MAU Art & Design Glossary

Palettes (For Use with Oil Paints)



Palettes used in oil painting are surfaces upon which the variously colored oil paints are assembled, and upon which those paints can be blended and their consistency can be adjusted.

Depending on the properties of the materials being used for the work, the shape of and the material used to construct the palette will differ. For palettes used with oil paints, a smooth, plate-like surface is most common. These take various shapes, including ovals, traditional cloud-like shapes, rectangles, and folding rectangles (be sure to use only one side). In terms of materials, woods with high rigidity, such as cherry, katsura, and mahogany, are primarily used. Recently, laminated boards that only use this sort of wood for the surface have become common. Other materials used include metals with white coating, glass, and marble. Finally, there are palettes known as “paper palettes,” which have dozens of sheets of coated paper in a booklet format; pages are discarded one at a time after use, eliminating the trouble of cleaning up. Unfortunately, these are neither durable nor particularly economical, since unused paints are also discarded.

The standard method of using a palette is to line up the paints along the top or left side of the palette, leaving the center open for blending colors. In addition to the necessary colors, additional hues are also applied to the palette. It is also common to arrange the colors according to a spectrum, in order to facilitate color comparisons; depending on one’s painting style, though, one might also arrange the colors with a mind to such factors as brightness or transparency. Because white is used so frequently, it is useful to place it away from the other colors, such as near where one holds the palette. As for the quantity of paint to apply, it is a good idea always to dispense more than what is strictly necessary. Particularly in the case of beginners, if too little paint is dispensed it can overly restrain one’s composition.

After using a palette, one should remember to clean it well – scraping off remaining paints with a palette knife and wiping it well with a cloth – in order to avoid unintended color blending the next time it is used. Once the palette is clean, a drying oil should be applied by cloth and allowed to soak in, in order to facilitate future cleanings. Should paints harden and become difficult to remove, turpentine and chemical strippers may be used to dissolve them.

Palettes used in oil painting are available at art supply stores.


  • Oval shapeOval shape
  • "Franzen" shape
  • Oblong shapeOblong shape
  • Oblong shape (folding)Oblong shape (folding)
  • MetalMetal
  • PaperPaper
  • How to hold a paletteHow to hold a palette
  • The top and bottom of a folding paletteThe top and bottom of a folding palette
  • Positions for oil paintsPositions for oil paints