The humble palette knife can be as important a tool as a paintbrush, a canvas, an easel, or a paint palette, and can be a brilliantly expressive and powerful way to work with oil and acrylic paints and an integral and important part of the painting process. Let’s have a look at which one you should get!
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If you are in a hurry, here are my selections for the best palette knife and best palette knife set on the market today. If you have more time, then keep on reading to explore!
Best Individual Palette Knives
Best Palette Knife Set
Table of Contents
- Overview: Best Palette Knives and Palette Knife Set in 2022
There are so many things – both bold and delicate – that you can achieve with the best palette knives which are not possible with a paintbrush, and once you begin using one you will feel like a whole world of creative possibility has opened up before you, and you won’t be able to imagine how you got by without one.
If you are lucky enough just to be starting out, with art in general or with acrylic and/or an oil painting, you can learn with a much more complete and useful toolbox, including great paints brushes and great palette knives, and in this way come to understand better the paint, the process and your own abilities and creative expressivity.
But whether you are a new student, an old hand or anywhere in between, you will want to find and use the very best palette knives available, and this can be a little difficult given the seemingly countless choices. But luckily that’s exactly why we’re here – to recommend the top choices at every price level, in my buyer’s guide to the best palette knives for artists and painters.
- What is a palette knife?
- What is a palette knife used for?
- Who would normally use a palette knife?
- What are the different types of palette knives?
- What is the difference between a palette knife and painting knife?
- What palette knives do professionals use?
- What is the best value palette knife set?
- What palette knives are best for students?
- What kind of paints do you use a palette knife with?
- Is a palette knife used for painting?
What is a Palette Knife?
A palette knife, also called a painting knife, or sometimes a spatula, consists of a flexible blade, usually of steel, attached to a wooden handle, and is designed for working with paint and painted surface – most often oil or acrylic paint. A palette knife can be long and straight, or they can be more pointed, or spread out in the middle, or really several variations of these basic shapes.
A palette knife is, or definitely should be, a basic part of pretty much any oil or acrylic painting setup, and the best palette knives have seemingly countless uses.
What are Palette and Painting Knives Used For?
You will often hear that palette knives and painting knives are somehow different – specifically that the pointed blade or specially shaped tools are, or should be, referred to as “painting knives,” and are better for working with paint on a canvas, while the more flat, long blades are more properly known as “palette knives,” and are better for – you guessed it – working with paint on the palette.
But please don’t be limited by these rather unimportant distinctions. In actual fact the best palette knives, no matter what you call them, can be incredibly useful and expressive in working with paint on the canvas or on the palette, and in fact there are things you can do to a painting with a long, flat “palette” knife that you can’t achieve with a shorter, pointed “painting” knife – and, of course, vice versa.
Some of the many, many things you can do with palette knives include:
Applying Paint and Painting
In a way, everything below can be included in this first list item – you can transfer lots of paint to the canvas at once or a small amount, and you can paint like the knife is a kind of brush – with bold and often rather abstract effect or even with quite precise and delicate gestures.
There are a million different ways to add textures to a painting using a palette knife, using the same color or a different one – scratching, blobbing, mixing paint, slashing, dabbing, sweeping, and more.
Smoothing Paint to a Nice Finish
Along the same lines, you can easily make colors very solid or broken, depending on the amount of paint you use and the angle and the pressure you apply, among other factors, and you can smooth paint to a very nice effect.
Just as you would on the palette, you can also mix paint directly on the canvas.
You have great control with a palette knife, and can easily affect a very clean, definite edge or a more broken, blurry or otherwise indefinite border.
Making Lines and Shapes
By drawing the edge of a palette knife across the canvas, you can make straight and definite lines and borders, shapes and outlines, and can even draw and define objects.
Creating Gradual Transitions
Depending on the angle of the knife, you can control the amount of paint you lay down, going from heavy to very light.
With a good palette knife, you can put new paint on even wet paint without disturbing the lower layer – or, of course, you can disturb the existing wet paint to various degrees, depending on the desired effect.
Laying Down Vibrant Colors
The paint you use on a palette knife doesn’t need to be diluted or thinned, so you can lay down really intense colors – just be careful, because you can easily use a lot of paint quite quickly!
In addition to these wonderful and fun painting techniques, we shouldn’t forget the “real” use of a good palette knife, which is for using on the palette. You can apply large or small amounts of paint to your palette, mix colors and weights with great ease and effectiveness, segregate colors and organize your palette, and scrape the surface to remove color or clean the palette.
So again, for both the palette and the canvas, a palette knife – or, even better, a set of them – is an absolutely indispensable part of the oil or acrylic painting process, and the best palette knives – whether premium or budget – are a great investment that will pay you back handsomely every time you use them.
How Do You Paint with Palette Knives?
Actually, I think that a much more important question, and a much more important thing to cover, is not how to paint with a palette knife, but simply how to paint – especially how to paint with, and really master, acrylic and oil paints.
If you really understand how to paint with oils and acrylics – mixing paints, layering paint, capturing light and shadow, expressing energy, motion and stillness, and even representing basic shapes, objects, relationships and overall compositions – that is, if you have even the basics of painting with these sometimes challenging media – you will automatically and intuitively know how to use palette knives not just on the palette, but on the painting.
So I guess I’m saying that if you feel you are a good painter already, and are both comfortable and experienced with oils and/or acrylics, go for it! Get a few of the very best palette knives, like the Holbein 1066 below, or a great set of them, and all of the tricks and techniques I mentioned above will most likely just come to you – seem obvious even.
But if you don’t really feel comfortable with oil or acrylic painting techniques yet – if you are a beginner, if you have experience with them but never got any real guidance or education, or even if you did take some classes but still feel uncomfortable, by all means take a good course or series of courses on how to paint with oils or acrylics.
I myself am an almost entirely self-taught artist, but still I think that oils, and to a lesser extent acrylics, are a bit tricky, and there are so many things to know, so many steps, techniques, tips and tricks that are not at all obvious or intuitive. A good education can transform you from unsure to masterly, make the whole painting experience so much more fun and rewarding, and elevate your art to a new level.
There are a lot of really great online courses available, and I particularly like, and strongly recommend the Evolve Artist Program. Evolve has the best teachers and courses and focuses on painting as a basis for art education – which these days, in our age of digital everything, is both radical and brilliant!
In really concentrating on laying paint on blank canvas, the Evolve Artist Program teaches you everything – again, color theory, light and shadow, energy, representation and abstraction, composition and relationships and so much more – things that will make you a great painter but will also apply to every single other form or art – physical or digital – that you pursue. Of course this brilliant program doesn’t just teach painting, but their old-school (or almost old-master) approach makes them a nearly unique learning platform, and in a truly fundamental way more valuable than pretty much any other online school out there.
I should also say that the classes are relatively inexpensive (especially compared to art schools!), are remarkably easy to follow and take less time than you might expect – especially considering the breadth and depth of your education and the quality of the teachers and courses.
And when you’re done you will be a true world-class palette knife master!
What Should You Look For in the Best Palette Knives for Painting?
It would seem like one palette knife is pretty much like any other – I mean, flexible blades, wooden handles, how good or bad can it be?
And yet there are real differences between different brands and models, and with the very best palette knives you will notice a big improvement in:
- The surface and finish of the metal
- The feeling of the handle
- The tension and spring of the blade
- The quality of the edges
- The design and usefulness of the blade’s shape, and
- The durability of the metal and the knife overall
And, much like the best paint brushes, there can be a dramatic, if somewhat indescribable, difference in how better or worse palette knives feel in your hand and how they interact with paint – the best palette knives having a distinctively premium fit and finish, an ideal weight and balance, and seeming like a natural extension of your hand.
How Can You Find the Best Palette Knives for Oil and Acrylic Painting?
Well, as with many art tools we buy on the internet, this can be tricky – on one hand, it seems a good idea actually to see and hold the palette knife in your hands, but of course online shopping doesn’t make that possible.
But even in the best brick-and-mortar art supply shops, you may not be able to try the knife anyway, to lay a blob of oil paint onto the canvas and scratch out a texture, draw lines, or even to mix paints.
And that’s why I wanted to write this buyer’s guide to the best palette knives, because between me myself, my friends, colleagues and students, we have tried lots and lots of different palette knives and palette knife sets. Really, lots and lots. We know which ones have the best feeling in the hand, the right tension to the blade, the highest quality edges, surfaces and overall construction, the right usability.
So you can feel confident that, whether you are a beginner, an art student, an intermediate or advanced painter, any of the recommendations below for best painting knives will be a wonderful choice and a great art tool.
We will include the following categories:
- Best Palette Knife Sets:
- Best Premium Palette Knife Set
- Best Affordable Palette Knife Set
- Best Cheap Palette Knife Set
- Best Palette Knife Set for Students
- Best Individual Palette Knives:
- Best Premium Palette Knife
- Best Affordable Palette Knife
I was also going to include a category for my own personal favorite palette knife set, but I can tell you right here and now – the best palette knives on the market today, which are a joy to use and my favorite and first choice, are the Holbein 1066 individual palette knives. They are superb in every way, with the best feeling, the best control and the best overall quality – expensive, yes, but truly worth it and a great investment!
But whichever painting knives you choose from our buyer’s guide to the best palette knives for artists – either individual or sets – you will end up with a superior product and a wonderful art tool that will serve you well for a long, long time.
Overview: Best Palette Knives and Palette Knife Set in 2022
Best Palette Knife Set
- Creative Mark Stainless Steel Artist Painting Knives Set of Five Palette Knives
- Arteza Palette Knives Stainless Steel 8 Pack
- Liquitex Professional Freestyle Traditional Knives Set
- Liquitex Professional Freestyle Large Scale Knives Set
Stainless Steel Palette Knives Color Mixing Set for Oil and Acrylic Paint
Sizes No. 1, 25, 7, 15, 39, 23, 17, 21, Durable Stainless Steel Blade & Break-Resistant Wooden Handle, Art Supplies for Oil & Acrylic Painting
6-Piece Ring Set
4-Piece Ring Set
Best Individual Palette Knives
Best Premium Palette Knife Set
I guess these wonderful Creative Mark palette knives are quite a bit more expensive than so many cheapo sets out there, but the way I see it they are less expensive than even a single professional palette knife from some manufacturers, and they may be even better than a lot of them!
I like the feeling these have, in my hand and working with paint, and they really have a great balance between tension and give, making me feel like I’m always in control. The surfaces and edges are first rate in terms of finish, which also allows for real precision – or exactly the opposite, if the mood hits!
And the shapes are ideal. Not a huge selection, to the point of confusion when working, but the most basic and useful shapes in perfect sizes allow me to do whatever comes to mind.
A great relative bargain, and a great working set for artists on any level, the Creative Mark stainless steel painting knives are my choice for the best premium palette knife set on the market today.
Best Affordable Palette Knife Set
The Arteza painting knife set is the least expensive set of knives that I would say will be fully satisfying to even professional commercial and fine artists on pretty much any level.
No, they may not have the same incredible feeling when you are working with paint as the superb Creative Mark above, or the even nicer (and even pricier) Holbein 1066 below, but if you haven’t actually tried those palette knives you would never know the difference.
The Arteza have an especially comfortable handle, allowing for long spells of undistracted work, and a great amount of spring, inspiring creative flair while allowing for the utmost precision and control. In fact the Arteza palette knives have a premium look and feel in every way, and are built for years of use.
Designed by artists for artists, the Arteza painting knives are wonderful to use, and are my choice for the best affordable palette knife set available today.
Best Cheap Palette Knife Set
I might be tempted to call the Arteza painting knife set above the best cheap palette knives, but in fact this nice Conda set is even cheaper – really, ridiculously, cheap! – and remarkably good and usable.
The subtle improvement in spring and control you get with a premium palette knife may not really be here, but that said these Conda knives offer a better feel than many much more expensive knives I’ve used, and are fully up to any basic or advanced painting techniques.
They are also surprisingly well made and durable, and offer a perfect small selection of shapes – not too many, so that you are distracted ro confused, or start relying on the tool more than the technique, but enough variety that you can do whatever you want or need.
A good, if not great, set of painting knives for a scandalously low price, the Conda aren’t my recommendation for more serious fine artists, but for beginners and students they are more than you will need, and a lot more than you might expect – an easy choice for the best cheap palette knife set.
Best Student Choice Palette Knife Set
- Liquitex Professional Freestyle Traditional Knives Set
- Liquitex Professional Freestyle Large Scale Knives Set
6-Piece Ring Set
4-Piece Ring Set
Don’t be put off by the word “professional” in their name – these Liquitex Freestyle painting knives are perfect for a student or beginner – affordable, super high quality and offering just the right selection of knives – especially if you get both of the basic sets.
The Traditional set offers a range of the most useful standard shapes and sizes, while the Large Scale set has bigger, bolder scrapers and spatulas that will not only be useful utility tools but also encourage a bit of bold experimentation, larger gestures, even more freedom. Overall there are not so many choices as to get overwhelming, yet enough to let you learn, explore and express yourself.
So again I recommend that a student get both. Between the two sets you have a brilliant starter kit, not to mention truly premium knives – ideal spring and flexibility, superior material quality and durability, precise and controllable surfaces and edges and a great feeling in your hand.
A bit more than other sets, the combination of these two Liquitex painting knife sets represents, in my opinion, the very best choice for anybody who is just beginning or just learning oil / acrylic painting, and my choice for best palette knives for students on the market today.
Best Premium Palette Knives
For the best individual painting knives and palette knives, we have to look no further than Holbein, a company loved by commercial artists and fine artists all over the world, and one I have recommended many times before – especially, no surprise, for the best acrylic and oil paints.
It makes sense that a company that produces some of the best professional paints available would also know just how to design and make the finest palette knives, and Holbein’s premium 1066 series has an absolutely perfect amount of spring and give, ideal shapes for a variety of basic and advanced techniques, a superb weight, balance and feel in the hand, and superior materials and durability.
Hand forged in Japan, from the same steel used for centuries in the making of samurai swords (not to mention the best chef knives in the world), Holbein 1066 series palette knives are as good as it gets, and the standard choice for the most discerning artist – and at the same time, though expensive, they are a fantastic choice for students and even beginners who want a tool they can cherish and grow with for years.
I have hand-chosen a selection of six different shapes and sizes, which should give any painter an extremely versatile and useful basic set, but whichever shapes and sizes you get you will end up with the best palette knives on the market today.
Since Holbein does indeed differentiate between painting knives and palette knives, and since more standard-shaped palette knives are, and in their own way, fantastic for painting, I’ll include the basic selection of Holbein palette knives – which are also as good as it gets!
Best Budget Palette Knives
This is a funny thing, because if you haven’t tried the Holbein painting or palette knives – and I mean really slung some paint around with them – you would swear that these wonderful RGM painting knives were the best in the world, and one of the finest things you’ve ever held in your hand.
Handmade and hand finished in Italy, these are stamped and tempered steel blades – as opposed to the forged blades of the Holbein – and so ultimately the RGM knives won’t have quite the strength or life of the Japanese knives, but they are nonetheless made of exceptionally high quality steel, and premium quality in every way.
The RGM also feel like top-end painting and palette knives, with really nice and usable shapes and extremely comfortable and natural feeling soft rubber handles that still feels great after hours of use. The spring and the control these knives give you, and the precision you can realize from their well-finished edges and surfaces, really do place them in the upper tiers of professional palette and painting knives.
But, compared to the Holbein, the RGM Soft Grip palette knives are much, much less expensive – indeed, just a fraction of the price. Yes, sure, the Holbein are better, but these are easily the best affordable palette knives on the market today.
Again, I will include a nice, serviceable range of shapes and sizes, which should allow you to explore all of the techniques and creative possibilities in oil or acrylic painting.
- RGM Soft Grip Italian Palette Knife #5
- RGM Soft Grip Italian Palette Knife #10
- RGM Soft Grip Italian Palette Knife #20
- RGM Soft Grip Italian Palette Knife #31
- RGM Soft Grip Italian Palette Knife #44
- RGM Soft Grip Italian Palette Knife #45
- RGM Soft Grip Italian Palette Knife #96
- RGM Soft Grip Italian Palette Knife #106
Thanks so much for reading my latest article – The Best Palette Knives and Palette Knife Sets: A Complete Buyer’s Guide – and please check out my website – Art Side of Life – for more buyer’s guides, articles, tutorials, artist interviews, and tons of other resources for commercial artists, fine artists, art students and beginners, crafters and anybody else exploring their own creative side!
Other articles in the Artists Kits & Sets series:
- Best Oil Paint Sets for Artists
- Choosing the Best Oil Paint Brushes
- Choosing the Best Oil Paint Palette
- Choosing the Best Canvas for Oil Painting
- Best Oil Pastels for Artists
- Best Easels for Painting
- Best Professional Artist Kits
- Best Supplies for Travel Art Kit
- Best Gouache Paint Sets
- Best Artist Inks
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