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The best oil paints in 2021

paint palette with oil paints on it - best oil paint
(Image credit: Vladimir Godnik via Getty Images)

This guide looks at the best oil paints for artists, covering some of the different major ranges. But first, let's consider what you should look for when purchasing oil paint. 

Ingredients are an important factor, as oil paints contain pigments for colour, oil as a vehicle to make them flow, stabilisers, and may include fillers or driers. Inexpensive paints are padded with fillers, which reduce colour intensity, whilst high quality paints, like Michael Harding or Old Holland, will have little to none. 

If you are new to oil painting, check out these painting techniques. Student ranges, like Winton or Van Gogh, are a good starting point. It is a good idea to use a wooden or metal easel (see our guide to the best art easels and best canvas for oils) when painting in oils. 

Different brands have their own colour ranges. Good pigments ensure colour vibrancy and longevity – if a pigment isn't light-fast, it fades over time. A large range isn't essential, as long as it includes useful colours. Sometimes colours will be labelled 'hue', making it an approximation containing cheaper pigments that may lack intensity. 

'Convenience mixtures' in oil paint contain multiple pigments. Some replace genuine pigments, or increase the price of cheaper pigments, but others are useful, saving the need to buy multiple tubes and spend time mixing paint, or offer unique colours, such as those in Gamblin or Old Holland's ranges. 

Without further ado, here are the best oil paints on offer today. 

The best oil paint in 2021

best oil paint product shot of paint set

(Image credit: Michael Harding)

01. Michael Harding Oil Paint

The best oil paint to balance high quality with cost

Reasons to buy
+High quality paint+No fillers
Reasons to avoid
-Quite pricey-Smaller colour range

Michael Harding oil paints offer the perfect balance between cost and high quality. They contain no excess fillers and their high intensity means a tube will go a long way. 

The richness and texture of these paints makes them a delight to use, with a consistency that flows well. The feel varies slightly between different colours, with some brown earths leaning a bit 'stiffer' – this is typical of highly pigmented paints and not necessarily bad.

The overall colour range is smaller than some, but it has all the most useful traditional and modern pigments, with a variety of whites that offer something for a range of painting processes.

best oil paint product shot of paint set

(Image credit: Williamsburg)

02. Williamsburg Oil Traditional Colors Set

The best oil paint for a wide variety of quality earth colours

Reasons to buy
+Excellent range and consistency+Many unique colours
Reasons to avoid
-Quite pricey for what you get-Small texture variations

Williamsburg are another professional quality artists' oil paint with a large colour range. The range includes an excellent selection of high quality and unique earth colours, which are very permanent, traditional pigments – fun to try and great for anyone interested in historical palettes. The range also includes iridescent and interference colours for reflective and sheen effects.

The texture can vary a bit between colours, but is generally rich and smooth, sometimes with a slight, gritty bite, which is quite satisfying. The colour is intense going down and covers well. Across the range, the quality and light-fastness of the oil paint pigment is excellent. 

best oil paint product shot of paint set

(Image credit: Winsor & Newton)

03. Gamblin Artist Oil Colors Introductory Set

The best oil paint for high quality with ethical standards

Reasons to buy
+High quality paint+Selection of good convenience mixtures
Reasons to avoid
-Variable consistency

Gamblin is a high quality range of artists' paint that covers traditional and modern colours. There are a lot of different convenience mixtures within this range that offer nice colours, or are useful, as well. 

These paints can have a variable consistency, which is normal in high quality paints, though the earths can sometimes be particularly 'stiff' and more matte.

Gamblin is particularly conscious of holding high standards regarding the health and environmental effects of oil paints. It recycles pigment from its filtration systems to reduce pollution, and recently produced a set of colours by reclaiming pigment from contaminated water courses.

best oil paint product shot of paint set

(Image credit: Old Holland)

04. Old Holland Oil Paint Intro Set

The best oil paint based on overall quality and pigment content

Reasons to buy
+Very high quality oil paint+Large range of colours
Reasons to avoid
-Very expensive-Some colours use cheaper pigments

Old Holland produce an intense, high quality oil paint that spans a large range of colours. The richness of this paint ensures that it covers well.

These paints have a pleasantly dense feel, though they tend to need extra medium to flow from the brush smoothly. However, this means that it goes a long way, and you will get a great deal of coverage out of a single tube.

Though the overall range has an excellent selection of colours and convenience mixtures, with artist-quality pigments, there are a few colours containing cheaper pigments, particularly the Scheveningen ones, which are quite expensive compared to other ranges. 

best oil paint product shot of paint set

(Image credit: Winsor & Newton)

05. Winsor & Newton Winton Oil Paint Set

The best oil paint range for students and beginners

Reasons to buy
+Good quality entry-level oil paint+Pigments have high permanence
Reasons to avoid
-Lacks some artist-quality pigments-Relatively small range of colours

Winton is an excellent starting point for anyone looking to try oil paints. For a student range, the quality of paint is good, with a reasonably good colour and a consistent texture. The pigments in this range have a high permanence as well, so your paintings will last.

The selection of colours in this oil range is relatively small compared to other brands, although it contains nearly all the most useful colours. It is missing some more expensive pigments, such as cadmium red and yellow. Whilst the 'hue' substitutions are good quality, they cannot match the intensity of genuine colours. 

best oil paint product shot of paint set

(Image credit: Van Gogh)

06. Van Gogh Oil Starter

A student quality oil paint range with genuine pigments

Reasons to buy
+Range contains higher quality pigments+Larger tubes very good value
Reasons to avoid
-Some colour are less light-fast-Premixed substitutions for some colours

Van Gogh is the best oil paint for good value on genuine pigments, as it includes colours omitted from other student ranges, including genuine cadmium and cobalt paints with more punch than replacement pigments, though not as intense as higher quality paints. Its 200ml tubes are excellent value if you need a large quantity of paint, such as impasto techniques.

These paints tend to be a bit too runny, though they have consistent texture, and I've not had any issues with separation.

Within the range the quality of pigments can vary. There are some odd premixed substitution colours – I've found that sometimes they don't behave quite as expected. 

best oil paint product shot of paint set

(Image credit: Sennelier )

07. Sennelier Rive Gauche Fine Oil Color for Artists

The best oil paint range for fast drying times

Reasons to buy
+Dries quicker than other paint+Very good value
Reasons to avoid
-Lacks some common colours-Lots of fillers

Sennelier Rive Gauche is a student quality range of paints formulated to speed up drying times, which can help beginners struggling with this quality of oil paints. 

Out of the tube, the paint has a smooth texture that is fairly consistent across different colours, though it leans on the oily side. Once dry, it has a nice satin surface. 

This oil range lacks some colours, instead containing non-toxic 'hue' versions of cadmium and cobalt paint, like many student ranges. Some common colours, particularly browns, have been replaced by convenience mixtures, which can behave differently the single pigment colours they are trying to emulate.

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Lancelot Richardson

Lancelot Richardson is an artist, painter, and freelance illustrator based in Brighton, UK. He tutors life drawing at independent art school Draw Brighton, and teaches in their online Patreon courses. He is also a freelance writer, producing articles on art and drawing. He works in both traditional and digital mediums.