Color Spotlight: Titanium White (PW6)

White watercolor and gouache on cardboard

This is a bit of an unusual spotlight! It’s hard to use my typical format to paint white on white, so I had to sub in a bit of cardboard.

Titanium White (PW6) is an opaque, cool white pigment. I show PW6 above in four formats:

  • Holbein Titanium White watercolor, painted from a dried pan.
  • The same, painted straight from the tube.
  • Holbein Primary White gouache, painted from the tube.
  • Schmincke Titanium White gouache, painted from the tube.


All of these were very opaque!

The paintout from dry watercolor pan was, predictably, the least opaque, and you can sort of see the color of the cardboard through the semi-sheer layer of paint, but it’s really not nearly as bad as I thought it would be. It’s still an effective shield.

Painted from wet, the Holbein watercolor performs about as well as the Schmincke gouache! Both the HO watercolor and the SH gouache can achieve very opaque masstone and dilute down to a more semitransparent dilution.

The Holbein gouache is the thickest and most opaque of all, actually textured in its creaminess.

Do you need white watercolor at all?

Advice about white in watercolor typically ranges from “it’s unnecessary” to “never use it.” I understand why teachers ban it: relying on water to lighten and dilute your colors rather than white is usually more effective and brings out the natural beauty of watercolor more, and if you’re coming from another type of paint, your instinct to use white to lighten is probably strong. So just saying no for a bit, while you get used to watercolor, is a good idea. I know that when I first started, I reached for white more often than I needed to, and ended up with colors that felt opaque and chalky – not the delicate, ethereal watercolor look I was going for.

But! That doesn’t mean there’s never a place for white. White is great for:

  • Opaque foreground details like stars and moons
  • Intentionally heavy, opaque shapes such as stormclouds and mountains
  • Classic spring pastels

While it’s not an everyday staple, when you want white, there’s simply nothing like it!

Watercolor or gouache?

Either! Artists’ or designers’ gouache (the kind that’s chalk-based instead of acryla-based) can be mixed with watercolor, and because of the chalk content, gouache tends to be more opaque. That’s a good quality for white, especially if you plan to use it for stars and so on. A downside is that gouache doesn’t tend to dry and rewet as well – it can flake out of the pan – so it’s better for painting from the tube than for travel.

If you plan to take your white paint with you in dry form when you travel, and/or you mainly want to use it to mix with other colors to make pastels, you may prefer to choose a watercolor over a gouache.

Gouache Comparison: Schmincke vs Holbein

Here’s a more in-depth comparison of the two gouache. Both of these paints have a reptuation for being relatively good at rewetting.

Titanium White Gouache Comparison

At the top left, I tested them wet from the tube, and on the bottom right, I tested them rewet from a dry lump. I was happy with both!

On the bottom left, I tested splatter, and on the top right, I tested pastels with other colors.

Here’s how they compared:

Wet from the Tube – ConsistencyToothpasteCreamy
Wet from Tube – ApplicationFlat, matte, and reasonably opaque in masstone, but quickly dilutes to a translucent tone.Thick and textured – you can see it rising off the page. Not as smooth of a gradient. Extremely, extremely opaque.
StarsSeems to make opaque stars but because of the relative thinness of the paint, they came out rather sparse.Absolutely killer for stars, the heaviness of the paint made it very apt to splatter.
PastelsRetains spirit of original hue well. Slightly translucent. Flat application.Easy to get opaque. Pop pastels – rather different from original hue. Patchy application at times (some areas more opaque than others).
Dry – ConsistencyDried with minimal cracks, still looks flexible, I would feel pretty confident about taking this one in a palette.Dried with a lot of cracks, but didn’t appear too flaky.
Dry & Rewet – ApplicationOddly, I feel like I was able to get this MORE opaque after rewetting the dry paint!Very similar to wet from tube application. Looks just as opaque.

What Others Say

White gouache: I was so happy I had this paint with me. When I started to add it to my watercolor paintings it was the “aha” breakthrough moment that allowed me to convey a sense of solidity and depth in sandstone that I had been missing before. It radically changes the appearance of many colors, and makes them more opaque so you can layer even light colors OVER previous layers of paint. This layering ability came in especially handy for foliage, because I could paint the stone more quickly by not worrying about preserving white spaces for the delicate watercolors greens. I could just paint everywhere with the sandstone colors and then do the foliage with a mix of my greens and white. 

Claire Giordano, “Fall in the Southwest: Favorite Colors”

My Review of Titanium White (PW6)

In gouache, mixing with white is the main way to make lighter tints, so I use white a lot in gouache paintings. White is generally used much, much less in watercolor, since the main way to make lighter tints is by diluting with water. (You could think of water as “transparent white” aka clear.) Still, even in watercolor, there are some situations where opaque white paint is absolutely useful:

  • making spring pastels
  • a winter “frost” effect
  • splattering stars in the sky
  • mixing colors for light-colored items with a heavy, chalky appearance, such as stormclouds and limestone (in contrast with the usually-preferred airy-fairy appearance of transparent tints)
  • anytime you want to add just a bit of white detail at the end of a painting, and you forgot or chose not to mask first. (examples: ocean foam, eye highlights)

Compared to Zinc White, I have found Titanium White more useful because it is more opaque and has a slightly cool, bright-white hue. Zinc White is a bit warmer and can be streaky. Generally when I want white at all, I want it maximally opaque.

I started out using Schmincke Titanium White gouache for use in both gouache and watercolor, because I had learned from online artists that it tends to rewet better than other gouache brands and can be used dry in the pan. Generally I think this is true. It does crack a bit, but much less than other goauche brands. I think this is a reasonable way to go. However, over time, I’ve found myself using Holbein more.

First, I found that I preferred Holbein brand Titanium White gouache when painting in gouache alone, because their gouache is more opaque and thicker (which is my gouache preference) and also dries matte rather than shiny.

I decided to try Holbein’s white watercolor for use with watercolor and found that I liked that better, too! Holbein watercolor performs just as well as the Schmincke gouache in opacity, while also being more rewettable. It doesn’t crack as much in the pan and is a nicer consistency when it is rewet (rewet gouache can be streaky and watery). After all, it’s watercolor, so it’s meant to be used like watercolor!

On my palette? Yes; gouache always, watercolor seasonally in winter & spring.

Favorite brand: Holbein gouache for gouache, Holbein watercolor for watercolor.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.