Our expert paint-maker explains the difference between grades of oil paint and how the manufacture of Jackson’s Professional Oil Paint and low end basic oil paint affects the paint, emphasising the importance of investing in quality.
1. The Pigment
Jackson’s Professional Oils: As you might expect, our Professional Oil Paints use the ‘best in class’ in terms of available pigments. Many of the high-end pigments are exclusively used in a professional and artists’ context and will not be found in cheaper grades. The pigments are prepared for mixing, working to exacting and proven formulas.
Basic oil paint: The paint-makers source the cheapest pigments available at that time, forgoing tests that ensure quality and colour appearance. They’ll replace a large proportion of the solid content with cheap and colourless pigments (called fillers) and a multitude of other ingredients. This reduces the amount of pigment in the tube and hence the cost but allows the paint to retain a paint structure. Sadly the result will lack intensity and have an unappealing opacity; not the opacity created by certain pigments’ characteristics but a pastel opacity that gives a greyness to the paint.
2. The Oil
Jackson’s Professional Oils: We mix our pigments into the oil in a ‘colour shop’ with negative air pressure. This simply means we take steps to control the dust to make our factory a pleasant place to work and to ensure that all the beautiful pigment required goes into your paint and not into the air. We only use filtered and refined linseed oils that have been cleaned and prepared to suit the very particular needs of the highest quality pigments. These indigenous crops still colour fields blue with their pollen in the early summer (particularly in the South West of England) and are delivered to us from sustainable suppliers who use the same geographical locations and even particular farms that have supplied us for generations.
Basic oil paint: The makers use a low cost, generic, pan-industry vegetable oil. This may mean that the oil has not been properly refined and may contain contaminants. It is likely to be straw coloured and is likely to yellow when drying.
3. The Mixing & Milling
Jackson’s Professional Oils: Take a triple roll mill…not any old mill…but a dedicated artists’ colours mill that has been engineered with chilled cylinders and shaped rollers to ensure an optimum grind for each and every pigment. We will select either a machine with steel rolls or a granite mill to bring the best out of the ingredients and to avoid distressing some of the more temperamental colours. As a result tiny particles of pigment are suspended and equally dispersed in oil, at just the right proportions to allow light to bounce freely among the particles, releasing the greatest possible colour radiance.
Basic oil paint: At the budget end of the industry there are far, far cheaper methods of manufacture, most notably; bead mills. This method dispenses with the high engineering and associated costs of the mill and replaces this stage of the process with a vessel containing the basic ingredients and thousands of porcelain beads. The beads agitate the pigment particles as the cylindrical vessel is turned over; essentially we could best describe it as a glorified tumble dryer. The action of the beads (which are filtered out and reused) does a ‘passable job’ to separate some of the particles in order to make an industrial or house paint. When used for an artists’ paint however, the result will lack colour intensity, will have varying levels of gloss and will contain pigment lumps that will reform over time providing a gritty and matt paint within a relatively short space of time. This is fine if the artist is content with the weakness and poor quality, but even then is no good if the artist does not intend using the entire tube soon after running home with it from the shop!
4. Rest the Oils
Jackson’s Professional Oils: Patience is a virtue. The middle period of the production process is immensely variable! Some pigments, like Alizarin Crimson are enormously thirsty. A small amount of pigment will absorb a large volume of oil. The result is that we need to give the paint time to absorb sufficient oil, not simply so as to wet the outside of the pigment particle, but to truly saturate the pigment itself. All of our pigments are beautiful and should be allowed to live up to their best. Some pigments will merrily absorb oil only to discover that they have misjudged their appetite and thereafter ‘sweat’ some of that oil back out. This phenomena can go to and fro for many days and weeks until an equilibrium is reached. Other pigments are initially reticent to absorb the linseed, but with time they develop a taste for it, so after leaving the batch to stand for a period, additional oil can be added. This sweating and soaking stage on average generally takes…. as long as it takes!
Basic oil paint: For cheap paint manufacture this stage is skipped over for the sake of saving time and minimising costs. The pigment is milled into the oil as a standard procedure and then put into tubes. All pigments are likely to be handled in exactly the same way, irrespective of their individual characteristics.
5. Repeat Milling
Jackson’s Professional Oils: Depending on the pigment type and its readiness to separate out into individual pigment particles (as opposed to pigment lumps), the batch may pass through the mill again and again until we are happy that you will be happy!
Basic oil paint: The paints do not undergo repeat milling. Instead they are put into tubes and put on the shop shelf.
6. Test the Paint
Jackson’s Professional Oils: Before the paint is ready to be packaged it must be tested. We test for batch consistency in terms of viscosity, tack, flow, drying time, opacity, lightfastness, grind, structure and odour. Lightfastness and permanence have been long tested on these sets of ingredients.
Basic oil paint: Minimal testing may be taken out to check permanence, but the testing is not likely to be thorough and give a comprehensive result.
Jackson’s Professional Oils: Our tubes are hand filled and the genuine painted colour paint label is applied.
Basic oil paint: Tubes are mechanically filled and printed labels are applied. As a result air bubbles may appear and mean tubes are not properly filled, and the label may not give a clear indication of the colour you’ll find when you unscrew the lid!
We hope it is apparent that the key to making the best possible paint involves a careful consideration of what we leave out as well as what we put into the paint. But what’s equally important is the necessary care and attention to detail in the manufacturing process itself. The difference in colour that we can achieve will amaze many artists.
The sales of our Jackson’s Oils are growing every year and we believe that this is a testament to the fact that serious artists can tell the difference when they apply colour to their chosen substrate.
We are not suggesting that everyone goes out and buys professional brands of oils, but we do suggest that it pays to buy paint as good as your budget allows and certainly what is appropriate to your art.
Professional Oil Paint vs. Basic Oil Paint: the differences between grades of oil paint
As the diagram illustrates, there is a world of difference between the ingredients ratios of Jackson’s Professional Oils and a basic paint (the kind of which we do not sell). Pigment concentration can be as little as 23% in a cheap oil paint.
An ‘artist range’ of oils (a grade lower than ‘professional’) will have less colour pigment and added blanc (colourless) pigment, sometimes referred to as ‘filler’, and a slightly different ingredient list to make these ingredients work together. However they will still be made to the same exacting standards.
As the quality of paint reduces so does the pigment concentration, while proportions of blanc pigment increases.