Painting and Palette Knives – What is the difference?

Painting and Palette Knives - what is the difference? Smart Art Materials

Painting and Palette Knives are both incredible painting tools to add to your art arsenal, and are very popular to use along with acrylic paint! Use them for mixing paint or to apply thick, textured paint in bold strokes directly on the canvas. The names of painting and palette knife often get confused.

So what is the difference between painting and palette knives?

Painting knife is a painting tool.
Palette knife is a color mixing tool.

Painting Knife

Painting and Palette Knives - what is the difference? Painting Knives are used in place of a brush for applying paints and paste directly onto the canvas or another painting support. They are blunt with a slightly flexible steel blade and no sharpened cutting edge. Between the handle and the blade, there is usually a large crank, to keep the artist's hand off the paint surface. Painting knives come in a range of shapes, styles, and sizes.

Using painting knife will give you the opportunity to achieve new effects in color blending, painterly and expressiveness, as well as relief and texture of the painting. Over time, you can purchase various decorative shapes painting knives for special effects

How to choose a painting knife
When buying a painting knife, choose the one with a flexible blade that has a good spring to it. The handle should be smooth, have a nice grip, and comfortable to hold. Make sure that the handle and the blade are firmly attached to avoid wasting paint or accidents.

How to use a painting knife

Painting done with painting knife. Acrylics on Canvas.
My painting, done with a use of painting knife

Using a painting knife is easier then it seems, just like spreading butter on sliced bread. Get some paint (1 or more colors) from your palette on the bottom of your knife and spread the paint on the canvas. Be creative, experiment, and you will definitely get different interesting effects.

How to clean a painting knife
After using a painting knife, use a clean cloth to wipe off the paint. Use another cloth to completely clean the tool. If the paint has already dried, scrape off the paint using a blunt knife and a damp cloth. A painting knife with a stainless steel blade is more forgiving if you forgot to clean it immediately after painting. However, if the blade is made of steel, it is prone to rust if neglected.

Palette Knife

Painting and Palette Knives - what is the difference?Palette Knives are often been confused with painting knives. But the word "palette" in its name is for a reason -  this knife is designed for mixing paints and mediums on the palette before applying them to a surface. Yet, you should consider that people often say "palette knife" meaning the painting one. Palette knives are symmetric, have no sharpened cutting edge, and often with a slight or no crank between the handle and the blade.

How to choose a palette knife
Choose a palette knife with a flexible metal blade and wood handle. Try to avoid a plastic palette knife since it breaks easily and it's not so effective. Normally, you wouldn't need more than one palette knife, so do not skimp on it.

How to use a palette knife

Squeeze paints on your palette. Get a little paint from the colors that you want to blend using the palette knife. Dab, flatten and mix the colors together until the color is uniform. If you are adding another color to the blended paints, clean the palette knife first using a cloth or paper towel before getting the third paint color. Never ever use your paintbrush for mixing paints, as this is going to destroy the bristles - always use the palette knife for this purpose.

How to clean a palette knife
Cleaning a palette knife is similar to a painting knife. Use a damp cloth to remove the paint from the palette knife.


Normally, when you are trying to use painting knife for the first time, it might not work out very well, but don't worry, practice is all it takes! Here is a very good option for painting knife set for a very low price:

Check out more painting tool here, and please, let me know if you have any comments or questions about the difference between painting and palette knives.



4 thoughts on “Painting and Palette Knives – What is the difference?

  1. Jason Summer says:

    Well, before today, I had no idea what the difference was. My uncle tends to use these more than brushes, and it really makes his trees glimmer with realism. But there is also that vague, washed out look that they are capable of, which I find very beautiful when applied to reflections, like a wet road.

  2. Steve & Kris says:

    My daughter has recently taken an interest in painting. She is taking an art class in high school and she has been working with palette and painting knives. I honestly didn’t know you could paint with a knife LOL. This post is fantastic and I will pass it along to her. We have been looking for some supplies for home, and I didn’t really know where to start. Thank you for explaining what to look for, how to choose and how to clean them. I have a lot more information now and I appreciate that. I will be back soon to check out more of your content.

    • Olga says:

      Hi there, I’m happy to hear that this post was helpful for you 😉 definitely come back for more info about painting tools, and feel free to let me know if you have any questions! 

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