Oil paints and oil painting are considered to be at the very top of the art world – the very best medium and the real choice of master oil painters and fine artists. Let’s have a look at the very best oil paints and oil paint sets available in 2021.
💡 Please note: This article may include affiliate links. When you buy through those links, we may earn an affiliate commission at no additional cost to you. Thank you! For more info, please read our disclosure.
If you are in a hurry, below is my pick for the best oil paint set for artists in 2021. If you have more time, then keep on reading
Table of Contents
Oil paints do have a quality that no other media have, with an inner light, subtle color possibilities and intense saturation, incredible workability and control and at the same time real expressive flow, and overall beauty and realism that nothing else can quite match.
It is also a fairly widespread belief that oils are too expensive and too difficult for us mere mortals to work with. While I fully agree about the quality and beauty of oil paints and oil paintings, I think it is important to assert that oil paints aren’t always that expensive (and in fact, there are really great oil paint brands that are quite affordable) and they are much easier to work with than people imagine.
That’s why I’ve put together this in depth buyer’s guide for oil paint brands, to talk very briefly about how oils are to use, and to recommend the best oil paint tubes, sets and brushes on the market today – from really affordable to downright astronomical. Because they really can be quite inexpensive, but they can also be, well, yeah…
- Are there any good inexpensive oil paints?
- What are the best cheap oil paints?
- What are the best oil paints overall?
- What are the best paint brushes for oil paints and painting?
- What is the best oil painting kit?
- Are there good all in one kits for oil painting?
- How do you paint with oils?
- Is oil painting difficult?
- Do you have to mix oil paint with anything?
- Do you need linseed oil for oil painting?
- What is the best surface to use oil paint on?
Is Oil Painting Difficult?
If pushed, I would have to say that oil painting is more difficult than probably any other kind of painting, if arguably a more rewarding medium as well. Oil paint does respond much differently than watercolors and are even quite a bit different than acrylic paints in how you handle and best work with them.
Once you get used to them, though, oils are maybe more freely flowing and expressive than any other type of paint, layer with incredible ease to reveal remarkable depth and three-dimensionality, mix together incredibly well and have beauty and color, light and energy that are so exciting they keep you involved and enthused every step of the way.
But definitely, oil painting can seem difficult at first, and a few basic lessons and guidance from an experienced teacher can make all the difference. This is why I am so excited about the Evolve Art Program, which is perfect for any beginning art student but especially valuable for somebody interested in learning how to best work with oil paint.
I am going to go into more detail about the Evolve Art Program at the end of this article, in my Bonus section, and you can also find a lot more information at my website – Art Side of Life.
But whether you’ve had extensive training or experience, or just want to try your hand and jump right into oil painting, it really is just a matter of practice and more practice – even though we sometimes worry about messing things up and wasting valuable (that is, expensive) paint. In less time than you might expect you will reach a level of comfort, then deeper understanding, then a kind of mastery that informs you that oils are ultimately – at least in many experienced painters’ minds – the easiest paints to use, to fully express your artistic vision and to create incredibly beautiful paintings.
And since beginner’s sets are not that expensive (more on that below), anybody can practice and experiment as much as they need, and realize just how great oils can be!
That said, and not to keep beating that poor horse, I will say again that oil painting, more than any other medium I can think of, is better and easier if you’ve had even some basic training – and again you can check out the Bonus section below.
I also find that a few basic tips can make things easier and decrease your learning curve, and give you much better and more beautiful results much more quickly. At the end of the day (or at the beginning, for that matter), nothing I can share with you here will help as much as a real education (or just dipping your brush into paint and getting to it, for that matter) but here are some suggestions that might help:
- Layer your paints – fat over lean – this is the golden rule, which will allow you to really layer effectively without cracking or shifting of paint, and leads to greater realism, better range of light and shadow, more dimensionality and better color representation. Basically you want to paint the bottom or foundation layers with a paint mixed with far less oil, and increase the oil content with each additional layer
- Smaller paintings, simple subjects – the complexity and range possible with oils is amazing, but can also be overwhelming and intimidating when you are learning, so start small and simple
- Practice with monochrome painting, paint sketches and limited colors – like starting with simple subjects, simple color schemes can help you become more comfortable with oils as a type of paint, how they feel and how they work, before you begin to expand into their almost unlimited creative range
- Gesso – prepare your canvases well, or buy good pre-prepped canvases, or you won’t see what oils can do – plus, you’ll be continuously frustrated
- Good paint and brushes – poor quality paint and brushes will frustrate you and limit the results – but remember that cheap art supplies can be excellent, and expensive art supplies are not necessarily better. But again, more on that below…
- Keep brushes and work areas neat and clean – this not only gives better results, but keeps the mind and the creative flow more pure and undistracted, and the practice more productive
- Try to forget about money – use cheap (but good) paints to start, if that helps, but remember that time spent dabbing and spreading oils around on the canvas is so valuable and important, and can lead to real treasures.
- Well-ventilated area – nothing can change a photorealistic oil painting into an abstract blob faster than fainting in front of the canvas. Seriously, for health and well being, remember that oil painting involves fumes, and working in a well ventilated area, or even outside, is absolutely a must!
- Take breaks and stretch – true with any kind of painting or artwork, but there is something especially fascinating and rewarding about the rich and expressive world of oils that can make us fall deeper and deeper into the work. So remind yourself, regularly, to look away, walk away, drink water and stretch your muscles!
Is Oil Painting Expensive?
Well, sure, it can be. The very finest oil paint brand on the market today can be almost obscenely expensive, and brushes, canvas, oils and solvents, easels and the little French beanie hat you need to wear, it can all really add up.
But here there are two basic rules for beginners and students just starting out with oil painting, allied with one wonderful reality.
- There are lots of affordable, even inexpensive, oil paints and brushes that are of great quality
- Don’t use expensive paints!
- Don’t use bad paints!
Expensive paints are likely to keep you kind of nervous, afraid to really practice and experiment because of the cost and the wastage, and so you may never fully reach your own potential or see what oil paints are truly capable of. At the same time, never really getting as good as you might, and never really seeing what all the fuss is about regarding oil paints, you might become so discouraged that even the best and most expensive paints don’t really look that great.
And bad paints, well, they just suck! You can find really cheap bad paints (or really expensive bad paints for that matter) and practice all the livelong day, and you will never realize the beauty of oil painting’s colors, light and glow, texture and consistency, depth and realism. Rather than saving money, it can end up just being a total waste, and as discouraging as the expensive paint scenario.
So we get back to one of the most important tips (heck, let’s even call it a “rule”) from the previous section – use good paints and brushes. And even though oil paints are, in fact, more expensive than most acrylics, watercolors or other kinds of paint, you can get really good oil paints for surprisingly little money.
Even when you’re first starting the paints will give better results, you’ll feel more free to practice and get better, and so you’ll get even better and better results. And you’ll just have more fun, feel more encouraged and keep going.
How Can You Find the Best Oil Paints and Brushes for You and Your Art?
So yeah, oil paints are difficult, more than other media, but a good education, some basic tips and lots of practice can go a long way. And oil painting is expensive, or can be, but just as you can get extraordinarily good expensive oil paints, you can also get amazingly good cheap oil paints. You can also get a lot of bad or mediocre oil paints in all price ranges,
but not here, where we will focus on only the best of the best in oil paints, paint sets and brushes.
In this buyer’s guide we will make recommendations for the best oil paints – both individual tubes and complete sets – and the best paint brushes for oils. I will make sure to include several choices for different levels of expertise and different budgets, but they will all be really great paints and brushes, and really great values.
Then, in the Bonus section at the end of the article, I will talk a little more about the Evolve Artist Program, an excellent all-around art education that just so happens to concentrate on oil paints and oil painting as the best way to learn the technique.
But for now, the best oil painting supplies for 2021!
Overview: Best Oil Paints and Oil Paint Sets in 2021
- Old Holland Classic Oil Color Introductory Box Set
- Gamblin Artist Oil Colors Introductory Set
- Jack Richeson Artist Oil Colors
- Michael Harding Artist Oil Colors Titanium White 225ml Tube
- Bob Ross Landscape Oil Color Titanium White 200 ml Tube
Best Premium Oil Paint for Painting on Canvas
Introductory Box Set, Set of 10 Colors, 40 ml tubes
My Favorite Oil Paint for Painting on Canvas
Best Affordable Oil Paint for Painting on Canvas
37ml Artist Oil Colors, Set of 12
Titanium White No.2 (Linseed Oil), 225ml Tube
*Image shows the color
Titanium White, 200ml Tube
Best Premium Artist Grade Oil Paint Set
This fabulous set of premium oil paints is called an “introductory set,” but this is perhaps a bit misleading – these are, make no mistake, fully professional and premium paints, up to the demands and expectations of even the highest level fine artist.
Incredibly saturated and high quality oil paint pure pigments and stunning colors – both when working and when dry – make the Old Holland Classic oils a delight to paint with, as does the perfectly consistent and precise control they offer, the beautiful texture and overall workability.
Really, if you want to understand exactly what oil painting, on the very highest level, is all about, you can check out some canvases by de schilders Vermeer, Rubens or Van Gogh, or you can work with Old Holland paint and see what you can come up with on your own.
Maybe they mean it as an introduction to Old Holland quality, which this box set definitely is. Be careful, though – once you are introduced, you may never be satisfied with any other oil paints. My choice, then, for the best premium oil paints box set overall, and a beautiful product in every way.
My Favorite Oil Paint Set
Ok, so maybe Old Holland are a little better quality than my favorite Gamblin Artist Oil Colors, and more recommended by fine artists around the world, but I have to say that not only are Gamblin oil paints nearly as good – and really superb paints in every way – they are a much, much better value.
Beautifully intense and subtle colors, rich and highly workable texture, absolute consistency from tube to tube and batch to batch – in every way these Gamblin Artist Oil Colors are good enough to satisfy even the most demanding oil painter, and allow you to create art on the very highest level – as well as finding your own highest level as an artist.
Comparisons to other paints aside, I absolutely love Gamblin paints, and their Artist Oil set is my favorite oil paint set, and the one I use the most. And, while not cheap, it is a great value. Highly recommended!
Best Affordable Student Grade Oil Paint Set
We may well ask what are the differences between something like a Gamblin or Old Holland oil paint and this far more affordable set of Jack Richeson oil student grade paints?
In a word, not much! Ok, I guess that was two words, but I am serious – Jack Richeson student grade paint may not, to the really advanced artist, have the same intensity or deep saturation of colors, or the same perfect and perfectly controllable and workable texture every single time, regardless of technique or mixture, but for somebody who is just starting out with oils the difference will be literally undetectable.
More importantly, compared to other oil paints at this price level, these are superb paints, and will never hold you back, frustrate you or in any way keep you from realizing the true potential and joy of oil painting.
An amazing value for premium quality paints – especially in the 12 tube set – Jack Richeson Artist Oils are the best choice for art students, beginners or casual artists, and can even fully satisfy more demanding serious fine artists. A beautiful paint for a (relatively) low price!
I’m also going to throw in a strong recommendation for the Winsor and Newton Winton Starter Set. I have also included Winsor and Newton Winton oils below, in the best oils in individual tubes section, and in other articles I have chosen them as the Best Budget Oils. They are that, and while Jack may have the slightest edge (depending on who you ask), Winsor and Newton Winton oils are the lowest priced paints I know of which really let you know what oil painting is, or at least can be, all about.
Best Premium Artist Grade Oil Paints in Tubes
Titanium White No.2 (Linseed Oil), 225ml Tube
*Image shows the color
An expensive paint, especially when purchased as individual tubes, Michael Harding Artist grade paints may not be the go-to for beginners or students – unless they’re independently wealthy – but they are the first and only choice of countless top-level artists around the world.
Incredibly high quality paint pigments and perfect colors, with a depth and intensity which other paints can’t match, in a paint with such amazing texture and consistency that any and every technique or gesture becomes easier and more directly effective. True lightfastness and absolute stability make these pure, handmade Michael Harding oils the perfect choice for fine art, gallery and museum pieces and the most discerning clients, installations and shows.
So many artists will tell you that there is no better oil paint going – without getting into fabulously expensive small-batch esoterica – and no paint that is more effective, more expressive or nicer to use. Michael Harding Artist oil paints are an easy choice for the very best oil paints available in individual tubes in 2021.
Please note that the above link is for a single tube of Titanium White – to see the whole range of colors, follow this link to the full selection of Michael Harding products on Amazon.
My Favorite Oil Paints in Tubes
Titanium White, 200ml Tube
Not quite as expensive as the individual tubes of Michael Harding, Bob Ross Landscape oil paint tubes have a similar quality overall, with an almost ridiculously rich and flowing consistency that responds beautifully to any level of oil, any kind of technique and any gesture.
In fact, many people (including me) actually slightly prefer using these oil paints, from the beloved Joy of Painting host, and many also seem to prefer their lovely, consistent, heavily saturated colors, both when working and after the painting has dried and set.
This is a bit of a tough subject, though, and it should be said that so many fine artists also swear that Michael Harding has the very finest colors, the best consistency, is the most workable and on and on. We artists can get a wee bit passionate when it comes to our art supplies…
That’s my kind of controversy, though, when we are essentially deciding between two truly superb paints! I am happy to use either one, but Bob Ross Landscape oil color paints are my favorite and the ones I use the most. And for a substantially lower price, they also represent the best value in truly professional quality oil paints on the market today.
Please note that the above link is for a single tube of Titanium White – to see the whole range of colors, follow this link to the full range of Bob Bob Ross Landscape Oil Colors on Amazon.
And make sure you do not attempt to use Bob Ross oil paints without wearing the fabulous Bob Ross Wig and Beard!
Best Affordable Student Grade Oil Paints in Tubes
We get back to my earlier advice about never using bad paints, and believe me, there are plenty of bad oil paints, or at least quite mediocre oil paints, at this lower price level!
And those paints will not only never really reveal what this most marvelous of media is really capable of – the beautiful colors in all of their intense and subtle glory, the light and shadow, the layering, shape and dimensionality. Just as bad, they will discourage you when you’re learning, and even try and convince you to stop.
But why even bother with any of that, when you can get an incredibly high quality paint at the same price in the Mont Marte Premium oil paint? With pure pigment quality and levels that rival the best professional oils, and correspondingly beautiful, intensely saturated colors, as well as a rich and highly workable consistency, Mont Marte oils will keep you enthused and engaged, even as they really teach you what oil paints and oil painting are all about – and what you are capable of.
A great paint even for serious fine artists or commercial artists, the Mont Marte Premium oil paints are easily the best choice for anybody coming to oils for the first time, for art students, or for artists on a budget. A no-compromise choice and a joy to use!
Best Paint Brushes for Oil Paints
Best Premium Quality Paint Brushes for Oil Paints Overall
- Escoda Clasico Series Chungking Hog Bristle 6 Brush Set Flats & Rounds
Chungking Hog Bristle Flats & Rounds, Size (Flat) 2, 8, 14 (Round) 2, 6, 12
I am including two sets of Escoda paint brushes here, since both are absolutely superb, and would satisfy any artist on any level.
The Clasico series are pure Chungking hog bristle, and are admittedly – any vegan sensitivities aside – a better brush. In fact, for control, flow, durability and shape retention, feel in the hand and really all factors that make an artist brush great, the Escoda Clasico may be as good as it gets.
That said, serious fine artists who have used the Escoda Ultimo – which use synthetic squirrel bristle – claim they are the best made, and in fact they are pretty much on the same stellar level.
Either way, your admittedly substantial monetary outlay gets you the best brushes on the market today for oil paints and oil painting – nearly perfect artist tools that will be your trusted companions even at the very highest levels of craft and creativity.
Best Value Premium Paint Brushes for Oil Paints
Paint Brush Set Mimik Hog Professional Synthetic Hog Bristle Brushes for Acrylics, Inks, Dyes, Gouaches, Watercolors, Easein & Egg Tempera - [Deluxe 20 Piece Set w/Leather Case]
Another excellent choice (like the Escoda Ultimo brushes just above) for artists who don’t want any animal products in their art supplies, the Creative Mark synthetic hog bristle paint brushes may not have a legendary name like Escoda, or the same kind of cache, but many artists who use them say they are so good that paying more is just silly.
And indeed, they do have absolutely brilliant flow, hold paint perfectly and respond flawlessly to any gesture or technique – like a natural part of your body. The Creative Mark brushes are also premium quality in look and feel, and are super-durable, staying together, holding their shape during use and over time, and lasting a long, long time.
Yes, Escoda are a bit better, for sure, but I have to say that for me the Creative Mark synthetic hog bristle paint brushes are the best value in premium brushes for oil painting today, and would absolutely satisfy any artist on any level.
Best Student Grade Oil Paints Brushes
We can talk about the legendary reputation of Escoda or the superb quality of Creative Mark, but by far the most popular and beloved set of brushes in this list of best paint brushes for oil paints is the Winsor and Newton Winton Oil Paints Brush Set.
This is true not just among students or beginners – for whom this is really a great choice – but experienced artists, many professional artists, oil painters, fine artists and avid enthusiasts. And it is true despite the low price of Winton brushes.
The Winsor and Newton Winton paint brushes, which are made of beautiful natural hog bristle and have a truly premium quality in all respects, are not just the lowest priced brush I would recommend for the sometimes demanding medium of oil painting, but a really great performer in every important way and an amazingly consistent and long lasting product.
With great flow and control, superior durability and shape retention and a natural and responsive feeling when in use, the Winton paint brushes are ideal for anybody just learning, are inexpensive enough for even the most budget-minded artist, and are my choice for best oil paint brushes for art students and beginners.
Bonus: Evolve Artist Program
- Watch the interview with the founder of Evolve: Kevin Murphy
- Watch the interview with a student of Evolve: Daniel Folta
As I re-read this whole article I can see that there is a bit of ambivalence about how difficult oil painting really is.
On one hand, I seem to be saying it’s not that difficult, and you should just jump in and see what happens, with a few basic tips and a lot of practice. And I admit it – I love to say “just go for it” to my students and to anybody else who will listen.
But on the other hand I am saying oil painting really is difficult, more difficult than acrylics, watercolor, inking, pencil drawing, or even (gasp) Photoshop, and you would benefit enormously from a good basic education.
The thing is, they’re both true. I think oils are great fun to play around with and see where they take you, even if the trip is a bit expensive. On the other hand, oils have the most amazing possibilities and potential, the widest and most impactful expressive range, and having a good grasp of the techniques and tricks associated with oil painting is absolutely invaluable, and allows you to confidently and more efficiently get to and experience that whole range.
That’s why I am so excited about the Evolve Artist Program – a wonderful and really comprehensive online art school that is so complete and of such high quality that it is a real alternative to expensive and often prohibitive art colleges.
Because Evolve is so focused on really developing your skill and technique as an artist, so that you can fully explore your own talent and creativity and confidently and completely express yourself. And they feel the best way to really learn so many of the basics is through – you guessed it – using and completely learning oil paints and oil painting techniques
And it must be said that this is a brilliant approach. If you can master the somewhat challenging world of oil painting, with its superior ability to portray color, light and shadow, shape and dimensionality, relationships and perspective, then everything else – every other type or technique of art – will come much more easily to you. And, if you learn the basics of art using oils, oil painting itself will be much easier to learn and master than you could possibly imagine.
When you join Evolve Artist Program, in fact, you get a basic oil painting kit, including a small selection of custom mixed Old Holland paints (yes, from the same company that makes my choice for Best Oil Paints Overall), brushes, a palette and palette knife and lots of other cool stuff.
You also get a world-class education which, again, focuses on establishing and developing technical proficiency, so you can have the tools and confidence you need to focus on your inspiration and talent and take your art to the highest levels possible.
And all for a fraction of what traditional art schools and colleges would charge!
Here are a few things that really stand out about their program:
- They offer an Art College level of education at a fraction of the cost – in fact, some would say their education is quite a bit better than some schools!
- They stress technique and technical proficiency, laying the foundation for creative freedom
- They believe that anybody can be an artist on a professional artist level
- Their teachers and support staff are very helpful, friendly and engaged
- They clearly love art, and their enthusiasm is contagious!
- They focus on practice and development of skill but make it fun
- Their real final goal is to enable you to explore your own creativity and talent, and to be the best that you can be
If you are interested in the program – whether you are just starting, or already have experience but want to really properly develop your skills – please just follow this link for the Evolve Arts Program.
Thanks so much for reading this latest article – The Best Oil Paints and Paint Brushes for Artists: A Detailed 2021 Buyer’s Guide – and please visit my blog – Art Side of Life – for tons of other inspiring ideas, resources, articles, buyer’s guides and a lot more!
Other articles in the Artists Kits & Sets series:
- Best Professional Artist Kits in 2021
- Best Embroidery Kits in 2021
- Best Gouche Paint Sets in 2021
- Best Face Paint and Body Paint in 2021
Other articles in the Watercolor, Acrylic, Gouache, and Oils series: