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White - 2019 commentary by Dianne Mize

SummerSummer -
edited June 2019 in Color Mixing
I found this helpful this morning and couldn't resist sharing it here.  Hope some of you do too.

"Which white to use has recently gained a lot of attention among oil painters.  Watercolor painters don't have this issue because their paper is their white, but painters in other mediums do have an issue.
Most oil painting gurus claim their choice of white is the best, often giving long convoluted  reasons why, confusing the beginning and emerging painter as to how they, themselves, should choose a good white.  Some insist on sticking to tradition whereas others acknowledge the health threat of lead whites, choosing to make safer formulas work.  
According to the latest scientific research, all whites used in artist's paints are variations of Flake White, Zinc White and Titanium White.  The base of Flake whites is lead carbonate whereas Zinc whites use zinc oxide and Titanium whites use titanium dioxide. 
Even though variations of Flake white (PW 1) has superior qualities preferred by painters, any paint containing lead can cause serious health issues.  Cremitz white, Silver white, etc are variations of lead based paints.  It's a good idea to check the labels of any white you are considering if you prefer to stay away from lead.
Zinc White (PW 4) is the most transparent of traditional whites, but is known to crack in time, so those who have depended upon Zinc white are having to reconsider.  Some gurus claim that even when a white is a combination of zinc and titanium, it still is prone to cracking.
Titanium white (PW 6) is not toxic nor does it crack in time.  Consistency and brushablilty vary according to manufacturers so if you're fussy about your white, experimenting with different professional formulas might be enlightening. 
All the professional paint manufacturers have their whites listed on their websites.  If you want further information on what each one offers, Google them and do some research.  In their descriptions, look for the PW number.  Remember, PW 1 is lead, PW 4 is zinc and PW 6 is titanium.
Decades ago, I settled on Titanium white.  Currently, I enjoy the qualities of Gamblin's version, but that's not carved in stone.  It's just that I've worked with it long enough to make it do what I want it to do.  And that's what I advise you to do: find your white, then train it to do what you want it to do."




  • Thank you @Summer, I recall having earlier discussions in this group about this topic and came to this same conclusion, I like safe and no cracking. I originally was considering zinc white for some effects like smoke, steam, ray's of light in a room, reflections in glass, and many other variations on the theme. Great work, much appreciated!
  • CJDCJD -
    edited June 2019
    It's too simplistic of a take on the issue

    Since switching to lead white I've gotten pretty good at not getting paint on my hands at all (or clothes.. I literally used to wipe my hands on my shirt constantly). Using safflower clove brush dip is key as having to clean brushes with lead in them isn't easy for me due to lack of space. Using small brushes and fewer of them makes it easier for me as well.

    I'd use gloves but my hands sweat too much in them.

    I read recently that safflower oil may not dry completely so I have also started being more careful to get the oil out on paper towels first before reusing the brush.

    Other pigments are really toxic too so I don't see why using lead white is such a big deal if you're already using cadmiums and other colors with mercury in them.

    The east oaks studio channel has a good video on materials for anyone interested.. here's the link

  • Mark has a video about whites that I think is good as well. 

  • It goes without saying that more in-depth studies have been done on this issue.  It's nice to read a brief or highlighted overview once in a while, especially when written by a professional artist and professor of art of long standing and experience like Dianne Mize.  :) 
  • I think we overreact to lead exposer. The horrible lead poisoning examples are the terrible effects small amounts of lead has had on developing patients including the fetus. Horrible! However exposure limits for fully grown (not pregnant) adults is much higher than those still in development. I know this sounds crazy. I learned this fact in a course for becoming a Lead Based Paint Inspector/Administrator. So don’t eat any lead sandwiches and don’t lick your brushes. If you are a female of child-bearing age, be more careful. For the rest of us don’t sell the farm to avoid lead.

  • I don't like the stiffness of lead paint. I like Mark's white or if I want the brush strokes to show up more Old Holland titanium white.
  • I have used lead/flake/cremnita (PW1) for about 30 years, and except for my twitchy eye and dragging left leg, there's nothing wrong with me.

    Seriously, if you want to injure yourself with lead white, you'd have to eat it and bathe in it.  Lead white is a fast drying paint.  It's great for portraiture since the white gets into almost every color used in portraiture.  My work is touch dry in a day or so.  If I'm in a hurry, I add a couple or three drops of cobalt into my medium

    A few years ago, I tired of fighting with stiff lead white, and started buying from RGH --  Their lead white paints are buttery, easily manageable, and fairly inexpensive.  I buy their 250 ml tubes of PW1 with linseed oil for about $25 each.  It's a small company in upper NY . . . so small that you might find yourself talking to Rolf, the owner, if your call.

  • Ingestion is the vector for lead poisoning. Do not eat it, but it will not pass through your skin into your blood stream!
  • Folks

    Lead carbonate health hazard pathways

    Lead can be absorbed through the respiratory system. Local irritation of bronchia and lungs can occur and, in cases of acute exposure, symptoms such as metallic taste, chest and abdominal pain, and increased lead blood levels may follow. See also Ingestion.  

    POISON! The symptoms of lead poisoning include abdominal pain and spasms, nausea, vomiting, headache. Acute poisoning can lead to muscle weakness, "lead line" on the gums, metallic taste, definite loss of appetite, insomnia, dizziness, high lead levels in blood and urine with shock, coma and death in extreme cases. Soluble lead compounds, e. g., the acetate or nitrate, are the most dangerous. The reduced solubility of the chloride or materials forming the chloride in the stomach (metal, oxides, carbonate, etc.) while still toxic, may not act as rapidly.  

    Skin Contact: 
    Lead and lead compounds may be absorbed through the skin on prolonged exposure; the symptoms of lead poisoning described for ingestion exposure may occur. Contact over short periods may cause local irritation, redness and pain.  

    Eye Contact: 
    Absorption can occur through eye tissues but the more common hazards are local irritation or abrasion.  

    Chronic Exposure: 
    Lead is a cumulative poison and exposure even to small amounts can raise the body's content to toxic levels. The symptoms of chronic exposure are like those of ingestion poisoning; restlessness, irritability, visual disturbances, hypertension and gray facial color may also be noted.  

    Aggravation of Pre-existing Conditions: 
    Persons with pre-existing kidney, nerve or circulatory disorders or with skin or eye problems may be more susceptible to the effects of this substance.
  • I've been working with lots of low-chromas and near-grays to concentrate on value primarily.  The one thing I've found is that with lots of titanium white in the mix, everthing goes opaque.   I'm thinking of adding a transparent/translucent white to my palette maintain the transparency in new blends for tonal studies in low-chromas.  I'm ambivalent about flake white at-present, so maybe zinc white instead.  I don't know if the Gamblin Flake White Replacement will be translucent enough when mixed to near-neutral since it contains a lot of titanium.

    Maybe I'l  just try some flake white...
  • edited August 2019
    There are a few other obscure whites out there.

    Williamsburg have a Porcelain White (PW5 - Liphopone):

    Pigment Type


    Chemical Name

    coprecipitated zinc sulphide and barium sulphate

    Chemical Formula

    Zn + BaSO4


    Lithopone is a low tinting strength, semi-transparent white pigment that is often used as a filler or extender in other colors, or as the base for laked pigments.


    Lithopone is absolutely permanent and lightfast.


    Lithopone is not toxic.


    Lithopone was discovered by G.F. de Doubet in 1850. It  was developed commercially in the 1870s as a substitute or supplement for lead carbonate, to overcome the many shortcomings of white lead pigment, including toxicity, poor weathering, and darkening in the presence of sulfur compounds. It is used most often in interior paints and enamels. Its use as a white pigment has been superceeded in many applications by titanium dioxide. 

    Alternate Names

    Transparent White.

    Holbein have a Ceramic White made from Strontium Titanate:

    No CIE Number—Strontium Titanate
    Pigment Type


    Chemical Name

    Strontium Titanate

    Chemical Formula



    Strontium titanate, an oxide of strontium and titanium, is not really a pigment. It is transparent and nearly colorless, and thus can easily be doped with colorants.


    Strontium titanate is inert and stable. Because of its clarity in pure form, it has been used for manufacturing imitation diamonds.


    Strontium titanate is not toxic.


    It was once believed that strontium titanate does not occur in nature. It was synthesized before natural deposits were discovered. It occurs naturally as the mineral tausonite.

    Alternate Names


    I've not used either of them though..
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