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The Difference between Artist-level Paint and Student-level Paint

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At Wallack’s, there are several questions that customers ask our staff over and over and over again. As much as we love to help out in-store with every question you might have - it’s hard to find a reliable source online that will give you all the information you want and need. 

So- you’re just starting down your path of being an artist. 

There are probably a million and one questions you may have before you start making your first masterpiece. And you’re here because you need to find out the basics before putting paint on the canvas, right?!

WELL, it’s your lucky day. In this blog we will be covering our most asked question among students and beginner artists: 

WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN STUDENT AND ARTIST QUALITY PAINTS?

orange paint

And, more importantly, is it worth it to upgrade?

The short answer is yes. This is because buying higher quality paints will vastly improve your mixing skills and give you a better understanding of colour.

But, we will still break it down for you so you can decide!

Hmmm, where to start?

We think it will be best to break this down into major categories - We bet there’s some stuff you don’t already know!

Here is the basic breakdown:

Artist Quality
  • Highest pigment levels
  • Scaled price range
  • Larger choice of colour
  • Limited colour shift

Student Quality

  • Less paint coverage
  • More affordable price range
  • Greater colour shift
  • Good for large scale painting and under-painting

pigments

PRICE

    This is probably one of your biggest concerns. Why is it that you have to fork out more money for (often) a smaller tube of paint?

    Well, paint prices are based on their ingredients. 

    Paints are mainly broken down into two major ingredients: Pigment and Filler. The filler differs depending on the type of paint your buying (ie, Acrylic’s filler is Polymer, whereas Oil paint’s filler is oil) and fillers, compared to pigments, are CHEAP.

    The price of paints often comes down to the pigments. Pigments are made from several types of powdered minerals that are sourced from all over the world. Cool, right? 

    You might have noticed that artist level paints are categorized into series levels (example, Series 1-9) whereas Student level paints usually have a maximum of two levels (usually broken down into Regular and Metallic/Fluorescent paints) 

    If you can imagine, some pigments are super hard to source because of their rarity and location (Among the hardest are Cadmium pigments and Cobalt pigments) so, for those paints, the price reflects the level of difficulty to obtain the ingredients.

    Artist-level paints usually have true pigments - hence more expensive - whereas student-level paints have imitation pigments, often referred to as “Hues”

    Hues are a combination of different pigments that are mixed together to give the impression of a single pigment. In student paints, you will frequently see “Cadmium Red Hue”

    The benefit of having a single pigment is that it will have stronger pigment power (you’ll read about that later on), thus you will need less paint to achieve more coverage. We always say “A little bit goes a LONG way!”

    OPACITY

      This refers to how opaque a paint is.

      There are three primary levels of opacity. The opacity is usually represented by some sort of scale on the back of the tube. Keep in mind that this does not affect the quality of the paint - some pigments are just naturally more opaque than others:

      Transparent:

      “clear enough or thin enough to be seen through”

      Translucent:

      allowing light, but not detailed shapes, to pass through; semitransparent”

      Opaque:

      “not able to be seen through; not transparent.”

      If you can imagine, some paints will be able to cover others better. For example, Black paints typically have a higher opacity and easily be able to cover over most yellow paints, but most yellows, (because they are translucent) will not be able to successfully cover black.

      painter's palette

      LIGHTFASTNESS

        Lightfastness refers to the ability of a pigment to remain permanent once exposed to light and other factors. It is often affected by the concentration of the pigment and the nature of the pigment itself. It is also altered depending on the medium that is driving the pigment.

        Lightfastness is not always an indicator of quality in paints.

        The binders, mediums and varnishes used in painting absorb UV light wavelengths, thereby protecting the pigments from damaging effects. Oil, for example, more thoroughly encapsulates its pigments than the less robust binders in watercolour or pastel. Consequently, oil paints are generally able to handle more UV impact and may have more lightfastness.
        There is a lightfast rating that can be found on the back of some paints, it can look like this:

        ASTM I — Excellent Lightfastness

        ASTM II — Very Good Lightfastness

        ASTM III — Not Sufficiently Lightfast to be used in artists’ paints

         Paint stroke

        COLOUR SHIFT

          When we talk about colour shift, we are talking about the paint’s shift in colour from when it is applied wet, to when it dries. Acrylic paints usually darken in tone as they dry, making colour matching difficult, so artists have to remember to allow for this when mixing wet colours.

          When paint is a high quality, it will have a limited colour shift, and when it is a student-level it can shift greatly in the tone. This is due to the binder that is mixed with the paint. The binders can be cloudy when wet, and clear when dry, thus you will see a shift in tone.

          High-quality paints use a clearer binder, and so they remain the same whether they are wet or dry.

          CONCLUSION

          SO. What is the right decision to make?

          If you're asking us, we will always encourage you to go with the best that you can afford. If that means that you grab some paint from the student-quality brands and others from the artist level's selection, it means that you will be making a better painting than if you just grabbed all dollar-store types of paint.

          We've done our best to outline the major factors that come into play when you’re talking about the quality of the paint. We hope that you feel a little more informed to make the right decision when buying your paints.

          Happy Painting!

          (Pssst, show us what you’re making - we’d love to see! Tag us on Instagram @wallacksart or on our Facebook Page)


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