In this guide, we've selected the best oil paints for artists, including some of the major ranges on the market. Before you peruse what's on offer, you'll need to know what to look for when choosing your oil paint.
First, consider what goes into the paint. Ingredients may include pigments for colour, oil to make them flow, stabilisers, fillers or driers. Cheaper paints are bulked up with fillers (which reduce colour intensity) while those of a higher quality, such as Old Holland or Michael Harding, will be much purer.
New to oil painting? Try 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) when painting in oils.
Colour ranges vary from brand to brand but, with all brands, 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.
The best oil paint
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.
Williamsburg produces 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.
Gamblin creates 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.
Old Holland produces 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.
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.
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 we've not had any issues with separation.
Within the range the quality of pigments can vary. There are some odd premixed substitution colours – sometimes they don't behave quite as expected.
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 to the single pigment colours they are trying to emulate.