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Essential to any oil or acrylic painter’s practice is a great palette knife, or spatula. Artists employ them to combine colors, pastes, and other materials, and they can also be used to apply paint to canvas, with different sizes and shapes producing different effects. Even watercolorists can use them to scratch back into a work. Note that a painting knife—often with a curved neck or handle to keep the artist’s hands free from the painted surface—is technically a different tool, specifically designed for applying pigment to support, but painting and palette knives can be and are used interchangeably. The blades’ tips can be blunt or sharp, allowing for a wide range of strokes, textures, and gradations. A good palette knife can open up a whole new world of formal experimentation for any painter, regardless of their medium. Below, browse our favorites.
Liquitex Freestyle Painting Knives
Liquitex offers affordable, well-balanced, and solidly built spatulas in seven shapes, from rounded, wide tools to long and slim ones. Each features a stainless steel blade securely affixed to a matte black wooden handle that provides a satisfying and comfortable grip. (Confusingly, the Amazon listing linked here lumps the brand’s knives, trowels, and spatulas together; for spatulas, check out numbers 1, 2, 4, 10, 16, 17, and 18.) The blades are free of burrs and provide an excellent balance of flexibility and strength so you can move heavy-bodied paints with ease. They’re also sharp so you can get right under your paint to scrape away layers if that’s the effect you’re going for.
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RGM Large Painting Spatulas
Made in Italy, these spatulas offer a much larger blade surface than others on the market. This makes them ideal for artists who use big, gestural strokes to create texture and other dramatic effects. Made of tempered stainless steel, the blades are anchored via solid brass ferrules in bubinga wood handles, which are highly resistant to snapping. The handles are handsome and smooth, with subtle ridges to guide your hand into a comfortable position. At the end, find a hole for hanging your tool up to dry. Choose from nine shapes.
Lineco Micro Spatula
This little tool was designed for bookmakers who need to work glue into tight spaces, but it’s a surprisingly useful device for painters, too. Featuring two blades—a tapered tip at one end and a flat, narrow rectangle at the other—this spatula is ideal for poking, smoothing, and prying into areas the average spatula can’t reach. You’ll also be able to scrape and lift pigment away with ease and control, thanks to the tool’s springiness and precision. Made of rustproof stainless steel, this two-in-one spatula measures just ¼ inch at its widest and 7½ inches long.
TOP OF THE LINE
Holbein MX Series Painting Knives
For professionals, the knives in Holbein’s MX series are pricey but exquisite. Made in Japan from a single piece of stainless steel, each knife achieves the delicate flexibility that allows almost brushlike strokes while staying structurally sound and durable. Every knife has an exact 12-degree neck angle and a blade thickness of just 0.1 millimeter, allowing artists to perfect their technique with precision. The thin edges can also be used to paint fine lines or scratch into the paint. Five styles are available, each one offered in two degrees of flexibility for the utmost customization and control.
RGM Idea Line Painting/Palette Knife
RGM’s Idea line has commendable solid-metal options, ideal for working with products and materials that might damage a wooden handle. What’s more, they’re dishwasher-safe and easy to clean once your work is complete. For a versatile style that will get you far, we recommend the useful 35/8 which features an elongated teardrop blade shape.