Student grade oil paints compared to professional grade

Has anyone changed from student grade oil paints to professional grade oil paints? What are the differences you notice? I’ve compared ingredients and on a few colors and the ingredient are exactly the same on a couple brands - ultra marine blue for one. I’ve been using Rowey Daler Georgia oil paint. Do you think my results will be noticably different? I’m a daily painter and have been painting for about 4 years.

Artist quality have higher pigment levels, better color options, less color change as it dries. Some can be expensive but you can start with artist grade and not the top of the line as there are levels in this grade as well.

Student grade usually need more for same coverage, bigger changes in color as it dries and even wet with less pigment concentration. Really not suitable unless you are a student and have to save money. Still, it caused me more problems-and the quality of the finished product with artist quality is worth the extra $.

This thread talks about different brands: What brand of oil paint do you use and why?


If you are using student grade because of the cost, you might be pleased with the quality and price of Utrecht. They don’t use fillers and have high concentration of pigments. Check them out!

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Thank you so much! I have noticed a big difference between the intensity of the color between wet and dry. That alone is enough to make me pay a little more for professional grade paints.

Thanks, I’m going to try Utrecht and branch out from there. I appreciate the input.

I hope you will be pleased with the Utrecht paints. The drying in or lessening in intensity when pigments dry will still be a problem. Some people use retouch varnish particularly on the dark colors and you could also research “oiling in” a painting. I think all oil paints dry unevenly. Using a medium can help, but I don’t like to use solvents so I don’t.

One alternative to solvents is walnut oil. Graham carries paints in walnut. Jerry’s Artarama sells a sample set if you wish to try them out.

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I’ve never experienced much difference between student grade and what’s labeled as professional grade oil paints. One reason is that I work with Lukas paints and there’s just not much difference in the line. Make of that what you will - that they are uniformly excellent or they are uniformly student grade. But I’ve used labeled professional grades, including paint from small, high-quality producers, and, again, just don’t see the difference, other than a tube or two of TV-painter paints. Those last were pretty disappointing.

A second reason is that there are relatively few pigment producers world wide. All of them are primarily producing pigments for automotive, which calls for incredibly cheap, highly consistent, light-stable and environment-stable colors. Old Holland and Blockx likely source many of the same pigments as those used in Winton and Lukas Berlin.

A fair number of these pigments are, gram for gram, pound for pound, cheaper than even the cheapest linseed oil – and a good percentage of them are cheaper than fillers. There’s less and less incentive to cut product by adding oil or fillers in cases like that.

This, of course, doesn’t apply to true mineral or clay colors (there are very few left being mined and milled), such as true ochres or (most assuredly) to lapis…

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You can sometimes feel the difference in pigment content by comparing the weights of two tubes of the same color and size. The better professional grade colors are heavier.

Thank you so much. Glad to hear some evidence for student grade paints. I did order some professional grade paints and I’m planning a little “science fair experiment”.

It’d be fun to see your experiments and conclusions, Kim. I once went so far as to ask a couple of labs about their prices to do quantitative analysis of ingredients, cheap vs. pricey tubes of paint, but was stopped instantly by the $10,000 price tag.

Connie,weight is tricky, as the mass of differing pigments and fillers is so variable. There could be a lot of lithia as filler, and that would be heavy - versus calcium carbonate (whiting, marble dust), which is relatively light. Certainly the heavy metal pigments (lead, cobalt, cadmium) are likely much heavier than their respective hues (hue as in substitute pigment aspiring to be the real thing).

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I think there might be a quicker way to get an answer on this. The way I look on it, we could not be able to test these paints better than the standardized labs that have done the testing for years. Most of the paint suppliers provide this information on their websites. Winsor-Newton which carries both a professional (Artist) and student (Winton) grade, lists among other things, Lightfastness and Permanence. As long as you are happy during the painting process with a paint’s performance, these are about the only measures that matter as your masterpieces pass through the coming centuries. Both professional and student grade Widsor-Newton paints are either I or II in lightfastness; they are also either A or AA in permanence with the exception of the Professional Alizarin Chrimson that is listed as B. There is virtually no difference between the two grades on how long they will last. I suspect that all other brands would show the same result, so it boils down to how you feel about the paint you are using. If a student paint works for you, don’t worry about it. If you like the feel of the professional grades, then spend the extra. Cost of paint on small paintings is not a huge issue.

There is another aspect, that I am not sure about. Expensive paints tend to use safflower oil as well as linseed oil. Over time, I am not sure if there would be a difference in yellowing. I use walnut oil and Graham Paints myself because I like working with less solvents and I like the way walnut functions.

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I use walnut oil with my paints even though they are not a brand based on walnut oil. It seems to be fine.

I tested the professional brand v student brand and there was very little difference in the quality, texture, and colors I sampled. Cad yellow light was noticeably better in the professional grade so I may change brands for that particular color. I’ll probably stick with student grade paints for now because I really did not see a difference. I plan to compare more brands as time and money allows.

There did not seem to be significant differences in the colors I tested with the exception of cad yellow. I used Ulretch v Georgia. Cad yellow was superior in the Ulretch brand so I may start buying that particular color in professional grade. It’s difficult to justify paying a higher price when you have a head to head comparison like this one that comes out almost exactly the same. I may test some other brands.

Hi Kim,

I can’t speak for other brands but when I started out in oils, I started using Winsor & Newton paint. I started using their ‘Winton Oil Paints’ range which are a cheaper version than their ‘Artists Oil Paints’.

As time went on I gradually started switching over to W&N Artists oils because you hear everyone say that students grade paints aren’t the same quality. But honestly I have found very little difference. I think they are both great quality. I have never had any problems with the cheaper version at all, and in fact some colors are not available in both ranges so I still use Winton Pthalo blue for example.
I have also added other brands here and there as time has gone on. I’ve become a great fan of Gamblin paints. But I also like Grumbacher Pre-tested Oils a lot which are absolutely gorgeous creamy paints.

Here’s a price comparison
French Ultramarine 37ml tube

W&N Winton $4.11
Grumbacher $7.10
W&N Artists oil $8.50
Gamblin $9.71

I think just carry on doing what you are doing, trying them out and decide for yourself. Keep us posted!

Thanks! Excellent information to add to my “research”. The ingredients are identical in some colors - such as PB29 in French Ultramarine in both Windsor Newton Artist ($8.50/37ml) and Daler Rowney Student ($3.59/37ml), so there is no doubt I will continue using the less expensive paint. To me, there is no difference in the subjective parts like texture or coverage or drying color either. I’m happy that I’m not compromising my results, (as far as I can tell), and I will continue to compare other brands. I’m looking forward to gradually adding in some new brands in my own time frame. I appreciate that you included the price reference.

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There is little point in spending so much time comparing paint brands and individual colors. By the time you complete your exhaustive research, others will be selling their paintings and you will be spending your time making color charts. I get the OCD aspects of researching. It reminds me of my fellow homeschool parents who spend more time researching their curriculum choices than in actual teaching. In the end they have uneducated children and stacks of books they never got around to using. The advice others here have offered will save you enormous time, if you’re interested in painting. :slight_smile:


I spent a few hours researching paints, exploring the topic and I learned what I needed to learn. I paint many hours a day. I sell my paintings. I enter shows. I have displays up in local restaurants. So, exhaustive research is really not my thing. And, I decided to continue using inexpensive paints and it doesn’t seem to negatively impact my results.