White oil paint

In every layer, white oil paint has a different function and there several kinds of white oil paint. Also, every brand has its own recipes. There are three different main pigments, and two main kinds of oil. It's good to study whites a little, to create stable layers and have them dry as quick as possible. You'll probably need two or more kinds of it, but with a little thinking, you can limit your stock of your whites to one or two tubes.

White oil painting pigments

There are three main white pigments used as oil paint colors. Each of them has its own drying and hiding features:

  • Lead white - Warm white. It's in paint with names as Flake, Cremnitz or Cremser (though not always - check the pigment specs for PW1 - that's lead white). The material has gone out of fashion because it's hazardous, but it dries fast and was traditionally used as an oil primer (drying times: 6 months).
  • Titanium white - PW6: neutral to warm white with a very strong hide. Medium to slow drying speed. Good for all layers and mixing.
  • Zinc white - pw4. A very bright, cool and transparent white. I'ts loved by painters (Mondrian!)for creating light. Use it in top layers only, with enough medium (it dries fast, and in too thick layers it turns brittle).
  • Calcium carbonate (chalk) is moreoften used as a filler. Only Maimeri sells it as an oil paint ("earth white"). It's warm, transparent and doesn't hide much.

You never know what's in your white oil paint untill you check the pigment specs. Often, a white is composed or mixed, for example: blick oil mixing white is made of titanium and zinc white. Flake or cremnitz white usually indicates lead white, but often it's mixed with zinc white to make it brighter (zinc and lead both dry fast). Also check the kind of oil it's made of - scroll down for that.

The oil in white oil paint

Linseed oil is the best drying oil, but it has some yellowing issues (scroll down). For the better paints goes: when no kind of oil is mentioned, you have to assume your white oil paint was made with poppy or safflower oil (only Blick Oils is an exception - they're al linseed-oil). Safflower and poppy oils stay clear all the way. But they don't dry as good as linseed oil. I've heard about an oil painting of which all colors were safflower oil paints. It was an old painting, but it started dripping again when it was put in the full hot sun... Linseed oil doesn't do that: it forms a solid film.

Linseed oil dries better, but has yellowing issues, and safflower oil stays clear, but never really dries. When you mix safflower- and linseed oil paint, you get the best of both: a paint that dries OK and doesn't yellow too much. It's good to carefully compose your layers in both linseed and safflower oil paints.

Linseed oil and yellowing

There are two ways of yellowing with linseed oil. Right after finishing the painting, it yellows when put in the dark - but this isn't bad. The painting goes clear again when put in the light. The other yellowing process however occurs after several decades, and is irreversible. The drying process of linseed oil never stops, it's a kind of oxydization, and this process can't be undone. For this reason, it makes sense to add safflower oil paint to your palette as well.

Linseed-oil whites

(In Blick's economy line , all the colors are made of linseed oil - also the whites. You might want to write it on the tube, to remember yourself to it. This white is good for using in the underlayers - the cheapest oil (linseed) is also the best for drying and making a good paint film. But linseed oil yellows, and especially blues are visually affected by that. That's why blues are often made with safflower or poppy oil. But safflower never really forms a solid film... A safflower-oil blue can be mixed with linseed-oil white paint, or a linseed-oil-medium white to stabilize their drying capacity. A little linseed oil won't hurt their hue. But if a really bright white is needed (in the top layers), use zinc white in safflower oil.

Safflower oil whites

Rembrandt Artists' Oil Colors offers its whites both in safflower and linseed oil, which is mentioned on the tubes as well. For drying and adherende (important in the underlayers!) linseed oil really is better, it makes the best film. But the yellowing can be an issue, especially if a painting is kept in the semidark to protect its pigments. Mixing linseed and safflower oil paint may be a solution.

Blick Artists' grade paints are mostly safflower oil, and also of the other more refined brands you can expect the whites to be safflower- or poppy oil. Safflower oil white is good for mixing with blick oils (they're all linseed-oil). For utter brightness in the top layers: safflower zinc white is the one.
Again: some painters decided to take only safflower oils for their paints, but it turned out that these paints never really consolidate. One 19th century painting, completely made of safflower oil paint, was caught in the act of going liquid again - it was put in full sunlight. This is extreme of course. But mixing safflower with linseed oil might be a good idea.

Which whites to choose?

It depends:

  • For mixing in with colors, use titanium for better hide, and zinc to keep things more transparent.
  • For the first layers, or underpainting, use a lead white in linseed oil, it dries fast. Cremnitz white, from Michael Harding or Old holland paints.
  • Lead (cremnitz) white is also good for building structure, it does take long drying times though.
  • For utter bright in the top layers, use zinc white.
  • Titanium & zinc ("mixing white") can be used as an all-purpose white, the zinc provides brightness and quick drying, the titanium gives a good hide.

If you want to buy only two tubes of white oil paint, some possible combinations are:

  • For a thin and light working style: titanium in linseed oil (rembrandt or Blick oils), for the first layers (for good paint film), and
    zinc in safflower oil (Winsor Winton) for the top layers.
  • For good hiding: Foundation white (W&N) for underlayers, and
    soft mixing white (winsor winton) for the top.
  • For real structure in the underlayers, choose Cremnitz from Old holland paints. Complete it with soft mixing white (Winsor Winton), or zinc white in safflower oil.

Check here for

Trying out the whites - study and economy paints

Blick Oil Colors, 24 Buff Titanium, 225 ml

If you just start out, it's probably best to buy three small tubes of white oil paint (blick oils) to see which one you like best: flake, titanium and zinc. Of white, you need much more than of other paint colors, so you'll use them up anyway. All of them were made with linseed oil - for the safflower-oiled ones, you can always buy bigger tubes later (also blicks, or winsor winton).

For study purposes: the big tubes of Blick oils are the lowest in price . They're linseed-oiled. Click on the photo and you'll find them online.


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