Oil Paint Test

Oil Paint test: Is the additional cost of high quality oil paints justified? – Part 1


Warning: This is an elaborate post.  The content of this post may be less interesting to you if you are not a painter. Painters, however, may find this very interesting.

I’ve been using Winsor & Newton Winton oil paints for many years now. They are available in 200ml tubes and as it always goes, bigger quantities are less pricey. Over the span of more than 5 years, I cannot say I’ve had trouble with unstable colors so far. My paintings seem to hold their values and colors well. Intensity doesn’t seem to vanish in time and I’ve not seen any paintings suffering from reading differently than initially due to color change. On the other hand, 5-10 years isn’t long at all. A painting ought to keep its color and value for at least the life span of its collector, but really a lot longer. If cracks can be avoided, all the better.

That being said, I’d like to add that I don’t generally use a painting medium. There are people that use a mixture of oils, mineral spirits and some even add varnish in their medium (which is not very smart because if your painting is being restored at some point and there is varnish in your paint mixtures, your painting will be ruined when the restaurateur tries to remove the varnish. Furthermore, I was taught by Luc Oeyen, my first painting teacher at SLAC and a qualified restaurateur himself as well as an excellent painter, that the simpler you keep your mixtures, the longer the life span. This goes a long way: not only does this apply to the medium + paint combination used, but also to the paints themselves.

A lot of paint manufacturers have a very wide range of colors, but the truth is that a lot of these colors are combinations of different pigments put together in one tube. I’m (thinking of Naples yellow, which contains 3 pigments, Payne’s gray (4 pigments), Indian yellow (3 pigments), sap green (2 pigments), and many more.

Considering that when you paint, you almost never use a pure pigment, you will always end up with very complex mixtures in the end. So I try to keep my palette as simple as possible, meaning I use paints that contain one pigment only when I can. In the W&N Winton range, it becomes problematic to keep a palette of single pigment colors while maintaining a useful color range, as you can see in below listing of my original Winton Palette. (For more information and definitions of the terms permanence and lightfastness, I suggest reading the information published by Windsor & Newton.)

My initial palette

Colour / Code Transparency / Opacity Permanence Lightfastness (ASTM) Colour Index Name Series Nr Binder Nr of pigments Personal Palette
Burnt Sienna Code: 074 T AA I PR101, PBk11 1 Linseed Oil 2 currently not
Cadmium Lemon Hue Code: 087 O A II PY3, PY74 1 Linseed Oil 2 yes
Cadmium Red Hue Code: 095 O A II PR188, PW6, PR112 1 Linseed Oil 3 yes
Cadmium Red Deep Hue Code: 098 O A II PR170, PO36 1 Linseed Oil 2 currently not
Cadmium Yellow Hue Code: 109 O A I PY65, PO73 1 Linseed Oil 2 yes
Cadmium Yellow Deep Hue Code: 115 O A II PY65,PO73, PW6 1 Linseed Oil 3 currently not
Cerulean Blue Hue Code: 138 O A I PW4, PG7, PB15:1 1 Linseed Oil 3 yes
Cobalt Blue Hue Code: 179 O A I PW5, PB29, PB15:1, PBk6, PW6, PW4 1 Linseed Oil 6 yes
Cobalt Violet Hue Code: 194 O A I PV19, PV23, PW6 1 Linseed Oil 3 currently not
French Ultramarine Code: 263 T A I PB29 1 Linseed Oil 1 currently not
Lemon Yellow Hue Code: 346 O A II PY73, PW6 1 Linseed Oil 2 yes
Permanent Alizarin Crimson Code: 468 T A I PR177 1 Linseed Oil 1 yes
Phthalo Blue Code: 516 T A I PB15 1 Linseed Oil 1 currently not
Terre Verte Code: 637 T A I PG7 1 Linseed Oil 1 currently not
Titanium White Code: 644 O AA I PW6, PW4 1 Safflower Oil 2 yes
Viridian Hue Code: 696 T A I PG7 1 Linseed Oil 1 yes
Yellow Ochre Code: 744 O AA I PY42 1 Linseed Oil 1 currently not

I later dropped the Cad Red Deep Hue only using it in specific sircumstances, the Phthalo Blue (way too strong) and the last couple of years I even stopped using the earth colors as I felt I was becoming too depending on those. At a certain moment, I limited my primaries to just one, so I basically had 1 yellow, 1 red, 1 blue and white left. Nowadays, I also use phthalo green and alizarin to mix black (or sometimes ultramarine and burnt sienna), and I choose my primaries according to what is required.

Anyway, since I’ve been painting for some years now I wanted to start testing the professional paints. Why? Because when one sells a painting, one does not want to get complaints after 10 or 20 years about the quality of one’s painting.

As explained, one good way to avoid complications is to keep things as simple as possible. With the W&N Artists’ paints, it becomes possible to minimize the use of paints that exist of multiple pigments. Here’s my palette composition in W&N Artists’ Oils. The small tubes are 33ml and the large Titanium White tube is 200ml.


Colour / Code Transparency / Opacity Permanence Lightfastness (ASTM) Colour Index Name Series Number Binder Nr of Pigments Personal Palette
Alizarin Crimson Code: 004 T B N/A PR83 2 Linseed Oil 1 yes
Cadmium Lemon Code: 086 O A I PY35 4 Safflower Oil 1 yes
Cadmium Red Code: 094 O A I PR108 4 Linseed Oil/Safflower Oil 1 yes
Cadmium Yellow Code: 108 O A I PY35 4 Safflower Oil 1 yes
Cerulean Blue Code: 137 SO AA I PB35 4 Safflower Oil 1 yes
Cobalt Blue Code: 178 ST AA I PB28 4 Linseed Oil/Safflower Oil 1 yes
French Ultramarine Code: 263 T A I PB29 2 Linseed Oil/Safflower Oil 1 yes
Permanent Alizarin Crimson Code: 468 T A I PR177 4 Linseed Oil 1 yes
Titanium White Code: 644 O AA I PW6, PW4 1 Safflower Oil 2 yes
Viridian Code: 692 T AA I PG18 4 Linseed Oil 1 yes


As you can see, the palette now exists completely of 1 pigment paints, except for Titanium White.
Now we’re talking!

The downfall is that these professional paints are a lot more expensive than the student grade paints. And I mean a lot more expensive.

As a comparison, here are a few prices per ml:

  • W&N Winton Cad Yellow Hue: 0.045€/ml
  • Leroux Cad Medium Yellow: between 0.313€/ml and 0.398€/ml (that’s 700% to 880% the price for W&N Cad Yellow Hue!!)
  • W&N Artists’ Oil Cad Yellow: between 0.634€/ml (my discount price at my regular art store) and 0.703€/ml (that’s 15 times as much as the Winton Hue color!!)

So are these expensive paints really worth their price? The only way to know is to buy them and try them out.

Here’s an image of the Leroux paint. The small tubes are 25ml, the big tube of Titanium White is 170ml.


The test

What I’m curious about is if and how much colours are influenced by light and what the effect is in the long run. Therefore I decided to test them by applying them to 2 panels, side by side. One side is kept in complete darkness, in a drawer in my windowless studio, while the other panel is kept in daylight. Once a year, I will compare both panels and draw some conclusions. Below are the results after the first year. So we are testing lightfastness or permanence.

First, some remarks are due:

  • The daylight panels were placed in such a way that they could catch up to a couple of hours of direct sunlight at most. This is a more or less representative placement imho. Remember that collectors are usually advised not to hang their painting in direct sunlight. On the other hand, if the professional standard paints are as good as their manufacturers claim they are, it should be possible to hang your work in direct sunlight if it was painted with those high quality paints.
  • The W&N Winton paints were in fact “Hue” versions. These hue versions are the cheaper equivalents of the real pigments.
  • I didn’t test the Ultramarine alternative Lapis Lazulli from Leroux because it was cheaper to buy a gold watch. (63€ for 25ml or a whopping 2.52€/ml!! Are you kidding me?)
  • This test does not include any mixtures. It may or may not be that mixtures of student grade paints are a lot less stable than the paints as they come straight from the tube. In fact, I’m preparing a test with Alizarin mixtures as we speak (more on that soon).

The panels as they were initially setup on June 13th, 2015:


First impressions (written down when applying the paints):

  • Leroux Cerulean is greener than the W&N versions.
  • W&N artists’ paints have a lot of oil when opening the tube
  • Leroux Veronese is a lot lighter in value and more opaque, however…
    Vert Veronese is in fact phthalo green + zinc white, so I made a mistake there. Maybe I should have bought the Vert Emeraude (Emerald green). In any case, I should have watched the pigment  index nr. Oh well, lesson learned.
  • Cobalt Blue from Leroux leans more towards red than the W&N artists’ version
  • Alizarin from Leroux is more opaque than W&N versions
  • Leroux cad yellow is a tad lighter than the W&N artists’ version
  • Overall, the W&N artists’’ paints and Leroux **** are much more buttery than the Winton paints. This is probably because the Winton paints have filler and the others are pure pigment with oil only. I think it is safe to say that the filler in the Winton paints makes the paint more stiff. I find it more enjoyable to paint with paints that are less stiff.

2016: Results after 1 year


I have to admit that the first time I put the panels side by side, I quite was surprized to see that the difference between the lit colours and the unlit colours wasn’t that big at all. In fact, for most colours, the difference is a lot smaller than expected. To make any differences more clearly visible, I used a little photoshop trick by duplicating my image layer and putting the top layer in “exclusion” mode:

2016-06-16a_exclusion2016-06-16b_exlusionThis method helps me to come to the following conclusion:

Apart from Titanium White and Lemon Yellow, there were no colours that seemed to show any signs of instability or lack of lightfastness after 12 months. Strangely, it was the Titanium White from Leroux that was kept in the dark that shows to have become more yellowish (not visible in above images, sorry) and it had darkened too. For Lemon Yellow, the W&N Winton paint seems to have lightened in value somewhat, and it also looks cooler in temperature than last year. The W&N Artist version of the Lemon Yellow paint had darkened a bit.

Unfortunately, there isn’t much more to tell at this point in time. The Winton paints seem to be doing very well so far. This is actually good news because on a short term base, we can safely say that there is no use to pay for high quality paints, at least not when it comes to lightfastness.

On the other hand, the pro paints handle a lot better and it makes the experience, the mixing much more enjoyable. And who knows, in another year’s time, things may look totally different. We’ll have to wait another year to see how this evolves. To be continued…

2 comments for “Oil Paint test: Is the additional cost of high quality oil paints justified? – Part 1

  1. 28 June 2016 at 07:35

    Wow Johan 🙂
    What a fabulous post! You have gone to so much work to bring a wealth of information on paints and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I too have spent years using W&N Winton paints and only added a few (small) tubes of the more expensive paint to my collection. Your study comparing how the paints handle and also behave over time is great, because you bring a painter’s eye and perspective – rather than the sales pitch 🙂

    • 9 July 2016 at 19:49

      Thanks Annette. I’m really curious what the result will be in say 5 or 10 or even 20 years from now.
      I’ve not used the expensive paints to paint a lot to be honest, but I’m gathering info as I do for a future post on handling, mixing, how well these pro paints cover on different carriers, and so on.

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