/16/17 Downgraded Old Holland.

2/15/17 Review Utrecht.

1/17/17 Added Lukas 1862.

11/30/16 RGH and Blue Ridge supplant Winsor Newton for my top spots for the mid-range brands.

1/31/16 Added rating for Grumbacher. See review.

12/9/14 added Kremer Pigments

10/27/14 added a note about Natural Pigments’ French burnt sienna

  21 comments for “Oil Paint Brand Ratings

  1. Hi Tom. Thanks for a very useful website. Just wondering about your review above for RGH paints. When you say “cheap tubes that break or leak” did you by any chance mean their jars? I noticed on your paint raring table you complained about them not selling their paint in tubes which has made me wonder about the above comment ie thinking you might have meant to make reference to their jars rather than their tubes. I’d really like to know as I was just about to buy some of their lead in walnut oil. Cheers, Jenny

  2. Hi,
    My RGH paints have come in jars and tubes. Originally, the tubes they used were cheap. My comment refers to those early tubes. Since I wrote that, RGH has moved to better quality tubes, which I find perfectly acceptable. I buy whites in jars because of price (jar prices are better). I find that I can prevent the jarred-paint from drying by storing the jars in baggies. Their flake white is my favorite white these days.

  3. Hi,

    My review on this page captures my view about their paint. My preference for RGH white is based on price. I’ve tried a variety of Rublev’s other products. Some of it is very good; some of it is useless. Their oil gound, for example, is a useless watery mess. Their black oil is good.

  4. What is the practical difference between Flake White (PW-1,PW6) and Flemish White(PW-2) beside pigments ?
    Thank you

  5. Thank you for taking your time and knowledge to write your views on the different Companies. i was holding my breath on Winsor&Newton evaluation and then let out a great sigh of relieve coz I seem to stick to what I like without experimenting with different companies.

  6. Hi Maddy. I still like W & N. Pretty good paint at (still) good prices. I have a grudge with them, however, since they stopped making the all-important flake white.

  7. HI Tom – Thanks for doing this review. After 30 years in business and sneaking away when possible, I have finally gotten back to my paints. I studied with Frank Mason at the Art Student’s League and in his outdoor atelier in Stow for 5 years. Back then (1980’s) he thought WN was the best bet other than grinding your own. Some of his students did and I was right in there for the zen of it but didn’t have the time and wanted to use the little I had to try to learn to paint. I sure makes you appreciate what goes into a beautiful material. Frank was always passionate about conservation, even for students. Meanwhile have you tried https://www.instagram.com/wallace_seymour/ Thanks so much for publishing your thoughts.
    Best,
    Trish

  8. Hi Trish, I studied with Frank too back in the 80’s. Many of his students were dedicated to him. I moved around to different teachers to match my schedule. I remember a Winter afternoon in Frank’s class when the monitors refused to turn on the lights. By the end of the class, I couldn’t see my hand let alone the model across the room. WN was good up until recently. Art supply manufacturers frequently hide their cost-cutting moves behind green PR campaigns. I checked the Wallace Seymour site but they’re in the UK and they don’t make lead white, which is a bad sign.

  9. Have you tried Galla paints? I just ran across this brand and have never heard of them. I know about Rublev and Williamsburg and Blue Ridge et Al, but Galla is new to me. Anyway thanks for this service you provide .

  10. Andrew, Fleming White is a completely different pigment (lead sulfate) from the lead white almost everyone is familiar with (basic lead carbonate). Despite having lead in it, it won’t behave the same way. That may be good and bad. Lead carbonate is known for improving the flexibility of paint films but it’s also (I think) becoming known for causing increased transparency over time. So, while you get the benefit of not getting cracking and delamination (as long as the lead carbonate is ground in linseed not poppy or safflower) you may find that the painting layers become more transparent. How many years that takes I don’t know but I think it’s a long time.

    Lead sulfate is currently made for use in plastic for piping. From what I vaguely know about it it’s not the whitest form of lead sulfate white that has been produced in the industrial era, because a super-white (higher grade) isn’t as important as cost when it’s being used in plastic piping for added stability. Even ignoring the claim about the chlorinated version (which I’ll mention in the next paragraph), there may be a way to make the pigment that yields a brighter white. I haven’t used any lead sulfate white paint so I don’t really know from first-hand experience how white it is when compared with others. I have only seen some swatches in yellowing comparisons people have done. None of them had RGH’s Flemish white.

    Long ago, in the quest for a less-toxic lead white, one type of lead sulfate white was made with chlorine in the manufacturing process. According to the documentation it had better opacity and was a brighter white than the lead sulfate we find today. As with some other whites, there are apparently grades of lead sulfate in terms of how white they are. I recall reading, for instance, that there is a pH difference (two types of contemporary lead sulfate, one with a different pH from the other — tetrabasic being preferable for artistic use).

    It has been so many years since I researched all this that it’s hard to remember every detail. As far as I know, lead sulfate doesn’t form the lead soaps like lead carbonate. Those give lead carbonate a thixotropic/slippery quality that many painters like as well as both the more flexible paint film benefit and the transparency over time drawback. Since it doesn’t form those soaps, as far as I know, lead sulfate probably behaves more like titanium white than lead carbonate, although with certainly less opacity. Lithopone (zinc sulfide) is (according to one or more sources) supposed to have the problem of darkening with time. Zinc oxide has very serious problems in oils, causing very brittle paint films. So, perhaps lead sulfate is a good alternative to lithopone and zinc white. I don’t know. I would be really interested in seeing someone with a lab make some of that chlorine-process lead sulfate.

    The most common use of lead sulfate white in industrial-era oil painting has been in primrose chrome yellow, where the lead sulfate was added to the palest form of pure lead chromate to make it paler and more greenish. That particular chromate paint is the least stable of all of them, blackening very rapidly. So, I would want to have testing to demonstrate that lead sulfate doesn’t darken and that that darkening was just because the chrome yellow was more diluted.

    Rublev’s Flemish White, as I recall, is a mixture of lead carbonate and lead sulfate. The same goes for Blue Ridge, as far as I recall. RGH apparently makes one that is just lead sulfate. It would be interesting to get some of that one and test it for darkening. If it passes, perhaps it could be a good “mixing white” alternative to zinc white.

  11. The parent company of Williamsburg oils did some testing for cracking with zinc white added to titanium. A massive oversight was that safflower oil wasn’t included. However, there were some very interesting results. Titanium white by itself looked really bad in a thicker layer. The surface was very pitted and ugly and the color was quite yellow. The addition of zinc helped very dramatically, although to get the full benefit it had to be added at a 5% rate. The problem is that 5% shows a lot of added brittleness. Their testing also claims that titanium white paint films can handle more zinc white than lead white paint films can handle, which is counterintuitive since lead white on its own offers the most flexible paint film. It’s unclear if a different production method for zinc white will have a strong effect in reducing the problems. I read one article that claimed Van Gogh used a lot of zinc white and that it hasn’t been a problem, in contrast with more recent paintings. The claim is that that is due to a different production method. The Williamsburg testing also found that poppy oil is the least yellow initially and over time but their swatch developed a lot of cracks with the poppy and not with the linseed oils. Of course, there was no swatch with safflower (nor walnut as I recall). They don’t sell poppy oil paints but do sell some in safflower. Also, the lead white in their tests looked nice without any zinc added, unlike the titanium which, again, looked terrible.

  12. The optical superiority of poppy oil (at least when wet/fresh) is something I have seen myself. I had tubes of Blockx real manganese blue and cobalt violet light. Both of those pigments benefitted quite a bit from the reduced yellowness. The beauty of those Blockx paints was something to behold. I have had other brands of cobalt violet light (including Williamsburg, Old Holland, and LeFranc — which is ground in safflower) and none of them were as vivid as the Blockx.

    Old Holland’s manganese blue, ground in linseed, was especially dulled by the yellow of the oil. If the Williamsburg testing is to be believed, though, poppy oil’s reduced yellowing comes with the very serious problem of cracking. Their tester said adding extra oil helps a lot when it comes to preventing oils from cracking when painted over various acrylic layers but if adding extra poppy oil to poppy paint to reduce cracking is a sound solution, how much can be added before the poppy oil’s less yellowness benefit is negated?

    My understanding is that the yellowing of oils as they dry is the same thing that causes them to form strong paint films. (That isn’t the same thing as the phenomenon of oil paint yellowing much worse when dried away from light exposure.) I read that perilla oil yellows more than linseed but forms an even stronger paint film. So, it seems very logical to see poppy oil being the least-yellowing and the most crack-prone. There seems to be no free lunch in anything. Lead white, as I mentioned, not only has the toxicity but may cause paint layers to become more transparent over time. Zinc white causes extreme cracking and delamination, at least with the common production form. Titanium white, if the Williamsburg tests are demonstrative, looks terrible when applied thickly. It also is often disliked for its opacity in mixes and doesn’t strengthen paint films like lead carbonate white does.

  13. Tom, re: Galla paints – my bad apparently did not take note of them being only available as water colors.

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