General Comments

Virgil encourages all painters to take the trouble to find out what is in the paints they’re considering buying; not just what color they are, but what pigments they’re made with, what binders are used, and what other ingredients are in there, such as stabilizers in particular, fillers, driers, whatever. ASTM lightfastness ratings are important to pay attention to, information which ought to be included on the label. Some companies do not provide that information, and that is unfortunate. As long as they can sell enough of their products without proving important information about them, they’ll have no incentive to do anything differently.

Key Qualities

Below is a list of paint qualities you need to keep in mind when choosing what paint to buy, and at what stage of a painting they are most appropriate to apply.  Page references in Virgil’s book are given in parentheses.

Lightfastness  (p.123)

Type of oil used to bind the pigment (p.124)

Ratio of Oil to Pigments  (p. 125-128)

Drying Rate   (p. 129)

Tinting Strength (p.130)


Degree of Opacity / Transparency  (p.131)

Single vs. Multiple Pigments in the Paint 
A single pigment in a paint is always preferable to a paint consisting of a mixture of pigments trying to approximate a traditional oil colour.

Some artists prize particular brands of paint for their high chroma out of the tube and how that that enables them  to mix colours at the highest possible chroma for a particular hue.

Note: The quality of toxicity is discussed in the pigments section of this website.  Safety practices are covered elsewhere as well.

Brand Names

The names paint companies use to market their paints can be misleading.  A case in point is Burnt Sienna [to be linked to the pigment burnt sienna]. It is important to read the pigment numbers on the backs of the labels of the tubes. [more to be added here]

What makes one brand different — better or worse — than another?

The Choice of Pigment (See page 123 of Virgil’s book)

Presence of Zinc Oxide 
The presence of zinc oxide in colours or mixed whites

The Type of Oil used as a Binding Agent

Examples: linseed oil vs. safflower, poppy, sunflower, and walnut oil) (p.124).
And cold-pressed linseed oil vs. alkali-refined linseed oil.

Additives in the Paint
The presence (or absence) of stabilizers, fillers (barium sulphate), drying agents, and other additives (like aluminum stearate, alumina hydrate)

Grind Quality
The degree of fineness to which the manufacturer grinds the paint.

Single Pigment vs. Multiple Pigments in the paint

Miscellaneous Themes on Paint (To Be Developed)

The “Fat over Lean” Advisory


  • Review of the “fat over lean” advisory (p.125)
  • The oil to pigment ratio for each pigment is listed in the Pigments section
  • More information on painting with “fat over lean” in mind will be covered in the Techniques section

Historical vs. Modern Paints

— The comparison between modern, store bought paint in tubes, commercially manufactured vs. the hand ground/mulled paints used by the Old Masters (p.122)

Hand-Made Paints
— Best practices for grinding/mulling one’s own paints (and whether one should even bother, especially for certain hazardous pigments)

How to Store Paints
— How best to store paints (e.g., some people want to put their palette in the freezer to reuse the paints the next day)

How to Test Your Paints
—  Tests and observations one can do in the studio (e.g., Virgil’s studio long-term studio test strips in a south-facing window for alizarin crimson and vermilion)