I first found out that there were different kinds of white many years ago in calligraphy class. We were using gouache paints (a type of opaque watercolour) and I can remember learning that there were four different types of Winsor and Newton whites, and all had different degrees of opacity and permanence.
In my current, painting-in-acrylic world, there are two whites I use all the time. Titanium White and Zinc White. In the pic above I’m holding one of each, and they both come in the tube (Golden Heavy Body) form and the bottle (Golden Fluids).
If you look really closely, just above the colour name on both the tube and the bottle there are three black diagonal lines (the Golden paint people actually handpaint a swash of each paint onto the label) and by painting it over these lines, you can see how transparent or opaque the colour is. You can only just see the lines on the Titanium White tube.
So, now that you know what you’re looking for, you can see that Titanium White is quite opaque, while Zinc White is quite transparent. (Just ignore the yellow and aqua splodges on the bottle – things get a bit messy ’round here.)
Great, so how do you use these two types in practice?
Because Titanium White is so opaque, it’s great for covering the colours underneath – that means you can paint over parts of your acrylic painting and start again if you need to. It’s like Liquid Paper!
I use this white to mix pastel colours and by itself, as one of my last painting stages, to add highlights and my signature ‘swirls and curls’.
On the other hand, Zinc White is transparent, which makes it ideal for tints and glazes.
To explain a ‘tint’, understand that when you start with red and add Titanium White, you’ll get an opaque, rosy pink. If you add Zinc White, you’ll get a transparent, lighter red. I’ve demonstrated this in the pic below.
I also regularly use Zinc White to overpaint my background colour – to lighten it, without taking away all the colour.
I used this technique to ‘knock’ the background back on my “Poppies” paint along painting as well.
They are lovely, lovely paints to use and I do stock them in my studio if you’re keen to get some for yourself!