The best oil paint set

Sian Babish

If you're wanting to tap into or express your artistic side, you might consider oil painting as a new hobby. It's therapeutic and creative and, one day, you'll have a finished piece to adorn your wall. But first, you'll need to buy the right oil paint set to get started.

Oil paints are known for their fade-resistant, high-pigment color. The consistency is easy to work with, especially for novices. When it comes to shopping around for an oil paint set, you'll find a broad range of kits featuring anywhere from six to nearly 40 colors.

Not sure where to begin? Take a look at our buying guide to oil paint sets, which includes reviews of a few of our favorites at the end. Our top choice is the Williamsburg Italian Earth Oil Paint Set. Its high-quality earthy hues are popular for landscape painting.

Basics of oil painting

How it works

The two main components of oil paints are pigments and drying oil. Once applied to the treated canvas, oil paints dry slowly, giving artists a chance to reshape and refine their work. Another substance, called a medium, can be added to the oil paint if artists need to adjust drying time or the consistency of the oil paints.


Pigment is what gives oil paints their color. The higher the quality of the pigment, the less synthetic filler they'll have. High-quality pigments will have a more vibrant, long-lasting color that also covers and spreads better on the canvas.


The oil in oil paints is what gives them unique properties. Linseed oil, for example, gives oil paint a higher gloss and can give colors a somewhat yellowish tone. It takes around three to five days to dry.

Walnut oil adds fluidity to the paint and won't yellow colors as much as linseed oil. It takes a bit longer to dry at around four to five days. Poppy seed oil takes the longest to dry at nearly seven days, has a thick consistency, and is less likely to yellow. Safflower oil has a similar effect on oil paints as poppy seed oil, though it dries a bit faster.

Considerations when choosing oil paint sets


When it comes to comparing consistency between oil paints, it boils down to preference as well as technique. Some artists will need to adjust the consistency of their oil paints, in which case they'll add appropriate mediums.


Oil paints also offer a variety of finishes. A matte finish will have a flatter, muted sheen, whereas a high-gloss finish will have a somewhat glassy appearance. Like consistency, choosing a finish is largely driven by preference and technique.

Tube size

Tube size varies considerably between oil paint sets. High-end sets will have smaller tubes, whereas beginner sets, usually of modest quality, often come with larger ones.


Oil paint sets not only contain a variety of colors but also come in coordinated palettes. Sets geared toward portrait and figure painting will have a collection of skin-tone colors, and those intended for painting natural landscapes can have an earth-tone-inspired assortment.

If you're new to oil painting, it's a good idea to invest in basic colors. The sets will have common, versatile colors, like ultramarine blue or cadmium yellow, which can be used on their own or blended with other colors to achieve a desired shade.


Oil paint sets priced below $20 are best for beginners, as they often contain synthetic pigments. If you spend closer to $25 per set, you'll end up with fewer colors, but much better-quality oil paints. When you spend $60 and above on an oil paint set, you'll find the purest, longest-lasting oil paints -- and they're most often used by serious artists.


Q. How do I choose the right paint brushes for my oil paints?

A. Make sure you choose either bristle or sable brushes. It's also a good idea to invest in paint brushes of different sizes. You'll need a large brush for broader strokes to cover major areas, and a small brush for fine detail.

Q. Where can I learn how to paint with oil paints?

A. Some people enroll in courses at colleges or community centers, especially if they'd like to interact with an instructor while they develop their skills. Others watch online tutorials, such as those from Bob Ross, to ease themselves through the basics and learn in a self-paced manner.

Oil paint sets we recommend

Best of the best: Williamsburg's Italian Earth Oil Paint Set

Our take: Top-quality imported set well-liked by experienced and professional artists.

What we like: 10-color set in rich, one-of-a-kind earth tones. Concentrated oils are handmade in small batches.

What we dislike: Texture and high price make the set better-suited for seasoned painters.

Best bang for your buck: Castle Art Supplies' Oil Paint Set

Our take: Popular starter set with a broad range of 24 colors.

What we like: Has consistent texture, and performs well with blending. Comes with step-by-step tutorial for beginners.

What we dislike: Tubes are on the smaller side, but a little goes a long way.

Choice 3: ZenART Supplies' Portrait Palette Oil Paint Set

Our take: Essential eight-color set with shades geared toward portrait or figure painting.

What we like: Blends well with other colors and mediums. Nontoxic, eco-friendly formula.

What we dislike: Must be mindful of pressure on the tube when dispensing paint to prevent waste.

Sian Babish is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.

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