Beginner Art · Colour · Painting

Which White?

White paint is an area of confusion for many beginners starting to learn to paint.  Some are under the impression that you should never use white and others get confused when they see several versions of white paint such as ‘Titanium White and ‘Zinc White’.  What are the differences between the whites, which one is best and when should you use white, I will demystify the area of white paint.

When Should White be Used? 

Generally white is not used with watercolours, the reason being because the white of the paper is used rather than white paint.  Watercolour is primarily a transparent medium that allows the white of the paper to shine through. If white is used it is used very sparingly for highlights.

The problem with using too much white with watercolours is that it can make colours less ‘pure’ or bright and can lead to making work look slightly muddy, taking the freshness of the artwork away.

The white of the paper is used instead of white with watercolour
The white of the paper is used instead of white paint with watercolour

White is used with oils, acrylic and gouache but mostly it tends to be used sparingly on its own as a pure white, only for highlights.  This is because most of what we see are tones, somewhere between the extremes of dark and light.

Which White? 

The problem is there isn’t just one white, there are several: Titanium White, Lead White, Zinc White, Foundation White, Transparent White, Flake White… so which one?

Some of the whites are ‘cool’ with a blueish tint and others are warmer with a more yellow tint and some are more neutral.  The only problem is that you only know once you start using them so buying one is not easy.  The differences are very slight, but here is a guide:

Titanium White 

A good all round neutral white ideal for blocking in with acrylic painting and good for use with all painting media.

Titanium White is the most common white sold and used by artists.
Titanium White is the most common white sold and used by artists.

Zinc White 

A cooler white slightly lighter than Titanium white and slightly more transparent.

Transparent White

As the name suggests it is more transparent which is useful for glazes if you wanted to build up colour. It has a neutral tone.

Flake White

Less common than the other whites, it has a slightly warmer feel and is as not transparent it has a more opaque finish.

Iridescent White

This white has a shimmer and is good for effects where you would like a slightly shiny, pearl-like finish.  Not really a practical paint for beginners but it does add a nice effect if this is what you need for your piece.

Does it Matter Which One?

Not really as the differences are very minor.  I would  try and choose an ‘all-rounder’ with a neutral tone, Titanium White is a good choice.  It is also the most common white you find in art stores.  You don’t really need more than one white when you start painting, so don’t go thinking you have to buy them all!

Also see How can I learn about Colour?

3 thoughts on “Which White?

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