Choosing the right white


Ensure you make the right choice for your painting…

Why do manufacturers offer varieties of white in a paint range when they all look so similar?

When it comes to oil painting, white is used more than any other colour so choosing the right white is important in order to achieve the desired effect. Today’s white paints offer different characteristics with varying degrees of consistency and opacity which are suited to underpainting, highlighting, tinting and large areas of block applications. As a general rule when limited options are available, titanium white is the most reliable and versatile of the whites, but here a quick guide to help you select the right white for your purpose!

White Pigment

Titanium White

The whitest shade available, with a medium drying rate. It’s application is very opaque with a strong covering power and is not suitable for mixing with highly transparent colours. It is ideal for highlights and final painting and also for mixing tints. Those titanium whites ground with safflower oil will have less tendency to yellow than those ground with linseed oil.

Zinc White

The tone is very pure with a ‘cold’ appearance. It is less opaque than titanium white and so is suitable for tinting, but is best for glazes and when mixed with cool colours. It is also less flexible and dries to a hard and brittle film which can be improved with the addition of stand or linseed oil.

White Paint

Transparent White and Mixing White

These are both titanium based but will have a higher transparency which will allow you to achieve mixtures and glazes without a chalky effect on the colour or making them too opaque. Mixing white is a good alternative to zinc white.

Flake white and Flake White Hue

Flake white was the standard white paint used by artists of classical times. It offers a flexible and durable paint film once dry but it is no longer widely available as it contains the harmful substance lead. A flake white hue will provide similar qualities and effects without containing lead. These whites will dry faster and are best used with warm colours as they have a warm tint.

Foundation White

This was recommended for underpainting but also contains lead. Some manufacturers such as Winsor & Newton offer an Underpainting White which is well suited for this purpose, offering good opacity, a fast drying rate and coarse texture. It can also be used during painting as it will increase the drying rate on colours.

Note: Whites ground with poppy or safflower oil should be avoided for underpainting as they will have a tendency to crack subsequent layers due to the slow drying of the safflower oil.


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6 thoughts on “Choosing the right white

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  3. Bryan Hunt on said:

    Can you please tell me the size and type of thread use on standard oil paint tubes. I would like to buy a wing nut that I could run down the threads when they get clogged up. Many thanks.