There Are Palette Knives and Then There Are Painting Knives

There are palette knives and then there are painting knives used by oil painters. So what’s the difference between the two? Each type of knife has a specific purpose in the world of oil painting and this article will explain the difference and what those functions are.

Palette Knife

palette knife for painting
Palette Knife

A palette knife is a blunt tool used by an artist. It has a long, straight blade and is primarily used for mixing paints and scraping a palette clean when a painting session is over. It is not the type of palette knife that is used for applying paint to canvas because of its straight blade and handle. The type of knife used for actual painting on canvas is called a painting knife and will be discussed in a minute. Most palette knives are a metal blade with a wooden handle, however, some are made from plastic.

A palette knife is something that every artist will need to have as part of their art supplies in their art box even if you never intend to do a painting using a palette knife. You will at the very least need one for mixing paint colors on your palette.

A palette knife is not be confused with a painting knife, although many artists use the term “palette knife” when referring to both types of knives and this is perfectly acceptable.

Painting Knife

palette knife image
Painting Knife

The painting knife serves a different function than a palette knife and comes in a variety of styles and sizes. It is also shaped differently than a palette knife. The most commonly used painting knife has a diamond-shaped head and a crooked handle and is primarily used to apply pigment to canvas. The bend in the handle is so you can hold the knife head flat against your canvas without touching the wet surface with your fingers or knuckles.


Calvary at Sunset oil painting“Calvary at Sunset”
Landscape by Teresa Bernard
20″ x 16″
Oils on stretched canvas

>> More info


A painting knife can be used with any type of paint — acrylic, watercolor and oils. However, oil paint lends itself the best to this style of painting because of its thicker consistency. Some artists do entire paintings using a knife in lieu of a brush. Painting with a knife is a bit like putting butter on bread and is also a great way of creating texture on your canvas. The paint on these canvases is applied so thickly that the strokes, scrapes and streaks made by the painting knife are clearly visible to the viewer. This type of painting usually requires advanced skills. To see some examples of paintings done entirely with a painting knife, go to Google images and type in the key word “palette knife painting”. You will see some very nice examples of painting knife paintings.

When it comes to cleaning, you will find cleanup is much easier than a brush. Simply wipe the knife clean using a paper towel or cloth.

Lastly, a painting knife can also be used for mixing colors and for scraping your palette. There really is no need to have both a palette knife and a painting knife.

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