Artist Grade Oil Colors

Made with the highest grade pigment, refined linseed (flax) oil and safflower oil, Gamblin Artist’s Oil Colors have strong pigmentation and luscious working properties. Each color possesses unique characteristics in terms of texture, undertone, and tinting strength. This professional range of colors includes both historically accurate paints and modern hues. For everything from traditional realism to contemporary abstraction, you’ll find your ideal colors within the Gamblin Artist’s Oil Color line.

Click swatches below to enlarge.

Tint = Color + Titanium Zinc White
Tone = Color + Portland Grey Medium
Shade = Color + Chromatic Black
Glaze = Color + Galkyd Medium



The color yellow appears to advance. It has the highest reflectivity of any color.

Today hearing “yellow” many painters will think of Cadmium Yellow – brilliant and opaque. Cadmium Yellow replaced toxic chrome (lead) yellows. Although more expensive than Chrome Yellow, Cadmium Yellow was used by landscape painters, including Claude Monet, because of its higher chroma and its greater purity of color.

Painters today can choose from among the cadmium yellows of the impressionists as well as the modern and more transparent hansa yellows. Hansa yellows retain their intensity in tints and make beautiful glazes. Hansa Yellows can boost cadmiums in mixes; enabling brighter secondaries. Indian Yellow has been prized for hundreds of years and is ideally suited for glazing. In its transparency, it makes a glowing warm yellow—as if a painting were suddenly lit with summer sunshine.

Before the Industrial Revolution, painters used Yellow Ochres or Orpiment (sulfide of arsenic). Occasionally painters found some Gamboge, a strongly colored secretion from trees that resembles amber. Gamboge was used for glazing before Indian Yellow became available in the middle of the 19th century. To make Indian Yellow, cows were force fed mango leaves and given no water. Their urine was collected in dirt balls and sold as “pigment.” The resulting artists’ color was a warm transparent glazing yellow. But Indian Yellow was lost somewhere between the decline of cruelty to animals and the rise of manufactured pigments.

In the 20th century, the most transparent of the yellows that we at Gamblin call “Indian Yellow” is a light stable diarylide pigment. In its transparency, it makes a glowing warm yellow—as if a painting were suddenly lit with summer sunshine.

A color with obscure origins, Naples Yellow was originally lead antimoniate. Assyrian artists used this pigment to make ceramic glaze. Contemporary history of this color begins in the 18th century but “Naples Yellow” means more a color than a chemical composition. Rubens used this color extensively for skin tones. Because the original pigment is lead based, Robert Gamblin formulated an excellent copy at a reasonable price.

Hansa yellow pigments were first made in Germany just before World War I. They are organic pigments that are semi-transparent and lightfast (Hansa Yellow Light is Lightfastness II, and Hansa Yellow Medium & Deep are Lightfastness I). In their masstones, Hansa Yellows resemble Cadmium Yellows but the similarity ends there. Hansa Yellows make more intense tints and cleaner secondaries, especially when mixed with other organic (modern) colors like Phthalo Blue and Green. Because they are more transparent, Hansa Yellows have great value as glazing colors. Painters can also take advantage of the “temperature” shifts of the Hansas –- from coolest yellow (Hansa Yellow Light) to warm golden yellow (Hansa Yellow Deep).

  • Cadmium-Chartreuse
    Cadmium Chartreuse
  • Cadmium Lemon
  • Cadmium Yellow Light
    Cadmium Yellow Light
  • Cadmium Yellow Medium
  • Cadmium Yellow Deep
  • Nickel Titanate Yellow
  • Hansa-Yellow-Light
    Hansa Yellow Light
  • Hansa Yellow Medium
  • Hansa Yellow Deep
  • Indian-Yellow
    India Yellow



When deepened, orange – unlike red and yellow – becomes brighter instead of darker. Few colorants produce pure orange. During the Middle Ages, orange mineral provided a rich, opaque pigment for easel painting and illuminated manuscripts.

Near the end of the 18th century, the emerging commercial paint industry developed synthetic iron oxides, “Mars Colors,” which made more predictable colors than natural earth pigments. Used for color consistency and opacity, Mars colors range from orange to dark red/purple.

Today, painters have several orange options. Painters like Wolf Kahn reach for Gamblin Transparent Orange, a warm color unique to the Gamblin palette.

Orange is the color of safety: orange life vests are easily seen on dark and stormy seas. Always a warm advancing color, orange is the forerunner of the sun.

During the Middle Ages, orange mineral, also called minium, provided a rich and opaque pigment that was used in easel painting and illuminated manuscripts. It was made by prolonged heating of white lead over an open fire. Noticeably toxic, Chinese bookmakers painted the edges of paper with orange mineral to save their books from silverfish. Orpiment, an extremely poisonous sulfide of arsenic, was mined as a yellow to reddish-yellow pigment. Its noxious sulfur fumes and highly reactive properties made orpiment a color of last choice. Realgar, another poisonous pigment found in the earth, made a better orange, but it was incompatible with lead or copper-based pigments.

Cadmium Orange was the first true orange. It is a pure hue with excellent opacity and low toxicity compared to its predecessors. Around 1820, yellow cadmium sulfide was discovered as an impurity in the processing of zinc ores. The name cadmium is derived from cadmia fornacum, a type of furnace used to smelt zinc. In experiments, chemists used hydrogen sulfide to precipitate the yellow colorant from solutions of cadmium salts. By 1880, they further discovered by gradually increasing the amount of selenium, they could produce deeper shades of cadmium orange and all shades of cadmium red.

  • Cadmium-Orange
    Cadmium Orange
  • Cadmium Orange Deep
  • Permanent-Orange
    Permanent Orange
  • Transparent Orange



Since the introduction of Cadmiums at the turn of the 20th century, the red hue family has greatly expanded to include such colors as the semi-transparent Napthol and Perinone Reds and the transparent Quinacridone Reds.

Using transparent reds opens possibilities unthinkable before this century. Instead of making glazes by thinning down an opaque color (which doesn’t increase transparency) or choosing the less lightfast alizarins, painters can use Perylene Red, a warm lightfast red that is completely transparent. Just imagine what Turner might have done with these reds!

Until the late 20th century, scientists were not able to tell the difference between human blood and earth red (ferric) iron oxide pigments. Vermillion was an alchemical mixture from the 9th century AD. Combining sulfur and mercury may have been an attempt to produce the philosopher’s stone. The resulting bright, opaque red was a marvel short of philosophy but a delight to painters for a thousand years. The earth red and vermillion colors were prepared by Robert Gamblin for a Smithsonian Institute research project and are not available from Gamblin Artists Colors.

Early artists knew the difference between fugitive and permanent pigments. They realized earth reds do not change through time or as a result of climate. Earth colors are rated ASTM Lightfastness I – the highest lightfastness rating. Iron oxide deposits are still found all over the world. Anthropologists believe the hematite (anhydrous ferric oxide) mines in South Africa have been worked for more than 40,000 years. There is an almost universal use of red pigment for funerary purposes. The underground color suggests an association with life-sustaining blood. Hematite is a natural form of iron oxide red found in Neanderthal caves where 20,000 to 35,000-year-old bodies had been completely submerged in the red pigment.

Cinnabar, the principal ore of mercury came from the Almaden mines of Spain for the artists of Pompeii. Cinnabar, a soft earthy lump of bright red, was an ingredient in recipes for preparing the philosopher’s stone as well as the artists’ color, Vermillion. Since the thirteenth century CE, red artists’ color has been artificially synthesized from mercury and sulfur. Vermillion is a dense opaque color that may blacken when exposed to the air or when painted next to white lead. Red lead, which definitely blackens in air, was used as a substitute for genuine Vermillion because it was a less expensive pigment. By the 1930’s, lightfast, permanent with considerably lower toxicity, Cadmium Red had replaced Vermillion on artists’ palettes.

The red earths are common in mural painting and easel painting throughout history. Although completely permanent and lightfast, red earths are dull when compared with the bright reds made from mercury. Other reds were made from organic matter, such as the madder root, dried bodies of insects or pomegranate peel.

It was 1868 before Alizarin was extracted from the madder root. Alizarin Crimson is the least permanent red color commonly found in artists’ palettes today. The madder root and Alizarin colors prepared by Robert Gamblin for a Smithsonian Institute research project are not available from Gamblin Artists Colors.

  • Alizarin Crimson
  • Gamblin Alizarin Crimson
    Alizarin Crimson Permanent
  • Cadmium Red Light
  • Cadmium Red Medium
  • Cadmium-Red-Deep
    Cadmium Red Deep
  • Napthol Red
  • Napthol-Scarlet
    Napthol Scarlet
  • Brown Pink
  • Perylene-Red
    Perylene Red
  • Quinacridone Magenta
    Quinacridone Magenta
  • Quinacridone-Red
    Quinacridone Red



Because of the value of rare blue pigments, few were mixed to make violets. So painters of the past did not use permanent violet colors. Those made from organic dyes have faded completely away.

Some painters never buy violet or purple. They mix it using Alizarin Crimson and Ultramarine Blue. While a decent color, the purple mixed using Alizarin Crimson is not lightfast; within 100 years that mixture will not be purple – it will be blue. Try Gamblin’s Alizarin Permanent for mixing with Ultramarine Blue. Or consider making violets with lightfast and transparent Quinacridone Red or Magenta, which will make a permanent purple of much higher chroma.

All single-pigment colors, Gamblin violets each have their own, unique characteristics. Use them to obtain strong, bold purples or to capture the subtle violets in nature.

  • Quinacridone-Violet
    Quinacridone Violet
  • Cobalt-Violet
    Cobalt Violet
  • Ultramarine Violet
  • Dioxazine-Purple
    Dioxazine Purple
  • Manganese-Violet
    Manganese Violet



Owning an oil painting made with expensive blues was once a status symbol. Painters who were poor or didn’t live in cosmopolitan areas never used any blue at all. Jan van Eyck used lapis – but only at the request of his patrons.

Blue is the most commonly confused color in terms of its hue temperature. There is a widely held misconception that all blues are cool. This is not at all the case: Indanthrone, Cobalt, and Phthalo Blue, for example, are warm, and Ultramarine Blue is so warm that it’s almost purple.

  • Cerulean-Blue
    Cerulean Blue
  • Cerulean Blue Hue
  • Cobalt-Blue
    Cobalt Blue
  • Cobalt Teal
  • Manganese-Blue-Hue
    Manganese Blue Hue
  • Phthalo-Blue
    Phthalo Blue
  • Phthalo Turquoise
  • Prussian Blue
  • Indanthrone-Blue
    Indanthrone Blue
  • Ultramarine-Blue
    Ultramarine Blue



Since most greens in the natural world have a high degree of yellow in them, painters will appreciate the yellowy warmth of Phthalo Emerald while beautifully transparent Phthalo Green serves as the cooler or blue shade. Either Phthalo Green, completely lightfast with an extraordinary tinting strength, or Phthalo Emerald can be used to “boost” mineral colors in tints.

Cobalt Green, made from a compound of oxides of cobalt and zinc, found favor with 19th century landscape painters after 1856. Cobalt Green makes valuable greys and is especially effective for painting the American Southwest, where green should be kept to a muted minimum.

  • Cadmium Green
  • Cobalt Green
  • Permanent-Green-Light
    Permanent Green Light
  • Emerald-Green
    Emerald Green
  • Phthalo Green
    Phthalo Green
  • Phthalo Emerald
  • Sap-Green
    Sap Green
  • Terre Verte
  • Viridian
  • Chromium-Oxide-Green
    Chromium Oxide Green
  • Olive Green
    Olive Green
  • Green Gold



Old Masters’ paintings were mostly brown because earth colors were the only lightfast pigments available. Found all over the earth in various shades of brown and muted shades of red, orange, yellow and green, earth colors have been on artists’ palettes for more than 40,000 years.

At the special request of Nathan Olivera, Robert Gamblin formulated a contemporary version of Asphaltum that is true to its historic working properties but, unlike traditional formulations, is both lightfast and permanent. Gamblin’s version, much to Olivera’s delight, captures not only Asphaltum’s qualities but also its “earth energy.”

In the studios of the Old Masters, painters pushed against the limitations of their colors. Sienna and Umber are key colors in creating effects of depth like Caravaggio’s chiaroscuro or Leonardo’s sfumato with its almost imperceptible transitions from light to dark. The famous “Terra di Siena” is a hydrated iron oxide from Tuscany. It contains silicates and aluminates that increase the transparency of the pigment.

Umber is found in sites where naturally occurring manganese dioxide combines with iron. Umbers and other pigments containing manganese make quick-drying oil colors. Burnt Sienna and Burnt Umber are made by roasting earth pigments until the desired reddish colors are produced.

Natural earth pigments often have uneven color and must be washed and processed into small particle sizes. This labor-intensive processing led to a demand for synthetic iron oxides that were developed as Mars colors in the late 18th century.

There is some discussion about why synthetic iron oxides were first produced, especially when so much pigment was then available in earth mines. The most logical explanation is commercial painters demanded consistency in color and texture for the emerging house paint industry. The British started to build homes with wood but they still wanted their houses to look like brick. Also, through the manufacturing process, shades can be changed. “Mars” was an internationally recognized word for iron.

A hundred years after the Masters’ great era, there was a revival in their techniques. Asphaltum was used when painters wanted to artificially age their painting to make them look like an Old Master could have painted them. Organic in nature, the original Asphaltum was coal black and crumbly. The pigment was not ground into oil but rather melted into oil and turpentine. Among the few transparent earth colors, Asphaltum was used in glazing and shading. But by the end of the 18th century, painters were dissuaded from using the color because it caused paintings to fade and deteriorate at an alarming rate.

Two hundred years later, painters’ interests have turned again toward the techniques of Renaissance masters. Like their predecessors, contemporary painters are pushing against the limitations of their colors. Often painters ask if earth colors are less transparent today than hundreds of years ago. The answer is YES. Today’s earth pigments are more opaque because the once rich deposits in Siena, Corsica and Cyprus are nearly mined out. Today’s earth colors must be mined from various locations and mixed together to achieve consistent colors. The bulk of earth pigments are used to color concrete for stucco and other building materials. The result is a rise in cost and a decline in transparency.

The late 20th century has produced the first significant change in iron oxides with the invention of transparent Mars colors for the automobile industry. These colors are made by hydrating earth colors, a process by which opaque colors are made transparent. As painters we have come full circle. The prized transparent earth reds of antiquity have returned to our palettes.

  • Burnt-Sienna
    Burnt Sienna
  • Burnt-Umber
    Burnt Umber
  • Indian-Red
    India Red
  • Venetian-Red
    Venetian Red
  • Raw Sienna
    Raw Sienna
  • Raw Umber
    Raw Umber
  • Naples-Yellow-Hue
    Naples Yellow
  • Naples Orange color swatch
    Naples Orange
  • Gold-Ochre
    Gold Ochre
  • Yellow-Ochre
    Yellow Ochre
  • Transparent-Earth-Yellow
    Transparent Earth Yellow
  • Transparent Earth Orange
  • Transparent Earth Red
    Transparent Earth Red
  • Asphaltum

Blacks & Greys


At least since the time of the Neo-Impressionists there has been a controversy about making greys. Thinking greys made from black are lifeless, some painters never allow black on their palettes; they only make greys from complements.

While overusing black in a painting will make it look dirty, neutral greys made from black and white are the same as neutral greys made from exact complements. Greys made from complements are more lively because they are incomplete mixtures of one color next to another. So come back to black with Gamblin Chromatic Black, a neutral, tinting black made from complementary colors.

An interesting alternative to mixing with white, the Portland Greys quickly lower the intensity of a color without changing its Munsell value.

Our range of Portland Greys is expanded with Portland Warm Grey and Portland Cool Grey. A triad of muted primary colors is created when Titanium Buff is added to these. This gives painters the ability to complete a range of “colored greys” for nuanced color mixing.




White is the heart of any line of artists’ colors. Between half and three-quarters of the paint on most oil paintings is white, so the white color holds most paintings together.

When selecting white oil colors, consider tinting strength. The more opaque the white, the higher its tinting strength and the more it will “reduce” the color. The higher the tinting strength, the lighter the value of the color/white mixture (tint).

Radiant White, our most buttery white, and Titanium White have the highest tinting strength. Excellent for direct painting styles, they make the brightest, most opaque tints and will reflect the highest percentage of light off the painting surfaces.

The Flake White Replacement project evolved from a prominent artist’s request for Lead (Flake) White, which had been the only white pigment commonly available until titanium dioxide was produced in 1920. Not surprisingly, the artist wanted Flake White’s working properties without the lead. Challenged, Robert tested all the Flake White oil colors on the market and found tremendous differences among them.

To make Gamblin’s version, he matched the working properties generally considered typical of Lead White: warm in color, a dense and heavy paste with a long and “ropey” quality, and a unique look to the impasto stroke.

For a broader discussion of Whites, please visit our Studio Note newsletter, Getting the White Right.

  • Titanium-White
    Fast Matte Titanium White
  • Warm-White
    Warm White
  • Cool-White
    Cool White
  • Titanium-White
    Titanium White
  • Titanium-Zinc-White
    Titanium Zinc White
  • Radiant White
  • Flake White Replacement
    Flake White Replacement
  • zinc white
    Zinc White
  • Quick Dry White
    Fast Dry Titanium White



Eight high-intensity tints – mixtures of pure color and white – at Value 7 on the Munsell System evenly spaced around the color wheel. Using the Radiant tints, painters can build traditional underpaintings, then glaze for optical effects of light and shade – enabling painters of today to explore a technique of the past.

Using tints (pure color + white), painters can make the brightest paintings. Using shade [pure color + black], painters can make deep, luminous paintings, accenting with white and tints. Using tone [pure color + white + black], painters can build paintings by value of pure light tints and grey. Learn more about Painting with Radiant Colors.



Metallic paint is made of tiny flakes of real metal floating in a clear binder. It’s the light reflecting from all those bits of metal that create the “metal finish.” But though the microscopic flakes are real metal, they don’t line up evenly, so they bounce light around rather than reflecting it directly back at us like a mirror. This is why metallic painted surfaces always have that soft, flat look. The finer the metal flakes and the clearer the binder, the more reflective the surface will be.

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