Which White? For the Serious Artist It Is a Serious Question

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serious artist
White is used predominantly in just about every palette as the foundation, tint, and highlight of a painting. So make sure to choose precisely the best white for your needs.

Are you an artist and looking to better understand the white pigments?

Have you found yourself shopping for white oil paints and have been confused by the many choices of artist oil paint brands available and their characteristics.

This blog post will seek to clear up the confusion about white oil paint pigments and give direction in choosing the proper paint for the job.

For the serious oil painter, it is a serious question: which white?

There are several variations of white pigment to choose from in oil color.

Moreover, some may have the same hue in common, but contain a different oil base that will significantly change the use of the paint.

In all cases, choosing the whites to use in a painting can truly be a complicated issue.

The same can be said of any pigment in oil painting, but since white is used predominantly in just about every palette as the foundation, tint, and highlight of a painting, many painters make sure to choose precisely the best whites for their needs.

Also, most of your painting will probably consist of mostly white. In fact, about 80% of your entire painting will be composed of your white pigment. So choose the best and most expensive white you can afford. It will up the quality of your entire painting.

Just to let you know, all of the product links in this article are Amazon affiliate links. That means I get a small commission if you buy anything from Amazon, but it doesn’t cost you any extra. Don’t worry, I’m always honest, open, impartial with my reviews – I only recommend the good stuff – but this affiliate income helps keep the site running.

Hue

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Zinc white, made from zinc dioxide, is the coolest white, as it has a slightly bluish cast.

The most obvious difference between whites in oil painting is the hue variance.

The most common and universal whites (Titanium, Zinc & Flake) are easily identified by their hue characteristics, usually regardless of the manufacturer, as long as they are made from high quality pigments.

Titanium white is the most brilliant because titanium dioxide reflects 97.2% of incident light and is neutral in color. Titanium has the strongest tinting strength and is best for mixing tints of colors. It is also less prone to yellowing.

Zinc white, made from zinc dioxide, is the coolest, as it has a slightly bluish cast.

Flake white is the most traditional lead in oil color and has a slightly warmer color.

If making a choice between Titanium, Zinc or Flake on hue alone, it is simple when trying to achieve a certain tone in a painting.

For example, if painting a warm sunrise landscape it would be beneficial to use Flake in the palette because of its warmer hue. In contrast, Zinc would fair well in a painting of a winter scene.

Texture/Consistency

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Artists prefer Flake White when creating heavy impasto applications or where several layers of color must be built up.

Being that each different color is composed of their own pigment or blend of pigments, and that they vary in the oil binder used, they each have their own unique texture and consistency.

Titanium is heavier and thicker in texture rather than creamy.

Zinc White is also heavy-bodied but has a nice creamy texture, and as such it is the preferred white for ala prima painting.

Flake White, traditionally a lead-based paint, is the thickest white giving a long ropy stroke or short brush mark. Artists prefer Flake White when creating heavy impasto applications or where several layers of color must be built up.

Drying Time and Durability

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Underpainting White and Foundation White are formulated with linseed oil and are better for underpainting and extensive layering because of the quicker drying time of the oil.

Most white pigments are either bound in safflower oil or linseed oil.

Safflower whites are generally not recommended for extensive underpainting or priming because the slow drying nature of the oil may cause subsequent layers to crack.

Titanium, Zinc, Flake, and Cremnitz whites are usually safflower oil based.

Underpainting White and Foundation White are formulated with linseed oil and are better for underpainting and extensive layering because of the quicker drying time of the oil.

Here is a recap of characteristics by pigment.

Titanium white

  • Most brilliant because titanium dioxide reflects 97.2% of incident light and is neutral in color.
  • Titanium has the strongest tinting strength and is best for mixing tints of colors.
  • It is also less prone to yellowing
  • Strongest white, has the greatest coverage strength
  • Recommended as the general, all-purpose white
  • Titanium is heavier and thicker in texture rather than creamy.

Zinc white

  • Made from zinc dioxide, is the coolest, as it has a slightly bluish cast
  • Heavy-bodied but has a nice creamy texture, and as such it is the preferred white for ala prima painting
  • Zinc would fair well in a painting of a winter scene, seascape or wherever cool colors are needed

Flake white

  • Traditionally a lead-based paint, it is the thickest white giving a long ropy stroke or short brush mark.
  • Artists prefer Flake White when creating heavy impasto applications or where several layers of color must be built up
  • If painting a warm sunrise landscape it would be beneficial to use Flake in the palette because of its warmer hue.

Underpainting White and Foundation White

  • Are formulated with linseed oil and are better for underpainting and extensive layering because of the quicker drying time of the oil.
  • Very opaque pigments with great coverage strength.

Let us know about your experiences using white in the comments below.

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Joan Simpson

    Good article! Thanks.

  2. Aurelia

    Thanks forr finallly writing about >Which White? For
    the Serious Artist, It is a Serious Question. – Gary Bolyer <Liked it!

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