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Understanding an Oil Paint's Label

Updated: Jan 17, 2022

Oil paint labels can be a bit confusing. Not only because they have so much information, but also because that information is filled with esoteric jargon. Below is an example of a standard paint label. I will quickly go through each item, from left to right. Future blog posts will go more in depth about most of the label's elements, but for now let's make this quick.



ASTM Rating is the lightfastness rating of an oil paint and is standard across the oil painting industry. The "lightfastness" of an oil paint is the paint's ability to maintain its original color after drying and throughout years of light exposure.


The ratings are: I = best, II = good, III = not awesome, IV and V = never purchase.


When starting out, try sticking with paints of a lightfastness I. If it is not listed on the tube (it is optional for the company to print the ASTM rating) buy another brand.


Opacity Rating will tell you if the paint is opaque, semi-transparent, or transparent. These terms were covered in more depth here.


Pigment Content will tell you which pigments were used to make that specific color.


Vehicle Used indicates which oil was mixed into the paint's powdered pigments. The oil differs from manufacturer to manufacturer, and while there is a some debate as to which is the best oil to use, overall they all work well.


Performance Rating is not really a thing, just pay attention to lightfastness.


Series Number indicates the cost of the pigments inside the paint. Series numbers run from 1 to 5, with 1 being a paint with the least expensive pigments and 5 being a paint with crazy expensive pigments (like crazy expensive).


Labels can be extensively informative when you know what to look for, or just blurry type when you don't. They can help you decide which brand you prefer, which brand is using fillers, or which brand is making cheap pigment substitutions.


What do you think? Do you worry about lightfastness or have a preference for the "vehicle used?" Let's discuss! Comment down below.


This post is a rewrite from my original blog, What Does a Paint Label Mean?







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