When I entered graduate school, I first experienced the raw difference in quality art materials and supplies. There was such a huge distinction between the materials I used in the shop (the scene shop) to the materials I used in the studio, and I could immediately see the results in both different types of paints, and in different papers, and substrates.

It wasn’t an intentional experiment to find better quality, but it sold me on how quality makes a difference in the final product.After graduate school, I met an art instructor that explained a lot of technical differences in quality products, in particular in paint. I already knew that paint was primarily made up of a binder, pigment and a vehicle or solvent, but to see and understand what goes into making good paint was an eye-opening experience. Truly, there is nothing like finding the best paint to work with.
paint brushesThis doesn’t mean that there isn’t a place for all types and qualities of materials. Recycled objects, student grade materials, and low-grade drug store materials can all find a place in making art– good art. But, when you know the differences between a high quality product and a lower quality product, you can better choose how to spend your money and efforts on making art.
For paints in particular, better quality paints won’t necessarily have the highest pigment load, but often they will. Along with fewer or no fillers, the processing methods of better quality pigments from reliable sources may be more important than the total pigment load.

To test this for yourself…this test you are conducting is called a “relative tint test” 

Purchase two different levels of quality of paint in the same hue and do the following: Mix an equal part of each color with the same amount of Titanium white, much more white than color. To be precise, the use of a scale measuring in grams is best, however using volumetric measurements such as “tea spoons” can work well too.

Use a palette knife to mix the paint well and apply to a substrate. I’d recommend trying this with acrylics or oils, as this test method is not that easy to do with watercolor. And for your first test, use a blue like Ultramarine or Cobalt, as they are more forgiving and easier to mix until you feel more comfortable with the testing.

You will be mixing two tints and comparing them to one another. In fact, anytime white is mixed into a color it is called a tint. You should be able to notice the difference in pigment quality between the two different quality levels of colors you purchased even as you are mixing them.

 …anytime white is mixed into a color it is called a tint.

In addition, since the art material industry is dependent on other industries for pigment, like the automotive, architectural and aeronautic industries, sometimes a pigment becomes no longer available or changes in cost due to trends and needs of those markets. High quality paint, developed by a conscious manufacturer, will rely on as few substitution pigments in their paint lines as possible.
These manufacturers will communicate with the artists about what pigment is in the tube and if it may become no longer available. You should be able to see on your tubes or in the literature or website information from the manufacturer of paint exactly which pigments are in that paint. The notations can be confusing.

You will typically see a “P” which stands for pigment, and then there will be letters and numbers following to give you the full list of each of the pigments in that hue. This is another helpful way to compare hues from one brand to another. If you want a full listof pigment names, you can refer to the Weber Group.

For purchasing high quality panels, paper, canvas, paint – brushes, pastels, pencils, and colored pencils, there is a lot of experimentation and research you can do to find what will work for your type of art and budget.

Ask other artists what they are using, determine how durable you want your art to be for the long term and talk to your art material’s retailer.

If you have the interest, call a manufacturer to find out where they source their materials, talk to their research and development team or visit them in person. And lastly, if you have the ability to purchase a few types of brushes, or different papers, pencils or pastels to experiment for your own use. Sometimes the highest professional quality won’t be what you need while the studio or the student grade will suit your working style and budget much better.
Knowing the difference between quality levels is of the highest priority when creating art to be sold, or in becoming a professional artist. Your name will always be attached to your work. Collectors, galleries and museums purchase with the intent to keep your work for a very long time, possibly forever! Take time to learn what is best and it will be a wise investment for your work.


Thank you Karyn! Karyn Meyer-Berthel  is an artist and art material blogger as well as social media consultant.  She was previously the online editor at American Artist and the lead administrator at WetCanvas!, as well as a DVD producer and director for artist painting DVDs.  Karyn can be found around the internet, on Twitter https://twitter.com/#!/KarynMeyer and on the Dynasty Brush http://blog.dynastybrush.com/ and Ampersand Art Supply Blogs http://ampersandartsupply.blogspot.com/.
Click these links if you’d like to meet me on Twitterand on Google Plus, Pinterestand join in the fun at Fine Art Tips Facebook Fan Page! Please checkout my art too LoriMcNee.com, or find me on Instagram lorimcneeartist. ~Lori

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