Paint manufacturers offer a broad range of quality in paints. Some paints have more refined, vibrant pigments in them, while others contain less pigment and lower quality pigments which may fade over time or retain their color poorly when intermixed. While it would be nice to work exclusively with high quality paints, these paints can be expensive and are not necessarily ideal for people new to the medium, or for learning and experimentation. For this reason, paint manufacturers often draw a distinction between student-grade and artist-grade paints.

Student-grade paints are less expensive, can contain a great deal less pigment, and generally use lesser quality pigments. They’re intended to allow students to exercise painting techniques and learn about the medium “on the cheap.” Student-grade paints often come in a limited number of colors and because of the quality of their pigments, the colors can lose brilliance and intensity when mixed, resulting in dingier, “muddier” colors. This is especially true with student grade watercolors where it can be very challenging to achieve a precise color value. Student-grade paints are very useful for short-term experimentation, student assignments, and also for underpainting. Ultimately, however, student grade paints can be limiting, preventing even less experienced artists from discovering and experiencing the true potential of their media and their own ability.

Artist-grade paints come in a wide variety of colors, contain more and better pigments, and are, therefore, more expensive. Because of their more refined pigments, artist grade paints mix more cleanly, affording the artist a much larger palette of colors. Many artist grade paints (especially when dealing with oils and acrylics) are so packed with pigment that it’s advisable to use mediums or extenders in order to get the most out of every tube. This point is an important one to remember, as extending artist-grade paints with colorless mediums can make the use of artist-grade paints more economical and make the use of student-grade colors a false savings.