Oil paints truly run the gamut in terms of quality and price. The best of them consist of carefully sourced, top-quality pigments that are milled, typically by hand, into consistent batches of paint that aren’t boosted by a bunch of additives, whether fillers or extenders. Compare the results to student-grade paints, and the high pigment load and responsiveness are immediately evident. Professional-quality oils also have better longevity—crucial for any artist who intends for their work to last generations. Experiment with our favorite brands, reviewed below, to build a collection of oil paints that work best for your style and technique.
Williamsburg Handmade Oil Paints
Offering top-notch quality at prices that are high but not quite vertigo-inducing, Williamsburg’s oils are a great studio mainstay. Handmade in America in small batches, these paints have an extremely high pigment load and are satisfyingly creamy, and the colors showcase splendid luminosity when applied. They’re on the stiffer end of paints on this list but are still very easy to handle right out of the tube. We also like the fact that different tubes show variations in consistency—some are very smooth, others are grainer—which speaks to the careful, individual formulation of pigments to honor their unique properties. Williamsburg offers more than 140 colors, in either 37-milliliter (1.25-ounce) or 150 milliliter (5-ounce) tubes.
Purchase: Williamsburg Handmade Oil Paints and Sets, $9.79–$295.11 on Dick Blick
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Sennelier Artists’ Extra Fine Oil Paints
The only brand on our list that uses safflower oil as its primary binder, Sennelier is a great pick for artists who prefer a looser paint. Safflower oil is more archival than linseed—the most popular binder used in oil paint—as it is less prone to yellow over time. Safflower oil is also thinner, for increased flow and spreadability, and imparts an attractive satin sheen to colors. Beloved by the Impressionists for their ability to capture expressive gestures, these are time-tested paints that remain a pro-grade favorite. Choose from 144 colors, available in tube sizes as large as 200 milliliters (6.75 ounces).
Purchase: Sennelier Extra Fine Oil Paints and Sets, $9.89–$131.41 on Dick Blick
ANOTHER GOOD CHOICE
Daniel Smith Original Oil Paints
This line of paints stands out for its unique color offerings. Creating handmade paints in Seattle for more than 30 years, Daniel Smith sells historical pigments but also synthetic modern ones like incredibly brilliant and bold quinacridones. Artists can also purchase inventively formulated paints milled from carefully sourced semiprecious minerals like rhodonite, hematite, and silky tiger’s eye. Out of 90 available colors in this line, more than two-thirds are single-pigment paints, which showcase the highest color purity. Mixed with high-grade linseed oil, they carry roughly the same viscosity from tube to tube.
Purchase: Daniel Smith Original Oil Paints, $7.61–$34.82 on Dick Blick
Schmincke Norma Professional Oil Colors
These German-made paints aren’t as well known as most of the other brands here, but they’re the best option for artists who want to prioritize products from environmentally conscious makers. Colors are made only from renewable raw materials, then formulated according to green processes. The paints, mixed with linseed oil, are left to mature for about three months to optimize the pigment concentration and absorption of oil. The Norma line includes both modern and traditional pigments, offering artists a total of 85 colors to work with.
Purchase: Schmincke Norma Professional Oil Colors, $15.10–$38.47 on Dick Blick
TOP OF THE LINE
Old Holland Classic Oil Paints and Sets
As its name suggests, Old Holland is a brand with a history. Established in 1664, the Netherlands-based company continues to produce paints according to traditional recipes (aided today by modern processes) that keep in mind techniques favored by the Old Masters. Cold-pressed linseed oil, which is incredibly pure, is used as a binder, and it does a better job of dispersing pigments than does alkali-refined oil. The resulting paints are consistent right out of the tube, carry brilliant color, and have a luxurious, creamy feel. Of course, all this comes at a price, and some of these pigments—like hard-to-source cerulean blue—cost hundreds of dollars per tube.
Purchase: Old Holland Classic Oil Paints and Sets, $13.49–$426.00 on Dick Blick
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