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The Black and White of Acrylic Paint



Probably the first two tubes of paint an artist buys are black and white. The most boring paint in your art box but also the most versatile and in the beginning, probably the most used.

We don’t really give much thought to black and white. They are the “service” paints on our palettes. They make other paints lighter or darker and together make a grey.

But there is so much more to black and white, more ways to use them and even numerous ways to make your own deep rich blacks that have depth and dimension.

Black and white acrylic painting of an electrical storm at night
Stormy Weather by MarilynO @TrembelingArt


If someone were to ask you what color clouds were you would automatically say white. You would be wrong.

Clouds are never truly white. They reflect colors from the sun, sky and even the ground below.

Very few things are pure white since white reflects other colors around it.

Black also contains hints of the colors surrounding it. Pure black can be flat and dull so adding in a little extra color will give you a rich hue with some depth.

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White Acrylic Paint


There are several types of white acrylic paint. Each has its own uses and the names and pureness of color can vary among manufacturers.


Swatches of white acrylic paint

The Buff Titanium in this picture is from Winsor and Newton and has a yellow bias. Other manufactures such as Liquitex, have Buff Titanium or Unbleached Titanium that is closer to a light beige.

Titanium White

Titanium white is a bright, opaque white. When mixed with other colors, it will lighten them to an almost pastel shade.

Titanium white is useful for covering up previously painted areas or painting light over dark.

For example, if you wanted to paint something on a black background, you could use the Titanium white as a base coat to cover up the black background.

That way you will be able to paint any color over it.

Pure titanium white can also be used for the brightest of highlights such as the twinkle in an eye or the tiny dot in a dew drop.


Transparent Mixing White or Zinc White

Transparent Mixing White is, as the name implies, transparent which makes it ideal for mixing and glazing. It has 1/10 of the tinting capability of Titanium white so you don’t get that milky hue when you mix other colors with it.

Transparent mixing white lightens the color without adding opacity to it because light can pass through the transparent particles of the paint.

It works especially well with other transparent colors such as ultramarine blue, burnt sienna or cadmium red.


purple acrylic paint mixed with transparent white and titanium white paint


Iridescent White

Iridescent white is a semi-opaque, pearlized white. It works best when mixed with a transparent color. Iridescent white produces a shimmer on the painted surface which is good for giving the illusion of metal objects.


Buff Titanium or Unbleached Titanium

Buff Titanium or Unbleached Titanium is not strictly white although some manufacturers list it with their white paints.

It is an off white or very light beige depending upon the manufacturer. It is an opaque color with a brown undertone.

Buff or unbleached titanium makes a great base for flesh tones or as toned down highlights on portraits.

It is also a great base color to use for sandy beaches or some animal furs and can give a warm glow to clouds or snow in some cases. Gives a softer more natural look.


Black Acrylic Paint


As with white, nothing is really pure black. Even the darkest shadows have reflections of color from the objects around them. (See my post on Shading and Highlighting).

Black on its own is actually pretty dull and can be overpowering. For this reason, most artists tend to use black sparingly to control or tone down the intensity of colors.

There are also several types of black acrylic paint. As with white acrylic paint, the names and colors of black paint vary by manufacturer.


swatches of black acrylic paint


Ivory Black or Bone Black

Ivory black was originally made from charred elephant tusks. Today, this black is made from charred animal bones so it is more appropriately called bone black although some manufacturers still call it Ivory Black.

Ivory black is a very dark black with a slight brownish undertone.


Carbon Black or Lamp Black

Carbon black is a dark black with a bluish undertone. There is a whole technical process involved in the making of carbon black but in basic terms it is made by partial burning of oil or gas.


Mars Black

Mars black is made from synthetic material and is opaque with a slightly warm tone. It has the strongest tinting strength of all the blacks so use with caution for mixing.


Payne’s Grey

Payne’s grey is not a black but a very dark blue/grey. It is useful for painting dark areas without having to use black. It is also frequently used to mix with other colors in place of black since it is less intense.


various shades of grey acrylic paint

This picture shows the various blacks mixed with white to make grey. You can see the different undertones of the black paint more easily when mixed with the white.


Mixing Chromatic Blacks


You can mix your own wonderful blacks that are not flat and have so much depth.

Mix two complementary colors in equal parts to get a black. You can also add more of one color to get a black with a color bias.

For example, mix Ultramarine with Burnt Umber but use a greater amount of Ultramarine. You will get a black with a blue tint.

The following are some mixes you can try to get a black.


Burnt Umber + Ultramarine Blue

Burnt Umber + Prussian Blue

Quinacridone Crimson + Phthalo Green

Ultramarine Blue + Alizarin Crimson

Blue + Orange

Dark Green + Dark Red

Ultramarine Blue + Naphthol Crimson = Deep Purple


mixes of chromatic black paint


You can also get beautiful shades of grey if you add a touch of white to these chromatic blacks.


Black and White Acrylic Painting


Doing a painting in black and white is a great way to get familiar with the different properties of black and white acrylic paint and a great way to experiment with your own chromatic black mixes.

A black and white painting is more about the subtle differences in tone and value than color.

You can leave the painting as is or add a stark pop of color as I did in this painting to convey meaning, highlight a focal point or just make the piece a little more interesting.


 painting of girl with orange umbrella
Orange Umbrella by MarilynO @TrembelingArt


As you can see, black and white acrylic paint is not just black and white. You can play around with the various shades of black and white to get more interesting shadows and better paint mixes.

Being able to mix your own chromatic blacks will add more depth and interest to the darkest areas of your work. 


black and white painting with text overlay choosing black and white acrylic paint


I hope this information was helpful to you. If you have any questions or suggestions please write a comment below.

And don’t forget to check out our quickly growing Facebook group Trembeling Art Creative Corner

Thanks for reading. 😆

Digital signature Marilyn with butterfly





Related Posts:

Beginners Guide To Highlighting and Shading

What Is Meant By Value In A Piece Of Art

How To Choose The Right Acrylic Paint For Beginners



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