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Which White? Titanium verses Zinc Paint

by | Jan 18, 2022 | Art Lessons | 0 comments

An array of acrylic colors at my local art store.

Often when we look at the vast variety of color tubes, we can tell the difference between two of them at glance. Then white shows up. What’s the difference between Titanium and Zinc white? Do we need both?

First let me address a common misconception. Often, I hear that one is bluer or “colder” than the other. While this is true – the misconception is that matters, especially if you aren’t advanced in color mixing yet. The difference in hue between the two is more affected by how close a light bulb is to the painting. In other words, it doesn’t matter. (Unless maybe you were doing a super-ultra-white-on-white type painting.) What does matter is TRANSPARENCY.

Okay, sorry for shouting. Just making sure you didn’t miss it. Zinc is super transparent. Like, “Wait, did I mix in the Zinc yet? I can’t tell,” level of transparency. I have heard that it is 10 times weaker than Titanium white, but really, that seems a bit strong. It is a weak tinter. Titanium white is the go-to white for mixing. It is very opaque and strong. It can take a black and make it gray with ease.

I like using both – and usually it is the Titanium. But, when you need a transparent white, it’s hard to make do with something else. Transparent white will create a lighter hue, without turning it into a pastel color like it is Easter time. If you want to preserve the transparency of the paint you are mixing (Phthalos, Quinacridones, and Hansas for example), then Zinc is your go-to white. If you add it to magenta, you will get a lighter magenta, not a bright pink.

I use the analogy that mixing colors can be equated to arm wrestling. Some paints are stronger than others at it. If you wanted a mix a blue sky for example, you could take a few blues like Ultramarine or Cobalt and mix them, and then lighten the mixture by slowly adding Titanium until it reaches the value you want. If you do this same idea with Zinc, the value of the color won’t change until you add a ton of paint. And then it will be more transparent even then, showing the layers of color underneath. In an arm-wrestling match, Titanium is the titan over Zinc. (Thanks to my student, Monica, for coming up with that easy-to-remember phrase.)

Underlayer: Ultramarine. Top: Pure pigment (Titanium and Zinc), the bottom: The white mixed with Ultramarine.

The fun part of painting is the physicality of paint. I hope this post helps you enjoy painting more and struggle less. Let me know if you have questions!