What is a Palette Knife? A Complete Guide

Today we’re taking a break from the razor-sharp knives and taking a look at a more artistic knife. Today, we’re taking a look at palette knives.

Palette knives are thin flat knives used for painting. They’re not sharp, not used for cutting, and are certainly not deadly. Instead, these knives are used for mixing colors and adding unique strokes to canvasses.

But why use a palette knife when there are already dozens of paintbrushes?

What makes this type of knife unique?

Let’s find out.

What is a Palette Knife?

Palette knives have been around for a long, long time.

At first, these simple tools were used only for mixing paint. The solid, thin, metal made it easy, plus there was no waste. It wasn’t like paintbrushes where a lot of paint got caught on the bristles.

But that changed around the 19th century when some artists stared using palette knives in their paintings. They found that because it was hard, they could add strokes that paintbrushes just couldn’t do.

Then came the 20th century, when palette painting became a thing. Instead of using it alongside paintbrushes, some artists used the palette knife exclusively.

Today, palette knives are easily one of the must-have tools for painting. Whether you plan to mix paints, add some palette strokes, or paint a full picture with the palette knife, every artist needs one.

Advantages of Palette Knives

Why get a palette knife?

There are four features of palette knives that make them invaluable for artists:

• Hardness
• Straightness
• Flatness
• Taperedness

With these four things, you have a tool that will greatly enhance your painting.

1. Hardness

What makes a palette knife different from a paintbrush?

Why? its hardness, of course!

Unlike paintbrushes that have bristles for brushing, palette knives are solid metal. This allows them to perform a bunch of tasks a paintbrush can’t (we’ll take a look at these in just a bit).

2. Straightness

Take a look at a palette knife, what do you notice?

Did you notice the straight sides?

Now think about a brush – these don’t have any straight sides.

With a brush, it can be difficult to make straight lines. But with a straight-sided palette knife, you can make hard, straight lines.

3. Flatness

Palette knives are also completely flat.

This makes them perfect for both spreading and scraping. That is something that, once again, paintbrushes struggle to do.

4. Taperenedness

Last but not least, palette knives are also tapered.

Flatness is great. But its tapered “blade” makes it even more versatile.

With it, you can easily decide how thick or thin you want your strokes to be.

What is Palette Knife Used For?

Now that you know what makes this tool special… how exactly do you use it?

There are a bunch of different things you can do with a palette knife.

Let’s take a look.

1. Mixing

Of course, we should never forget the original intention of the palette knife: mixing paints.

Because it’s solid and tapered, you can easily use it to mix up paints. Again, brushes will have a hard time doing this.

If you mix using a brush, some paint will also stick to the bristles. With a palette knife, though, you will have zero waste.

2. Lines

Are you having a hard time creating thin lines in your art?

Use a palette knife.

With their straight, flat sides, you can easily create perfect lines. Plus, they’ll also be solid colors with no brush marks.

If you’re painting buildings or other man-made objects, you’ll need these straight lines.


The design of palette knives also makes them perfect for dabbing.

Sometimes, it’s those tiny details that make an ordinary painting an extraordinary one. Little dabs of color here and there that bring the image to life.

With a palette knife, putting these on is super easy.

3. Effects

With a palette knife, you can also create some wonderful effects.

Want broken colors? Use a palette knife.

Want to stumble over an underpainting? Use a palette knife.

Want to drag one color into another one? Use a palette knife.

The number of effects you can create with a palette knife is unlimited.

4. Scraping

Palette knives are also great for scraping off excess paint.

These knives make it easy for you to clean your palette after painting. Just scrape off the paint and rub it with a paper towel.

Put too much paint on your canvas? Scrape it off with your palette knife.

You can also use this as an effect. Scraping leaves a fading stroke of color, which many artists use to their advantage.

How to Maintain A Palette Knife

When you’re done using your palette knife, it’s very important to clean it up.

If you don’t, the paint will get stuck on it, and you’ll lose a lot of its functionality. In fact, your palette knife will almost be worthless if this happens. With paint bits, it won’t be straight and flat anymore.

The good news is that maintaining your palette knife is super easy.

For the most part, all you have to do is wipe it clean after every use. Make sure you wipe off all the paint before it gets hard. If you wait too long, you will regret it.

If your palette knife does have hardened paint, it’s not the end of the world.

You can scrape off the paint using a file or razor. However, it’s quite a headache to do this. You will need a lot of patience to get it done.

That’s why its best to avoid hardened paint in the first place.

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Last update on 2024-04-25 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API


And there you have it.

Not my usual topic, but still a very interesting one.

Palette knives are not sharp, not for cutting, not used as a tool in a strict sense; instead, they are a tool used to bring your imagination to life.

So don’t settle for ordinary brushstrokes next time you’re painting. Take a palette knife and bring your images to the next level.


I’m Ahmed, the guy behind Knifepulse.com. I’ve owned several types of knives and sharpeners over the last few years and have become obsessed with everything to do with knives. I’m always trying to improve my cleaning and sharpening process, and always on the hunt for the next best knife. But when I’m not spending time with my hobby, I’m here, writing about Knives and Sharpeners on KnifePulse to share with you what I learn along the way.

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