Oil used to make oil paints comes from several sources; the most
common used is linseed oil, made by boiling the seed of the flax
plant. The oil is then mixed with pigments to attain color. Art
paints use a slightly different form of linseed oil than a basic
house-paint or general-use paint. General-use oil paints are made
to dry very quickly, and with varying gloss.
Common pigment bases include lead bases, cadmium bases, and earth
bases. In recent times, synthetic pigments have become popular;
however many are not tested well for their lightfastness.
Many older paints are now being less used in favor of these newer
pigments. It is now much less possible to buy true lead white oil
paint, which used to be the main choice for white. Flake White is
made from white lead. Zinc white and titanium white are now much
more popular, however both are slightly more brittle than flake
white. All white pigments and many of the lighter yellows are mixed
with safflower oil or poppy oil which are slower drying than linseed
oil, and do not yellow when dry.
Notes for usage of oil paints
Many oil paints contain toxic chemicals. Lead is known to cause
cancer with prolonged exposure and cadmium can cause cancer with
Wash your hands well and avoid unventilated rooms when painting.
Paper or rags soaked in pure linseed oil are known to spontaneously
ignite. Be sure to soak the rag in water or seal it in a bag of
water or metal can.
Although synthetic pigments are popular, there are no good synthetic
pigments to replace the cadmium colors.
As with all oils, linseed oil is highly resistant to water and requires
some sort of paint thinner (soap, turpentine, benzene-based thinners)
to clean up.
It is now much less possible to buy true lead white oil paint. Flake
White is made from white lead. It is only available as art paint.
Caution when using is recommended.