I will summarize your thought process over the next couple of weeks to save you some time. I went through the newbie phase last summer (still quite green though) so I can still relate, most of these are guys are so far gone in chip degeneracy they have lost touch somewhat.
Step 1: Get Samples !!!!! (Really good advice)
Step 2: Cruise Ebay for samples. Ooooh genuine clay chips casino weight 14g, buy it now on a couple of auctions. Most of these are kind of garish but some don't look so bad.
Step 3: What are these samples ? Paulsons ? National Poker ? $1.50 a chip for the set ? Wow, thats expensive !! But I can get a sample set and combine shipping. I'll do it just to see the upper end, make an honest comparison, I won't actually order them.
Step 4: receive samples. Well these plastic chips are ok, but after feeling the Paulsons they are kind of crappy.
Step 5: You are f*cked. Paulsons are like crack, and you have now handled them. There is no turning back, just jump through the looking glass and hope you have an understanding wife/gf.
Enjoy the ride.