Whether you’re painting with oil or acrylic, it can be hard to decide which paints to use for a project. Not only are there many variations of each color, there are different series of paints with significant differences in price range. This quick guide explains the differences between three grades of paint.
First, it helps to understand what paint is. Paint is pigment suspended in a liquid substance called binder. Binder is a vehicle for the pigment and can be made of different substances. The binder in most oil paint is linseed oil; the vehicle for watercolors is, of course, water. Acrylics are sometimes referred to as “water-based” because they are held together by an emulsion of water and plastic binders called polymers. Unlike oil paint, any water-based paint can be thinned or diluted with water.
There are more binders and fillers in craft and studio paints, so these paints tend to have greater color shift and less opacity. Color shift means the color of the paint is more easily diluted and altered when two or more colors are mixed together. There is less color shift when mixing artist quality paints together.
The thin consistency of craft paint makes it versatile for use in various projects. The most economical of the three paints grades; its low cost makes it a great option for crafting projects and kids projects. It adheres well to a variety of surfaces: paper, canvas, wood, ceramic, and even glass. Craft paint may not be as lightfast as student quality paint.
You might have heard some paint referred to as “student paint” and been confused by this term. Mid-range paint is often used by students because it’s less expensive, but that doesn’t mean it is poor quality. Studio, student, or other paint not labeled “Artists’ Quality” is very affordable and a great value for painters of all skill levels. It simply has less pigment than artist quality paint and may have a thinner consistency, making it excellent for under-painting and large scale painting projects. Liquitex Basics and Plaza Studio Acrylics are great examples of this paint category.
Artists’ or “professional quality” paint has the highest pigment level of any paint grade. Because of the high color concentration, these paints have very little color shift. When artists’ quality paints are mixed together, the colors remain true and vibrant. Other paints grades can lose some vibrancy when mixed together because they have more binders and less pigment than professional paints.
Artists’ paints are sometimes made from more expensive pigments. If you try to find cadmium red in the studio paint section of your local store, you’ll find that it will be labeled “Cadmium Red Hue.” If a paint color is labeled with the word “hue” it indicates a Studio or student paint. Cadmium red and other raw materials used to make pigments can sometimes be quite expensive, which explains the wide price range of artist quality paints. Experienced painters will tell you artist quality paint is well worth the price because of its incomparable color vibrancy, coverage and lightfastness. Many painters mix and match studio and artists' paint—you should experiment with different types and use whichever combination best fits your tastes and needs.