Oil Paint

Oil paint is paint made of pigment and oil. You clean and thin it with turpentine, and you can make it shiny by adding a painting medium. The drying times depend on a lot of factors (fatness, kinds of pigments, layer thickness etc.), so it's good to read a bit before you start painting. Scroll down and browse around, and you'll find all the info you need.

First of all: there's a big difference between western and chinese oilpaint. Both paints are good, but you can't mix them. Chinese oils are made of pigments and tung oil, while western paints are made with linseed oil. Tung oil and linseed oil have a completely different drying process: tung oils dries from within, while linseed oil forms a film on the outside first. So, tung- and linseed oil never should be mixed or combined in one painting. Click here for more on:

Oil paint is a raw ingredient

When you paint, your tubes of paint are only raw ingredients. Their fatness needs to be adjusted to the layer you'll be painting: each layer of paint should be a little bit fatter than the one before (fat over lean). For that, you use a painting medium. The layering (of the carrier, primer, underpainting etc) is important too, for the look and durability of the oil paint. Here you'll find an oil painting book that contains a lot of tips and recipes.

Ingredients of ready-made tubes of paint

Simple oilpaint consists of a pigment, and linseed oil. The pigment gives the paint its color, and also its consistency - that is: if you make your own oil paint. Chemically manufactured oil paints are filled with additives (chalk powder, marblepowder and other things), to give every paint the same buttery consistency. Also to keep it cheap: a filler is less expensive than the pigment. The cheaper your paint, the less pigment and the more filler it contains.
In the beginning, ready-bought oil paints are fine. Making your own paint can always be started later, when you want to have an authentic look to your oil paintings.

Brands of oil paint

The best brand are Winsor and Newton, and Old Holland paints - most of these paints are single-pigmented, with lilttle fillers, and all colors are lightfast. Good alternatives are Schmincke and Rembrandt. They can be ordered online at Blick Art Materials. They have a good house brand, and a wide choice of other oil paint brands. Check here for a clever quality-economy pick of oil painting colors.

Some colors have to be of specific brands, but the simple colors (that you'll use the most) can just as well be of the house-brand of your art supplier. That goes for black, white, and all earth colors except green earth. If a color name has the addition "hue", it's an imitation of the original color - with cheaper pigments. This is often done with 'green earth', because the originial green earth pigment is not strong in color, and slow in drying. But it's really beautiful - and the 'hue'-version often looks different from the original color.

On this page you'll find out more on specific pigments and paint color names.

White oil paint

White is a big issue in oil painting. Some white oilpaints are made with safflour or poppy oil, and others with linseed oil. Linseed oil has the best drying capacities, but it can turn yellow when kept in the dark. That's why blues and whites often are made of poppy or safflour oil. Also the pigments have different drying capacities. For underpainting, or mixing white for warm colors, it's better to take a linseed-oiled white, preferrably a cremser or foundation white.

These are the most important whites:


Each white has it's own purpose. Flake and cremser white are lead or lead-sulphates, sometimes mixed with some zinc. Lead dries much faster than other whites, even when you create texture with it. Foundation white is a mixture of lead and zinc oxyde in linseed oil, designed for quick drying. It's used for underpainting or priming. Zinc is the brightest, coldest white - and a bit transparant, it doesn't have a strong hide. Zinc white dries relatively fast too, but it's brittle. Titanium white has a strong hiding capacity, and it's a warmer white. For mixing with warm colors, or working in middle layers, take titanium in linseed oil. Zinc white can be used last, but better let the painting dry for a few weeks before you apply it (when the zinc layer dries faster than the layer beneath it, it might crack). I almost forgot: lead white is very toxic - don't let it touch your skin. Zinc and titanium are considered safe. Check here for product info on white oil paints

You can make all kinds of mixtures. Mixing zinc- and titanium is done for making a brighter but not too brittle white (they have to be of poppy-oil, otherwise the linseed oil turns it yellow again). Mixing zinc and lead white (like in foundation white) is done for making a fast-drying, relatively bright white. For general purposes, titanium white is a good option. If you mix a titanium-linseed oil paint with a titanium safflour-oil paint, you have a strong hiding, not too slow drying and not too much yellowing paint. The brand 'Rembrandt' provides titanium white in either linseed- or safflour oil.

Jars or tubes

Some oil painting whites are available in jars, but you'll be better of with tubes. A half-empty jar has air in it, and the paint will dry in the jar - even if you closed the lid. Especially with cremser- or foundation white: buy tubes, unless you use up the whole jar in one go. Liquin also dries in the jar, when it's half-empty. Better pour it over in smaller jars.

Colors and pigments

There are different kinds of pigments:

  • naturally found pigments: colored earth or ground gemstones: burnt umber, raw umber, burnt siena, raw siena, yellow ochre, green earth, malachite, lapis lazuli.
  • Natural-chemical pigments: cadmium red/yellow, iron oxydes, quinacridones, cobalt, chromium oxyde etc
  • 'Lakes' are colors that were first generated in a fluid (water or turps), and then bound to a material substance. Alizarine crimson and indigo used to be 'lakes'.
  • The bulk of cheap, bright colors is made of a crude oil derivate, which was worked over chemically to a long extent. These cholors are more onesided, they seem to lack character, but they're handy for learning how to mix. You can use them in the underlayers as well.

On every tube, there's a pigment number (like: pb102 - pb means: pigment blue, 102 indicates the exact substance). If the color name says "hue", it means it's an imitation. The pigment number tells you exactly what pigments were used to make the paint. In "the artist's handbook" by Ralph Meyer, you can read all about the nature of these pigments: their lightfastness, eventual health hazards, and what more they can be used for (watercolor, egg tempera etc.). This book is available at Blick Art Materials .

When you just begin, it's good to start with a basic set of colors - click here for a color mixing guide. Click here for info on what paint color names indicate.

Matte or shiny paint

Shinyness has big effects on the color of a dry paintlayer. Black will only be really black if it's shiny. Lean oil paint (coming right out of the tube) is matte, especially when you paint it on an absorbent painting ground. When you start adding painting medium, it will be more shiny. An ultimate shine can be achieved, by varnishing your painting with dammar varnish. If you want to make fat oil paint matte again, use this trick: grind a drop of water in your paint, with a glass muller on a glass plate. It does not harm to the durability, and it will make your paint look very matte.


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