Whether you plan on painting with oils or acrylics, one essential tool that you must have in your studio is the palette knife. Palette knives are a terrific way to not only get consistent results when mixing your mediums together, but they can also be used to make breathtaking styles in your artwork.
An indispensable tool for artists, palette knives should not only perform well, but also last a lifetime – like the Professional Palette Knives by Liquitex.
In this guide we not only review the best palette knives for both beginner and professional level artists, but we also go over important considerations you should think about before you buy.
Before we get to that, here is a summary and comparison of the palette knives we will be covering today:
Table of Contents
The Best Palette Knives Compared
|Name||Pieces||Knife Composition||Handle Composition||Extras||Price|
|CONDA Palette Knife Set||5||Stainless Steel||Wood||None||$|
|Special FX Palette Knife Set||9||Stainless Steel||Wood||Free Palette||$$|
|Liquitex Professional Palette Knife Set||6||Stainless Steel||Plastic||Key Ring Organization||$$|
|Scult Pro Palette Knife Set||12||Stainless Steel||Wood||Includes Case||$$|
Before You Buy: 5 Key Considerations When Buying Palette Knives
Depending on your use of the palette knife (painting vs. mixing), a comfortable handle will be an important consideration.
When reviewing the best palette knives, we found that the handles come in two main materials – wood or plastic.
Wooden handles often featured rounded edges while the plastic ones may have finger indents along the side of the body for easier grip for greater control and precision.
The handle material is largely a personal preference – but one worth noting.
By and large the most popular material used for the knife end itself is metal – specifically stainless steel. Stainless steel will naturally resist rust and last you a lifetime.
A common alternative to stainless steel that we found in our research was plastic.
For 99.9% of artists out there reading this, go with stainless steel – it won’t crack, chip, and will ultimately perform a lot better.
Plastic is typically best used for children or classroom settings.
When looking at palette knives, you will find that they vary in sizes. Just like your paint brushes, the size of the knife you need will determine the scale of the piece you plan to paint or palette to mix.
Unfortunately, all too common in the art world, there is no real standard when it comes to palette knife sizing.
So be sure to read the product descriptions in order to get an idea on what you should expect when buying your next palette knife.
While you will often find most art supplies fall into either, artist (professional grade) or student grade, when it comes to palette knives, they generally can be used for all skill levels.
However, there are certain brands (i.e. Liquitex) that may cost a bit more, but do provide many different options within their palette knife lineup – whereas some companies simply offer a 9 or 12 piece set and provide no additional knife options should you want to expand your supply list in the future.
During our research we found that generally paying a few dollars more will typically give you a bit better quality in the knife (which includes grip comfort, crimping of knife to handle, etc.).
Painting Knives Vs. Palette Knives
When browsing the selection of palette knives on the market, you will find that many companies may use the terms palette and painting knives interchangeably.
There is a very subtle difference between these two categories that you should know:
Palette knives are typically constructed from a thinner stainless steel and will be a bit flimsy.
In addition, palette knives will also usually have either a diamond or spatula style knife end like these – as they are designed for mixing.
Painting knives on the other hand will feature unique ends that are designed for bringing out unique textures and strokes in your artwork.
So, take a minute to think about how you plan on using the knives before buying.
Best Palette Knives Reviewed In 2020
Here’s a look at a few of the best palette knives that we found to be standout picks for your consideration:
Beginners Palette Knife Set
This palette knife set by CONDA is the perfect pick for those hobbyists or student level painters out there that want to expand their studio without breaking the bank.
Typically found for under $8 at popular online retailers like Amazon, this 5-piece set includes the following:
- 4 diamond-head shaped knives (varying sizes)
- 1 spatula style knife
The sizes of palette knives will be perfect for either medium or small scale pieces and general paint mixing.
During our research, we discovered that oil painters did find that these knives were a bit too thin and didn’t have a strong command over the medium. While not a deal breaker for most reading – if you are looking for a more rigid metal, take a look at the other picks on our list.
However, if you looking to mix acrylic, gesso, paste, gels, etc. – then this set should be more than fine.
Lastly, CONDA does offer up a 14 day return policy – so if you aren’t completely in love with these knives, then you can also get your money back – no questions asked.
Palette Knife Effect Set
More of a painting knife than a palette knife (although you can still do some simple mixing with these – particularly with the #1 knife) – these knives are perfect for all level artists looking to bring out unique effects in their artwork.
With 9 distinct head types – you have a ton of options at your disposal (almost too many)!
With the knife end constructed from stainless steel, you don’t have to worry about any rust or corrosion during the lifetime of this knife. In addition, the curved wooden handle will be pretty comfortable for most artists – making them great when you are working for several hours at a time.
One major drawback (or perhaps not) to these palette knives is their size.
They are rather large.
This limits their use to medium or large scale paintings only – attempting to use them on a smaller scale painting will likely not yield the best results.
But, don’t worry – if you want to give these knives a try, they do come with a 30 day return policy to put your mind at ease.
Overall these are a very specific use case palette knife set worth checking out if you want a unique stroke style in your artwork.
Professional Palette Knives By Liquitex
Like their acrylic paints, their palette knives are also top notch.
Made from stainless steel, these knives will naturally resist any sort of rust or corrosion buildup over the years.
Unlike most palette knives on the market, the handles on these ones are actually made from plastic and feature subtle grips.
This allows for greater control on both mixing and painting applications, and of course, like the blades themselves, they won’t rot or wear down with age.
But what a lot of professional artists really love about these palette knives isn’t just the steel tip or plastic handle, but their easy organization.
With holes in the handle, you can easily keep all your knives together – ensuring you don’t accidentally lose any by mistake.
This is also perfect for the plein air artists out there that like to go to obscure locations and are looking for simple organization.
If there were any major drawbacks in this 6-piece set, is that it lacks variety. Each of the knives rely on the traditional diamond head.
So, if you are looking to get different stroke work from your palette knives – or perhaps want just a simple spatula-style knife, you will have to purchase them individually…
…which leads us to the next point.
Unlike many of the palette knives that we looked at – these ones from Liquitex can be purchased individually.
This makes it easy to replace lost or broken knives – or of course to easily expand your collection.
Overall there is a lot to like about 6-piece this set from Liquitex and definitely the best one on our list.
Intermediate Palette Knife Set
Somewhere between the entry level CONDA’s and the professional level Liquitex, you will find this perfect set for intermediate level artists.
Featuring many of the key design aesthetics found in both the palette knives mentioned above (wooden handle, key ring hole, stainless steel knife), this palette knife set from Sculpt Pro has it all.
With 12 different palette knives available, all in vastly different designs, you can not only get consistent mixing results with these knives, but also some distinct stroke work as well.
Another part about this set that we absolutely loved compared to all others that we looked at is the carrying case.
With a simple zip pouch – these are perfect for travel.
Whether you are plein air artist, or a student going to and from your art class, the easily organized case won’t slow you down.
As perfect as the Sculpt Pro’s palette knife design is, it’s not without its drawbacks.
The biggest downside is the rigidness of the steel knife itself. Some felt it was a bit too flimsy, making it harder to work with impasto or simply stiff bodied oil paints.
Now if you are using acrylic, this likely won’t be a deal breaker – but one worth mentioning.
Overall, these are great if you are looking for a bit of variety in your palette knife set while on a slightly restricted budget.
Palette Knife Buying Guide & FAQs
Mediums To Use With Palette Knives
Palette knives are largely used for oils and acrylics.
Beyond these two popular mediums, many artists like to use palette knives to mix in gels, gesso, modeling paste, aggregates, plaster and countless other mediums.
Given that many of the best palette knives are crafted for a piece of thin stainless steel – they can in some cases bend and break under the circumstances.
So, it’s important to buy one that that suits the medium you plan on using with the knife.
Cleaning A Palette Knife
One of the biggest benefits of using a palette knife for painting isn’t the techniques you can employ in your stroke work (although this is pretty great) – but it’s the incredibly easy cleanup process.
Unlike brushes that must be washed with harsh solvents and cared for gently (to avoid bristle damage), palette knives can just simply be cleaned with a bit of soap, warm water, and a paper towel.
With no ferrule like a brush, you don’t ever have to really worry about the medium gunking up around the base.
How Other Artists Use Their Palette Knives (And A Few Techniques Worth Learning)
Now it’s one thing for us to talk and review some of the best palette knives, but it’s another to actually show you.
Here were a few videos from other artists that really capture the essence of painting and mixing with palette knives:
Autumn Beauty Palette Knife Acrylic Painting
Palette Knife Techniques by beach artist Ryan Kimba
3 Unexpected Palette Knife Art Techniques
How To Use A Palette Knife To Mix Colors
Best Palette Knife: Selection Process
Finding the best palette knife in 2020 wasn’t easy. With retailers like Blick Art Materials, Amazon, Jerry’s Artarama and countless more – it’s never been a better time to be an artist looking to purchase new supplies.
However, after our personal experience, research, and reading online reviews from fellow artists, we think we did a pretty good job in finding a few that should serve you incredibly well.
Of course, if you think we should take a look at a few more, get in touch with us – we would love to learn more.
As always, keep practicing and keep creating!