This question is often asked by beginners and advanced artists alike. Many different mediums including acrylics and oils, offer paints in both student and artist quality tubes and pots. Deciding which quality of paint to use can depend on a number of circumstances and for that you need to understand the differences in the two types of paint.
Sometimes artists are not actually aware that there are two qualities of paint available, particularly when starting out, so it is useful to get an idea about them.
Cost – the most notable difference when you are first looking at choosing between the two types of paint is the cost. Student quality paints are much cheaper than artist quality ones and although there is good reason for this, there are also other factors that you can take into account when choosing.
Pigments – the artist quality paints often have higher quality pigments used in them – this could mean a few things – more vibrant colours, longer lasting colours and also possibly a better selection of colours.
Additives – Student quality paints will often contain more of the cheaper ingredients and less of the pigment itself, which also impacts on the colour and coverage of the paints. In terms of acrylic paints this could mean they have more water added and hence may dry more slowly and also be less permanent (try wiping them off when you have made a mistake and it could be easier with more watered down paints).
Which to Choose
When you are deciding which type of paint to buy then you may have a few deciding factors on your mind:
What is your budget? If you have a really low budget then you may just have to go with student quality paints. However, combined with other criteria, you may wish to try to upgrade if you can.
What will you use the paints for? What I mean here is, do you use them for underpainting? If you do (and you should to be honest) have a number of coats of paint on your painting, then you could use student quality paints for the underneath layers and artist quality for the top layers.
Who is the painting for? if you are just painting test pieces for yourself then by all means use student quality but if you are painting for a commission or an exhibition then you should be using artist quality.
Can you find the colours that you need? It may well be that the colours you need are not available in student quality so you will need to opt for artist’s quality paints.
So it is really all down to personal choice but if you are working as a professional artist I am sure that you are more likely to be using the better, artists quality paints, at least on the finishing layer of your painting.