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Have you ever looked at a tube of artist paint and wondered what all of that jargon means? Or maybe you have never noticed the wealth of information written on the tubes.

There is more to paint than just brand, color and price. Most artist grade paint tubes will give you all of the information you need to choose the right paint for your work.

Here are some tips on how to read the label on a tube of artist paint and how this information will help you in deciding what to buy.

My post on choosing the right paint will also give you more information.

**This page may contain affiliate links to products I have used or recommend. If you purchase something from this page, I may receive a small percentage of the sale at no extra cost to you. For more information click here.**

Paint Name

This is the common name of the paint color, for example “Ultramarine Blue”.

Different brands may use the same marking name but different pigments, giving you a slightly different shade or tone of color.

The different pigments will usually be listed on the tube as explained below.

Sometimes the paint name will contain the word “Hue”. This means the manufacturer has mixed a number of different pigments to match a single color.

Mixing different pigments is done for various reasons. It may be because the original pigment contains something that is now considered toxic, or to make the color more lightfast or simply to offer a cheaper version of the original pigment.

The cadmium paints (Cadmium Red, Cadmium Yellow, etc.) is one example of this.

Since cadmium has been shown to be toxic, manufacturers are moving away from pure cadmium paints and are instead making cadmium hues which contain no actual cadmium.

front and back of acrylic paint tube


The main standard of indicating lightfastness or permanence used by most major manufacturers is The American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM).

The ASTM gives ratings ranging from I to V with I being excellent, II is very good, III is fair, IV is poor and V is very poor.

IV and V are not used in artists quality paints and III may not be permanent. Most artist grade paint will have the lightfastness listed on either the front or back of the tube.



The pigment is what gives paint its color and can be produced from either organic or synthetic material.

Each pigment has a unique set of letters and numbers, call the color index name, usually found on the back of the tube.

The two letters indicate the color family, for example PR = P for pigment and R for red, so PR would be in the red color family. Similarly PB would be blue and PY would be yellow and so on.

The numbers indicate the chemical compound present in the paint. 

If the paint contains one pigment, then only one color index name will be listed.

If the paint is a mixture of pigments, then more than one color index name will be listed.

acrylic paint tube

Paint Binder

Some manufacturers list the binder in the paint. A binder is a substance that binds the pigments together to form the paint.

Common binders are oil, acrylic polymer and gum Arabic among others. Of course acrylic paint would be bound with an acrylic polymer emulsion.



A paint color is opaque if it hides the surface underneath. A color is transparent if you can see what is beneath the paint.

Some manufacturers list the opacity of the paint using either a symbol or a swatch of paint over black bars.

Paints are usually referred to as opaque, semi-transparent or transparent.


ASTM Conformity

All paint will have a symbol or wording indicating that they conform to health and safety standards.

Different countries may have different warnings related to health and safety depending upon the law where the paint is manufactured and sold.

Most brands contain an AP seal indicating that they are not toxic or harmful.

paint tubes


Manufacturers use numbers or letters to group paint into various price ranges. The higher the letter or number, the more expensive the paint.

An expensive pigment like cadmium would have a high number such as 8 or 9. A cheaper pigment like umber would be listed as a series 1 or 2.

Student grade paints which have a lot more binder and fillers relative to pigment would be listed as a series 1 or 2 and never higher than a 3.


Paint tubes also contain other information such as the amount of paint in the tube, the name and address of the manufacturer, the country where the paint was made and the website address of the manufacturer.

If you would like more information about a specific brand you can check out their web site. Most manufacturers have a wealth of information available about their paint and tips on using their products.

Here are links to a few of the major manufacturers of acrylic paint if you would like to check them out.



Winsor and Newton

blank paint tube with yellow paint swatch

I hope you find this information useful and have a better understanding of what is written on your paint tubes. It is useful information when you are deciding if you need an opaque color, a cheaper pigment or if you want your paint to be lightfast.

There is so much more to paint than just color. 😊


Thanks for reading.

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