Types of White Pigment for Oil Painting

There are several types of white colors the artist can choose from in the art shops. Such choice may cause confusion. White is just white, isn’t it? But not all white pigments have the same properties. Some are designed for certain practices, the effects of which could not be produced with another white pigment. So which white is the best for general artist use?

Which White Pigment?

Several white pigments on display in the art shop will cause some deliberation when it comes to choice, particularly for the beginner in oil painting. Zinc white, flake white, cremintz white, lead white and titanium to name a few. This would suggest that not all whites are the same. Some are stiffer than others; some have higher opacity or translucency. Which are which, and does the artist need all of them?

Translucent White for Glazing and Underpainting

The answer to the previous question is not necessarily, but it would help to know the difference between these white pigments so that the artist may make an informed choice.
Zinc white has translucent properties and is ideal for glazing techniques and underpainting. Glazing, as the term suggest is the application of a semi-transparent paint layer that modifies the appearance of the color beneath. Flake white tends to become transparent with age but is stiffer in consistency, so an awareness of this color’s future appearance is necessary when using it.

Transparent white, as the title suggests has the lowest tinting strength of these translucent white pigments and might be chosen for delicate tinting. Iridescent white being mica-based provides a pearly-whiteness, for mixing transparent colors. Foundation white is a lead-based pigment ground in a linseed medium for laying down base colors. Underpainting white is also used for this purpose but is faster drying.

White Hue

The term ‘hue’ will sometimes be seen on oil tubes, such as ‘flake white hue.’ Hue simply means that a modern substitute for a traditional pigment has been used. Flake white is traditionally lead-based. To offer the artist a less toxic alternative, flake white hue can be used instead. The hue in the flake white is titanium-based instead of lead-based.

Opaque Whites for Painting

Lead white is highly opaque, but due to toxicity, is not recommended. Cremnitz white, like flake white, is another example of white that is traditionally lead-based.

I personally favor titanium white as it is high covering strength and is brilliant white. It is also resistant to yellowing, as it is blended with safflower oil rather than linseed. It is resistant to cracking or of growing transparent. So when mixing any type of white, titanium is hard to beat when it comes to brilliance.

Mixing Titanium White

But titanium white can still provide the properties of the other whites mentioned. Mix a little linseed oil into this color, and it will provide a translucent glaze, as in the case of zinc white. For speed of drying, as in the case of foundation white, introduce a little alkyd-based medium such as Liquin. For a stiffer consistency to this white, as in the case of flake white, mix a little impasto medium into the white, or simply allow the pigment to sit on the palette for a day or so. The oil paint will stiffen as it partically oxidizes in the air. It can then be pasted onto the painting for impasto effects.

The Best White for Mixing Paint

As can be seen, lots of different white pigments are not necessary when it comes to painting, although they can be used for repeated special practices. A white with low tinting strength cannot be made into one with a high tinting strength. But titanium’s high tinting strength can be moderated by the use of the aforementioned mediums. It can also be made translucent and thickened as required.
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