white paint feature

How To Choose The Right White Paint

White Is Just White Right?

There is more to white than meets the eye.  White paints vary in consistency, opacity/ translucency and drying time.  With so many white paints on the market it can be difficult to choose the right white for your painting.  Do we need them all and how do you choose the right white paint?

A tube of white paint is always on the list and is the most used yet more often than not we grab the first white we see little realising what an effect white can have on our painting. Using a white paint that is not opaque enough will cause trouble when blocking in or going over other colours especially in acrylic painting.  Whereas wrongly using an opaque white in glazing can be extremely frustrating.  It is best to work out what properties you need in your white paint before you choose the right white for you.

white paint gouache

Watercolour painting is a transparent medium and staunch watercolour painters will not use white paint at all aiming to use the white of the watercolour paper.  When tinting is required (mixing white with a colour) Chinese White will be used.  For a really opaque white paint in watercolour Gouache Permanent White is preferred although Winsor & Newton and Schmincke both offer a Titanium White in their ranges.

In acrylic painting white paint will be used to lighten colours and for blocking over.  Unlike oil paints acrylic paints dry at the same rate which gives you the advantage of using an opaque white paint such as Titanium White throughout your painting.  Titanium White is the most opaque white due to its high opacity pigment titanium dioxide.  It can be used to block over other colours as well as for highlighting and will not yellow as it ages.  Titanium White is hard to beat in terms of intense brightness.  This would explain why art tutors recommend titanium white for students starting acrylic painting.  It is however pretty useless for glazing.  For subtle glazing in your painting the more transparent Zinc or Mixing White would be preferable. Golden Acrylic paint tubes give a good indication of the covering power of whites.  The colour is painted over three black lines for you to see the opacity/transparency for yourself.

For tonal shift with good opacity use Titanium White and for subtle changes of colour or glazing use Zinc or Mixing White.




Oil Painters are most affected by the wide array of white pigments available.  Oil paint has been around longer than watercolour or acrylic paint and has benefited from more development of traditional pigments and modern replacements. Traditional white oil paints such as Flake and Cremnitz White are lead based and were used by the Old Masters who favoured their quick drying and stiff properties.  Lead is however highly toxic and although many artists continue to use these traditional white paints less toxic alternatives are now available.  When you see the term “hue” as in Winsor & Newton’s Flake White Hue it simply means that a modern substitute has been used to replace the toxic lead.

White Paints – The Lowdown

Cremnitz White is your traditional lead based white only available in artist quality oil paint.  It has a stringy consistency.

Flake White is a traditional lead based white again only available in artist quality oil colour.  This is a very stiff white and popular due to its fast drying rate and flexibility.

Flake White Hue has a similar drying rate to the traditional Flake White but has a titanium base to replace the toxic lead.  Ideal for mixing with warmer colours.

Under painting White does what it says on the tin! Opaque and fast drying it is ideal for primary layers in oil painting.

Titanium White is the most opaque white and unrivalled in whiteness.  It is blended with Safflower oil instead of Linseed oil making it resistant to yellowing.  It is however slow drying and not suitable for use in under painting.

Zinc White is the least opaque white and is ideal for tinting and glazing.  It has the stiffest consistency.  Ideal for mixing with cooler colours.

Transparent White is available in artist quality ranges. It is titanium based but with a low tinting strength giving you amazingly pale white glazes.

Iridescent White contains a mica based pigment which makes a pearlescent white. For great effects mix with transparent colours.

Soft Mixing White is a titanium based white with a low tinting strength and a soft consistency

Top Tips For Using White Paint

Safflower based Oil paints  will hold their true colours better and will be non-yellowing.  However when a fast drying time is needed such as priming a canvas use a white containing Linseed Oil such as Under Painting White.  This will dry at a faster rate making it suitable for priming and for primary layers.

When working with transparent layers or creating subtle shifts in tone choose Zinc white. To simulate the translucency of skin in portraiture Zinc white is ideal.

A white paint with a low tinting strength will never become high tinting strength paint but Titanium white can be coaxed into behaving like other whites. To create translucent glazes just mix in a little Linseed Oil.  To speed up drying add some Liquin, an alkyd based medium, and for a thicker consistency add Impasto Medium.


Give your white paint some more thought.  We pick our wonderful Cadmiums and Cobalts with great care but your choice of white really can affect your painting in many ways.

Stock up on white paint and other Art Supplies online with Pullingers Art Shop. 


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