There are a wide variety of palettes available for acrylic painting. In this post I cover every palette that I have tried and I explain what their advantages and disadvantages are. I also offer tips on how to arrange your colors on the palette in the most efficient manner.
These palettes aren’t listed in any specific order. Visit my recommended art supplies page to find out what I think are the best palettes for acrylic painting.
1 Palette Paper Pads
Palette paper is a cheap and easy to use. It comes in pads similar to drawing paper. The difference is the paper is coated with a slick material that allows you to mix paint on top of it without it being absorbed by the paper. Regular paper can’t be used as a palette because the moisture would cause it to turn into pulp and disintegrate.
I usually have a pad of palette paper in my studio for occasional use. The advantage is that it’s cheap, disposable, and extremely easy to clean up. When you’re done, you can just peel off the top sheet and throw it in the garbage.
Acrylic inks and acrylics diluted with water are best left to dry before you peel off the paper so you don’t make a mess when you throw it out.
Palette Paper Colors
Pads of palette paper are available in white and gray. The stark white of regular palette paper can make the color appear darker than it really is. The gray palette paper provides a neutral middle gray to judge colors against.
Artists often tone their canvases with a color before painting for this reason. grays, and neutral earth colors such as Burnt Umber and Burnt Sienna are popular choices for toning canvases.
How to Keep the Paint Wet on Palette Paper Overnight
Paper palettes aren’t designed for keeping the paint wet between sessions. Any paint left on the palette paper would dry out quickly. I cover it with plastic wrap if I plan on using the color mixes the next day. This method works but I only use it as a last resort.
When you pull off the plastic wrap, it pulls some of the paint up along with it. It’s wasteful and another mess to contend with. Plastic wrap is an additional cost and another item that you have to keep on hand in your studio.
Leaving wet paint on a pad of palette paper for too long can cause the entire pad to buckle. The water from the paint will eventually absorb into the paper even though it has a coating on it. The sheets of paper below will also buckle.
If the entire pad of paper buckles, it may flatten out if you store it someplace dry. The moisture will slowly evaporate from the pad and flatten out somewhat.
One way to prevent the rest of the pad from buckling is to remove a sheet of palette paper from the pad before you squeeze your paints out onto it. You can tape it down to a piece of MDF or an old backing board from a sketchbook or watercolor block.
Can I Clean Palette Paper?
If you don’t allow the paint to dry on the paper, it’s possible to clean it off by misting it with a spray bottle and wiping it off with a rag. A paper towel will work too.
The palette paper isn’t too durable so you can only do this a few times at most. It also depends upon how much you abuse the paper with palette knives and brushes. If you squeeze your colors out along the top edge of the palette, it will leave a large open area for mixing. Placing the colors along the top also makes it easier to clean the mixing area.
The disadvantage of using paper palettes is the cost of having to replace them. There’s also the the inconvenience of running out of it unexpectedly. Some artists object to using palette paper because the entire pad will eventually end up in a landfill. I don’t like that idea either, but you could also argue that other palettes waste paper towels and rags when you clean them.
2 Reynolds Freezer Paper
Freezer paper is for wrapping food items before storing them in the freezer. It has a plastic coating on it which helps prevent freezer burn by blocking out the moisture. It’s very similar to palette paper.
This paper is also popular among crafters for stenciling, protecting work surfaces, and for use as palette paper.
Freezer paper can be cheaper than palette paper depending on where you purchase it. I’ve found it in supermarkets and online. Since it comes on a roll you can cut it to whatever size you prefer. If you prefer large disposable palettes then this may just what you’re looking for.
I have noticed the paper has a tendency to curl up, especially towards the end of the roll. If this is a problem then tape it down to a sturdy support. Another option is to use binder clips to clamp it down to a board. I save the cardboard backing from old palette paper pads and watercolor blocks for this purpose.
Another way to deal with the paper curl is to cut the paper down to size and then store it under a pile of books. It will eventually flatten out.
3 Dinner Plates
I’ve used disposable dinner plates as palettes, both foam and plastic work well. However, they’re not environmentally friendly and some stores don’t carry the styrofoam plates. A ceramic plate may be a better solution, see the section on ceramic plates below.
The advantage to using disposable plates as a palette is that you can turn one upside down and use it as a lid to keep the paint from drying out overnight. Place a weight on top of the cover to help seal the edges and prevent the paint from drying.
When you’re done painting for the day, mist the paint with water before putting another plate on top as a lid. If you don’t plan on painting every day you might want to open it up once per day and mist it with a spray bottle.
How often you have to mist your paints depends upon the climate you live in. If your studio is humid you may be able to go for longer periods. Air conditioning and heating removes the humidity from the air so you’ll have to mist it more often.
Please note that once you use a dinner plate as a palette, never use it for serving food again.
If you want a plate that’s more durable, try using a ceramic plate. Corelle makes plain white dinner plates and they’re very durable.
Use the ceramic plate as you would any other palette. I don’t think that you can use a second plate as a cover though. The reason why it works with disposable plates is because they’re flexible. The ceramic plate is rigid so I don’t think it will form a seal around the edges.
Covering the plate with plastic wrap will help to keep the paints wet overnight. The way the edges of the plates are raised should help keep the plastic wrap from touching the paint.
To clean dry paint off from a ceramic plate, soak it in hot water to soften it. It should peel off easier after it has soaked for awhile.
4 Wet Palettes
Acrylic paints are well known for drying quickly. This is an advantage when you want to paint over an area without having to wait. However it’s a real disadvantage when the paint dries out on the palette before you had a chance to use it. Acrylic paint is expensive so it makes sense to look for a way to prevent the paint from drying out on the palette.
The most popular wet palette is Masterson’s Sta-Wet palette. Masterson makes a variety of palettes. The two most popular for acrylic painting are the Sta-Wet Premier Palette and the Sta-Wet Handy Palette.
They both work the same, the only difference is the size. The Premier palette measures 16″ x 12″ and it’s 1.75″ inches deep. The Handy Palette measures 8.5″ x 7″ and It’s 1″ deep. It’s little shallower than the large version but it’s just as functional.
A wet palette is essentially a rectangular Tupperware container with a sponge in the bottom and a sheet of special palette paper on top. The water in the sponge keeps the palette paper wet and the paint never dries out as you’re painting. When you’re finished painting for the day, just snap the lid back on and it will keep the paints moist for days.
How a Wet Palette Works
To prepare the sponge you just run it under water and wring out most of the water. You don’t want it soaking wet because it will dilute your paints and make them runny. Place the sponge into the bottom of the palette.
Run the palette paper under hot water for a minute or two. Let the excess water drain off and then place it on top of the sponge. It’s a special kind of paper that allows water to seep through and yet it’s resistant to tearing.
Regular palette paper wouldn’t work in a wet palette because the plastic coating wouldn’t allow water to pass through it. Regular drawing doesn’t work either because the moisture would turn it into pulp.
The claim that you can wash the palette paper off under water and reuse it is true. The paint will stain the paper but it doesn’t affect how it works. The stains didn’t seem to bother me, especially when mixing opaque colors. It’s impressive how well the palette keeps them wet. I can use the same color for days without having them dry out.
You have to check the sponge occasionally to see if it’s drying out. If you notice it seems too dry, just lift up a corner of the sponge and sprinkle some water in the bottom. Sometimes I lift the paper off the sponge and spritz the sponge with my spray bottle.
One obvious disadvantage to the Sta-Wet palette is that if you leave it sit for too long, it mold could start to develop. If this happens then clean it out and you start over with a new sheet of palette paper and sponge. I’ve never had this happen. If I’m not going to use it for awhile I clean it out and let it dry before storing it.