Remove Zinc White from your palette?


Here is an authoritative article on the cracking and delamination characteristics of Zinc White.



  • There are a great number of variables one must consider before you can condemn zinc completely. This is nothing new, Ralph Mayer in his very reputable book "The Artist's Handbook" makes it very clear that zinc is prone to brittleness, cracking and delamination. But he also mentions that adding it to titanium white can actually improve the strength of the resulting paint film. That is because titanium alone - "when exposed to severe tests, their films have a tendency to become soft and chalky". By adding a percentage of zinc to the titanium it will increase the durability of the resulting paint film. (brittle is the opposite of soft - you want a paint film that is "in-between" the two)

    Also Ralph Mayer makes it clear that driers in oil paint weaken oil paint over time, especially in the long term as the drying effect of the driers continues over the years, eventually causing the paint to become brittle. And because most (perhaps all) paint manufacturers add driers to their whites, it may be that zinc+drier is to blame for the resulting brittleness. Keep in mind, the vast majority of titanium whites are made with poppy oil which also forms a weaker paint film than paint made with linseed oil only.

    It should be noted that titanium white mixed with cold-pressed linseed oil only, may take months to dry on the canvas. Who is going to buy white paint that takes two months to dry?

    Lead white (flake white) makes the very best paint films, but of course it is highly toxic if ingested and is likely to soon be illegal to sell to artists. It was banned in house paints a long time ago - for very good reason.
  • Hello, Everybody!  I've been away for quite some time, and I haven't painted for quite some time either, (mainly due to health issues).  But I've been thinking of slowly getting back into painting again, even for a few minutes a day.

    I am just wondering if anybody knows of any linen that has not been sized with zinc white primer.

    I have started to be concerned about using, as well as buying more, Claessens linen because I've just found out that it "... is sized with two layers of zinc white primer bound with linseed oil ...".
    I have recently discovered, but also found out that, Artfix L64C Quadruple Oil Primed Linen is also sized with Zinc white primer.    

    I still have some unused unstretched Claessens #13 pre-primed linen, as well as a couple of made-to-order 16” x 28” artist board panels with frame of 32mm depth using Claessens #13 double-primed fine linen. I will still use them for my "study" paintings, as I know that they're not going anywhere, and I don't really want to waste them, as they are so expensive.  But I just have to avoid buying anymore.
    I would have wanted to try out the Artfix L64C because of its quadruple priming. 


  • Vangie

    Good to see you back on the Forum.

    When you cover your canvas and panels with layers of oil paint and varnish the zinc paint will be isolated from the moisture bearing air that causes the problem.


  • Thanks, Denis.  That's very interesting. I'd really be very interested to know where I could read more about that.

    From postings in George O'Hanlon's Facebook group called "Painting Best Practices", I gathered that there are potential problems with using zinc white as either a primer or as a pigment, so it's best not to use it on paintings that an artist would sell or even give away to family and friends.  George's solution seems to be as follows... he wrote on 5th Sep: "If zinc white is used in a primer on canvas, the best course of action besides avoiding it, is to mount the canvas onto a rigid substrate to reduce the potential of cracking.He also advised one of the members, who was asking for advice on what to do with his Claessens #15 loose linen, as follows: "You can likely reduce the risk of embrittlement by mounting the canvas to a rigid support, such as an ACM panel."

    One of the regular contributors to George's FB group is a conservationist named Kristin DeGhetaldi who wrote on 5th Sep:  "Just because an artist has used zinc white (either in the priming or as a pigment) does not make their paintings/artwork "bad". The conservation community has only relatively recently become aware of the potential problems that zinc white can cause....and I use "potential" as a descriptor here very purposefully. We still do not know what causes some of these reactions to occur. It is thought that exposure to excessive heat and/or moisture may have something to do with it but again far more testing is needed to confirm this. What is important to convey here to artists is that if you do choose to use zinc white please record it on the back of your painting. That way when we finally get around to figuring out how to prevent some of these problematic reactions then conservator will know how best to care for your artwork in the future. But ... not nearly enough folks are aware of these issues yet."

    George O'Hanlon also wrote on 5th Sep: "zinc white in oil paint is far from "out-of-fashion", since it is used in many commercial tube oil paints today. What Kristin DeGhetaldi and I have been trying to do in this group is to inform artists about the potential problems of this pigment in oil paint. (And please note for all of you who are using zinc white in watercolors, gouache or other paint mediums, zinc white does not present the same issue in those mediums.) The problems with zinc white in oil paint are well known among conservation scientists and the paint industry, but just how extensive it is or will be can only be determined after more extensive study is done and in the course of time. Until then the prudent course is to avoid its use, if possible, until more is known."


  • Vangie

    Type Smithsonian into the a Forum search box for discussions and links to further reading.

    here is one of the discussions.

  • You're funny, @davidwwilson... and thanks that you liked the composition photo & the initial drawing.  Unfortunately, the original set up background and base were all stark white, so I had to eventually change it.
    I know what you mean ... it went on & on... but at the time I really wanted as many feedback as possible.  I did eventually work on it again, but only to the extent of changing the upper background to a pale blue, as suggested by Martin_J_Crane, just to see what it would be like. Anyway, at this stage, I don''t know whether or not I'll ever get to finish that painting ... it just needs too much work. But at least I learned a few lessons from that exercise.  For example, I looked at older shots of my painting and realized that my earlier version showed a much better painted red rose, with better values and it looked more realistic... so that was a very good lesson for me to learn, ie leave it alone !!! and stop tweaking!!!  Another lesson that I learned is to make sure that my still life setting has good/proper lighting at the outset, and to take good reference photos showing light & shadows, etc.  It's very hard to rely on my imagination when painting realistic values, shadows, etc. once I've put away the still life setting.
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