Artist's Guide to Oil Paints | The Range
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Artist's Guide to Oil Paints

With a history stretching back for hundreds of years, oil paints are a beautiful and versatile medium for artists. Despite their prestigious reputation, they are great for both beginners and experts, lending themselves very well to experimentation and variety. Oil paints are made from pure pigment powder mixed with an oil, most commonly linseed. They are very slow drying, allowing you to blend colours and re-work your canvas over a long period of time. Unlike other paints, oil paints can be used for virtually any style of art, from bold and abstract to highly detailed photo realism.

Types of Oil Paint

Oil paints generally come in two types - Artist’s Oil Paints and Student Oil Paints.

Artist Oils

These are higher quality and more expensive than student oils. They contain a higher pigment to oil ratio, providing intense colour saturation. You’ll find that oil paints have a series number on the tube that goes from 1-9, with a higher number meaning a more expensive pigment. Artist’s Oils offer the widest range of pure pigment oil paints.

Student Oils

These are made with a lower pigment to oil ratio, usually containing more binder. They still produce beautiful colours, but may mix differently to the original pigments. You’ll find many student paints have ‘Hue’ on the label. This is when a synthetic pigment has been used, and usually replaces the more expensive pigments.

Alkyd Oil Paints

These are oil paints that benefit from the drying time of acrylics. Pigment is mixed with alkyd resin, which gives them a complete drying time of around 24 hours, although you can usually only work with them for around 4-8 hours. As they are oil paints, they retain a rich, buttery consistency, with a high level of transparency that allows you to build up layers. This makes them perfect for tight deadlines such as art exams, or plein air painting. You can even mix them with regular oil paints, although as alkyds dry quickly, it’s not recommended to layer them on top, as they are likely to crack. .

Water Mixable Oil Paints

These allow the paint to be thinned with water, rather than the harsh solvents that are necessary for traditional oil paints. This makes oil painting much more accessible for those who work in poorly ventilated studios, or in places where there are small children or animals around. They are still oil paints, and so retain their tonal richness and depth of colour. If you are used to working with traditional oil paints and solvents, you’ll find water soluble paints may mix slightly differently, which you can use to achieve different effects in your art work.

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Mediums for Oil Paints

Oil paints need to be thinned before they can be smoothly and evenly used on your canvas. Unless you're using Water Mixable Paints, your oil paints won’t dissolve in water, so you’ll need to use special mediums. Different mediums provide different finishes, as well as affecting the drying time and consistency of your paints. For example, the Winsor and Newton Artists' Oil Colour Painting Medium is perfect for those looking to slow down the drying time of their project, whereas products such as the Winsor and Newton Oil Colour Liquin Original Medium is specially designed to increase the drying time whilst improving the paint flow.


Turpentine is a staple of any artist’s studio. It’s technically a solvent, and can be used to clean brushes as well as thin paint. It’s great for creating washes, with a fast drying time suited for the early stages of painting.

Refined Linseed Oil

One of the most popular mediums, linseed oil slows down drying time and creates a smooth consistency. It can be diluted with turpentine, and helps improve transparency, as well as adding gloss. It takes about 3-5 days to dry.


Liquin by Winsor & Newton can speed up drying time by half, allowing you flexibility with your layers and reducing the need to keep adding oil to your colour. It provides a glossy finish and doesn’t react with the paint. Liquin Impasto is perfect for those of you who like to paint with thick impasto layers, quickly drying that beautiful texture.

Stand Oil

Made from linseed oil, stand oil is a smoothing and slow drying medium. It’s thicker and more translucent than refined linseed oil, creating a glossy finish that is almost enamel like. Perfect for any budding artist looking to add extra detail and smooth glazing to any project.

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